In this video / article, we are going to learn to draw backs. Sometimes backs are tricky because it feels like there aren’t many clear features to see and draw, so hopefully after this video, you’ll know what to look for. The video is the best way to see the demonstrations, but the lesson is also written out below.
The article below contains the transcript of the video above but not the visuals, so I recommend watching the video to see the ideas demonstrated.
We need to a little bit of simple anatomy, but mostly we just need to know some of the really useful lines and shapes to look for when you’re observing the figure. Some of this we started to look at in the beginner series, so now we are going to go more in-depth.
- Shoulder line.
A great place to start is with the line across the shoulders. It could be that you cut straight across from the tip on one shoulder to the other, or if you see a nice curve that will run across the top edges of the shoulder blades, you can use that.
The main thing is to not underdo the angle. You’ll often subconsciously make it too horizontal because it’s safer.
- Spine line
The spine generally makes a beautiful flowing curve, even when the torso is quite straight.
The only time it won’t have much of a curve is when you’re viewing a straight pose straight on.
You’ll want to observe where the curve changes direction. Often as it runs along the ribcage it’s going to have a gentle convex curvature and generally stays fairly similar in all sorts of poses because the ribcage is fairly rigid.
At the neck it can have a sharper curve if the head is strongly bent one way or the other.
The curve is likely to change below the ribcage, in most standing poses it’ll start to curve the other way, going concave but not always.
Either way, we are looking for bold movements of your arm to make these lines. Try to see where the end of your curve on the lower back aligns with the shoulders and get that roughly right.
The spine flows down to this triangle where it often disappears from view – that triangle is called the sacrum. It’s like an arrow head on the end of the spine line.
This shape breaks up the line from spine to butt crack.
It’s a really great landmark that is visible in a lot of poses and figures. Look at the shape of the triangle – the angles of the sides and how narrow or wide it is.
- Butt crack
The spine continues down to the butt and attaches to the pelvic bone. In terms of what we can see though, think about that spine line continuing through to the butt crack. The curve is again going to be a smooth convex curve to the body.
- Pelvis / pants line
So we know there’s this big rigid shape of the pelvis somewhere down here. It’s a pretty complicated shape, but for now lets focus on this one line – that line across the top of the pelvis.
Basically just imagine the model is wearing a basic pair of pants and imagine where the waistband would run.
Another clue is the top line of that sacrum triangle.
What we want to do is get the curve right. Is it curving upwards or downwards? In other words, is the pelvis tilted towards your eyes or away from your eyes? That’s what we want to get right with this line.
It’s useful to get a sense of where the ribcage is in the torso. It’s a big rigid mass that dictates so much of the shape.
If there’s a bend in the pose, then the ribcage will often stick out on one side causing a slightly sharper angle in the outline, like this.
- Shoulder blades
These are also great landmarks. They’re pretty triangular, but you’ll usually see these two lines. This angle here is a bit over right angle.
Here’s the crucial thing about these – they move! They aren’t fixed to the ribcage, they sort of float above it and as the shoulders and arms move, they move too. They move in various ways, for now lets keep it simple – when the arms are up or out, they move up and around like this.
Pay attention to the distance from spine to each edge to indicate the rotation from the viewer’s eye and any twist in the torso.
What we really want to get right is the smooth curves and the sharp folds of the outlines on the sides of the torso. Sometimes both sides are smooth curves especially straighter torsos. On more bent torsos, often one side will be smooth and the other can have a sharper angle change. You want to do that sharp angle change justice.
On ladies, the bottom of the ribcage is often narrowest point at waist – a turning point. On men, there is less of an obvious single turning point, and things might flatten out before changing angle again.
- Opposing diagonals
The muscles are a little complicated on the back, so lets keep it super simple.
There’s some general musculature flowing along these diagonals – from that sacrum triangle up to under the armpits. These are the lats and some other bits and pieces.
Then there’s some lines that generally flow from around the inner parts of the shoulder blades and curve out to the sides of pelvis.
This isn’t great anatomy guys, but this is easy and useful!
- Neck and shoulders
Remember that the spine line flows into the neck, the neck isn’t a separate thing sitting on top of the back. And the trapezius is going to flow from the shoulders up to the neck on the sides.
Also remember that those tear shaped muscles of the shoulder – the deltoids – they wrap all the way around the shoulder to the back, so we are usually going to see a lot of them from the back.
Ok so that’s drawing backs – 10 things to look for. To summarise:
Look for the angle of the shoulders, the flowing curves of the spine and then the line across the top of the pelvis. Often the line of the shoulders and the line of the pelvis will counteract each other, so look for their angles and don’t flatten them out. Use the triangle of the sacrum to help you and look at its shape. The spine curves flow into the butt crack at the bottom and into the neck at the top. It’s a good idea to get some sense of where the big mass of the ribcage is, especially in bent poses where it is really affecting the outline. The shoulder blades are great landmarks, and they move around on top of the ribcage as the shoulders and arms move. As you draw the sides of the torso, look for important sharp angles and do justice to them. But if it’s not important, just smoothen it out. There’s often some nice flowing lines from the sacrum triangle to under the armpits, and from the inside edges of the shoulder blades down and out towards the sides of the pelvis.