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When drawing characters, arms are a key component of dynamic poses and movements, like dancing, running, or cheering. Depending on your style of drawing, arms can be complex and realistic or simple and cartoony. Whatever your approach, drawing arms is an essential part of character design

Learn how to draw arms for three types of characters—women, cartoons, and aliens—in the guide below. 

How to Draw Arms

Whatever type of character you’re drawing, it’s helpful to start with a basic understanding of the anatomy of an arm. From there, you can make adjustments to create women’s arms, cartoon arms, and even alien arms. Get more in-depth instruction in the tutorials below. 

How to Draw Woman Arms 

Learning how to draw woman arms begins with understanding the anatomy of a human arm. At the most simple level, the arm is made up of bones and joints: the shoulder, the upper arm, the elbow, the forearm, and the wrist. 

The arm muscles create the next layer of complexity. It can be challenging to draw anatomically correct muscles, so it is helpful to look for memorable shapes that can help you remember how to draw different muscles. You can illustrate the shoulder, for example, with a soft, sideways heart shape. The bottom of the heart points down the arm, dividing the bicep and tricep, which stretch down to the elbow. While the lower arm technically contains a lot of little muscles, you can simplify them into two main, elongated shapes that reach from the elbow to the wrist. 

arm sketch
While women’s arms contain lots of little muscles, you can simplify them into a few basic shapes. 

To illustrate women’s arms specifically, there are a few things to keep in mind. Compared to men’s arms, women’s arms are generally thinner, with less muscle definition. For artists, this means that you will use straighter lines when drawing women’s arms, while men’s arms require rounder shapes and curved lines. While this is a generalization, of course—women can certainly have muscular arms, and men can have thin arms—this will give you a solid foundation for drawing feminine characters

Put Those Arms to Use!

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How to Draw Cartoon Arms

While you can model cartoon arms after realistic arms, there are other approaches for drawing cartoon arms. For example, the noodle method, coined by Skillshare instructor Christine Nishiyama, is simple: Draw a curvy line, a second, parallel curvy line, and a hand at the end. Voilà! An arm. You can draw noodle arms in any shape without worrying about elbows, forearms, wrists, or biceps, which allows you to push the limits of what anatomically correct arms can do. For quick and easy cartoon arms, this is an ideal approach. 

Draw simple cartoon arms using the noodle method. 

For a slightly different approach, you can use “rubbery rectangles” to create cartoon arms. This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like—using long, thin rectangles to represent arms. The rectangles can be straight, slightly curved, or bent at angles (just like a regular arm bends at the elbow). For more dimension, you could even draw them as 3D cylinders, rather than flat rectangles. 

Or, you could use a traditional cartooning approach and base your arms on anatomically correct arms, but add exaggerations. For example, your cartoon arms could incorporate the foundational elements of shoulders, elbows, and wrists, but you could make them extremely long and thin or short and wide. 

However, these approaches aren’t the only way to draw cartoon arms. The beauty of drawing cartoon arms is that you can incorporate your own unique drawing style. Ultimately, your characters’ arms may look completely different from any other cartoons out there—and that’s a good thing! 

lady with balloon
These cartoon arms incorporate the anatomy of realistic arms with a few exaggerated elements, such as relatively small hands. 

How to Draw Alien Arms

The beauty of drawing aliens is that there are no established rules for how they should look—so when drawing alien arms, you have complete creative control. That, of course, can make it hard to begin, so if you need some inspiration, start with the anatomy of a human arm and play with the proportions. For example, you might draw alien arms that hang far past the character’s hips and extend down to his knees or feet, or absurdly broad shoulders and twig-like arms. 

Or, try incorporating non-human elements, such as fins, tentacles, or claws. Add joints beyond the elbow and shoulder (or joints that bend in seemingly impossible directions), or draw arms that sprout from the character’s head, rather than his torso. You might even try adding multiple arms! There really are no limits when it comes to drawing arms for aliens, so be as creative as you wish. 

alien arms
There really are no rules when drawing alien arms, so be as creative as you wish. 

Arm Yourself for Better Character Design

If you design characters, you need to know how to draw arms. Arms are essential for making characters look believable and illustrating them in fun, dynamic poses. With a basic understanding of the structure of human arms, you can make small tweaks to illustrate woman, alien, and cartoon arms—and use those arms to give your character movement and personality. 

Put It All Together

Character Design: From First Idea to Final Illustration