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Monday, June 17, 2013

How to draw teacups (and other ellipses)

This rambling text relates to these 3 images but they are not necessarily posted in order… I am not sure that you will all (or any of you!)  be able to make sense of it …but here goes

I have recently seen a few explanations of how to draw ellipses  by enclosing it in a square that is in perspective. I discovered that setup trick quite a few years back but it never really helped me draw teacups because I never setup a perspective for my tea cup sketches and it is hard to work out where the square is anyway. At one stage I had a little sheet of plastic I would put over the top of the cup to help me see the square…but that was SILLY (kept the tea warm though while I was draw the cup!)

Coincidentally around the time of those other explanations appeared, I happened to be doing my own crazy analysis of circles and centre-points. This was in preparation for the start of my class (way back in late April) I took some photos of a lid with  centre-points marked and tried to get a grip on how the  centre-point varied and with very inaccurate photos I did some crazily accurate measurement on my CAD programme. This was a true left brain moment!

I then had a total brain switch (to the right hand side) and thought.."the shape I am looking at is a true ellipse which is bounded by a rectangle and the centrepoint is in the centre. My head went into a spin and I need an emergency call to the perspective guru - Gerard. Anyway, he set me straight. But I didn't get around to putting it all together…or how to find a way to explain my dilemma about how the circle can have a different centre-point from the ellipse… but it normally does! (Gerard agrees!)

The long and the short of all this rambling is that totally regardless of my analysis…
to draw a tea cup all I do is
1. establish a vertical axis that will pass through the centre of cup rim, base and saucer
2. 'measure' the height and the width of the cup. And draw a cross-hair with these distances meeting at the centre-point.
3. Draw an ellipse connecting these points… if you need more set up- think of a squashed circle in a rectangle and use the 'little less than 3/4 rule for the diagonal)
4. do this for each of the edges of the cup/saucer
5. accept that they might be wonky… colour and pattern will make up for it!
Especially wonky to be expected if one draws slower than normal speed like I did here

Ok… have I confused everyone???

My best advise: go and make yourself a cup of tea and draw what you see!!!


  1. I will try you way of drawing tea cups tomorrow, it seems to make sense. Thank you.

  2. Hi Liz.
    If you draw your rectangle, and inscribe diagonal lines first, their intersection will give you the position for the horizontal line - the widest part of the ellipse, and the vertical line. So you inscribe not just a cross but a union jack. You then mark a tangent at the point where each of these four line meet your rectangle and sketch the ellipse by connecting the tangents.
    Hard to explain without a sketch...
    The same system works brilliantly for doing a series of arches etc. though you'd only need part of the ellipse of course.

  3. Yes, I am completely confused by all the geometric/mathematical lingo that I don't use regularly and thus, am not familiar with. I like your final instructions... draw what you see. ;)

  4. such a beautiful spread! I need to get off here and go sketch!