One of the courses I took this last fall was Anatomy for Artists, taught as a companion course to figure drawing. I've been dyeing to learn more about anatomy, I've got quite a few books, but in the past it always seemed like an insurmountable task. So many bones and muscles, so many crags and knots and little doodads, and all that Greek and Latin! Well this is where great teachers come in. The reason you take a class instead of learning something on your own is that (hopefully) the instructor's experience tells him or her what's important to learn and what's pedantic detail.
We spent most of the class on the skeleton and the first thing we learned was SIMPLIFY. All those little boney protuberances and ossuary processes and subtle sloping curves of form basically disappear once you wrap everything in guts and skin and whatnot. Instead, visualize the bones as simple geometric shapes and focus on understanding their positions and relations in space (which is quite hard enough on it's own, thank you).
I'm proud to say that we did study the medical names however, which is kind of fun.
Here is a set from early on in the semester to give you an idea of what I mean. At this point we'd covered the head, torso, and legs but not the arms. These are all drawn from reference photos (I left the clothed ones in, but I cropped out the nude ones, sorry ^_^).
So you can see how all that boney detail turns into boxy shapes, but the drawings still capture the figure pretty well. Even the complex joints can be turned into things like spools and cylinders. The joints on the knees are called condyles by the way, which is my new favorite anatomy word. Also, don't look at that ankle just above, I put the spool in backwards and it's wrong wrong wrong x_x.
Some things are easier to simplify than others. The pelvis for example is very complex in real life, but because it's mostly buried in fleshy bits you really don't need much more than a wedge shape to get the idea. Scapulae (that's shoulder blades to you non-doctor types) on the other hand rest right under the skin of the back so they take a bit more work. Heres me trying to sort them out:
Going through the process I learned some things that surprised me. For example, did you know that the two bones in your forearm ( the ulna and the radius ) actually cross and uncross as you rotate your wrist! It kind of gives me the chills if I think about it too hard.
Near the end of the semester we just started talking about the muscles, but unfortunately we ran out of time to get very far with them. For the final project I did these two complete skeletons:
The fellow on the left is Fred Astaire, the one on the right was a female model. I drew her once before in one of the drawings above. Comparing the two you can see how much more fluid and weighty this one looks.