Animal Anatomy Reviews & Recommendations

Go into your big-city bookstores or search Amazon and you’ll find lots of books on how to draw animals, most of which teach you technique and “tricks” to give your drawing some flash, but neglect the great tradition of classic animal drawing that allows artists to invent from imagination. Some books, like W. Frank Calderon’s Animal Painting and Anatomy, were great for their time, but don’t compare to new resources. Here are the ones I recommend. Note: Some of these books may also be listed under other reviews.


How to Draw Animals

by Jack Hamm

Good “page-packed” introduction. It is strong on comparisons between animals, and filled with insightful hints on what makes one animal look distinctly different from another. It has errors in it, the drawing style is dated, and draftsmanship is not Jack Hamm’s strength, but the good points far outweigh the faults. It’s worth many hours of enjoyable study. —mv

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How to Draw Animals

by Famous Artists School

Very helpful introduction. If you can only afford one book on animal drawing, this is the one. It had multiple authors from the “Famous Artists Mail-Order” school, all of whom were competent professionals sharing their secrets. The general approach to drawing is the same as I teach in my course, which is to divide the discipline into three categories: Gesture, Anatomy and Form. The writing is clear, concise, unpretentious, sound and valuable. You can’t go wrong with this book. —mv

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The Art of Animal Drawing

by Ken Hultgren

Flawed anatomy, excellent form construction. Hultgren was an animator, and his drawings are exciting as well as informative. People who care about accurate anatomy find his drawings maddening (I hate his gorillas), but for all the errors (he draws horses with flexible spines!) the gestural quality is so alive and the forms are so well constructed that I recommend it. Like most Dover books, it is inexpensive. —mv

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Atlas of Animal Anatomy for Artists

by Ellenberger, Dittrich & Baum

The best dissection plates you’ll find. They are amazing. The worst thing about this book is that the drawings are on different pages than the name lists, so you have to find the little letters on the drawings and turn to the page with the names… it takes a great deal of effort to find the name of a muscle or bone. But I don’t know any other source that shows such authoritative detail. It will save you many a dissection to have this book. —mv

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The Artist’s Guide to Animal Anatomy

by Gottfried Bammes

Great pictures, bad text. Don’t attempt to read it. It is contaminated with the kind of academic babble that makes every sentence as complicated as possible. But the analytical diagrams are impressive. Bammes draws animal anatomy with authority, and he is one of those rare artists who can draw with technical precision as well as wild expressiveness. —mv

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Complete Guide to Drawing Animals

by Gottfried Bammes

This is an improved and expanded version of the previous version that quoted me on the back cover in spite of my harsh criticism. The text in this one is better, but not much better. I still recommend it because it covers a broad range of anatomy and form and technique and process with some very good drawn examples, even if less-than-good text. —mv

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Animals in Motion

by Eadweard Muybridge

Even though these photographs are well over a hundred years old, artists keep using them as a standard and classic reference. Muybridge obsessively documented animal locomotion with limited (but remarkable) technology. The fact that the pictures are gritty and high contrast is actually an advantage — there is no temptation to get bogged down in details or copy the surfaces. If you use them for reference and analysis, they are great for studying “anatomical landmark points” and big structural forms as well as motion. —mv

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Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters

by Robert Beverly Hale

This book is not specifically about animals, though it contains some analysis of animal drawings. I plug it at any opportunity because everyone who is serious about drawing should read it. Hale understood classic draftsmanship as thoroughly as anyone in this century, and in this book he analyzes 100 master drawings simply, clearly and with deep insight. I’ve read it seven times. Out of some fifty drawing books I’ve read, it is the absolute top — a solid “ten.” Don’t confuse it with Anatomy Lessons from the Great Masters, which Hale didn’t write even though they used his name. —mv

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The Weatherly Guide to Drawing Animals

by Joe Weatherly

Joe’s book on animal drawing includes his impressive and expressive work it, but he slows down enough to make each point about how to get there. —mv

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Animal Anatomy for Artists: The Elements of Form

by Eliot Goldfinger

When I heard that Eliot Goldfinger released a book on animal anatomy, I went through an enthusiastic rush knowing that he is Mr. Meticulous and covers every detail with impeccable authority. When I saw that he copied from Ellenberger for some of his drawings, my enthusiasm went into remission. Ellenberger is still in print, and nobody is a match for the subtlety and detail that he brought to his drawings.

I got over it. This book is excellent. Goldfinger filled it with new material, and rather than arrange the sections by individual animals (as Ellenberger did), he arranged it by body areas so that you can compare torso and hindleg and foreleg and neck anatomy of several animals all on the same page. He also includes the bone and muscle names right on the plates. This is definitely clinical stuff — no gesture drawings or form analysis, so don’t expect him to teach you how to draw. He takes up where Ellenberger left off and gives us much more material, readable text, and constant observations researched at the highest possible level of expertise. I’ve spent many hours in it and will spend many more. A great reference that sets a new standard for artists who want to know every ripple on an animal’s body. —mv

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Animal Anatomy Seminar

by Marshall Vandruff

My Animal Anatomy Seminar is a concentrated course focusing on Anatomy, Form & Gesture — the three essentials for mastery. For those of you who had me as your animal drawing teacher at CSF or Laguna College, this is a review of that material. I don’t teach it as a semester course anymore, instead I offer it as a four-session course that boils down the best of the semester.

Please see my info pages for details on all my seminars, check my schedule for all upcoming offerings, join my announcement list for the latest updates, or contact me if you have specific questions.

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