Ellipse Drawing Guide - Ran Art Blog

Updated: 22 Nov 2022

Graphite drawings from guide on ellipses drawing

This is an advanced guide, and an extension of my guide for drawing from imagination.

Foreshortening

In most cases, an ellipse is a foreshortened circle.

When a circle is in front of you, it looks like a perfect circle.

At an angle, the circle is along your line of sight (meaning, at the direction of your eyesight).

The more it is along your line of sight, it becomes more foreshortened (distorted).

The effect of foreshortening on ellipses

In the next example, you can clearly see the amount of foreshortening:

Foreshortening of ellipses demonstrated

Amount of Foreshortening

An ellipse has a major (long) axis, and a minor (short) axis.

Major and minor axes of ellipses

The lower a circle is from the horizon line, the less it is foreshortened.

In other words, the minor axis of the ellipse (foreshortened circle) is shorter close to the horizon.

Therefore, the minor axis determines the amount of foreshortening. The shorter it is, the more an ellipse is foreshortened.

A graphite drawing of a drinking glass

Good to know:

The same happens above the horizon.

The more an ellipse is higher from the horizon, the less it is foreshortened.

Direction of Foreshortening

In addition to the amount of foreshortening, the minor axis determines the direction of foreshortening.

Examples for ellipses with minor axis

You can imagine that the ellipse you are drawing is part of a cylinder.

The direction of the cylinder is the direction of the minor axis (meaning, direction of foreshortening).

Sketches of a camera and gun in perspective

I drew most of the examples in this guide in a realistic style. Here is my guide for drawing realism.

Center of Ellipse

The center of an ellipse is super important.

In a geometric ellipse, the center is the meeting point of the major and minor axes.

When drawing in perspective, you can move it a bit to the back (in the direction of foreshortening).

The first rule of perspective determines that the farther away an object (or a plane) is, the smaller it looks.

Therefore, you can draw the far part of an ellipse a bit smaller.

Using the center of the ellipse to draw lines

Tip:

Draw cast shadows below the watch hands to create the illusion that they are elevated.

Realistic graphite drawing of a pocket watch

When drawing a wristwatch, the center of the watch strap is the point you use to draw the minor axis in any direction you want your watch to face.

Keep in mind, the watch strap is usually not that firm, so the point can move a bit.

Line from the center of wrist watch

Below are some examples.

Realistic graphite drawing of watches

To see how to arrange objects, visit my composition drawing guide.

Summary

Although I draw and paint realism, in some cases, my observational drawing skills are not enough, and I have to pay attention to the direction and the amount of foreshortening.

In other words, understand the perspective of the object I am drawing.

If you are new to linear perspective, visit my guide for drawing in perspective.

To learn how I draw textures, here is my texture drawing guide.