To be a successful figurative sculptor, a fundamental knowledge of anatomy is required. In this case, anatomy refers to the skeleton, muscles, and skin and fat – also collectively known as surface anatomy. There are entire topics written on this subject, so a comprehensive discourse is beyond the scope of this topic. Nonetheless, the paragraphs that follow will review important information on these concepts.
The skeletal system is the armature on which the rest of the anatomy rests. Understanding the shapes of bones and the way joints articulate and move will help you create figures that are properly proportioned and naturally posed. The skeleton also forms natural bony landmarks on the surface of the body. For instance, the front of the torso is defined by the clavicles, the lower edge of the ribs, and the superior edges of the pelvis. The back of the torso is defined by the edges of the scapulas, the processes of the vertebrae, the sacrum, and the iliac crests. Because the skeleton is the underlying support and structure of the body, it dictates the form. Thus, it is important to be familiar with skeletal anatomy.
Muscles are the underlying mass of the human body, especially in the arms and legs. Muscles are composed of microscopic fibers, which are collected into larger and larger bundles. The largest of these bundles are visible under the skin, especially when the muscle is doing work. Just take a look at a photograph of an athlete in action, and you will see these muscle bundles. When roughing in the primary forms on a figurative sculpture, add mass according to the underlying muscle groups and smooth the clay (or polygons) in the direction of the muscle bundles.
Skin and Fat
As the protective covering overlying all anatomy, the skin drapes over the shapes created by bones and muscles. However, the skin does not drape over the body like a sheet covering a piece of furniture. The skin is held in place by a network of underlying, loose, connective tissues. So, when a muscle moves, the skin moves with it to varying degrees. Like muscle, the skin also has a directional flow often referred to as cleavage or Langer’s lines. These lines dictate how the skin moves over bones and muscles, and how folds, tension lines, creases, and wrinkles form. So, it is important to have a basic understanding of the properties of skin when sculpting.
Another important component of skin is the subcutaneous fat, which is found directly under the skin. Subcutaneous fat drastically affects the surface anatomy. For instance, the shape of a young person’s face is largely dictated by the fat under the skin. Also, subcutaneous fat is distributed in predictable areas such as the chest, hips, and thighs. However, the location of subcutaneous fat varies between men and women. For example, men tend to deposit fat around the midsection, whereas women tend to deposit it in the hips, buttocks, and thighs. So, as with the skeleton and muscles, it is also a good idea to understand the anatomy of skin and fat.
Even though someone viewing your sculpture may not know human anatomy, they may naturally be aware of what looks “right" and can easily pick out an anatomical oversight. If you are going to be sculpting zombies, satyrs, lizard-men, or any other type of monstrous creature, then an understanding of human anatomy still applies because these creatures are humanoid. The creature isn’t quite human, but the general principles of human anatomy still apply.