Lesson 4 – Adding mass with ribcages

It’s best to view the video version of the lesson, to see the demonstrations, but if you prefer we have also written it all out below.

After we have put down our visual landmark superstickman, we need to start building up the mass of the figure.

After this lesson… you will have drawn many ribcages and pelvic area shapes

The skull, ribcage and pelvic bone are fairly solid and rigid parts of the body (though not always completely rigid). They’re shapes that won’t change too much between poses. The muscle and fat around the neck, chest, mid-section and hips will stretch and squash and twist, but that will generally be built on the solid foundation of those three masses.

We’ve already gone over how we’d like you to start the head – the oval with centre lines showing the 3D form and where the head is pointing. That’s got a bit of mass already. So lets look at the ribcage.

Often people recommend drawing in some sort of cylinder or cube to represent the ribcage. But the basic shape of an actual ribcage isn’t that complex to learn.

This first steps course is not focused on anatomy, and it’s up to your personal preference how deep you’d like to go into anatomy later in your learning. But we felt that learning just the very basics of the ribcage shape was useful to everyone, and fundamental enough to all poses that it should be learned even at this early stage.

The really useful thing is that from the front you can often see the lower front edges of it, it’s centre line along the middle of the chest, and you know that its top is located near the middle of the collarbones, which means more visible landmarks to place it.

Even if its edges are covered by muscle or fat, there will still be visible clues about where it is and what angle you’re seeing it from. This will all help you position it properly. So rather than changing that shape that we can partially see, lets practise the actual ribcage shape until that becomes quick and easy for us to see and draw.

Here’s the simple ribcage shape we’d like you to get used to drawing. It’s pretty narrow at the top, where it comes to this little heart-shaped disc. From the front, the ribcage comes down via curving lines to the sides, and the bottom front edge the arch you see with its peak at the solar plexus. This is usually the clearest visible landmark of the ribcage from the front – the arch above the stomach.

On some figures, it’s quite a sharp and narrow arch while on others it’s broader. Sometimes people say it’s narrow on women and broad on men, but in terms of how it appears on the surface, the shape of the arch we see is determined a lot by how muscular the abs are. A skinny man might show a sharp and narrow arch.

When there’s a lot of muscle here and depending on the pose, the arch itself might not even be visible, but we can still see a curving arch that we can use in much the same way to position our ribcage shape.

It’s worth keeping in mind that sometimes a lot of muscle can confuse things a little since the muscles around the sides of the torso sort of look like ribs.

When you practise drawing ribcages, draw them as 3D shapes – so add some simple tone to show their form.

Lets look at the ribcage shape from the side. It sort of reminds me of an aubergine or eggplant. We don’t see the arch much here. The back edge is a little flatter than the front edge. At the top, we can see that the heart-shaped disc we noticed before is tilted forward a bit.

And now from the back. There is a very shallow arch on the backside, but it’s not very important to us now. The ribcage shape is a little flatter on this side. Down the centre of course the ribcage is attached to the spine.

An artist in Australia called Scott Breton made this really cool interactive 3D model of the ribcage. There’s a few of these around, but we think this is the best one, especially for this exercise. Scott has very kindly said we can use this to practise from. We’ve inserted it below, and it’s on Scott’s website, where you can also see Scott’s great life drawings – thanks Scott! Click on the blue play button and let the 3D model load. Then try clicking and dragging to move it around to the angle you need.


When you look at a figure, so much information is sent to your eyeballs. You have to be selective about the information you take in and process. We can get a head start on every pose by having some known shapes at our fingertips. And I really mean at our fingertips.

Seeing and drawing this shape should become second nature. We want to know some shapes like we know the words and grammar of our mother tongue. We can understand infinite sentences without thinking about the definition of every word or each grammatical rule used. When taking in a figure, we’ll want to take in the angle and position of the ribcage only, with the rest of the ribcage structure being second nature to us.

Ribcage exercise

We would like you to draw 100 ribcage shapes from various angles – until you are a bit sick of them really.

You don’t have to be perfect or super detailed as you draw these, but try to get the shape right. Draw it as a 3D shape – using some tone to give it form. You don’t have to do all 100 in one go – I’ve been doing 20 each day before moving on to other drawing exercises.

After your 100 drawings, you can start to draw the ribcage from your imagination, to test yourself. After each drawing, go back to the 3D model and move it into the same angle you did your drawing at. This way, you can check your work against the model – check the angles, the direction of the curves, where the ribcage goes wide or thin and so on.

Now guys, we don’t need to get to perfect ribcages here. We are learning a lot at once, so it’s not all going to be perfect. We are adding 3D shapes to our figure – a big step in life drawing. There will be time to iron out mistakes – for now let’s be proud that we’re making the strides that we are making. We can go back to ribcages in the future.


Wrap up

Well done for getting this far – lets keep it up! Once you are feeling good about your ribcages, it’s time to move on to the next lesson, where we will add the ribcage to our stickman, look at the pelvic area, and look at side and back views.

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