Shoulders made simple – easy anatomy for drawing

If you struggle to draw shoulders, this video/article is for you. We are going to look at the landmark lines and shapes to look for to help make sense of this tricky area, and we’re going to try to keep it as simple and doable as possible.

How do you think of shoulders? Maybe you see them as the corners of the torso. The bits on the edge.

Or maybe they’re like a ball stuck on the side of the torso like on an action figure. I think in my time, both these images of shoulders have been there in my sub-conscious.

Our aim for this video is to change that and see the shoulder as part of a broader structure with volume and depth based on 3 bones and 3 muscles that wraps around the back and front of the torso.

Useful lines from bones

The shoulder is where the collarbones on the front and shoulder blade or scapula on the back and the bone in the upper arm meet each other. You can often see the lines of the collarbones on the front and the ridge of the shoulder blades on the back, and they are really useful ones to look out for.

Skeleton by Sketchfab user Graft:


Unfortunately, you usually can’t see both lines at the same time, because one is on the front and the other on the back. From the side or from above, you can sometimes see both, but generally you get one.

The reference photos come from the fantastic Croquis Cafe:

You can often see that trapezius muscle though, remember that one from the neck video?

This ridge along the top here creates a useful line to go with your collarbone or shoulder blade line. You’ll see it from most angles.

Useful landmark: The bony bit

You can often see this point where those bones meet. And that trapezius ridge usually goes towards this point too.

You can feel it on your own arm – it’s bony here. If you raise your arm, the muscle here, the deltoid muscle, will tense up and stick out more, but still that bony bit will be there on the surface. That’s a useful little point to look out for. It helps you see where the deltoid muscle starts.

Acromion gif: By BodyParts3D is made by DBCLS. (Polygon data is from BodyParts3D) [CC BY-SA 2.1 jp (…)], via Wikimedia Commons

Big 3D shape of the deltoid

So wrapped around that bony point and stretching down the arm is the big shape of what you think of when you think about shoulders – the deltoid muscle, this teardrop shaped muscle.

It’s a sort of rounded triangular shape. It wraps around the top of the arm and around that bony point leaving that bony bit on the surface, attaching to the collarbone on the front and shoulder blade on the back.

Deltoid gif: By Anatomography (en:Anatomography (setting page of this image)) [CC BY-SA 2.1 jp (…)], via Wikimedia Commons

It covers the head of the upper arm bone, so you don’t see that bone really. But that bone is at the heart of the roundness of the deltoid muscle. I haven’t really thought of a good way to say this, but this muscle is very 3D. It wraps all the way around, so be ready to try to capture that rounded volume, noticing where the tones change as the planes change and using that to create the volume in your drawing.

How does the chest fit in?

The muscle of the chest, the pectoral muscle, comes in and attaches to the arm underneath the deltoid. I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that this muscle isn’t just confined to the chest, but the whole point is that it attaches to and moves the arm. The lines from the chest muscle will stretch up with the arm when the arm raises.

Skeleton with muscles by Scott Breton:

Sometimes, especially when the arm is raised a little bit, the pectoral and deltoid flow into each other and can be drawn as one shape, other times there’s a clear distinction with a dip between the two muscles creating a tonal change in this area.


Shoulders are very changeable

Shoulders allow so much different motion and they change appearance in so many ways. The whole thing can move up and down, changing the angles of the bones with it. Then the arm can be raised in a wide range of motions, and rotated at the same time.

In any of these positions, the muscles will stretch and tense up in different ways, the bones also move around, so the overall appearance changes dramatically. That means you need to be open minded about how the shoulder should look, and trust what your eyes say.

Shoulder angle ≠ ribcage angle

Quick side note relating to that – the lines these bones create tell you a ton about the shoulders, but they can move around somewhat independently of the ribcage and of each other. That means they don’t necessarily tell you about the angles of the ribcage or spine. Like the line created by the collarbones here or between the shoulders here, they’re on different angles to the ribcage. If you want to know what angle the ribcage is on, look for that torso centre line or spine line, look for the arch.

What am I looking at?

Often there’s a lot of information presented to your eyes, and looking for these lines and shapes gives you a nice starting point for the drawing. But if you’re not sure about what you’re seeing, I wouldn’t worry too much – the point of using these lines is to make sense of what you see rather than to confuse you. Ultimately your eyes are giving you the information you need to draw, whether your brain fully understands it or not. See it abstractly and draw those shapes.

Anatomy helps give definition and structure

On the other hand, sometimes having some of this basic anatomical knowledge can really reduce confusion. Sometimes your eyes can struggle to pick up on what’s going on, especially when things become quite subtle, like they have here. So what do you draw? What marks should be made, what should be brought out? Well Mayko knows about the scapula and that helps her to see that line and add it to her drawing, bringing a nice sense of definition and clarity. She’s emphasised it extra here for the demonstration.


So to summarise – you’ll often be able to see either the lines of the collarbones or the shoulder blades and the trapezius, and the bony point they lead to. That helps you see where the rounded teardrop shaped deltoid muscle starts and understand where the bone in the upper arm is starting too. You’ll want to capture the volume of that muscle, paying attention to where the tones change. And you’ll want to remember that the chest muscle is going to come up and attach to the arm too under the deltoid, so that’s another line to pay attention to.


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