Shoulders are a complicated part of human (and animal) anatomy to wrap your head around (no pun intended). Shoulders are very expressive and can tell you a lot about somebody and how they are feeling. We all know the basic cartoon shorthand that people tend to hold their shoulders up high when they are tense, afraid or angry and low when they are relaxed, sleepy or dazed.
People seem to be afraid to really let the shoulders in a drawing move as freely as shoulders on a living person (or animal).
It's easy to forget how far forward shoulders can go, how high they can go, and how far we can turn our head backwards to look over our shoulder. Isn't it amazing what a difference it makes when someone looks at us with their body facing us or looks at us over their shoulder? It's a totally different meaning.
This may sound odd but Anna Nicole always had very expressive shoulders. They never seem to be down in a normal rest position. Or maybe I just think that because she always wore dresses that didn't cover her shoulders. Anyway, if you want to see some crazy shoulder action just do an image search for her and see what you get (and certainly there is no shortage of pictures of her on the internet).
There are two keys, I think, to drawing great shoulders. Number one, be familiar with the way the actual anatomy works. Every good anatomy book has good diagrams of the way the bones and muscles work. Get to know them, if you want to draw good shoulders.
The muscles do much of the work to hold the shoulder bones (and, by extension,the arms) in place because the bones don't really touch the rib cage much. The two inner edges of the clavicles rest on top of the sternum (the flat bone at the very front of the rib cage) and that's pretty much the only place the bones of the shoulders touch the skeleton. The clavicle connects to the scapula at the acromion process. The scapula and the clavicle pretty much slide around freely, not connected to the skeleton anywhere else, but held in place by the muscles that cover the top of the torso, the shoulders and the arms. The muscles do all the work to keep the shoulders in place. The shoulders have a great range of motion due to all this ability to slide around, unencumbered by attachments to the bones of the rib cage. That's why (I'm guessing) it's so easy to injure your shoulders, particularly in sports. It seems that evolution has given us amazing range of motion in our shoulders, but at a cost of protection: they aren't very well protected from injury like other parts of our body are where they bones are more tightly "welded" together.
As always, please don't let this paltry blog take the place of some good anatomy book, or better yet, a good life drawing class. And no good anatomy book is complete without a top down view of the rib cage, to help you get a good sense of how the forms work in space.
From "Human Anatomy For Artists" by Szunyogy (the same image I used above, except I added some graphic blandishment). Click to see bigger.
From "Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist" by Peck. On the lower left is a drawing that illustrates his claim that men's and women's clavicles rest at different angles. I've never seen anyone else say this, but who knows? Anyone have an opinion on that one?
These simple illustrations from Goldfinger's "Human Anatomy for Artists" are really helpful. After you know all the parts of the "shoulder girdle", it's still advantageous to think of them as simple forms - don't get all caught up in the details. Draw the big shapes. These show a great simplified way to think of the shoulder masses and how they move.
The other key thing to keep in mind when drawing shoulders is to use yourself as a model. Always have a mirror around when you draw and use it to study yourself as you draw. See how a movement or an expression feels when you make it before you try and draw it.
This sounds simple and obvious but it's not. Artists tend to get lazy and draw what they've drawn before or what they've seen someone else draw before. Don't do that. Next time you are drawing a pose, get up out of your chair for five seconds and act it out. Yes, you! You know you don't. You should. Once you know how a pose feels to make, or looks in a mirror, you will be able to capture it far, far better. I can't tell you how many times people have walked into my office or looked over the wall of my cubicle while I was making an embarrassing pose while trying to figure out a difficult drawing. Ah, so what? If I got a good drawing out of it, who cares?
More on shoulders to come, but for now, remember them and think about them when you draw. It's always better to push them a little further when you draw than to draw them not pushed far enough. Remember this rule about drawing: it's always easier to redraw something and pull it back a little than to redraw it and push it a little farther. And things usually look okay when they're pushed a bit too far, but things never look good when they're not pushed far enough!