As any first-time student struggling with learning anatomy will tell you, the body is as complex as it is interesting. Organs, joints, muscles, tendons, fascial structures, bones, and ligaments all have specific three-dimensional relationships to one another that serve to optimize function. The learning and retention of this complex anatomy requires something that students who are “rote memorizers” have difficulty with: spatial orientation. How you may ask can we improve our spatial orientation skills in studying anatomy?
Procure paper and colored pens/pencils. Even those of us who are “artistically challenged” can bolster the learning process through repeatedly drawing out anatomical structures. I tend to use different illustrations and photos from varying textbooks and atlases for practice. Here are a few helpful hints regarding this learning modality.
1. Start with outlining the involved shapes. Start with less complexity and work your way into more detail. If you are terrible at making basic contours or following shapes with your hand, start with tracing the basic shapes by placing a sheet of paper over an atlas illustration and copying.
2. Use color as a means of differentiation. If you are drawing out the bones of the hand and you want to emphasize the metacarpals, simply outline the metacarpals in a different color. (See illustrations above).
3. Use layering of color as a means of clarifying three-dimensional orientation. Start with the deepest structures first and then layer the more superficial structures over them. This may make the drawing a bit more messy (see illustration of the elbow above), but I have found that it does enhance one’s understanding of the involved structures and their functions.
4. Practice. Our brains require repetition to develop skills, and drawing is no different. You will find that with time you will start to retain information better and may even develop the ability to draw out structures without any visual cues for guidance!