121 – How to Draw an Ellipse

Ellipses are everywhere we look. You can find them in the kitchen, in the studio, and even out on the road. Sit at a table at a restaurant and there they are! You can’t get away from them, so as an artist you might as well just tackle them head on!

First of All, What is an Ellipse?

An ellipse is a geometric shape that has two axes of symmetry. An ellipse is formed by two points, called the foci. The distance between the foci is called the major axis, while the distance from one focus to the other along the major axis is called the minor axis. The curve of an ellipse is determined by its eccentricity, which is a measure of how “squished” it is. If the eccentricity is zero, then the ellipse becomes a perfect circle. If it’s greater than zero, then it becomes more “squished” and if it’s less than zero, then it becomes more “stretched out”

Ellipses can be found in nature, such as the shape of a raindrop, or they can be created by man-made objects, such as a bicycle wheel. tires, toilet paper or single use coffee creamers, for instance.

Drawing Ellipses

There are many methods of drawing ellipses, from eyeballing to measuring exactly or using mechanical tools. In this minilesson, we’ll cover just a couple of methods that I think are adequate for the purposes of an artist.

Before we begin, let’s do a little analysis of what we are looking at when we see an ellipse. It’s really just a foreshortened circle. When we look directly down at a coffee cup for example, the opening appears as a circle, but lift that coffee cup and hold it in front of you that circle turns into an ellipse. Lift it up to eye level and it becomes a line. If we continue to lift it higher, we’ll see the bottom of the cup as another ellipse. Try it!

Now look at this glass. Looking straight down from above we see a circle.

As we move our eye down, the circle in perspective becomes an ellipse.

If we go below eye level the rim is also elliptical. Hence, an ellipse is just a circle in perspective!

Now let’s explore my two favorite methods for drawing ellipses!
Method 1 Eyeballing and Dropping in

This is my favorite method of drawing ellipses. With practice, this method results in the most natural looking and smooth drawings. An effective way to facilitate free hand drawing is to first practice by hovering the pencil just above the surface of the paper but not allowing your hand to make contact with the surface of the paper. This allows you do get some muscle memory of the ellipse. Practice in the air a couple times, then drop your pencil to the surface and follow through with the same motion. This is referred to as “dropping in”.

Method 2 Using a Square in Perspective
This method involves placing a circle in a square then laying the square down in perspective. First construct a square and find the center by drawing lines from the four corners
Then bisect each edge with perpendicular line through the center of the square. Now divide each of the four angled lines into thirds. Draw a circle at the bisection points.
Now take that square plane and lay it down into two-point perspective. Follow the previous steps to draw an ellipse into this square plane.

Of course you can do more precise measuring and even use ellipse guides, but with a little practice, using these two easy methods will allow you to draw all the ellipses that surround you!

We’ll explore more about ellipses in future mini-lessons.

Happy Drawing,

Painting Minilessons
with Marla Baggetta

My free online minilessons in art are a fantastic way to learn more about your craft, regardless of your skill level. There are lessons available on everything from basic drawing techniques to complex painting methods, and no matter what your interests are, you’re sure to find something that appeals to you. Whether you’re a beginner who’s just starting out, or a seasoned artist who wants to brush up on your skills, these minilessons are a great resource. These lessons are available anytime, anywhere. So whether you’re looking for a quick refresher or want to explore something new, be sure to check out some of my minilessons at Painting Lessons with Marla.

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