Studying Anatomy for Beginners

This gorgeous reproduction of a French anatomy poster hangs in my living room, nestled between my childhood figure skates signed by Brian Orser and a beautiful Robert Bateman. I love seeing the reactions it gets from people. They're mostly positive, but sometimes people think it's creepy. I'm so fascinated by this - how have we come to view our own bodies as creepy? How is the curiosity for what lies beneath our skin a morbid pursuit? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Studying anatomy used to be limited to textbooks, overly-simplified plastic classroom models and cadaver labs, the realm of the medical student, not the average autodidact. I thought I would share some of the resources I've found most helpful over the past year as a hobbyist, artist and nerd. It's a big post, but I hope you find at least one or two resources that will work well for you.


There are many anatomical apps available, whether from the iTunes App Store or around the web. More robust than a book, many offer 3D views/ability to rotate the model. Some even use real cadavers for the images. Many of them have quizzes to help you retain knowledge, but lack an interactive/game environment. I'm an experiential learner, and really lose attention after a few minutes of watching instructional videos where I can't follow along actually doing something. If you read the reviews for these apps, many people love them, and they are way beyond what a book can do, but I haven't found an app yet that lets me interact with the images like I want (for example, challenging me to "dissect" away specific muscle groups and scoring me on that versus a written/multiple-choice quiz).

All that being said, I recommend downloading Essential Skeleton from the App Store since it's free and will give you a taste of Essential Anatomy ($35-40). I'm going to keep watching the reviews and releases for Essential Anatomy as I'm on a MacBook Pro and there seems to be issues with the desktop version. Essential Skeleton is running great though and I love the way I can manipulate the views.

The other app I've started using is KenHub. You can very easily register for a free account and watch a lot of videos, take quizzes and read articles. A Premium account gives you access to everything, but the free version has quite a lot and is a great place to get started for free and with no downloads. If you get through all the free content, you'll know if Premium is worth the cost or not. I love to try before I buy, the web app is really slick and they seem easy to contact. KenHub is obviously a very modern site, whereas I've found a lot of old enterprisy sites like Wiley's Anatomy 2.0 and McGraw-Hill's Anatomy and Physiology Revealed.


Even though books aren't as rich as a well-designed app can be, there are still a lot of great paper resources. The first book I bought was Human Anatomy, which isn't instructional but simply has large, colour images with labels. I bought it specifically as a reference guide to make anatomical art and it's served that purpose well. I mentioned already that I'm an experiential learner, so sculpting and drawing is a better way for me to learn anatomy than watching some videos. If you don't like drawing, anatomical colouring books would not only be educational but fun and even therapeutic. 

If you love anatomical art and art history, you'll appreciate Human Anatomy: A Visual History from the Renaissance to the Digital Age. This is a gorgeous book and reveals the history of anatomy in art including the symbology of certain subjects and poses and whether or not they were actually anatomically accurate. It has many illustrations and has been a beautiful, fascinating read.

Dissection Videos

Apps, books, quizzes.... there is really no substitute for the real thing. But since community cadaver labs are not a thing, sadly, the next best recommendation is to watch dissection videos. Through the miracle that is YouTube, there are many available for free. A doctor recommended the jono03 channel to me and the videos have been great. I wish they were in HD to see better detail, but they're educational and respectful. I made the mistake of clicking on a series of autopsy videos that YouTube was recommending on the right and... I wouldn't even handle roadkill like they were handling their subjects. That's why I'm recommending this channel, because searching might introduce you to some disturbing content, and wouldn't be a great intro to anatomy for anyone.

What Else?

There are some great accounts to follow on Twitter, start by just searching for "anatomy" and looking at relevant posts and accounts that interest you.

If you're studying anatomy because you're interested in imaging or medical conditions, the Figure1 app is crazy interesting. Medical professionals crowd-sourcing diagnoses, using photos of their patients and tons of x-rays, MRIs, etc. It's really hard to figure out the anatomy and defect or condition in the images and has made me appreciate just how much doctors need to learn. 

There are several medical museums around the world, like The Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn and The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. I've had the pleasure to visit both, and will be going back to them as often as possible. I've been to Morbid Anatomy many times, not only are their exhibits great but so are their lectures and workshops. Really, they legitimized my fascination with anatomy and medical conditions and I owe a lot of my dive into this subject to them.

The next thing on my list to try is the Anatomy Glove Learning System. They're just white gloves with the outline of bones printed on, and following their instructional videos, you use markers to draw the hand muscles. I love that they're integrating your own anatomy into the learning process, instead of a flat/2D drawing.

Finally, as your reward for sticking through a long post, here is a video about animals in utero, to show just how beautiful anatomy can be. It is art in itself.