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Understanding the foot

I have often felt the need to take an in-depth look at the foot, which has been with me as far as I can remember, yet was always accorded a status inferior to say, the hand. But why? The foot, or feet, take me everywhere! During the three incidents of ankle injury I have suffered (twice on the left), I was reminded of its importance at every painful step. And yet, the foot has remained a mysterious body part. Until now, that is. After some googling and head-nodding and memorizing, I think I know more about the foot now than ever before, and there is so much more to know. As an artist of course - I'll let the medics deal with Tuberosity-Joint angle changes. This is an artist's look into the foot, and if you are one, or interested in art, then this article is also for you. Thank you for reading my rant anyway :)

One word of caution: The sketches in this article are often highly schematic, and drawn from memory, as is the stated goal. So I'd suggest that you use them only to understand what's going on, and not copy directly, for then you'd be incorporating my faults in your own drawings.

For reference-based practice, you can use any image of the foot or feet. Drawing from life, your foot in the mirror or of somebody else, having developed an undersanding of the internal mechanism, is of course the best option.

So Lets begin with a few 'shots' of the foot... all the sketches in this article has been digitally drawn from memory (except one).

Goal of this project - To be able to make from MEMORY a range of drawings of the foot, from different angles and in different poses. In my humble opinion, if we can draw a credible image from memory, it increases our options in terms of composition. Ultimately, we will need to compare that memory drawing with direct observation, and fine tune accordingly.

E. G. Lutz, in his book Practical Art Anatomy, likens the foot to a tripod, and this makes a lot of sense to me. If I visualize the Tibia, the main weight bearing bone of the shank (part between knee and ankle) as the upright of the tripod, then its three pods will represent the heel in the back part, and the outer and inner corners of the foot in the front part. As regards distribution of weight, the heel will support the weight in the back, while the ball of the foot (the padded area arching across the under-surface) will carry the weight in the front.

In addition, much of this weight is also carried by the great toe, esp when the foot is about to be lifted off the ground during walking. Remember those incredible ballerinas walking on their toes?

I was standing with my right foot forwards, and I noticed that every time I put all my weight on that foot, the toes would 'move forward' and even 'spread' a little. Obviously the 'pods' of the tripod were splaying so as to absorb the weight of my body. Hence, the first representative image of the foot that crystallized in my mind was that of a tripod. I thought, this is from where I'd start interpreting the foot - like some people use a sphere or box to start the head. It changed the image of the foot as a wedge-shaped, static thing to a springy, dynamic one, which alters shape according to the forces acting through it.


The foot, of course, cannot be imagined without the ankle, the junction where the upright meets the horizontal.

Stick a foot out and explore the range of movements possible at the ankle joint. Not only will this help us appreciate the bones and joint surfaces involved, but also the muscles supplying the force of movement. Many of these muscles originate from bones higher up in the leg, to be inserted strategically as tendons (tough, fibrous cord-like things) into the many bones of the foot. Contraction of these muscles pulls upon the bones, thereby causing the various movements. As artists, what would interest us most in this scenario is how the tendons become visible on the surface due to such muscular activity.

Check out this very elegant medical illustration in Gray's Anatomy, as displayed in Bartleby, showing the origins of those tendons.

Now, please stick out your foot again and repeatedly bend the toes... if you can't see the tendons pulling upon the digits, can you at least see something moving on the dorsum of your foot, near the ankle? As shown in the linked illustration above, there's a bunch of tendons coming out to the surface in this region, separating and radiating to individual toes. What you see is the movement of the common sheath by which they are bunched together.

The picture above has been inspired by this old anatomical illustration (LARGE image, 200 kb approx.) in the anatomical treatise by Govard Bidloo, as found in the Historical Anatomies website.


Lets now discuss the parts of the foot. We are not clinicians, so we may want to keep the names to the bare essentials, customized to our needs as artists.

1) TARSUS - The back part of the foot is made up of a number of bones which are collectively called the Tarsals. Of these, the Calcaneus is the largest, and forms the heel. Then we have the Talus, which is a pulley shaped bone sitting on top of Calcaneus. The rest of the bones of the Tarsus help attach these two with the next part - the Metatarsus.

2) METATARSUS - The middle part, extending upto the ball of the foot (or the root of the toes), consists of long, sturdy, finger like bones (one for each toe) called the MetaTarsals. Meta = Beyond, according to Bridgeman. Lets call them MT for convenience. There are five MT's, 1st to the 5th. The 1st MT is for the great toe. Its the sturdiest of the five, and this suits its weight bearing role. Keep in mind the 'ballerina on toes' image!

The pic below has been adapted from the original on Gray's Anatomy as displayed at Bartleby.

The 2nd MT is the longest of the metararsals, and because of this the 2nd toe is often the most anteriorly placed. At other times, the tip of the great toe lies most anteriorly. I have observed that although the 2nd toe is (generally) at the front, because of its (and the other toes') tendency to curl, the Great Toe does stick out like a sore thumb!

3) PHALANGES - Then we have the bones for the phalanx (or ranks) of toes, called the Phalanges. Note that phalanges for a toe are made of three bones, EXCEPT the great toe, which has only two. This influences its shape relative to the other bones.

The Antero-posterior relationship of the toes: If you look at the relative position of the joints, forwards from the Tarsal-Metatarsal level, you will notice a more or less consistent set of curves going backwards and laterally. This observation is very helpful in aligning the toes.

Disregard the great toe for the moment, notice how the root of the 2nd toe is usually the most anteriorly placed (stick our your foot and follow the clefts between the toes, and don't be disheartened if yours do not match this statement!). Draw a curve backwards and outwards from here, and you can place the roots of the other toes on this curve. The tips of the toes will follow this same curve. Lets look at this pic again...

Returning to the Great Toe... its tip is sometimes ahead, sometimes behind the 2nd toe. There is also a slight bony bulge on the inner border near its origin, which is because the 1st MT meets the great toe at an angle.

OK, that's enough! Lets just repeat the names of the parts -

1) Tarsals
2) Metatarsals(MT)
3) Phalanges.

Next, we will deal with the ANKLE:

The ankle can be compared to the junction of the upright of the tripod (analogous to the Tibia) and its 'three pods'. At the centre of this junction lies Talus, a Tarsal bone of great importance. It is 'clasped' on either side by the lower ends of the Tibia and the Fibula. The bulk of the joint is made up of the Tibia sitting on top of the Talus, transmitting the body-weight through this pulley shaped bone.

The Talus is thus The Principle bone of the ankle - not only does it support the mighty Tibia, it also sits on top of the Calcaneus, besides articulating with three Metatarsals in front via intervening bones (shown in blue).

You can clearly see how strategically important this bone is. Being shaped like a pulley (which enables it to smoothly glide against the concavity at the bottom of the Tibia), the Talus is also responible for the hinge like movements of raising and lowering the foot. Swing your foot off the ground, and raise and lower it - that's the Talus sliding against the Tibia - can you feel it? Now rotate it from side to side, thats the Talus sliding against the Calcaneus, which is below it.

There are two hard bulges on either side of the ankle. These are the lower ends (Malleolar or mallet-shaped processes) of the Tibia and the Fibula. The OUTER bulge is due to the Fibula, and the inner due to the Tibia. The outer bulge is also LOWER and a bit posteriorly placed than the inner bulge. This is very important if you are drawing the foot from the front or behind.

Lets repeat - OUTER is LOWER

Strong ligaments encapsulate the Tibia and Fibula with the Talus, also tying it to the Calcaneus, the underlying bone.

Now... look at these footprints...

Obviously made by a man taking a dinosaur for a walk!

We will disregard dinosaur anatomy for the moment and concentrate on human.

Why is it that the entire planter surface on the outer aspect of the foot is printed, while there is this concavity on the inner border? Put your foot on the ground and insert a pencil under it from the inner side (Come on, do it, humour me if you will please...)...

Oooh, it tickles!

And the pencil goes in more than an inch (in my case at least).

Now do it on the other side, and nothing happens. The foot is in contact with the ground ALL ALONG the outer border, from heel to the ball of the little toe.

And that is because the outermost Metatarsal bone (5th, counted from inside outwards) starts almost at ground level (discounting flesh and skin covering), while the first three Metatarsal bones (1st, 2nd and 3rd) on the inner side, start higher up.

In fact 4th and 5th MT (through an intervening bone) connects with Calcaneus, while 1st, 2nd, and 3rd MT (through intervening bones) connect with the Talus. Remember that the Talus sits ON TOP of the Calcaneus?

However, all the MTs ultimately come down to the same level at the front, before articulating with their respective Phalanges (toe bones). Thus the entire ball of the foot is printed.


Look at these (highly unorthodox) illustrations I have made, this is how I visualized it and it helped me understand the level differences leading to the 'concavity'. You will recognize Talus and Calcaneus in this, and also notice that I have omitted the bones between them and the Metatarsals. Also notice the curved alignment of the tips of the toes.

Force dynamics - While walking, the heel is the first to hit the ground, and then the outer border comes in contact, from back to the front. Then the foot bends inwards, so that the force veers towards the ball of the foot behind the great toe. And as the foot is about to leave the ground, preparatory to the next step, the great toe distributes the last of the force to the ground.

Thus, while drawing a man walking, we need to remember that the foot about to be lifted off the ground, is slightly turned INWARDS.

A few Surface Features worth noting:

1) Looking from front or back -

a) Bulges on both sides of the ankle. The outer bulge is lower, and little bit posteriorly places than the inner bulge.

(The outer bulge is the Lateral Malleolus, and the inner bulge is the Medial Malleolus, for those interested in this kind of things)

b) The Calcaneal tendon, or the Tendo-Achilles - A strong, somewhat flattened cord like structure descending from the calf muscles above to be inserted into the heel bone below. Baby Achilles' mother is said to have held him by the depression on either side of this 'cord', before dipping him into the river Styx.

2) Looking from the outer (lateral) side -

a) Foot touches ground all along the lower border up to the ball just behind the little toe.

b)There is a sharp groove, filled by a raised, cord like structure, which passes immediately below and behind the lateral malleolus. These are the tendons of two muscles

3) Looking from the top -

a) Tendons radiating from near the ankle towards the toes. These become more prominent if the toes are curled upwards.

These tendons belong to muscles which arise much higher up in the leg. They are bunched together and 'held down' by a bandage like tissue around the ankle. In some feet, you may actually see the band-like depression caused by these bandage like sheaths.

b) The somewhat pointed shape of the foot, caused by the relative lengths of the MTs and their respective phalanges. The 2nd toe being the longest in general.

4) Inner and Planter aspect -

I will leave that to you to find out by looking at your own foot in the mirror. Remember the concavity on the inner side, and the relative lengths of the digits and everything will fall in place.

Before we come to the end, here are a few 'construction' drawings.

That's it folks! Thank you for reading till the end. I suggest that you now draw the foot from pictures and/or from life, trying to understand what's going on underneath, and then draw various aspects of the foot FROM MEMORY. Finally - compare your memory drawings with life or pics.

I hope this exercise will help you as much as it has helped me. :)



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