When drawing characters, some features get all of the attention. You could spend hours perfecting body proportions and facial features like the eyes and mouth. One element you might overlook? The neck. Drawing necks may seem relatively unimportant compared to the rest of a character’s features, but a well-drawn neck can significantly add to your character’s believability and create a more realistic overall appearance. Learn how to draw necks of all kinds in this guide. 

How to Draw Necks

While the neck seems fairly simple—it’s just a cylinder, right?—there are a few important details that can help you get it right. By understanding the proportions and muscle structure of the neck, you can bring your characters to life. Below, get step-by-step guides to drawing cartoon necks, realistic necks, animal necks, and more. 

cartoon head
The neck looks different depending on whether the head is facing the side, looking down, or facing forward.

How to Draw Realistic Necks

When learning how to draw a neck, it’s critical to get the proportions right—just like when you draw the rest of the human body

Generally, the neck is wide at the base of the head, gets narrower in the middle, and then extends out toward the figure’s shoulders. It’s also important to note that the neck reaches all the way out to a character’s chin and up to the base of their ears. This is most noticeable when drawing the profile of a person, but it’s good to keep in mind for any pose. 

head sketch
From a profile view, the neck reaches out to the chin and up to the bottoms of the ears.

When it comes to the muscle structure of the neck, there are two main muscle groups to consider. In the front of the neck, a pair of muscles (the sternocleidomastoid) extend from the back of the ears to the pit of the neck, in the shape of a V. These muscles enable the head to turn and nod. In the back, a pair of large triangular muscles—the trapezius—spread from the base of the head across the neck and shoulders. These muscles help tilt the head and power the shoulders. 

While the muscle structure is the same for all human figures, the necks of females and young children are typically more narrow, while males will have slightly wider necks and larger trapezius muscles. You may also illustrate necks differently based on the character’s physical fitness. A strong, muscular character will likely have more defined muscles in the neck, while a lean or less fit character will have a smoother neck with less definition. 

Finally, make sure to incorporate structural details such as collarbones and, for male characters, an adam’s apple. 

head sketch
Focus on two main muscle groups when drawing necks: the trapezius in the back (in blue) and the sternocleidomastoid in the front (in green). 

How to Draw Cartoon Necks

While cartoon necks don’t require too much detail, they typically aren’t as simple as two parallel lines. Even a cartoon character’s neck should follow the general anatomy of a realistic neck—beginning wider at the base of the head, tapering in toward the middle of the neck, and then sloping out into the shoulders. 

With that foundation, you can then use exaggeration to add personality to your character. For example, a large, intimidating pirate character may have a thick neck that blends into the bottom of his chin, while a long, thin neck may be more appropriate for a tall, goofy character. While a realistic anatomy is still important with cartoon necks, you have more freedom to exaggerate shapes that add to the character’s personality and distinguish his or her overall appearance.

cartoon pirate
When drawing cartoon necks, you have more freedom to use exaggerated shapes to convey a character’s personality. 

Fun With Faces, Heads, and Necks

Create a Stylised Digital Portrait

How to Draw Anime Necks

Anime characters generally have necks that fall somewhere between a cartoon style and a realistic style. While they still retain the general shape of an anatomically correct neck, they are often more slender than a realistic neck. In more stylized versions of anime, the neck is even thinner compared to the head. 

When illustrating anime characters, draw a neck that gently widens from the bottom of the head down to the shoulders. To add in some simple muscular definition, draw V-shaped lines from the the middle of the neck down to the inner corners of the collarbone. Then, draw two horizontal lines to designate the collarbone. 

anime head
Anime necks are generally slender and simple, with two horizontal lines to denote the collarbone. 

How to Draw Horse Necks

Horses are known for their long, muscular necks. Studying a reference picture or anatomy diagram of a horse’s neck can give you a more technical understanding of the neck’s muscle structure; however, in general, a horse’s neck contains several different muscles—a few long muscles that stretch from the bottom of the skull down to the front legs, and some that extend from the base of the neck across the horse’s back.

If you’re drawing a less realistic, more cartoon-style horse, you can simplify even further. Generally, the neck begins—and is most narrow—behind the horse’s ears and under his cheek. Then, it widens and extends to the horse’s back and down to its chest. Make sure to draw a gentle curve under the horse’s throat and slight arch along the top of the neck. 

Horse necks contain long, narrow muscles in the front, as well as larger, triangular muscles that extend across the animal’s back. 

How It All Connects

The neck certainly isn’t the most complex feature of the human (or animal) body, but it is worth taking the time to get it right. Once you understand how the neck looks and functions, you can more accurately illustrate your character in more expressive poses that incorporate the head, shoulders, and rest of the body. 

Heads, Shoulders, Necks, and More

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Written by:

Katie Wolf