Academy Instructor's New Book Helps Artists Capture Human Movement

Long-time Academy of Art University instructor Valerie L. Winslow toyed with the idea of creating a book about anatomical illustration for many years. Since she started teaching figurative art and artistic anatomy at the university’s School of Fine Art in 1989, her students also encouraged her to write such a book. 

 “They thought I taught anatomy in a way that made it easy to understand,” said Winslow. “But there were already lots of books on the subject on the market, so I couldn’t see any point for me to add to them.”

Then a couple of animation students helped her change her mind. They were fascinated by her demos that showed how when one muscle contracted, it produced a certain movement. 

“They told me they’d been looking for a book that illustrated how individual muscles move,” Winslow said. “That’s when a light bulb went off in my head. I was so proud of my students for seeing the need for this kind of book.”

Classic Human Anatomy in Motion Valerie L. Wiinslow

The cover of “Classic Human Anatomy in Motion.” Courtesy of Valerie L. Winslow.

Winslow started making a list of the muscles and what each one did. Over the next several years, she counter-referenced and checked each muscle’s movement and what that movement does to a skeleton. She also created hundreds of diagrams and illustrations. The result was her first book, Classic Human Anatomy, published in 2009. 

Art students and others around the world embraced the book’s clear explanations of basic human anatomy and accompanying illustrations. That response spurred Winslow to write a follow-up book: Classic Human Anatomy in Motion, which came out last month. Featuring more than 500 new drawings, it picks up where the first book left off, delving deeper into the nuts and bolts of human movement, and how to capture it in a realistic fashion. Classic Human Anatomy in Motion is available on Amazon and at many bookstores. 

The book includes sections on bones and joint movement, muscle groups, surface form and soft tissue characteristics, structure and body types. Each chapter builds an artistic understanding of how motion transforms the human figure. In the last chapter, for example, Winslow shows readers how to draw a moving figure from a video by pausing it, sketching what they see and repeating the process for several more frames. “You end up with a figure with five to 10 movements jumping across the page,” she said. “These are not animation techniques—they’re exercises for all artists designed to help them see how muscles change in different movement.”

72 dpi  Valerie L. Winslow & ecorche self portrait, Author & artist of CHAM, Photo by M. Hoffman

Valerie L. Winslow. Courtesy of Valerie L. Winslow.

According to Winslow, there’s a renaissance among artists wanting to know how to draw the human body. In addition to traditional illustrators and painters, she sees people such as storyboard artists, animators and others hungry for the kind of information they’ll find in Classic Human Anatomy in Motion.

“If you understand what’s going on under the skin in anatomy, you can visually grab an area that holds a lot of tension as a figure moves and dynamically bring that out in your drawing,” she said. 

Winslow is pleased that the Academy promotes anatomy drawing in many majors. She also appreciates teaching at a school that offers students a diverse, comprehensive education that exposes them to the viewpoints and expertise of a variety of professional artists.

“We don’t teach one point of view, like small private art schools where students often work under one or two artists, teaching their particular style, and come out clones,” she said. “Their work is technically good, but dead. Here, we have all sorts of teachers from various artistic perspectives. Academy students get incredible, well-rounded training. When they leave, they can interpret all that information in their own way and channel it into the professional world wherever they go.”

In between writing books and teaching, Winslow paints, draws and creates low-relief sculptures in her Santa Rosa studio. Her work has won numerous awards and been exhibited in museums and galleries across the country. To view her portfolio, go to