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How to Draw the Neck, a Step-by-Step Guide

Neck construction studies by Gvaat

Drawing the neck is a challenge. It is often difficult to know if anything is off with your drawing. Thankfully, a measured approach to drawing the neck always works. Try taking an approach where you know the bone structure, and how the muscles map to the bones and then look at reference from life to understand the form of the neck.

Using reference and bringing knowledge of anatomy to your drawing will improve all of your neck drawings. So that they are… you know… less of a pain in the neck.

For this tutorial on how to draw the neck, we can take the following approach:

To draw the neck, understand the perspective of your drawing, start with a cylinder connected to the ribcage and then map the sternocleidomastoid and the Adam’s apple to the cylinder. Finally add the trapezius and the clavicles sections.

Skip to the step-by-step on how to draw the neck.

Process of construction of the neck by Gvaat. Neck trunk in red, Adam’s apple in yellow, trapezius in green, sternocleidomastoid and clavicles in blue.

Note that a part of what makes the steps above difficult is the foreshortening that is happening with the sternocleidomastoid and the clavicle bones. Foreshortening has to do with perspective. For more on perspective, follow my tutorial at this link.

How to draw the neck – landmarks

Back of the neck detail, study by Gvaat

General shape of the neck

A neck is a cylinder, with a slight swelling at the sides caused by the sternocleidomastoid muscle, as well as a slight bulge in the front caused by the Adam’s apple. The Larynx at the top of the neck (laryngeal prominence of the thyroid cartilage) is what creates the adam’s apple. Both men and women have a larynx but it is of a greater size in men and therefore more visible.

2. Base of the neck is lower under the jaw in the front of the head, than it is at the base on the back. The top of the neck slants down to the jaw from the back.

3. Top of the neck at the head is sloping down from the back toward the jaw. This sloping plane where the neck attaches to the head is parallel to the plane where the neck attaches to the body.

4. The neck is shorter in the front, longer in the back. The neck is longer in the back given the trapezius muscle covering a large portion of the back and neck.

5. Sternocleidomastoid produces a hallow space right above the sternum as the sternocleidomastoid muscles from both sides connect to the clavicleS. These muscles start at the sternum and clavicle and push up the sides of the neck and end behind the ears. If you lay down and pick your head up, you’ll be able to palpate the sternocleidomastoid muscles flexing to lift up your head.

Fragment of study by Leonardo Da Vinci. Note the sternocleidomastoid connect to the sternum at the base and branching out to the clavicle bones on each side.
Neck construction study by Gvaat

6. Think of the attachment of the neck to the body as if a tree that grows from the ground with roots growing outward – with the roots being the muscles of the neck. (I found this metaphor in Vonderpoel’s great book on anatomy and I think it is a very helpful description).

7. The neck follows the direction of the spine and has a curve. Spinal vertebrae are in the neck leading up to the head, so the neck will follow the spine. (For more on the shape of the spine, check my tutorial on drawing the torso at this link).

8. There are general variations between male and female necks. These are generalizations and you’ll have to pick your depiction based on what you want to draw. Here is a quote from Vonderpoel.

The male neck is short and thick and firm rising almost vertically from the body, while on the contrary in the female, the neck is long, slender and graceful, leaving the body with a greater forward direction. – Vonderpoel (The human figure)

Vonderpoel’s anatomy book is one I highly recommend.

Trapezius at 1, sternocleidomastoid at 2.

How to draw the neck – skeletal structure

To draw the neck correctly, we need to understand the skeleton underneath. It is not enough to approximate the ribcage with an oval blob and just stick a cylinder on top. This simplification may help form the most basic drawing, but if you want to learn how to draw the neck beautifully, this limited information is just a starting point.

Of course, the ribcage is larger than the neck and can be generalized as an oval, and of course, the neck is a cylinder. How else can we describe the neck to help us draw? How else can we observe it?

Once you grasp the very basic forms, pay special attention to angles and shapes. The neck sits on the body at a slanting angle, slanted to the front. It is surrounded by clavicles in the front and scapulas in the back. The traps map onto the scapulas of the back and connect to the acromion process and the outer (lateral) sections of the clavicles. The traps create a half-a-cone structure that surrounds the neck.

Trapezius labeled as 1, sternocleidomastoid at 2, adam’s apple at 3.

How to draw the neck – main muscle mapping

Sterno-cleido-mastoid attachment

Origin: inner third of the clavicle and sternum
Insertion: directly behind the ear

Front view (anterior) showing sternocleidomastoid attachment to the skeleton. Study by Gvaat

The sternocleidomastoid muscles connect to the base of the clavicle and the sternum, regardless where the neck is turned they sit in place at that origin, so use that connection as a way to ground your drawing – it is a constant that never changes. In between the sternocleidomastoid you can map the Adam’s apple.

Study from Michelangelo drawings. Trapezius at 1, sternocleidomastoid at 2.

Traps – Trapezius

Insertion: acromion and spine of the scapula, lateral (outer) third of the clavicle
origin: occipital bone (base of skull in the back), legamentum nuchae and spinous processes of vertebrae

How to draw
Back view, (posterior) showing the traps mapped to the skeleton. Study by Gvaat.

The traps (or trapezius) are a very large muscle that map through the upper back, check out my tutorial on how to draw the back for details on the traps by clicking here.

Trapezius at 1, Sternocleidomastoid at 2, adam’s apple at 3.

How to draw the neck – step-by-step

Let’s now go over neck construction step-by-step. Let’s quckly look at some of the drawings of the neck so far at various angles and then proceed to the step-by-step construction.

Back of the neck – Trapezius detail by Gvaat
Neck construction studies by Gvaat
Study by Gvaat. Trapezius at 1, sternocleidomastoid at 2.
Study by Gvaat. Sternocleidomastoid at 2, and trapezius at 1.
Actual shapes of the neck – Michelangelo’s David. (original photo credit: Igor Castañeda Ferreira). Traps in green, sternocleidomastoid in blue and Adam’s apple in yellow.

Step-by-step Construction of the Neck

Let’s start with drawing the general shape of the neck – the trunk of the neck. As described above, the shape slopes downward from back to front. The planes on the top and the bottom of the neck are parallel in how they slope down (the planes that attach to the body and the head).

Next, let’s attach the sternocleidomastoid muscles. They originate at the sternum at the top of the chest and push up through the neck shape and end up behind the ears.

It is worth noting here that of course, the diagram I am providing is a vast generalization on the shapes of the neck. The actual shapes of the neck are very organic and specific, I am simplifying so that we can look together at the structure and so that we can identify it when we see the complexity of the neck in real life. Look at the image of David by Michaleangelo (above) for a good example of how these muscles sit on the neck in a realistic depiction.

Let’s next add the Adam’s apple to the neck. It sits closer to the top of the neck just below the jaw.

In the above diagram, I added two rods to represent the clavicles at the front of the body.

Here, I added a section of the sternocleidomastoid that steps off and connects to the clavicle. The direction of the rest of sternocleidomastoid connects to the sternum. I also added the trapezius muscles in green.

Let’s color everything in with one color so that we can focus more on the overall shape of the forms.

Gvaat study.

Finally, let’s place the head on to the neck. (Note that I am generalizing the shape of the head and the ear and eye sockets. For an in-depth tutorial on how to draw the ear, follow this link). Couple of items of note here: the sternocleidomastoid muscle goes behind the ear. The adam’s apple is significantly closer to the head than the body.

This concludes this tutorial on drawing the neck! We went over the shape of the neck, and we covered the skeletal and muscular structure of the neck. We then went through drawing the neck step-by-step. When learning to draw, it is important to split your time between studying and drawing. Now that you loaded up on new knowledge about human anatomy and drawing the neck, spend some time trying to draw the neck on your own! It is time to draw!