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.
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!
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
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.