Drawing Basics: Understanding Anatomy by Drawing the Foot

7 Jul 2008

David Jon Kassan foot drawingAbout 25% of the human body's bones are in the foot, a vitally important structure for a biped. Here's a drawing tutorial about what draftsmen need to know to draw the foot and depict its function convincingly.

by David Jon Kassan

David Jon Kassan foot drawing--Bone Outstep
Bone Outstep
by David Jon Kassan, 2008,
graphite drawing on Bristol board, 11 x 17.
All artwork this article collection the artist.

This drawing shows where one of
the bones of the lower leg (the tibia)
meets the ankle (the talus) and
how this sits on top of the
heel bone (the calcaneus).

It may not be important for artists to know the name of each muscle and bone within the foot, but it is important for a draftsman to understand the underlying structure and function of each part in order to draw it. An artist who is aware of how the muscles and bones of the foot push out on the skin will understand how different aspects of a foot’s contour can be affected by these convex shapes. Additionally, an informed rendering of the foot’s wedgelike contour in space can make the difference between having a well-grounded, weighted figure and a figure that is disconnected from its surroundings. The foot should not be ignored.

The foot is built for movement, stability, and toughness. It supports the weight of the entire body, and serves as its main source of locomotion. At first glance the foot doesn’t appear to be as complex as it is, but the foot and ankle contain 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This complexity allows the foot to withstand a vast amount of pressure while remaining very flexible. For drawing purposes we will only discuss the main sections of the foot and ankle that influence its shape and individual forms.

But for any anatomy drawing to succeed, a draftsman must have a comfort and familiarity with drawing basics as a basis to build from.

David Jon Kassan foot drawing--Bone Instep
Bone Instep
by David Jon Kassan, 2008,
graphite drawing on Bristol board, 11 x 17.

A profile view shows how the
bones of the instep are connected
to the thicker, heavier calcaneus
as well as the delicate and
flexible phalanges.

Bone Structure
The bone structure of the foot consists of three different sections: the hindfoot, the midfoot, and the forefoot. The hindfoot is the back portion of the foot, and it includes the heel, which connects the foot to the lower leg. The midfoot acts as the arched bridge between the hind and forefoot. Both the midfoot and hindfoot are referred to as the tarsus, due in large part to the seven tarsal bones that are in both sections. The forefoot is the delicate section of the foot that consists of the five toes (called the phalanges).

David Jon Kassan foot drawing demonstration--Outstep Drawing Demonstration

Outstep Drawing Demonstration
by David Jon Kassan, 2008, graphite drawing on Bristol board, 17 x 11.

Step by step drawing: I start by blocking in an estimate of the outside contours of the subject, focusing on the main wedge shape of the foot's outstep. I then find landmarks within the foot to develop and map out the correct proportions. From there I lay in the light and shadow patterns within the foot, starting with the larger areas and then honing the shapes and transitions. I've found that understanding the anatomy of the foot is really helpful when developing the overall shape of the foot at the beginning, when discovering landmarks for accurate proportions, and when visualizing the form of the foot toward the end of the drawing.

The hindfoot acts as an anchor and consists of four bones: the talus, the calcaneus, the navicular, and the cuboid. The calcaneus bone is also known as the heel bone and is the largest bone of the foot, as well as being the body’s main weight-bearing bone. The calcaneus bone ends in the calcaneal tuberosity, which is the large, rounded protuberance that forms the heel and is attached to the Achilles tendon. The talus bone sits above the calcaneus and is the pivot bone for the ankle.

David Jon Kassan foot drawing--Muscles Outstep
Muscles Outstep
by David Jon Kassan, 2008,
graphite drawing on Bristol board,
17 x 11.

This anatomy drawing is of an anatomy cast
that I found in the studio where I teach.
It clearly illustrates the flow of
the extrinsic muscles over the
three sections of the foot.

There are three main joints in this portion of the foot. The primary joint is that of the ankle or talus, which is flanked on both sides by the fibula and the tibia. This hinge articulation allows the foot to shift up and down and is a major component to the body’s locomotion. The subtalar joint consists of the heel bone and the talus and allows for the movement of the foot’s sole either toward or away from its median plane. The talonavicular joint is a flexible joint that links the talus to the navicular bone, just as its name suggests. Visually, this joint leads the hind foot into the midfoot.

The midfoot is made up of the three cuneiform bones, as well as the navicular and the cuboid bone. These bones are intricately and irregularly grouped together; this unique interlocking structure helps add to the foot’s solidity. The midfoot is the bridge between the hindfoot and forefoot sections and is composed of five tarsal bones. These bones form the arch of the foot, which evenly distributes the body’s weight in much the same way an arch works in architecture.

The forefoot is the most delicate portion of the foot and is composed of two different types of bones: the phalanges and the metatarsals. The metatarsal bones are long, tapering bones that connect the cuboid bone and the cuneiform bones to the smaller, more delicate phalanges that make up our five toes. The main weight-bearing bone of the forefoot is the first metatarsal bone, which leads to the phalanges of the big toe. This first metatarsal bone is crucial to the body’s forward motion and is attached to many tendons. The connection between the metatarsals and the phalanges are at the five individual metatarsal phalangeal joints that are located at the ball of the foot. This portion of the foot receives half of the body’s weight and uses the ball of the foot to distribute that stress evenly.

David Jon Kassan foot drawing, Muscles Anterior
Muscles Anterior
by David Jon Kassan, 2008,
graphite drawing on Bristol board, 17 x 11.

Here one can see how the extrinsic
muscles unify and flesh out the
form of the foot.

The Muscles
The muscles of the foot give it much of its shape. There is a network of 20 muscles that holds the bones in place and provides a flexible support system that enables the foot to expand and contract in movement. The muscles of the foot are broken down into two classifications: extrinsic (external) or intrinsic (internal). Because we are mostly interested in the form of the foot and its shape, we are more concerned with the extrinsic muscles. Our understanding of how these muscles wrap around the bone structure helps us understand the underlying rhythms and the pushing of the convex forms that we are confronted with when drawing the foot.

The visual movements of the extrinsic muscles are very important to the draftsman. The muscles of the foot flow down from the lower leg as a continuation of the body’s visual flow. There are four main muscles that run vertically down from the lower leg: the tibialis anterior, the extensor hallucious longus, the extensor digitorum longus, and the peroneus tertius. These muscles are grouped together at the ankle and flow underneath two lateral muscles: the superior extensor retinaculum and the inferior extensor retinaculum, which help to secure the ankle joint by wrapping around it like an Ace bandage. The superior extensor wraps around the top portion of the joint and secures the lateral malleolus of the fibula (outstep) to the medial malleolus of the tibia (instep). The inferior extensor retinaculum handles the bottom portion of the ankle joint by slipping under the ankle (lateral malleolus, outstep), then flowing over the front ramp of the foot, then splitting into two sections: an upper portion that connects to the tibia (instep) and a lower portion that flows over and connects to the navicular bone (instep).

The four muscles that are grouped together by this bandage of lateral muscles each flow into different parts of the foot, creating its underlying rhythm. Notable among these is the peroneus tertius muscle, which flows down the outstep of the foot and terminates at the base of the fifth metatarsal (base of the pinky toe). This muscle is responsible for much of the outer shape of the foot. The back of the foot is formed by the Achilles tendon (calcaneal) that flows from the gastrocnemius (calf muscle) to the bottom of the heel bone (calcaneus).    


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