I want to make a bulky and wide character with the help of exaggeration. The problem is that it loses believably. How do I make a character resemble the upper portion of the gallery rather than the lower?

For example, these looks natural:

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enter image description here Source

enter image description here Source not identifiable

These look unnatural:

enter image description here Sources: Left, Right enter image description here Source not identifiable enter image description here Source artist not discernable

  • 3
    It says something that only your unnatural references include real examples. The first examples maintain their overall properties better, which likely make them seem more "natural", but please define or describe what you consider natural.
    – Joachim
    Feb 25, 2023 at 17:52
  • It feels aesthetic value (big and bulky without looking ugly) and believability (Juggernaut's hands feel natural even though his hands are way larger than his head but allmight hand from my hero academia hands feel very small and out of place even though that is realistic) 1993 Super Mario Koopa Minions have their head of out of place assets-prd.ignimgs.com/2021/06/11/smb-1280b-1623444752449.jpg Feb 25, 2023 at 18:14
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    Aside from good use of perspective (apparent size vs. distance), I think what you're referring to is uniform musculature. The images that look unnatural are ones where someone has extremely over-developed muscles in some places, and "normal" sized areas in others. This gets highlighted by the fact that muscle builders get rid of body fat to highlight the muscles, so there isn't "padding" in the under-developed or bony areas (not a natural look). The hands and wrists relative to the upper arms and chest are an obvious difference between the two.
    – fixer1234
    Feb 25, 2023 at 18:44
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    The bottom picture is just weirdly out of proportion relative to human anatomy.
    – fixer1234
    Feb 25, 2023 at 18:49

3 Answers 3


Presuming that you already have some experience drawing human forms, and that you don't need links to "how to draw" style resources I would suggest that you use a software tool such as DAZ Studio (Free) or Poser (Paid) to generate reference images.

Both packages have the ability to create custom muscular figures of varying proportions. From biologically accurate to extreme fantasy, and to pose\position them in a representative manner.

You can then trace the images that they output, or draw freehand based on the images as you would any other reference piece, until you feel comfortable with drawing muscle figures.

This has the benefit of being able to generate reference images that match your chosen scale, position and perspective.

  • 1
    Just a heads-up for you and @EggplantMann: I did upvote your question for the useful method mentioned, but it doesn't truly provide a proper answer (within the confines of this platform's regulations) to the question: "how do I draw this subject" can't technically be answered with "use this to generate that subject"/"trace the subject". This is mostly in response to the fact the OP chose this as the most useful answer—which is completely within their right—while it not actually addresses the issue they expand on in their post.
    – Joachim
    Mar 6, 2023 at 18:05
  • 1
    Wouldn't it be possible to also generate unbelievable and badly proportioned figures using that method with those tools?
    – rebusB
    Mar 6, 2023 at 21:17
  • @RebusB, yes, you could do it if you really wanted to by switching off the limits on the software. You'd probably need to pay for premium models for that as the basic ones usually prevent this due to their limited customizations Mar 7, 2023 at 14:03
  • @Joachim, I understand where you are coming from, but I would personally consider that an answer which provided the user with a way to create examples or reference materials should be considered valid. Mar 7, 2023 at 18:04

In short, look at actual strongmen and heavy lifters and don't exaggerate at all. There's a difference between bulky and balloony. The more you exaggerate, the less natural it looks.

The lower images of your question are all examples of body building with the goal to make individual muscles as visible as possible. But these muscles aren't stronger than those of your average construction worker. They are just more visible, usually because they are trained specifically for visibility instead of strength and the body builders deprive their bodies of the natural layer of skin fat that would cushion them. Most (if not all) of the extreme examples also use substances to make their muscles grow bigger than natural.

Just as an example, let's have a look at an old image of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger:

enter image description here (Image Source)

In contrast, actually physical strength looks different. Here's a list of the objectively (measured in a contest) strongest men on earth. Click through a few of the names to see photos of the people. As an example, here's Tom Stoltman, winner of the 2022 competition:

enter image description here (Image Source)

What are the similarities?

  • Both men have a wide, bulky body
  • The bulk is centered around the upper chest and upper arms
  • They are wide (side to side) and flat (front to back). Although in real life there are several strongmen who have quite a tummy. That doesn't impede their physical strength at all, it's just not how the general public imagines a strongman to look like.

What are the differences?

  • Schwarzeneggers muscles are visually defined. You see the outlines of each individual muscle. (This is even more exaggerated by the lighting). If you exaggerate that even more by making them bigger, it looks like a bunch of balloons stuck under his skin.
  • In Stoltmans body the ridges between his muscles are visible, but faint. Over all, his body is smoother than those of body builders. There is no muscle group that sticks out like a balloon.
  • Stoltmans muscles are actually smaller than those of extreme body builders. Size does not equal strength, so making muscles bigger than those 2 examples does not make your character look stronger.

So how do you show the strngth of your character? By their actions. Superman never needed bulky muscles to lift a car.

  • This is for a comic, where the exaggerated bulk and muscles are what readers associate with strength, and how the characters are represented. If you accurately drew a real life strongman with a tummy, wouldn't the comic character just look like a fat guy? How would you draw a "super" character to visually distinguish them from a construction worker?
    – fixer1234
    Mar 3, 2023 at 18:19
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    @fixer1234 The problem with exaggeration is that we've reached the point where it tips into rediculisness and absurdity. The image of Captain America screams at readers "look at me, I'm so strong" but objectively speaking it looks like a suit of baloons. It breaks my suspension of disbelieve and actually substracts from the hero instead of adding value. Sure, you can highlight the muscles, but making them bigger than those 2 examples only makes them less realistic. Although I agree that a comic hero with a tummy is unusual, maybe the time has come for unusual heroes in mainstream medea.
    – Elmy
    Mar 3, 2023 at 21:00
  • What is the difference between a naturally large frame body with naturally small frame body? Also what makes a body have large frame. What about proportional difference large frame and small frame? Mar 6, 2023 at 8:00
  • @EggplantMann Your current question is about exaggeration. If you habe problems with proportions, you should ask a new question. Maybe you want to have a look at this question about proportions as well, but it doesn't directly solve your problem.
    – Elmy
    Mar 6, 2023 at 8:42
  • How Wide can a musucular character be before losing realism. Mar 6, 2023 at 10:33

Indeed practicing it's the key to reach your desired result. Oractuce both drawing from real life and your memory/imagination. Also, keep an eye on how your favourite artists work on proportions in their artwork. Investigate and try to understand what they wanted to tell by modifying proportions.

A classic example of this can be the David sculpture by M.A Buonarotti. His hands are huge compared to that of a teenager (and that without mention his facial features). with this, Buonarotti wanted to talk about how strong was David, determined to defeat Goliath.

Just compare the sizes of the head and the hand

By the other hand, Comics are the best example of exaggeration, just see Matteo Scalera's work (Black Science for example).

See how he stretch and shrink the masses of the bodies

Also, a good tip to create consistent characters, you should keep an eye on the silhouette of them. Usually we can recognise someone by his silhouette, it's like a stamp in our minds. So it's good to start character designs with some thumbnails focusing just in the silhouette. Also, doing this you will be defining the anatomy of the character, and then you can decide what you are coing to exaggerate basing on what the character is and how the character behaves.

I hope these tips to be useful. When comes to art, there is no such thing as a right solution. Do not get discouraged if the result is not fine, try to change what is not working on your drawing. You will eventually get good results if you keep on it, that is for sure always.

  • 2
    Welcome to Arts & Crafts. This answer contains useful information, but it doesn't really address what was asked in the question. Answer posts are intended to be focused specifically on what was asked. It's likely to attract downvotes for that reason. It's OK to provide helpful supplementary information as long as that's in addition to an answer to what was asked. Can you edit it to focus on how to exaggerate without losing believability? Thanks.
    – fixer1234
    Mar 3, 2023 at 23:20

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