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How to Draw Upper Back Muscles – Form

June 8, 20161 Comment

In this lesson you’ll learn how to draw the forms of the upper back muscles.


Last time, you learned the origins, insertions, 3 key portions, and tendinous areas of the trapezius. But knowing how to track the muscles from origin to insertion is not enough. You should be able to visualize the 3d forms. There’s many different masses to consider. Not to mention how they change in different poses! The shoulders have incredible mobility and depending on how the scapula is positioned, the trapezius might bulge out around it or stretch thinly toward it.

Trapezius Muscle Drawing Stretching and Rest Position

Top Portion

On the back of the neck are two vertical cylinders, separated by the nuchal ligament. On the surface, you’ll see the vertical indentation expand to the flat diamond or teardrop shape of the tendon. In the middle of that tendon is the 7th cervical vertebra. A very important bony landmark.

It’s important to study areas of the back that are tendinous to understand the bumps, where the muscles protrude, and where the tendons stay flat. The big shape of this tendon will appear flat. It’s flatness makes the trapezius muscle mass look thicker by contrast.

Muscular Trapezius Muscles Art Model

The two vertical cylinders thicken as they flow down to insert on the clavicles, which is visible in the front in certain poses even on non-muscular people.

While we’re on anterior view, here’s a basic figure drawing tip. Don’t draw the shoulders at a right angle with the neck. The skeleton might look that way, sure, but the traps come down from the back of the skull at a soft curve to insert on the far edge of the shoulder. It’s a nice sloping angle from neck to shoulders. If you draw it at a right angle, it will make your figure look like a groundhog.

Front View Slope Angle of Trapezius

On a muscular person, the traps will bulge out at the acromion. This makes a kind of smooth-then-sudden rhythm to the top of the shoulders. The deltoids start where the traps end and create a double-curve contour.

Middle Portion

The next one down is the middle portion that travels horizontally from the bottom half of the tendon to the spine of the scapula, like a cone. Often times it will blend with the upper portion, but on muscular figures it can appear distinctly individual.

This thickness is very obvious on muscular people, but will be plain to see even on lean people if the scapulas are pulled upward and inward and the traps are flexed. The spine of the scapula is subcutaneous and flat, but the muscle on top of it is overflowing like a muffin top. A muscular muffin top.

Anthony Muffin Top Trapezius

Lower Portion

Let’s take a look at the lower portion. This mass can bulge out, but it isn’t as spherical as the mass above the scapula. We’ll talk more about the mass between the scapulas in a second, since a lot of that mass is actually the rhomboid.

At the corner of the scapula, where the bottom portion inserts, the tendon will cut out a C curve. I use this shape a lot to identify the corner of the scapula which then leads to the medial edge and spine of the scapula. This shape is very prominent especially when the muscle is flexing.

C-Curve Trapezius Highlighted Art Model

As the tail travels downward, it covers the latissimus and ends with a W shape. So, you’ll see a tail on both side of the trapezius.

The tail of trapezius won’t always follow the expected path. Sometimes when the rhomboid is active, the trapezius slides off it toward the spine. So you might see a subtle edge of the trapezius wrapping around the medial side of the rhomboid. Speaking of rhomboid…


The form of the rhomboid is very simple. As you know, the tail of the trapezius covers most of the rhomboid. It mostly serves to add mass to the area between the scapula, but as we mentioned, the tail of the trapezius is thin. So, sometimes you will see the shape of the rhomboid pushing through as an oblique bulge. Not sure if you’re looking at a trapezius or rhomboid? Think about the direction of the muscle fiber. They have perpendicular oblique angles.

What about when they’re both active? Sometimes, you might see them both equally.

Drawing Showing Rhomboid Form

When we don’t understand the forms of the upper back, we end up just shading isolated blobs. But think about the complete shape of the trapezius and rhomboid and try to create a rhythm or flow between the masses. Show where it’s coming from and where it’s going.
Shading Forms of the Upper Back

That’s it! Go ahead and pat yourself on the back, because you’ve learned all the back muscles! Or at least all the muscles you should know as an artist. If you’re a surgeon, you should probably keep studying…


Your assignment is to do quicksketch drawings showing the motion and form of the upper back.

For the second bonus part of this assignment, pose Skelly using the Skelly App. Then invent the muscles on top. This is a true test of your knowledge because you have no reference to work from. You have to invent the forms based on what you learned in these lessons. You also have to make sure you position the scapula accurately. The app gives you complete freedom to rotate the scapula how you want, so you have to think about the limitations and accuracy of your poses.

joint assignment

Download Assignment Photos

You can get the quicksketch drawing reference in the link above and the Skelly App in the iOS or Android store. Good luck and most importantly, have fun!

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Comments (1)

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  1. Michael Gonzalez says:

    Excellent studies; Videos and photos are great information references.
    Great Website!



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