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Sketchnoting Adventures – Anatomy Sketchbook

When my fellow Labbers Anne and Katy posted about sketchnoting, it jogged something loose in my memory. That is generally how I always take notes, and it was very helpful when I had to take human anatomy in grad school. In other words, it’s part of a never-ending cycle of drawing anatomy to learn anatomy so that I can more authoritatively draw anatomy later, which will enable others to learn anatomy; someone should make a hexaflexagon representation.

Anatomy with dissection is arguably one of the hardest biology classes one can take. The amount of new words you must learn is roughly equivalent to what you’d learn with a new language. And then there’s not just learning how things fit together in a diagram, you have to learn enervations, actions, physiology, pathologies, and to some degree embryology (namely when learning the cranial nerves). Also, you’re dissecting a cadaver (which you are grateful to have, thanks donors!) which may or may not have all of its original organs in their original configuration and generally looks nothing like the ideal specimen in the photo atlas and in Netter’s illustrations. My liver twitches when I think about that first semester.

This is the sketchbook I’d draw in while studying. It started out as the guest book from my senior year painting show and was a hand-bound book with this great anatomy poster cover. I like drawing in ballpoint, and adding color with microns and highlighters generally helps (and is FUN).

Here is a page with the duodenum, or the first portion of the small intestine.

This is a page about the ligaments of the gastrointestinal tract and another page with external anatomical landmarks as they relate to internal organs (this was actually about an assignment for our drawing class).

This is a page with the tongue and jaw, note that I labeled my anatomy professor’s favorite muscle, the hyoglossus. She had been a maxillofacial surgeon before teaching.

This spread has the laryngeal structures and their actions.

This page has some facial vessels and some cranial nerves. The head and neck took up the final third of the course, as there are a whole lot of little structures packed into not a lot of space.

These pages were devoted to the sinuses and the inner ear, which are just weird. Seriously, WTF evolution?

And since I’ve mentioned evolution, here is the eye, the supposed proof of irreducible complexity.

If you ever find yourself in an anatomy class (or anything requiring recognition really), I recommend at least trying this, even if your drawings are a little more stick-figure-like. I’m not showing you the pages where I mapped the entire circulatory or nervous system, they are more schematic and less pretty. But I would say the act of drawing still helped us all learn those concepts, not to mention that you then have another study aid to look at later.

Update: I’d like to give a shoutout to my cousin Ryan, who says he recently discovered his sketching ability while studying the skeleton in anatomy class, and says it is the way to go!


Katie is an animator and illustrator of human innards living in Chicago.

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  1. Thanks! It reminds me that I need to draw more, rather than just pushing vertices in 3D or using the pen tool.

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