Monday, 7 February 2011

The Ellipses in my Still Life Look Wrong

The artist struggling with ellipses in a still life may end up with a painting dotted with doughnut-like formations that are supposed to represent the rims of cylindrical vessels; some ellipses appear lop-sided, others look like UFOs. In other cases, the ellipses appear to inhabit a different space to that of the vessel concerned. How can the artist overcome the problem of painting ellipses on objects?

Step by Step Drawing of Ellipses

How to Draw Ellipses
Rachel Shirley
The still life artist may find painting ellipses difficult to avoid, as many household objects contain ellipses. The list is endless: vases, teacups, teapots, mugs, urns, saucers, eggcups, tankards, vanity mirrors, dishes, plant pots, pipes, cake tins, wine glasses and bottles. This can be a real headache for the artist wishing to steer clear of such challenging elements. But the hurdle of drawing ellipses is a common one which can be overcome. Before making improvements, the following practices need to be addressed:
  • Giving the ellipse sharp corners.
  • Drawing the ellipse asymmetrically. The ellipse might slant to one side, resulting in a lopsided ellipse, or appear wider on one side than the other, resulting in a tear-shaped ellipse.
  • Rendering the rim of the vessel as a single line without suggesting any depth to the rim depicted.
  • Rendering dark lines around the ellipse, even though lines cannot always be discerned on areas of the actual rim.
  • Failing to accord the base of the cylindrical object with the rim at the top, resulting in a vessel that appears to inhabit two areas of space at the same time. A common example is drawing the base of the cylinder as a straight line, and the ellipse at the top as an ovoid.
See my YouTube Clip offering tips on how to draw a simple ellipse

Rules of Ellipses

Thankfully, ellipses follow certain rules, which mean rendering them effectively can be made straightforward. Take note of the following when drawing ellipses:
  • The ellipse of an object never possesses corners, regardless of the obliqueness of the viewpoint. The curve simply becomes more acute.
  • The ellipse element of an object will appear to flatten when viewed at eyelevel, and appear to open out when viewed from a higher vantage point. Head-on, the rim of a teacup, for example will appear perfectly circular.
  • A perfect ellipse is always symmetrical in shape.
  • The rim of a vessel pointing towards the viewer will always appear slightly more curved that the rim further away.
  • The curve found at base of a cylindrical shape (because it is often viewed further away) will often appear more pronounced than the curve of the ellipse at the top.
  • Rims of objects always have depth, regardless of how thin. Observe a mug and the rim might be a few millimetres thick. This means the ellipse should never be rendered as a single line but one with two edges: one for the inner rim, the other for the outer rim.
  • The thickness of a rim will appear slightly wider where the ellipse curves towards the viewer due to the foreshortening effect.
Drawing Ellipses Made Simple

How to Draw Ellipses
Rachel Shirley
The following simple drawing exercise for ellipses can be used as a template for a conjectural cylindrical shape or a real still life vessel, whether it is a cup, vase or pot:
  1. Firstly, observe the object in front and judge how “open” the ellipse is. Is it almost fully open, like an oval; is it akin to an eye shape, or is it flattened like a disc? Keep this measurement in mind when rendering the ellipse.
  2. At the apex of the vessel or cylinder, draw a faint cross. Use a ruler if necessary to ensure the cross is upright, level and centred.
  3. Faintly begin to sketch the ellipse. Draw curved edges to the left and right of the cross (where the rim of the object will be) and a flattened curve at the upper and lower part of the cross.
  4. Knit each element together using soft, curved lines.
  5. Stand back from the drawing in order to view the ellipse at a whole to ensure it is symmetrical. Turn the picture upside down. This will reveal any part of the ellipse that might appear lopsided, uneven or possess unwanted bends. Correct as necessary.
  6. Now adjust the curve of the ellipse representing the rim pointing towards the viewer so that it is slightly more curved than the rim pointing away.
  7. Give the rim depth. Lightly draw the inner and outer edges of the rim, remembering to give the rim more width at the foreshortening points to the left and right of the ellipse. These outlines may not be visible on the object itself, but the under-drawing will serve as a guide when laying down highlights, shadows or detail on the vessel.
  8. Observe the curve at the base of the cylindrical object or vessel. It will often appear more pronounced than the ellipse at the top. If necessary, use the vertical line of the cross as a guide to plot the lowest part of the curve. As before, sketch lightly, using soft, curved lines.
  9. Finally, the cardinal rule: keep observing the object in front whilst drawing the ellipse.
Drawing Elliptical Objects

Drawing for the Absolute and Utter BeginnerDrawing ellipses is a common difficulty for artists rendering a still life for the first time but simple drawing exercises involving a hypothetical cylinder will help the artist recognise and make changes to practices at fault. Practice is the key. This means the artist may begin to view elliptical objects as an anticipated challenge rather than subject matter to avoid.

Links to Still Life Art


amiria said...

Hi Rachel,
My name is Amiria – I write a blog to help high school art students gain excellent grades. I have just written a post about observational drawing in which I have used part of your ellipse diagrams above. I have credited this to you and your name links back to this page for students who wish to seek more information.
Please let me know if you are happy with this usage – if not, I will delete the image immediately.
Thank you! :)

Rachel said...

Hi Amiria
Great blog you have and kind of you to provide a link. Yes, you may use the image, as you have given credit.
Best of luck with your blogging!