Art Blog

The Elusive Ellipse: Drawing Ellipses in Perspective

Any artist can tell you how tricky it is to draw ellipses in perspective. The top of the flower pot, the lid on a jar, the base of the barn silo — whether you prefer drawing a still life or a landscape, you’re bound to encounter this challenge.

final ellipse in perspective

What is an ellipse?

Simply put, an ellipse is a foreshortened circle. In geometry, it’s a closed curve, like a circle, but with a long axis and a short axis — an oval.

ellipse with short and long axis

In terms of perspective drawing, an ellipse is what we see when we view a circle from its edge, rather than from directly overhead.

Drawing with Perspective Guide

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Why is drawing an ellipse so challenging?

When drawing an ellipse in perspective, artists commonly make two mistakes:

  1. One is to draw a football shape where the outside edges taper almost to points.
  2. The other is to draw two parallel lines connected with curves at each end.
ellipses

This happens because most of us try to “eyeball it” in the hopes it’ll be good enough — and it usually isn’t. Luckily, there’s an easier and more correct way of getting it just right.

How to draw an ellipse in perspective

To avoid these problems, it helps to think “outside the ellipse.” If you can draw a square in perspective, it’s easy to turn it into an ellipse following these steps.

Step 1:

Most ellipses we encounter are at the top and bottom of cylinders, like glasses, flower pots, barrels and buckets. If you think of the cylinder as being within a box, drawing the top and bottom ellipses becomes much easier.

drawing box in one point perspective

Draw a box in one- or two-point perspective that’s big enough to contain your cylinder. The top and bottom planes of the box will be the location of your ellipses.

Step 2:

X through box drawn in perspective

We’ll start with the bottom square plane. Using a straightedge, draw diagonal lines connecting each corner to create an X.

Step 3:

step 3 ellipses

Draw a line from the vanishing point through the center of the X all the way to the outside edge of the square.

drawing ellipses

Then draw another line through the X. This line should be parallel to the front and back edges of the square. In one-point perspective, this line will be horizontal; in two-point perspective, it will recede toward your second vanishing point.

Note: you can’t just “eyeball” this step, or you will not have found the true center of the square in perspective.

Step 4:

erase diagonals

Now you have a cross shape that perfectly divides your square into four smaller squares in perspective. You can now erase the diagonal lines from your initial X.

Carefully draw your ellipse in the four segments, connecting each point where the cross meets the edges of the square.

draw ellipse curve draw curve sketch curve sketch ellipse

This takes some practice, but be patient. It will definitely look better than if you freehand it.

Step 5:

perspective

Repeat Steps 2 through 4 on the top plane of your box.

Step 6:

Two ellipses with no lines

Erase your perspective lines and the vertical lines in your box, being careful not to erase your ellipses!

Step 7:

drawing a cylinder with perspective ellipses

Using a straightedge, draw vertical lines between the right- and left-most edges of your ellipses. Be careful here — you don’t want to simply connect the points where the cross meets the edges of the ellipse, as these aren’t necessarily the outermost edges.

Step 8:

final ellipse in perspective

Now you can erase the crosses on both ellipses and the rear curved edge on the bottom ellipse.

Congratulations! You’ve just drawn two perfect ellipses in perspective to make a cylinder, which you can use in still life drawings, landscapes, architectural drawings — you name it.

These steps even work if the ellipse or cylinder is on its edge or on a wall (clocks, mirrors, windows and more)! What will you draw next that includes ellipses?

Drawing with Perspective Guide

Free Guide: Draw With Realistic Perspective

Learn how to draw scenes with lifelike space and dimension.Download the FREE Guide

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2013 and was updated in January 2018.

15 Comments

Darlene Krystal

way cool…thanks!!!

Reply
Susan Merritt

Thanks. That was awesome!

Reply
Donna O

Proper methods make more precise drawings for sure!

Reply
Estelle

Great exercise …I did it sitting up in bed when I was sick….good practice…enjoyed the simple instructions.. Anything is easy once someone snows you how. Thank you!

Reply
Jessica M Edwards

This is wonderful. Thanks!

Reply
les

Very good thanks

Reply
David Parker

an ellipse is a geometric shape. It is created when a cone is cut at an angle without dissecting the base. It has 4 equal quarters.
What has been demonstrated is the drawing of a circle in perspective. Which has two equal front quarters and two equal rear quarters.

Reply
Aine

There’s always one pompous arsehole who has to throw his weight around, isn’t there? This is an art tutorial, not a geometry lesson, and this method is absolutely applicable to drawing ellipses as well as circles.

Reply
Alexander

this cant help if i dont know where to place the compass, i’ve tried several points but i still dont get it,, ..

Reply
Aine

The idea is to draw the curves freehand. It gets easier with practice.

Reply
pAiGe

this is greeeaaattt…….

Reply
ElIzAbEtH

This really helped, definetley going to get an A

Reply

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