January 30, 2015

The One Rule to Drawing Ellipses

There are a lot of harrowing challenges to take on as an artist: learning human anatomy, figuring out perspective, drawing hands, ect.  But of all of the epic quests of artdom, none deserves more respect than learning how to correctly draw an ellipse.

It is a task that can stop the otherwise enthusiastic art student in his tracks, when suddenly faced with the challenge of *gasp* drawing a car.

Maybe you’ve faced this challenge yourself. Your wheels look squishy, your canisters look askew and your arches look like something out of the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

While practicing drawing ellipses in your daily warm-up will help, you need to know one thing about drawing ellipses in perspective to get things right.

This is it:

The Minor Axis of an ellipse always recedes to the vanishing point.

Wait, what is a Major and Minor Axis?

This is how it works in perspective:


This is why ellipse templates have markings indicating the major and minor axes. Using a template is a great way to visualize and understand this concept.

Another way to think of this rule is that when you draw a cylinder, the minor axis will always be parallel to the sides of the cylinder and the major axis will be perpendicular to the minor axis.


Don’t let perspective mess you up. The major and minor axes will always divide the ellipse equally in half on the 2D plane.

How to Practice this

First draw a straight lines. These will be your Minor axes. then draw centered ellipses over the top of them. Focus on trying to cut the ellipse in half as you draw it on top of the the line.

You can also practice drawing ellipses and then cutting them in half with the major and minor axes.




  1. Oh man, so helpful. Thank you! I draw a LOT of bikes in my work, and the wheels never look quite right. Bike wheels in particular are tough, because if you analyze the shape that the spokes create, the whole shape is more like a spinning top, just super shallow. But it’s tempting to just draw cylinders to make the shape. Anyway, I digress… thanks for the post! Found you through Comics Are Great — the backstory episode ruled. :)

    • Brandon says:

      So glad it was helpful! That’s a very interesting insight on the bike wheels. I don’t think I usually pay attention to the forms the axles and spokes create. I’ll have to think about it next time I draw a bike.



  2. Great article. I didn’t realize that you had all of these tutorials on your site.

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