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How to Correct Anatomy Issues in a Digital Painting


Digitally painting in Adobe Photoshop is like working with no other medium out there. Simply put, Photoshop gives you more control over every aspect of your digital art, making it easier for you to solve problems faster than ever before. 

You Won't Always Paint Perfectly

Unfortunately, there's this thing called human error. So no matter how much you study anatomy, one line out of place can still make your paintings look really terrible.

Allow Photoshop to come to the rescue, and never worry again!

Here are some common problems you may encounter when digitally painting anatomy:

  • Painting "noodle" arms or legs with no sense of bone structure.
  • You can't seem to paint poses like the references.
  • The pose would be better if only you could change/rotate one area.
  • You've made the body too slim or too bulky.

Believe it or not, all of these issues can be solved in a matter of seconds with Photoshop.

Want to see this in action? Let's take a look at three quick ways to solve basic anatomy issues using Adobe Photoshop.

1. Paint Skin Over Bones

If you're drawing arms like noodles then it's probably because you don't quite understand anatomy yet. And the best way to perfect anatomy over time is to paint as many studies as you can. One exercise you can do is paint directly over the photos of bones. 

This exercise will help train you to recognize the structure of the human body and how the skin should overlap the muscles and bones.

Step 1

Hands, for example, are pretty tough to paint for everyone. Start by searching for a good hand reference in any pose you'd like.

3D Skeleton Hand
3D render illustration of the skeleton hand from Envato Market.

The great thing about this particular reference is that it not only shows me the bones but also the outline of the hand around them. This will help me to cheat the process even further, as I'll be able to use this outline as a guide for the skin.

Step 2

First change the color of the reference to a brown skin-like color using Hue & Saturation. Go to Image > Adjustments > Hue & Saturation, and select Colorize. Adjust the Hue to 18 and the Saturation to 37.

Use Hue and Saturation to Colorize References

Step 3

Paint skin over the hand so that it gradually overlaps the bones. Use additional references for further help with lighting and color.

Digitally Paint Over Skeleton References
Gradually paint over your reference until you have a completed painting.

Here is the final study. Continue this exercise using different parts of the human body. The more you practice, the better you will paint human anatomy.

Digitally Paint over Photo References for Better Anatomy
Original reference vs. the completed study.

2. Lasso & Free Transform for Better Poses

Another area of concern often involves poses. Anatomy is tricky in itself, but it gets a lot harder when you're trying to twist a body into the pose you prefer. 

Try to master the pose during the sketch phase. Make the adjustments you need prior to the actual painting using the Lasso and Free Transform Tools.

Step 1

Inspired by this 3D reference, I sketched my own character utilizing the same body pose. Notice how the sketch is incomplete? Since I didn't like the position of the right arm, I decided to change it.

Sketch Poses from 3D References in Adobe Photoshop

One quick way to fix the pose is to create symmetry. Simply use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to create a selection around the left hand, and then Control-J to create a duplicate on a new layer. With the duplicated arm, flip and rotate it into place by going to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.

Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool for the Human Anatomy
Create instant symmetry by copying and flipping the left arm.

Step 2

Although the pose is better, it still looks a little awkward. Continue to adjust the arms by selecting them and using the Free Transform Tool (Control-T) to rotate them both for a more natural pose. 

Consider using this same technique for the rest of the body. Make the neck longer, the torso shorter, or change the positions of each hand until you're satisfied with the sketch.

Adjust Digital Paintings with the Lasso and Free Transform Tools
Keep adjusting each body part until the pose begins to make more sense.
Finish Adjusting Your Sketch in Adobe Photoshop
The completed sketch incorporates the original pose with my own alterations.

Now that the sketch is complete, you can finally move on to painting. And because I have already fixed the issues ahead of time, I won't run into any more during the painting process. Here is the final painting below!

Completed Character Painting by Melody Nieves
Create your own cool characters inspired by interesting reference poses!

3. Nip & Tuck With the Liquify Tool

The Liquify Tool is great for quick changes to your digital paintings. Not to be limited to merely photo retouching, you can use this tool to manipulate the body.

Let's take our completed character, for instance.

For a more hourglass figure, try using the Forward Warp Tool (W) to adjust the hips and waist.

Use the Forward Warp Tool in Liquify to Alter Digital Paintings

You can also experiment with the Pucker Tool (S) and Bloat Tool (B) for interesting warping effects.

Use the Bloat Tool for Your Digital Paintings
Before and After: Using the Bloat Tool (B) to add a little more weight to your character.

The key to using these tools is to apply them in moderation. Too much manipulation is never a good thing and can easily distort your paintings. Always make sure to keep backup copies just in case.


If you allow Photoshop to help you, then you can definitely improve tenfold as a digital artist.

Sometimes you have to cheat the process a little in order to learn how to paint better. Try out these quick tips and let me know how they work out for you in the comments below.

And for more digital painting tips, check out these tutorials:

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