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How to Draw the Shoulders, From the Front, Back, and Arms Raised

The scapula – left posterior view, and right anterior view. Studies by Gvaat.

Learning to draw shoulders can get very tricky very fast. What is involved in shoulder drawing is a web of interacting muscles at the shoulder joint, muscles that move and twist as the humerus bone rotates in its socket taking the arm this way and that.

To draw the shoulders well, study the skeletal and muscular anatomy of the shoulder joint. Then, apply anatomy knowledge to observation and drawing of the shoulder joint from various angles.

My goal in this tutorial is to take you through the required anatomy step-by-step, in an effort to improve your shoulder drawings.

Three heads of the shoulder muscle. Study by Gvaat

How to Draw the Shoulders – Table of contents

  1. Introduction to drawing the shoulders
  2. Skeletal anatomy of the shoulder
  3. Muscular anatomy of the shoulder
  4. Shoulder muscles folding over chest muscles
  5. Interaction of muscles around the shoulder joint
  6. Drawing the shoulder muscles with arm raised
  7. Diving deeper, the acromioclavicular joint (scapula and clavicle)
  8. Drawing the shoulders – final thoughts

1. Introduction to drawing the shoulders

Study by Gvaat. Front view clavicle indicated with orange line. Back view, spine of the scapula indicated with red line.

In this guide, we will go over the bones involved in the movement of the shoulder muscles, as well as the muscles around the shoulders.

We will then dive deep into muscle interaction, looking at precise attachment points, wedging of muscles, and their pull and stretch. With this knowledge, we will draw the shoulders from various angles and with arm raised.

Shoulder anatomy for drawing begins with simple observation of a few major bones but ends with going over many muscles that twist and overlap in ways that can be difficult to remember, as the muscles travel from the back to the front fo the body.

I provide numerous drawings to help us along the way. Stay close to the text as you look over the included shoulder drawing diagrams. Together we can get to a place where shoulder drawing is a strength and not a weakness in our drawings.

Without further ado, let’s begin.

2. Skeletal anatomy of the shoulder for drawing

Let’s first look at the bone very involved in the structure of the shoulder and its movement, the scapula.

The scapula

Back (posterior) view of the rib cage and scapula bones. Scapulas highlighted. Gvaat’s study.

The scapula bone is a triangular flat piece of bone with a protruding bit on the top – called the spine of the scapula (covered below). The scapula glides over the rib cage. I use the word glides because it moves significantly based on the movement of the arm.

When the arm is raised the scapula turns upward. When the arm is extended to the front, the scapula glides to the side of the rib cage in support of that movement.

Front view of the torso, scapulas highlighted.

Here is the view of the scapulas from the front of the body. We can observe these bones set at the back and connected to the humerus bones of the arm at the shoulder joint, and to the clavicle at the front.

The spine of the scapula

Back view. Spines of the scapulas highlighted.

In this diagram (above), we are looking at the back view of the body. The spines of the scapulas are highlighted. The spine of the scapula (or a scapular spine) is an important landmark for drawing the shoulders.

At the top along its ridge, the trapezius muscles attach. At the bottom along its ridge, we see the attachment of the shoulder (deltoid) muscles. We will take a closer look at these attachments below.

Interaction of the scapula and rib cage

Front view. Rib-cage and spine highlighted.

Be prepared to have some trouble identifying the scapula’s position exactly as it glides about the back of the ribcage. The knowledge of precise position depending on movement and the figure can only come from practice and from looking at and drawing many, many examples.

The scapular spine and its medial border are big giveaways to finding the position of the scapula.

Below we will map out the connections of the deltoid muscles to the scapula, as well as look at muscles that originate there and move towards the shoulder joint.

At the very bottom of this tutorial, we will dive deep into various aspects of the scapula and the clavicle as they come together in the acromioclavicular joint.

The clavicle

Front view. Clavicle bones highlighted.

As the shoulder muscles connect to the spines of the scapulas on the back of the body, they also connect to a portion of the clavicle at the front of the body.

Back view. Clavicle bones highlighted.

Here is a view of the clavicles (highlighted) from the back. Take a look at the clavicles as well as the spine of the scapulas in this image. Together they form a circumference around which the shoulder muscles connect.

The humerus bone

Front view. Humerus bones highlighted.

The insertion point of the shoulder muscles as they move down the arm is at the humerus bone. All shoulder muscles end up there at the outer (lateral) side of the arm. The right and left humerus bones are highlighted in the image above.

For drawing the shoulders, knowing where shoulder muscles originate and where they insert is extremely important. We cannot map out the muscle attachments until we understand the structure of the bones they attach to.

Take another look at the diagrams above before moving on. Pay special attention to the scapular spine and the clavicle.

3. Muscular anatomy of the shoulder for drawing

Naming of shoulder muscles

The shoulders are called the deltoid muscles or the deltoids.

There are three sections to the shoulder muscle: an anterior head (front), a posterior head (back), and wedged in between the two, the middle head.

Sometimes these sections are referred to as the rear delts, the front delts, and the side delts.

Connection points and function

The shoulder connects the scapula, the clavicle, and the humerus bones, inserting about a third of the way down on the humerus bone laterally. All three heads of the shoulder are directed downward into the arm.

The shoulder helps in pulling the arm upward. The front head of the deltoid helps raise the arm in front of you, the middle (side) head helps raise the arm laterally, And the rear head of the deltoid helps pull the arm back. 

Gvaat’s studies. Shoulder muscle breakdown front and back.

Let’s start by looking at the front and back of the shoulders generally.

Note the following as you look at the diagram above:

At the front, the shoulders connect at the clavicle, sharing the connection along with the chest muscles. The clavicle is indicated with an orange color on the left image (above).

On the right image (view from the back), the spines of the scapulas are indicated in red. On the back, the shoulders connect to the spines of the scapulas from underneath.

Note also, that at the front, the shoulders move down the arm, and wedge in behind the biceps, connecting to the humerus bone.

Shoulder muscles – anterior view

Lateral view of the arm. Shoulder muscles originate at clavicle and scapula and descend down to a common tendon, tucking-in a third way down the humerus laterally.

In the sketches above, I am slightly rotating the arm to reveal more of the shoulder muscles as we move from left to right. The shoulder muscles have three heads – the front deltoids, medial deltoids, and rear deltoids.

Front delts are indicated at 2, middle delts at 1 and rear at 3. At 4 is the clavicle bone. At 5, I indicated the biceps muscle and at 6 the brachialis muscle.

Note that all three heads of the shoulder muscles come together and wedge between the biceps and the brachialis. A common mistake is to place the shoulder muscles between the brachialis and the triceps.

If you are curious about the anatomy of the arm for drawing, visit my tutorial at this link.

Summary of origin and insertion of the shoulder muscles for drawing

Shoulder headorigininsertion
Anterior (front) head of the deltoidLateral third of the clavicleDeltoid tuberosity on the lateral side of the body of the humerus
Middle head of the deltoidAcromion and clavicleDeltoid tuberosity on the lateral side of the body of the humerus
Posterior head of the deltoidSpine of the scapulaDeltoid tuberosity on the lateral side of the body of the humerus

Shoulder muscles – posterior view

Rear (posterior) deltoid head and part of middle deltoid head mapped onto the spine of the scapula and the clavicle.

Now let’s take a look at the shoulder muscles from the back view. Looking at the back, the rear deltoid head is most prominent.

We also see some of the lateral deltoid head wrapping around the outside of the arm. Notice how in the image above, the rear deltoid attaches (origin) right at the spine of the scapula.

The lateral deltoid head attaches (origin) at both the scapula and the clavicle. Both heads insert at the lateral side (outside) of the humerus (upper arm bone).

In this image, we see the three deltoid heads as we move from the back (left picture on image) to the lateral view (outside of the arm), on the right.

Here (image above), at 1 we have the lateral deltoid head, at 2 we have the anterior deltoid head, at 3 we have the rear deltoid head. At 6 brachialis muscle is indicated and at 5 the biceps muscle.

Notice that the three shoulder heads come together and insert between the brachialis and the biceps muscle to attach at the humerus bone. 

(There is a muscle of the forearm that moves up the arm and wedges between the brachialis and triceps muscles, it is called the brachioradialis. Remember as you draw the shoulder and the arm that while the brachioradialis divides the upper arm between the biceps and the triceps, the shoulder makes a division between brachialis and the biceps muscles instead.) 

4. Shoulder muscles folding over chest muscles

Now let’s take a look at how shoulder (deltoid) muscles interact with a chest muscle (pectoralis major).

From the image above we see the distribution of the shoulder and the chest muscles on the clavicle bone.

From the front, deltoids take up about the upper third of the clavicle, and the pectoral muscles take up about the bottom two-thirds of the clavicle down its length until it connects to the sternum (center of the rib cage). 

Take note of how both shoulder and chest muscles attach at the humerus bone of the arm. Note how it is the chest muscle that tucks-in under the shoulders at that location and not the other way around.

So far things have been pretty simple in our goal of learning to draw the shoulders.

There are some bones and some shoulder muscles that map onto those bones. Sure! That’s great.

However, to draw the shoulders well, we have to dive deeper into muscle anatomy and interactions of muscles at the shoulder joint.

This is where things get more complex. To help us visualize and later draw with anatomical accuracy, I prepared a step-by-step diagram to help us get through it together. Let’s go!

5. Interaction of muscles around the shoulder joint

Now let’s look at the muscles that go into the shoulder joint area as we draw the shoulders from the back. 

1. scapula
2. humerus

In this first diagram, we have the scapula at 1 and the humerus bone at 2. Posterior view. 

1. scapula
2. humerus
3. triceps

Now at 3 let’s add the triceps muscles. Note the two heads of the triceps muscle, one connecting to the humerus and note the other connecting to the scapula. 

(There are three total heads of the triceps, however, we only need to focus on these two since the third triceps head does not leave the humerus bone and is much more involved in drawings of the arm than the shoulders)

1. scapula
2. humerus
3. triceps
4. infraspinatus
5. teres minor
6. teres major

Now I’ve added three more muscles that originate on the scapula and all drive towards and insert at the humerus in various positions

At 4 we have the infraspinatus, at 5 we have the teres minor and at 6 we have a teres major

(We just took a big leap by adding these muscles of the back to our drawing of the shoulder. If you are curious about back anatomy and how to draw the back,  follow to my tutorial on drawing the back at this link. )

An important takeaway from the above diagram is that the teres major muscle (6), swings under the triceps and finds an attachment at the humerus at the front.

Memorizing this will help when you are drawing the shoulder from the back and faced with figuring out where the muscles tuck in.

1. scapula
2. humerus
3. triceps
4. infraspinatus
5. teres minor
6. teres major
7. latissimus dorsi

In the above diagram, I added the latissimus dorsi muscle at 7. What’s important to note here is that from the back it swings under the triceps and under the teres major.

While viewing it from the front you will see that the teres major is hugging the lat muscle laterally (from the outside) when the arm is raised.

1. scapula
2. humerus
3. triceps
4. infraspinatus
5. teres minor
6. teres major
7. latissimus dorsi
8. deltoid

Finally, let’s add all three heads of the shoulder muscles to our diagram.

Notice how the shoulders map to the spine of the scapula. (on this diagram, the spine of the scapula is an upward line just below ‘1’).

For now just take notice of the fact that there are muscles from the back that move toward and attach at the humerus bone, They are then covered by the shoulders from the back but become visible as the arm is raised up in the air.

6. Drawing the shoulder muscles with arm raised

We spent some time looking at the complex interaction of muscles at the shoulder joint from the back, let’s focus a bit more on muscle interaction at the shoulder from the front. 

The first thing to remember to help in drawing the shoulders from the front is that the chest muscles insert at the humerus.

In the illustration above, We see that the pectoralis major (chest muscle) is actually twisted on itself at the insertion in the humerus bone.

It untangles and the muscle fibers become parallel to each other when the arm is raised – as we can see in the illustrations that follow below. 

Gvaa’s studies from Bridgman anatomy books

In the drawings above, I shaded in the scapula so that it can easily be separated from the humerus, clavicle, and the pectoral muscles.

Here we see the twisting of the chest muscle and then we can observe that the fibers of the chest muscle at the connection to the arm actually straighten out as we raise the arm.

Let’s now draw in the shoulders on top of the foundation in these diagrams.

Deltoid (shoulder) muscles added – highlighted in violet.

From the drawings above we see how the shoulder muscles cover the chest muscles at the humerus insertion, even when the arm is raised to reveal the armpit (middle drawing).

Notice that when the arm is raised, the pectoral muscles tower over the armpit, as they drive up over the biceps and then tuck in under the shoulder muscle. 

To understand how to draw the shoulders with the arms raised, We must look at the interaction of the biceps and triceps muscles, coracobrachialis, latissimus, and the teres major muscles at the shoulder joint.

Note that coracobrachialis divides the biceps and triceps as it wedges between the two towards its attachment at the humerus.

Anterior (front) view, arm raised. Teres major and latissimus wrap around from the back and drive up to the armpit when the arm is raised.
Lateral view. of a raised arm. On the left scapula (scapular spine as red line) at 1, and teres major at 2, positioned as they appear in the drawing on the right.

Note that scapula rotated to drive the muscles attaching to it up as they push the arm above.

In the drawing above the scapula is indicated at 1, and teres major at 2. Note how teres major drives to the front of the body when the arm is raised. At 3 and 4 we see the rear and middle heads of the shoulder. At 5 and 6 we observe the infraspinatus and the teres minor respectively.

At 7 we see the latissimus dorsi (lats) muscle wrap around to the front from the back. At 8 we see the triceps contracted as it helps extend the arm.

At 9 a small portion of the trapezius comes into view and at 10 pectoralis major is visible as it drives up with the arm to tuck in under the shoulder muscles at the humerus.

7. Diving deeper – the acromioclavicular joint

The scapula – left posterior view, and right anterior view. Studies by Gvaat.

On the image above, I painted (Photoshop) the outside and the inside of the scapula so that we can take a closer look at its landmarks and muscle attachments.

In the image on the left, the scapula is shown as it sits on the rib cage, with its exterior facade facing us. The scapular spine is visible and the acromion process is also closest to us.

In the image on the right, it is the coracoid process of the scapula that is closest to us, and the spine of the scapula is hidden by its shell-shaped interior.

Let’s more closely examine the many landmarks of the scapula:

1. Deltoid connects
2. Acromion of the scapula
3. Infraspinous fossa (infraspinatus connects)
4. Long head of triceps connects
5. Glenoid cavity (socket of the humerus)
6. Coracoid process
7. Long head of triceps connects
8. Superior angle of the scapula
9. Inferior angle of the scapula
10. Lateral border
11. Medial border (serratus anteiror connects)
12. Teres minor connects
13. Teres major connects
14. Rhomboideus major connects
15. Spine of the scapula
16. Supra spinatus connects
17. Subscapular fossa
The scapula – left posterior view, and right anterior view. Studies by Gvaat.

As you can see, there is a lot to learn about the scapula bones.  let’s cover the most important points. 

Spine of the scapula

Since the rear head of the deltoid connects at the scapular spine (15), it is one of the most important landmarks to know for drawing the shoulders.

Scapular acromion

Another important point is to know the location of the acromion of the scapula (2), that is the point where the scapula by way of a joint connects with the clavicle. This landmark is also known as the acromion process of the scapula or scapular acromion.

Glenoid cavity

Finally, take a look at the glenoid cavity (5), which is basically a ball socket joint into which the humerus bone is placed. It allows for great freedom of articulation at the shoulder.

The clavicle bone for drawings of the shoulders

The right clavicle bone, seen from the top.

If someone stood right above you and could look down and see your right clavicle, the image above is about what they would see.

For the following examples, we will use this top view, mainly because it will help to demonstrate important shoulder attachments, and, I hope, help you construct anatomically correct shoulder drawings.

Acromioclavicular joint

If this top view is confusing to you, imagine that a bird flew over above your shoulder, that is the view we’re going to look at. I want to show you this top-down view so that we can see all three heads of the shoulder muscles attach to the clavicle and the scapula.

Humeros bone indicated as a purple circle.

Here we see both the clavicle and the scapula from the top. I indicated the humerus bone as it attaches to the shoulder joint with a purple circle.

The acromioclavicular joint, (also the AC joint), is a joint connecting the acromion of the scapula and the clavicle. This connection towers over the purple circle indicating the humerus.

Shoulder joint bones review – top view

Acomion process highlighted.

Note the location of the acromion of the scapula as it sticks out from the main shell of the scapula. It is slightly elevated and is the highest point of the scapula bone on the body.

Coracoid process highlighted.

Note here the highlighted coracoid process of the scapula. It sits under the clavicle bone and also overlooks the glenoid cavity where the humerus attaches.

It may be worth looking at a front and rear view of the scapula again, to see if you can identify the acromion and the coracoid process from those viewpoints, let’s do that now:

To draw shoulders well in any pose, the artist must possess superior knowledge of the anatomy of the scapula bone. If you are having trouble identifying major landmarks – acromion, scapular spine, and coracoid process, scroll up to this section.

Let’s now continue with our top-down view:

The neck of the scapula highlighted, leading up to the socket area into which the humerus fits.

Highlighted on the image above is the neck of the scapula, it is the section that leads up to the ball socket joint with the humerus.

Attaching shoulder muscles – top view

Mapping out the middle shoulder head for drawing

Let’s now attach the middle head of the shoulders to our diagram. You can see that it connects to both the scapula and the clavicle. Bringing both of those bones together.

Mapping out the other shoulder heads for drawing.

As we add the anterior and posterior deltoid heads to our diagram there are two things to note: first (1) note that from the front, the anterior head attaches to the lateral third of the clavicle. The rest of the clavicle front plane is taken up by the chest muscle attachment. 

Second (2), notice that posteriorly, the rear deltoid head attaches down the spine of the scapula. This is an important landmark and is the easiest way to find the rear deltoid on the model or when drawing the shoulders from imagination.

8. Drawing the shoulders – final thoughts

We went over much skeletal and muscular anatomy to improve our understanding of shoulder drawing. Next, try drawing the shoulders yourself.

My advice for studying anatomy for drawing, and especially for drawing the shoulders, is to wait very little before you start to draw. 

Yes, detailed knowledge of shoulder anatomy is required for drawing the shoulders. Much of it we just covered together. However, try drawing a few sketches of shoulders, and use that experience to define gaps in your knowledge of anatomy. Then come back to study and fill those gaps, and then try drawing the shoulders again refining each time.

An artist is rewarded, when they are both unafraid and cautious. Perhaps that is the best piece of advice for drawing the shoulders. Do not be afraid to draw, but be mindful of mistakes and always try to correct them.

I hope you found this tutorial on drawing the shoulders helpful!  I think you know what the next step is, but I’ll say it anyway: it’s time to draw!