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  • Writer's pictureR Cipolletta

e18: Introduction to Animal Anatomy - Marshall Vandruff

The Gnomon Workshop 16.10.20

Thinking of the Scottish Deerhound

Forenote: It's immediately noticeable the difference in quality from this sketch and my previous work on the Mermaid. Among other things, the fur, which would otherwise be considered to be the most tedious part of animal anatomy, was a joy to invest my time into - giving evidential credence to Nigel's advice in the Wednesday session (entry 16).

Inventing Forms:

As part of generating research and inspiration for the development of my Detective narrative, I dove straight into the dog design for no other reason except that I was excited about doing so. I figured this was a good starting point, considering the reasons behind why I eliminated the Mermaid (entry 17).

This introduction to animal anatomy that I had earmarked on the Gnomon Workshop was intimidating at first, but it has become clear to me that this is because I misunderstood how anatomy informs design.

Originally thinking of the gargantuan task of memorising all of the different boxes that make up any given animal, I hadn't considered that there these boxes weren't pre-set. There is no encyclopaedia of exactly what boxes make any given animal, as I had somehow thought there was, but rather it's my job as an individual artist to figure out what boxes I choose to create (and memorise) for any animal that I'm studying. This changes the perspective in my head from studying forms to inventing them and makes it exciting and palatable as opposed to terrifying and impossible.

To this effect, I analysed this series of videos with less emphasis on the forms Mr Vandruff was showing me, and more so on the method he was using to assign the forms.

I noted he was aligning his boxes and circles much more to the musculature and internal bone structures of the creature, and almost completely ignoring the external shape. This is not an incorrect way of doing so - if anything it's best - but I was finding that I couldn't easily visualise the meaty parts of the animal as easily until he outlined them to me. I tried drawing my character, the Scottish Deerhound, in this context as well, copying more or less the structures that Vandruff was using consistently throughout his drawing, and still struggled to visualise the in-between spaces without a reference.

I think my main issue with this is that I need more guidance on the visible side of the equation, more so than I need help with internal structures. I was just about to go ahead and investigate this new theory when I just so happened to have another brainstorming session with a third party, my partner and colleague, who interrupted my progress with this dog to raise some interesting points about the overall character before I could get ahead of myself.

(continued in next entry...)



  • Two ways to study anatomy: Observation & Analysis. Observation involves far too much detail for it to be practical (too much to memorise). Analysis involves the boxy shapes that can be memorised and Mr. Vandruff focuses even further on Form Analysis.

  • Proportions in animals can be summarised by the use of squares - but that then means that you have to get that square right in order to make sure there's no cross over between what you want your animal to be and other animals that have similar squares. It's an inflexible solution so it's only a starting point - later you will need to divide up the shape into smaller boxes.

"The trick is to see complex components in as simple as shapes possible. That's the secret to mastering proportion..."

  • Shoulder blades on running animals/quadrupeds are on the SIDE. Bipedal/standing animals have them on the BACK. Good to know...

  • Thee pelvis and shoulder of an animal tend to be two arrows pointing outward, mirroring each other: < >. The elbow and knee do the same but in the opposite direction: > <. And the elbow and ankle have the most similar structures, comparatively, and both point in the same direction: > >.

  • Muscles are thick by the trunk and get leaner the more they go out. They work in pairs to pull in opposite directions (extensors extend

  • Muscles cant push, they only pull - and bunch up as they pull.

  • Toes, fingers, claws, and hooves have no muscles!! They only have tendons to do the pushing and pulling.

  • 'Anatomical Charts' are just maps - meant for guidance more than journey.

  • A major axis is the longest measurement of any object or animal.

  • A cross-contour (like a rubber-band around the middle of something) helps to keep track of the foreshortening.

  • Place the form first and let the features follow.

  • Drawing with forms is great but it can lead to stiff, dead-looking animals. So it's better to start loosely and impulsively and then apply form afterward.

  • Start loosely ---> Analyse ---> Finish.

  • The goal is to get so good that it becomes natural - affecting even our scribbles.

  • Mastering animal anatomy exercise: draw skeletons as 3D stick figures (focus on positions and lengths). Start loosely, then refine to bones like sticks that are thick enough to be forms. Repeat!

  • Start with the ribcage - and go next to the ribcage and hips next.

  • There are spikes on the top that make the silhouette concave, but the actual spine is convex - remember this!

  • Human ribcages are wide an shallow - with flat chest plates. Animal ribcages are deep and narrow - with curving chest plates (sternums). A bird's sternum is huge (like the front of a boat) to anchor down the wing muscles that have to be huge so that they can flap.

  • The details don't help to draw a creature - just worry about the huge structures.

  • Learning about muscles helps to exaggerate convincingly.

  • long muscles across back lift the neck.

  • Diagonal muscles from hip to chest are fir twisting.

  • Basic forms: (1) Box pelvis, egg ribcage, egg head. (2) Beach ball pelvis, barrel ribcage, wedge head. As I go it's handy to develop my own way of documenting form - it's about what's easiest for me.

  • Using a 3D box for the main structure of the body helps to position the feet right.

  • Fibula are not present in hooved animals or any animals that cannot wiggle their toes/have extended motion in their feet like we can.

  • The bump of the knee can 'shift' from an external perspective. Fat pad (above) --> patella (knee cap) --> top of femur (the condyle) --> 'nose' of tibia. You can choose which one you pick

  • On animals that can spin their arms, the radius is a separate bone in the front limb (similar to how to tibia and femur are separated on animals that can flex and rotate their feet/toes)

  • The radius and ulna (the two bones in the arms) twist over themselves when the arm rotates! Animals with these bones start with them in a rotated position and, if they can rotate at all, will spin them straight to turn up their 'palms'. Animals with less ability to twist (like dogs) have less of a spin on these, and more of just a soft diagonal. Hooved animals don't have this at all - instead having a single fused bone in that area.

  • Animals are constantly pushing up from the ground so their pectoral muscles are bigger and more pronounced (these are the egg shaped muscles you see on a horse).

  • Use a 'wedge' shape for horse shoulders - and find similar cheats for other animals.

  • Forelegs are like pillars - they support the animal's weight.

  • most mammals have 7 neck bones (vertebrae)

  • Grazing animals have lower starting necks to help them reach the ground.

  • Animals can twist their necks a lot more than us. To tackle this, draw boxes for the two farthest points in the twist, and then connect the corners.

  • After studying the anatomy and being comfortable with flexing form, it's important to re-teach yourself to be spontaneous and artistic.

  • Animals don't have flat heads so the furthest eye will distort as it curves round that rest of the animal's head in foreshortening.

  • For an artist, an ear is a modified horn to gather sound - nothing more.

  • All ears have a bowl at the base, like a conch - even when not very visible it's good to bear it in mind.

  • Canines help to define the borders of the planes, from 'side' to 'front' on a muzzle.

  • Comparisons are the most efficient shortcuts when dealing with expressions - especially in animal-human hybrids.

  • <-- has animal anatomy reference books for further research!

  • Need to develop my own preferred forms for the deerhound from observational studies.

  • Originally drew the neck and ribcage wrong and the back knee.

  • EXERCISE: translate all of the body parts of the Scottish Deerhound into the simplified, recognisable shapes, in accordance to the titles of the videos.

  • EXERCISE: Draw animals as people? Do I want to represent my Detective, visually, with an animal??

- R Cipolletta



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