How to Draw the Torso Easier, an Illustrated Guide

Torso study by Gvaat

If you are struggling with drawing the torso, I am willing to bet big on the fact that your torso drawings will improve as soon as you are done with this illustrated guide!

This is because I also strangled with it, and below I provide exactly the steps I took to improve.

To draw the human torso, understand the shape of the torso, and learn the major muscle groups, their origin and insertion points, then practice as much as possible from reference to reinforce what you learned.

In this tutorial on drawing the torso then, we will do just that, we will first look at the overall shape of the torso, we will then look at the bones and muscles that comprise it, and finally, we will discuss best ways to practice learning to draw.

Here is what we will cover:

  1. Understand the Shape to Draw the Torso
    • What is the shape of the torso?
    • What is the shape of the spine?
  2. Learn the Bones to Draw the Torso
    • Spine and rib cage
    • Clavicle
    • Humerus
    • Pelvic bones
    • Scapulas
  3. Learn the Muscles to Draw the Torso
    • How to Draw the Neck Muscles
    • How to Draw the Chest and Shoulder Muscles
    • How to Draw the Abdominal Muscles
    • Summary of Muscle Groups – Location
    • Summary of Muscle Groups – Function
  4. Practice Drawing the Torso from Life Before Drawing from Imagination
  5. Draw the Torso the Easier Way with this Exercise

1. Understand the Shape to Draw the Torso

What is the shape of the torso?

Let’s look at some studies I did spending a few seconds on each:

The shape of the torso is always simplified in artistic instructions. You can view the simplified version as boxes, or spheres, or a bean, or a box and a ball. It is a long list of various shape simplifications.

The truth is, if you are drawing a realistic torso, it’s shape is not exactly like any of those things. However, simplifying helps get the base elements right, and then the shape can be corrected and built up to your liking.

Another benefit of simplifying a complex shape, is that you can chose whatever building blocks you like that work for you. For now, I like simplifying with the drawing of the torso with boxy shapes. I’ll explain why below.

Here are some studies with the hips represented as a cuboid, and the upper body as a ball.

You can also view the torso as a bean shape, with two oval shapes of the upper and lower torso joining together. The bean-shape strategy has not worked very well for me in the past, and what is working better now is representing the torso with boxy shapes with curved edges. Like the above.

I like simplification to a box because each side is clearly indicated, and it forces me to think in perspectives and angles. In this way, I found it to be much easier to situate the torso properly in perspective and motion, and ultimately to draw in the detail of the torso on top.

Because the 3D shape of a box is so easy to read, it is much easier for me to convey the angles of the pose.

Before we go over the bones and muscles we need to draw the torso. Let’s look at where we want to end up:

Gvaat’s study painted in Procreate

To draw the torso effectively, we want to end up being able to identify all of the muscles you see in the picture above, and have a good idea about where they attach on the skeleton.

Note that there are many more muscles underneath that we will not discuss. We are focusing solely on muscles we absolutely need to know to draw the torso well.

Also note, there are three muscles on the diagram above that are covered in previous posts, so I do not go over them here. Teres major and latissimus dorsi are covered in my back drawing tutorial here, and coracobrachialis is covered in the arms drawing tutorial here.

2. Learn the Bones to Draw the Torso

To know the muscles we need to know where they attach, and to know where they attach we need to understand the skeletal structure underneath.

In part, studying the anatomy of the torso is difficult because all parts are interconnected, and it is hard to decide what to focus on first. In this tutorial, we can walk through it together, let’s first look at the bones, and then build up the muscles on top.

Spine and Rib cage

Rib cage and spine highlighted in purple. View from the front.

Notice how the rib cage is egg-shaped. This will be important for placing the skeleton in 3-dimensional space.

Shape of the Spine

The shape of the spine from the back (left) and the side (right picture)

You will need to know the curvature of the spine to build up a drawing of the torso in various positions.

study by Gvaat

Notice that the spine is not a straight line

The torso does not stand up on a straight line, the pelvis and the upper torso are set at opposing angles.

The s-curve spine shape is responsible for the curvature of the masses of the torso.

Study by Gvaat

Above is an example of movement in the spine based on movement of the torso.

Clavicle

Clavicle bones highlighted – view from the front of the torso

We definitely need to know the position of the clavicle bones to learn to draw the torso. The clavicle bones are at the top of your chest, and base of your neck, you can feel them sticking out.

As they move from the center closer to the arms, they connect to the scapula bones by way of an important connection point.

(This connection point is the acromioclavicular joint – so called because it connects the clavicle with the acromion of the scapula. However, the good news is that we do not need to remember that name to draw the torso well).

What are the scapula bones? Follow me to the next image right below.

Scapulas

Front view (anterior)
Scapula bones, back view (posterior).

Gvaat, why do we need to learn the scapula bones that are mostly on the back, to draw the torso from the front – you may ask.

The scapula bones are super important in drawing the shoulders and understanding the mobility of the upper body.

They connect to the humerus (arms) and the clavicle bones. I cover the scapula in more detail in my back drawing tutorial found here. Don’t skip learning this important bone and how it sits on top of the rib cage.

Humerus

Humerus bones indicated – front view

The humerus is the bone of the upper arm. It is held in place by the scapula and many muscles. Just in case you are wondering about how to draw the arms, see my tutorial here. In it, I go over the bones of the arm in detail.

Pelvic bones

The pelvis indicated, front view.

There is a lot to learn about the bones of the pelvis, for the purposes of drawing the torso, remember it’s position and shape.

I will likely publish a tutorial on the pelvic region and the muscles of the legs sometime in the future. To be notified, click here to join my newsletter – you will get lots of free stuff to learn to draw just by joining).

3. Learn the Muscles to Draw the Torso

Now that we took a look at the bones, let’s look at the muscles.

I find that the easiest and fastest way to understand the muscles of the torso is just to build them up on a skeleton maquette.

Let’s do just that together now!

How to Draw the Neck Muscles

Sternocleidomastoid muscle

Front view.

This long-names neck muscle originates at the sternum (middle of chest) and the clavicle bones, moves up the neck and inserts at the back of the skull, past the ear, at a place in the skull called the mastoid process.

All of these connection points make the name of this muscle easy to remember. Origins are at the sternum (sterno-), the clavicle (-cleido-), and the insertion is at the mastoid process of the temporal bone (-mastoid).

The name is fine, I would have gone with something shorter. However, what we need to know for drawing the torso is that the muscle splits into two ends as it moves down the neck, one attaches to the sternum and the other to the clavicle.

This split and two separate sections are easily visible in the figure, especially when drawing turned heads.

Trapezius muscle

Trapezius front view with Sternocleidomastoid

Trapezius, or traps for short, are a super important muscle group to drawing the torso from various angles. Main things to remember for drawing the torso:

  • Trapezius wraps around from the back to the front and inserts in the outer third of the clavicle bones. As it wraps around it creates a cone-like structure around the neck.
  • It has insertion points at the scapula in the back (top of the spine of the scapula) and at the acromion of the scapula.
  • It extends from the base of the skull down the spine in the back – and has many origin points along the spine.

Trapezius back view

How to Draw the Chest Region

Pectoralis Major

So far we connected some of the major neck muscles – those that will be most important to drawing the torso. Now let’s draw in the chest muscles onto our skeleton maquette.

Front view

Pectoralis Major (chest muscle) originates at the sternum and medial part of the clavicle (section of clavicle closest to center of chest), and the abdominal section (bottom of chest) and at ribs 5 and 6.

It has two sections both of which attach at an insertion point to the humerus bone, this insertion is covered by the muscles of the shoulder.

This is an important point, the chest muscles wedge into the shoulder and underneath. Take a look at the image below where we add the deltoid (shoulder) muscles to our figure:

Front view. Pectoralis major tucks in under the deltoid at the humerus bone.

Deltoid

The deltoid muscles curtain around the upper arm – from back to front. Front delts originate at lateral third of the clavicle (outer portion of it). Middle head of the delts originates at acromion (where scapula meets the clavicle).

Rear head of the delts originates at the spine of the scapula.

All three sections of the shoulder muscles have insertion points at the humerus bone in the arm.

How to Draw the Abdominal Muscles

Drawing Serratus Anterior muscle

Now let’s start adding the remaining muscles to our torso drawing. Remember we first drew in the sternocleidomastoid, then the trapezius, then the chest and shoulder muscles.

In this image we add Serratus anterior muscles (those attached at the ribs) and covering them you see a small section of the latissimus dorsi muscles of the back.

Serratus anterior muscles originate at ribs 1 to 8 or 1 to 9 and have an insertion at the medial border of the scapula (that just means under the scapula on its edge closest to the spine).

Notice on the image above, we only see the bottom portion of the serratus muscles, the upper portion is obscured by the muscles of the chest.

Drawing External Obliques

Let’s now add external obliques to the muscle groups we have drawn so far.

Obliques originate at sternum and lower eight ribs, and have insertion points all the way down at the bones of the pelvis (iliac crest, pubis).

Drawing Rectus Abdominis

Covering the very front of the lower torso, we see rectus abdominis muscles. This is the last major muscle group we want to place onto our drawing of the torso.

These abdominal muscles have an origin at the pelvis, and insertion points at the end of the sternum, as well as ribs 5, 6, and 7.

Putting all the muscles together to draw the torso

With the knowledge of the muscles of the torso, their origin and insertion points, we can add a lot more detail to our studies of the torso. Here are a couple of examples:

Torso study/muscle study by Gvaat. It is easier to study from a muscular reference since muscle groups are clearly visible.

Note that on these studies I considered additional muscle groups, muscles of the arms, and teres major of the back muscles. You can find my tutorials on arm muscles here, and back muscles here.

Summary of Muscle Groups of the Torso – Location

MuscleOriginInsertion
Pectoralis Major (chest) Sternum and medial part of the clavicle (section of clavicle closest to center of chest), and the abdominal section (bottom of chest) and at ribs 5 and 6. at humerus (bone of upper arm)
Rectus Abdominispubisribs 5th, 6th, 7th ribs, xiphoid process (sternum)
External Obliquessternum and lower eight ribsiliac crest, pubis,
Serratus anteriorUpper 8-9 ribsmedial border of the scapula (under the scapula on its edge closest to the spine!)
Deltoids (shoulders)Front delts originate at lateral third of the clavicle (outer portion of it). Middle head of the delts originates at acromion (where scapula meets the clavicle)humerus bone (lateral side)

Summary of Muscle Groups of the Torso – Function

MuscleFunction
Pectoralis Major (chest) pushing muscle, (think bench press), also rotation and flexion of the arm at the shoulder joint
Rectus Abdominisflexes vertebral column (spine), compresses abdominal area (think crunches)
External Obliquesflexes trunk to its side, and rotates the truck to the oppose side
Serratus anteriormoves the scapula, elevates the ribs depending on movement of scapula
Deltoids (shoulders)rotation of the arm at the shoulder joint. The medial head helps raise arms laterally (to the side), the front delts help raise arms in front of the figure.

4. Practice Drawing the Torso from Life Before Drawing from Imagination

Study by Gvaat

To summarize how to draw the torso:

Learn the shape of the torso, then learn all the visible muscle groups important to it, and finally study by drawing from reference.

Note it’s not enough to learn all the bones and muscles by following a guide such as this one. Once you become familiar with the bones and muscles of the torso, it is time to apply your knowledge to actual drawing.

Drawing of the torso is complex. The body is dynamic and things move around depending on the pose. I highly suggest doing many drawings from good references and identifying various muscle groups.

Through doing these studies yourself, you will solve a lot of questions you may still have about the muscles of the torso.

Observe, apply your knowledge to your observation, simplify, then draw.

You can take to Pinterest or Deviantart or a variety of other sources on the web to practice from photographs, or practice drawing the torso from live models if you are able to attend local figure drawing sessions.

5. Draw the Torso the Easier Way with this Exercise

Finally, I’d like to leave you with one exercise I found to be most helpful in learning to draw the torso. I spent a couple of hours a day for a few days on this exercise, and I have seen incredible results.

The exercise has to do with training your mind to see three-dimensional form on two-dimensional canvas – and it works better than anything else I tried so far.

To get access to samples of the exercise and instructions, join my newsletter here.

I hope this guide helps you! Feel free to leave me feedback at the following link.

RATED A2.

This article is rated “A2” in the Workshop’s Rating System because it discusses intermediate art concepts. For more on the rating system and to find other rated content, follow this link: Workshop’s Rating System.

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Venture beyond fundamentals through a carefully structured curriculum. The 18 Steps will transform how you think when you draw – which is the only way to achieve real results.

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