Improve Cartoon Anatomy: 5 Practical Drawing Tips
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. Practice the basics of anatomy
  2. Use reference images
  3. Learn to simplify and exaggerate
  4. Draw in different poses
  5. Study the work of other artists

Imagine this: you're sketching your favorite cartoon character. You've got the head shape down, the eyes are popping, but something's off. The body proportions seem a bit... wonky? You're not alone in this struggle. Improving anatomy in cartoon drawing can be a tricky business, but there are ways to ace it. Let's jump right in.

Practice the basics of anatomy

Before you draw cartoons, you need to know the human body. Think of it as your drawing's foundation—without it, everything else might wobble. Let's dive into some practical steps on how to improve anatomy in cartoon with a focus on the basics.

Know Your Proportions

Proportions are the key to making your characters look believable, even in the wacky world of cartoons. Here's a tip: a standard adult body is about eight heads tall. This doesn't mean you have to stick to this rule religiously. After all, cartoons are all about bending rules. But it gives you a starting point and a handy guide when you're drawing your characters. Remember:

  • Heads: The size of the head often determines the age of the cartoon character. Bigger heads usually mean younger characters.
  • Bodies: The length and width of the torso and legs can drastically change the character's appearance. Experiment with different shapes and sizes to find what works best for your character.

Learn the Skeleton

Yes, even cartoon characters have skeletons. And understanding the basic structure of the human skeleton can be a game-changer in how you draw cartoons. Here's why:

  1. It helps you visualize the character in three dimensions, making your drawing more dynamic.
  2. It guides you on where to place the joints, allowing for more accurate movement in your character's poses.
  3. It gives you a framework to build on, making the drawing process smoother.

Understand Musculature

Cartoon characters might not need a detailed muscular system, but knowing where the major muscles are can give your characters a sense of authenticity. Here's how:

  1. It adds depth to your character's form, making them look less flat.
  2. It guides you on how clothing or fur might drape over the character's body.
  3. It gives your characters a sense of weight and solidity, making them feel more real.

So, grab your sketchbook, start observing, and practice these basics. Your cartoon's anatomy will thank you for it!

Use reference images

Let's be real, drawing from memory can be tough. Our brains aren't photographic, and that's okay! Reference images are your secret weapon in the quest of how to improve anatomy in cartoon. Here's how you can use them effectively.

Choose the Right Reference

Not all reference images are created equal. You'll want to choose images that clearly show the pose or body part you're working on. A simple Google search can be a goldmine, but remember:

  • Quality: Look for high-resolution images. The clearer the image, the easier it'll be to see the details.
  • Angles: Find images taken from different angles. This can help you understand the 3D form of what you're drawing.

Break Down the Image

Once you have your reference, don't just copy it line by line. Break it down into simpler shapes. This helps you understand the underlying structure and makes drawing more manageable. Here's a quick guide:

  1. Start with basic shapes. Think circles, squares, and triangles.
  2. Add in the skeleton. Remember the joints and proportions we talked about earlier?
  3. Finally, add the details. This is where your character's unique features come into play.

Use Multiple References

One image is great, but more can be better. Using multiple references lets you see different perspectives and variations. It also helps prevent your drawings from becoming too rigid or uniform. Here's a tip:

  • Variety: Mix and match different images to create unique characters. You could take the hairstyle from one image, the pose from another, and so on.
  • Experiment: Don't be afraid to combine human anatomy with animals or even objects. That's the beauty of cartooning!

Armed with your references, you're ready to take your cartoon anatomy to the next level. Happy drawing!

Learn to simplify and exaggerate

Alright, who's ready to have some fun? One of the most exciting parts about learning how to improve anatomy in cartoon is the chance to play around with simplification and exaggeration. Let's jump right in!

Simplification: Less is More

Cartooning isn't about drawing every single detail. In fact, it's quite the opposite. We simplify details to make our cartoons more readable and expressive. Here's a little two-step guide to help:

  1. Identify the Essentials: Decide what features are most important to your character. Is it their big, round eyes? Or maybe it's their tiny feet? Identify these and make them the focus.
  2. Eliminate the Extras: Once you've decided on the essential features, it's time to cut the rest. Remember, simplicity is key in cartooning.

Exaggeration: Make it Big, Make it Bold

Exaggeration is where cartooning really gets to shine. This is your chance to take normal anatomy and turn it up a notch (or three). Here are some tips to help you exaggerate effectively:

  • Play with Proportions: Want to draw a character with a giant head and a tiny body? Go for it! In cartoons, proportions don't have to follow reality.
  • Emphasize Emotions: Cartoons are all about expressiveness. If your character is happy, make them ecstatic. If they're angry, make them furious. Don't be afraid to go over the top.

And there you have it! With these tips on simplification and exaggeration, you're well on your way to improving your cartoon anatomy. Remember, the only limit is your imagination!

Draw in different poses

So, you've mastered the basics and played around with simplification and exaggeration. What's next on the journey of how to improve anatomy in cartoon? Let's dive into drawing your characters in different poses.

Start with Basic Shapes

Before you start sketching out complicated poses, it's helpful to break your characters down into simple shapes. Think of circles for heads, rectangles for torsos, and lines for limbs:

  1. Basic Sketch: Start with a rough sketch using simple shapes. This doesn't have to be perfect; it's just a guide.
  2. Refine and Define: From here, you can start refining your sketch, adding in the character's features and details.

Explore a Variety of Poses

Now that you've got your basic shapes down, it's time to let your character move and groove. Try out a variety of poses to give life and personality to your characters:

  • Action Poses: Get your character moving! Jumping, running, dancing—action poses can add energy and excitement to your cartoons.
  • Emotive Poses: Poses can also tell us about a character's feelings. A slumped posture can show sadness, while a chest-puffed-out stance can show pride.

Remember, practice makes perfect. The more you draw, the more comfortable you'll get with different poses, and the better your cartoon anatomy will become. So keep those pencils moving!

Study the work of other artists

Another important tip on how to improve anatomy in cartoon is to draw inspiration from other artists. This doesn't mean copying their work, but rather understanding their techniques and applying them to your own style.

Identify Your Artistic Role Models

First off, identify a few artists whose work you admire. They might be famous cartoonists like Charles Schulz or Matt Groening, or perhaps lesser-known artists whose work you've discovered online. Take note of:

  • Style: How do they depict their characters? Is their style more realistic or exaggerated?
  • Poses: How do they depict movement? Pay attention to their use of poses in conveying emotion and action.

Understand Their Techniques

Once you've identified your artistic role models, try to understand the techniques they use in their work:

  1. Analyze: Look closely at their art. How do they draw different body parts? How do they use lines and shapes?
  2. Recreate: Try to recreate some of their work. This isn't about making a perfect copy, but rather understanding their process.

By studying the work of other artists, you can gain new insights and ideas that can help you improve your own cartoon anatomy. Remember, every artist has their unique approach—don't be afraid to experiment with different techniques until you find what works best for you.

If you're eager to improve your cartoon anatomy drawing skills, don't miss the workshop 'Basic Animal Anatomy for Artists' by Viktoria. This workshop will provide you with practical techniques and insights on drawing animal anatomy, which can be applied to your cartoon creations. Dive into this workshop and take your cartoon art to the next level!