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Anatomy 1 - Location, location, location

If you’re thinking of studying anatomy, especially for artists who maybe don’t come from a scientific background, there’s an awful lot of very technical words that you kind of have to know. Or at least, you have to kind of know.


Let us say, that the anterior deltoid originates on the anterosuperior surface of the clavicle and inserts on the deltoid tuberosity found on the anterolateral surface of the diaphysis of the humerus.

If you know none of those words, then it’s gibberish. If you know some of them, then perhaps you know that we’re talking about shoulder muscles and collar bones and the arm. If you know all of those words and have a vague image in your head of what a human shoulder looks like, you could probably draw the muscle onto a skeleton relatively accurately without reference images. Which I appreciate isn’t a task you probably need to undertake with much urgency in your life.


I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you need to know it all by heart before you can even start drawing, but I sure found that having a basic knowledge of anatomical terminology when I started learning made it so much easier in understanding what on earth my anatomy teacher was talking about.* My point is, read the list of words once and see if anything sticks, it’s interesting and you get to sound like you know what you’re talking about when you go to the doctor. Or don’t. I don’t care, I’m not your mother.



Let's begin with how to describe where the thing you’re talking about is.


The anatomical planes are kind of like your X, Y, and Z-axis for reference within the human body. They don’t refer to specific places on the body, but on the direction in which we’re placing the reference line through the body. Think of them as descriptions of the type of cross-section you’re getting if you were taking an x-ray or an MRI scan of the body. These are useful when drawing 3D volumes of bone and muscle to know where you’re standing when you’re looking at a particular thing, especially when studying muscle groups where you might have multiple overlapping layers and you want to see how they interact with each other.



The Frontal (or Coronal) Plane runs vertically through the body, shoulder to shoulder, cutting you in to ‘front and back’.



The Transverse (or Axial or Horizontal) Plane runs parallel to the floor and cuts you in to ‘top and bottom’.



The Sagittal (or Anteroposterior) Plane runs vertically along the body, spine to belly button, and cuts you into ‘left and right’.



There are a handful of ‘anatomical lines’, which are related to specific parts of the body, but these are (in my experience) mostly irrelevant, and I’ve never referenced any of them apart from one:



The Medial Line, also known as the median or midsaggital plane is the centre of symmetry along the sagittal plane of the body. It’s your belly button, straight up, and straight down.



Now, the location terms - these are often used to describe specific areas of a bone when talking about how and where muscles originate and insert. Again, don’t think of these so much as fixed points on the body, but rather a guide to where they are compared to each other. Less GPS locations, and more compass pointing from where we are right now. These have a pleasant element that they always come in pairs (North vs South, East vs West,) they’re nice and easy to remember.


Anterior and Posterior = Front and back divided by the Frontal Plane.


Superior and Inferior = Above and below, transversely.


Medial and Lateral = Closer to, or further away from the medial line.


Distal and Proximal = Further from, or closer to the torso.


Superficial and Profound = Closer to the skin or deeper into the body.


Dorsal and Ventral = To the top/back/spine, or to the bottom/front/belly. These are normally used when describing animal anatomy, but in human anatomy are used for the hands and feet more than anything else, as the back of the foot isn’t really posterior.


Cranial and Caudal = Closer to the skull, or closer to the ‘tail’/pelvis. I might kick myself for saying this later, but I’m pretty sure that these are used almost exclusively in animal and not human anatomy. I’m including them because I have a feeling there might be a few muscles that use these location markers in the torso, so it’s not completely ridiculous to know them, but don’t be mad if they never come up again ever, ok?


So that will conclude the ‘location’ terminology, which I think is enough for one day, and next time we’ll talk about the types of bone, joints, and ranges of motion.


Have a good one, nerds, see you next time.





*Annoyingly, because I studied in Italy I learnt all of these terms in Italian, so you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t use the more common/easier forms of some of these terms because I’m looking them up in an English textbook as I go.

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I'm Fran. I paint, and draw, and animate, and sometimes I blog. I have a wickedly short attention span, and I seem to never have enough time in the day to finish everything I would like to (some peopl

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