Drawing legs is a complex endeavor. So why is this the Easy Step-by-Step guide to drawing legs? This guide will take you through simplified skeletal and muscle anatomy of the legs with easy to understand explanations and illustrations!
As with my previous drawing tutorials, we will break down a complex task into a series of smaller and simpler steps. We will first cover the shape of the leg and major landmarks, then look at the skeletal structure, then the muscles, and finally will go over drawing examples, step-by-step.
Here is a summary of the drawing process for drawing legs:
Establish proportions and angles with skeletal guidelines, then work on identifying and drawing the rhythms of the shape, then fill in the muscle groups, and finally rework the overall drawing correcting for any errors.
In preparation for this guide, I created many leg drawings, three step-by-step examples are at the end of this guide. Here is what we will cover:
Table of contents:
- The general shape of the leg
- Simplified skeletal structure of the leg
- Femur bone
- Tibia and Fibula
- Pelvic bones
- Simplified muscle groups of the leg
- Muscle Function
- How to draw the legs – step-by-step
1. How to Draw Legs – General shape of the leg
Before we go over simplified anatomy of the leg, let’s look at where we want to end up. Below are the muscle groups we will go over.
Note these are not all the muscles of the leg. I took measures to simplify anatomy and I edited out a lot of smaller muscle groups, to get us the minimum we need to draw the legs.
Let’s look a bit at what we need to know about the shape of the legs:
A great leg drawing is greater than the sum of its parts, that is to say, – greater than just all the muscles slapped together.
The position of the legs can define a pose in figure drawing. Let this section serve as a reminder that after you learn all the muscles of the leg, when you draw, you should do not lose sight of the overall.
The shapes in your drawings of the legs should instantly read properly. If the shape does not read correctly, something went wrong along the way – even if you think the muscles are where they should be – I would go back and check.
With that said, let’s go over important landmarks when drawing the leg.
On the sketch above, (illustration on the far left) we see that the calf muscle (gastrocnemius) is positioned higher on the outside and lower on the inside of the leg.
It is the opposite with the lateral (outside) and medial (inside) malleolus areas – the sections where tibia and fibula meet with the foot. In those areas, the outside is lower and the inside of the leg has the bony bit higher.
On the illustration on the far right, we can see I indicated the tibia (shin bone). In fact, you can feel this bone right under the skin on the front-inner side of the leg as it is mostly uncovered by muscle from the knee to the foot. Later in this tutorial, we will also cover the knee cap in more detail.
In the middle illustration above, the great trochanter is indicated – a section of the femur bone very important to drawing the leg as it will help to properly situate the glutes and other muscles around it. We will also cover it below.
On the left, you see how the sartorius muscle separates the adductors from the quad muscles of the leg, notice the change in direction. Notice also that the sartorius appears over the adductors from the front. We will cover the quads and the sartorius in the muscles section.
In the image on the right, notice that there are numerous muscle groups that connect to the medial (inside) condyle of the tibia over the muscles of the calves.
All of these details are important to making your drawings of the legs more believable. Now, without further ado, let’s go over the skeletal structure of the leg.
2. How to Draw Legs – Simplified skeletal structure of the leg
Legs function similar to arms, in that there is one large bone from the hip to the knee and two smaller ones from the knee to the foot. Muscles of the leg (quads and hamstrings) also function similarly to triceps and biceps muscles of the arm.
The quads are like the triceps muscles and help extend the limb, while hamstrings are like the biceps and help bend the limb.
For now, let’s try to get a general sense of the skeletal structure. We want to know the skeleton because in the next steps we will start studying and attaching muscles to this structure.
3. How to Draw Legs – Simplified muscle groups of the leg
Before we cover the quad and hamstring muscles. Here is a simple anatomical tip about those muscles that should save us much time:
All of the quad muscles have a common insertion point at the kneecap. And all the hamstring muscles have a common origin point, at the ischium.
You should also know, that we use the terms ‘origin’ and ‘insertion’ when discussing muscle anatomy for a reason. The terms define more than just attachment points.
The origin portion of the muscle doesn’t move during muscle contraction, while the insertion portion does move. Usually, origin points are medial, or closer to the center of the body. Knowing the difference gives artists an advantage when creating anatomically correct drawings.
Quads (Quadriceps) and Sartorius
There are four muscles in the quads. We will look at three because the forth is found deep in the leg, not visible in the drawing of the figure.
The quad muscles extend the leg, similarly to how the triceps muscles extend the arm.
The origin of vastus lateralis is at the greater trochanter area (just below), at the front (anterior) surface.
The insertion of vastus lateralis is at the common quadriceps tendon enclosing the kneecap (patella). This insertion point is the same for the other two quadriceps muscles we will cover!
In fact, all of these quad muscles connect into a tendon that then moves down and connects at the kneecap.
Origin of vastus medialis is starting at the top of the femur and down along the medial section of the femur.
The insertion of vastus medialis is at the common quadriceps tendon enclosing the kneecap.
Some muscles originate in multiple places, like this one. Rectus femoris originates at anterior inferior iliac spine, and groove superior to the acetabulum. In the image above, it is simplified to connect just to the anterior inferior iliac spine which will work fine for our purpose of drawing the leg.
The best way to remember this origin (for simplified anatomical drawings) is to remember that it connects right above the hip joint at the front.
The insertion of rectus femoris is at the common quadriceps tendon enclosing the kneecap (patella) just like the other quadriceps muscles we discussed.
What is really important for the quads group, is to keep in mind that the fullness of the rectus femoris is situated above the other two muscles surrounding it to the left and right – it is the higher sitting muscle on the leg, keep that in mind as you draw the leg from the front.
Now let’s add the sartorius muscle to quads group.
The sartorius muscle, separates the quads from the abductor muscles at the front of the leg.
Its origin is at the anterior superior iliac spine, and the insertion is at the top of the medial (inner) surface of the tibia bone. (It inserts at the top of the insertion of the semitendinosus muscle of the hamstring group – see below).
let’s quickly recap what we learned so far, we have rectus femoris that sits on the front of the femur bone, vastus muscles on each side of it, and the sartorius muscle that we just covered above.
Before moving on to the muscles on the back of the leg, we need to cover one more item, the IT band.
The IT band (iliotibial band) also known as the iliotibial tract, is a long piece of connective tissue, or fascia. The IT band stretches across vastus lateralis on the outside of the leg and helps to extend, abduct, and rotate the hip.
It stretches from the tenser muscle (covered below) and inserts at the lateral (outside) condyle (ending) of the tibia bone (shinbone).
The IT band is thin, and not easily visible, and it not visible in most stylized drawings of anatomy. However, it is often visible in old master drawings and in very detailed anatomical drawings in general.
I mention it here in case you find yourself wondering about extra definition on top of the vastus lateralis muscle (the section of the quads on the outside of the leg). Now you know what it is!
Hamstrings are on the back of the leg. They function like the biceps muscle of the arm, when you bend your knee, hamstrings flex.
The origin of the semimembranosus is the same as the other major muscles of the hamstrings – at the ischium (the curved bone forming the base of each half of the pelvis).
The insertion of the semimembranosus is at the medial condyle of the tibia (a condyle is a rounded protuberance at the end of some bones, forming an articulation with another bone).
The origin of biceps femoris is at the ischium (the curved bone forming the base of each half of the pelvis). This origin is the same for all three of the muscles we will cover for the hamstrings, making this group easy to study for drawing.
The insertion of biceps femoris is on the lateral (outer) side of the head (top) of the fibula.
The origin is at the ischium as with the other hamstring muscles we covered. The insertion of semitendinosus is at the medial surface of the superior shaft of the tibia (inner surface of the upper portion of tibia).
Let’s quickly review what we have covered so far with the hamstring muscles. There are three we need to know, one – semimembranosus, sits underneath the other two – the semitendinosus and the biceps femoris.
The origin of the gastrocnemius muscles is at the posterior (back) surfaces of femoral condyles. (so back sections of the bottom tip of the femur bone!).
Insertion is at the back of the heel via the Achilles tendon. I won’t discuss the anatomy of the foot in this guide since we have enough to discuss with the legs. However, if you are curious about how to draw the foot, check out my tutorial here.
In the image below, let’s look at all the muscles we discussed so far:
As you can see, I added three muscles in pink on top of the diagram in addition to what we have already covered. Two muscles of the glutes and the tensor, let’s discuss them now.
Glutes and Tensor
Tensor fasciae latae (Tensor)
The origin of the tensor is at aterior superior iliac spine and insertion at iliotibial tract – (IT BAND) that attaches to the lateral condyle of the tibia (remember we covered the IT band above? yes, it is the same one).
This muscle latches on to the IT band that moves all the way down to the tibia (right on top the vastus lateralis). The IT band is not shown above since it is thin and vastus lateralis is what will show through most of the time.
While the tensor muscle seems small, do not overlook it, it is one of those muscles that if omitted will provide for a leg drawing that never looks correct.
The gluteus medius has an origin at the posterior section of the ilium (Gluteal surface of ilium ) with insertion at the lateral surface of the greater trochanter (femur).
The gluteus maximus has an origin at sacrum and coccyx, and the gluteal surface of ilium with insertion at the Iliotibial tract (IT band), and gluteal tuberosity of the femur.
There are multiple muscles at the adductor group, they generally originate from the pelvis and insert at various points at the femur. This muscle group helps bring the leg back towards the middle of the body.
Most are visible on the inside of the leg. As you see in the diagram above, I am simplifying this entire section. But why?
As I was studying the muscles of the leg for drawing, it became clear that it is difficult to get a grasp of all the muscles all at once.
I suggest studying anatomy for drawing in passes. If you are studying the anatomy of the legs for the first pass, know that the adductor group is there and is important. Once you are familiar with the rest of the muscles in this guide, the group can be revisited.
I will leave you with this drawing that shows the gracilis muscle, a major adductor, together with semitendinosus (hamstring group covered above) and sartorius (covered above). As I mentioned above, there are more adductor muscles to study, and there are more muscles to study at the knee-to-foot section as well.
Muscles of the leg – simplified anatomy review, Origin and Insertion
|Quads (front of leg):|
|Rectus femoris||Anterior inferior iliac spine, and groove superior to the acetabulum (right above the hip joint)||At the common quadriceps tendon enclosing the kneecap (patella).|
|Vastus lateralis||Greater trochanter area, at the front (anterior) surface.||same as rectus femoris|
|Vastus medialis||Starting at the top of the femur and down along the medial section of the femur.||same as rectus femoris|
|Sartorius:||At the anterior superior iliac spine.||Insertion is at the top of the medial (inner) surface of the tibia bone.|
|Hamstrings (back of leg):|
|Biceps femoris||ischium -the curved bone forming the base of each half of the pelvis||femoris is on the lateral (outer) side of the head (top) of the fibula.|
|Semi-tendinosus||Same as biceps femoris||Medial surface of the superior shaft of the tibia (inner surface of upper portion of tibia)|
|Semi-membranosus||same as biceps femoris||medial condyle of the tibia|
|Calves – gastrocnemius||Medial and lateral heads arise from posterior surfaces of femoral condyles. (so back sections of the bottom tip of the femur bone!)||Back of heel of the foot via Achilles tendon|
|Gluteus maximus||Sacrum and coccyx, gluteal surface of ilium||Iliotibial tract, gluteal tuberosity of femur|
|Gluteus medius||Posterior section of the ilium (Gluteal surface of ilium )||lateral surface of the greater trochanter (femur)|
|Tensor fasciae latae||Aterior superior iliac spine||Iliotibial tract – (IT BAND) that attached to the lateral condyle of the tibia.|
|Adductors (grouped):||There are multiple muscles a the adductor group, they generally originate from the pelvis||and inert at various points at the femur.|
Drawing the knee is a large topic and, so I created a separate tutorial going over drawing the knee in detail. However, let’s touch on the basics of what is happening at the knee joint for drawing the leg.
At the knee joint, condyles of the femur bone and the tibia come together. A condyle is a rounded protuberance at the end of some bones, serving articulation with another bone. The condyles on both of these bones are massive and often some of the bone of the condyle can be seen on the surface.
The patella (knee cap), connects the tendons that unify the quad muscles – all of them wrap into it, and then the patellar tendon moves down and connects at the to top of the tibia.
The place where the tendon connects is a pointy bony bit, which sometimes can make it seem like there are two kneecaps, one on top of the other. Well, the one on the top is the knee cap, the stuff underneath is its tendon that attached on top of the tibia – the patellar tendon.
At this point we discussed at length the bones and muscles of the leg. Let’s now review the functions of the muscles, and then move to drawing the legs step-by-step.
4. How to Draw Legs – Muscle Function
Muscles of the leg – simplified anatomy review, Function
|Rectus femoris||Extension of the leg at the knee joint|
|Vastus lateralis||Extension of the leg at the knee joint|
|Vastus medialis||Extension of the leg at the knee joint|
|Sartorius:||Flexion, abduction, rotation of the thigh at hip, flexion and rotation of lower leg at knee|
|Biceps femoris||Flexes the leg at knee joint|
|Semi-tendinosus||Flexes the leg at knee joint|
|Semi-membranosus||Flexes the leg at knee joint|
|Calves – gastrocnemius||Flexion of foot, flexes leg at knee|
|Gluteus maximus||Extension and rotation of thigh at the hip joint|
|Gluteus medius||Abduction and extension of thigh at hip joint|
|Tensor fasciae latae||flexion, rotation and abduction of thigh at hip joint|
|Adductors (grouped):||adduct thigh, flex thigh and rotate thigh.|
5. How to Draw Legs – step-by-step examples
Drawing legs – Example 1:
Let’s take this drawing of the legs step-by-step together:
When I draw-in these first marks on the canvas, I am measuring proportions, relative position (of one leg to the other), and angles at which the legs appear to the viewer. I try to do this all at once in this first step.
Often it is a lot to think about, especially when drawing something complex like the legs, so take your time with this first step. Measuring things out, go back if you have to.
Feeling confident with the pose, I start to block in shapes.
At this time I focus on orienting the main muscle groups, the quads show up the most in this drawing, so I focus on placing them. Remember the anatomy of the leg as you are drawing – this is where our anatomy overview (see above) really starts to become useful.
I know that at the front, three muscles of the quads are visible, vastus medialis on the inside, vastus lateralis on the outside, and rectus femoris in between the two.
I know that the belly of the femoris muscle sits higher on the leg. It is much easier to spot all of this on the model when you know what you should see when you draw.
Using this knowledge I place the muscle groups accordingly, not only based on the information I see in the model, but based on my framing of this information given the anatomy background I now have.
After placing the quads, I also added placement for the sartorius muscle, that divides the quads from adductors on the front of the leg.
The sartorius is most visible and easy to identify as a diagonal line running from the knee to the to of the hip.
I decided to draw over what I built so far with cleaner lines in this step.
With structure and placement out of the way, I can begin to shade the muscles of the leg to give our drawing of the legs some volume.
Shading is another topic, but you see me adding some more here, I also (as you saw in the previous step) added a neutral color to the entire image so that I could place white highlights.
Here I separated the drawing of the legs from the background by placing in a half-tone with a value closer to the shadow areas.
Although the drawing is not finished, I added some highlights to see where I am with volume. I now have the darkest darks and the lightest lights on my canvas and will work within these parameters to finish the drawing.
Finally, I added rendering detail and tried to define separate muscle groups by defining the volume of each.
Knowing the shape of the muscles will define how you approach rendering them, the placement of shadows and lights. While good reference can provide this information, combining it with your knowledge of muscle anatomy should produce even better results.
Here is video process of the legs drawing above:
Drawing legs – Example 2:
Same as in the first example, I start with simple skeletal draft that defines the pose, angles and proportional relationships. I am thinking about the position of the feet, and identifying landmarks.
Happy with the placement and angles in the original sketch, I move the drawing along with some rough outlines of the shapes I am trying to develop.
Try to imagine the lines on paper before you draw them.
Having the foundation of the drawing finished, I added detail with a bit more confidence. You can already see the adductors on the inside of the legs, as well as the sartorius muscle and some indication of the quad group.
Here I drew in all of the muscles of the upper leg. Can you identify the quad muscles? Vastus lateralis, rectus femoris and vastus medialis? Can you see the hamstrings or the tensor? If you can’t identify these yet, don’t worry, review the muscle section and come back to this sketch.
In this step, I added some shadows to try to separate the form from the canvas.
Here I added the mid-tones to the drawing, as well as the darker darks.
And finally some highlights to identify the forms of this sketch of the legs.
Drawing legs – Example 3
Let’s look at one more example:
I start this drawing like I did the other two, with a very basic skeletal outline of the angles and proportions. You should be asking yourself things like – where is the knee on this leg in relation to the knee of the other? What are the angles of the feet in relation to one another? – Always draw in context to other landmarks already on the page.
Once the basic angles and proportions look fine to me, I create a sketch shape outline noting major landmarks.
In this step, I added a stronger outline to better read the shape. I also separated the quads from hamstrings in the leg closest to us.
Here I added a bit of shading and some drop shadows to situate the legs. If you are curious about light and shading, check out my tutorial on exactly that at this link.
This concludes my step-by-step guide to drawing legs. For me, leg anatomy has been more difficult to study than the other parts of the body, I hope I made it a bit easier for you with this guide!
Remember that drawing legs is like drawing anything else – combine knowledge of the subject with drawing skills for best results. We spent a lot of time going over how to draw the legs, it is now time for you to put what you learned to practice!