How to draw teacups (and other ellipses)

June 17, 2013 | 4 Comments

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 them 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 teacup 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 drew the cup!)

Coincidentally around the time 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 centre point 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 teacup all I do is
1. establish a vertical axis that will pass through the centre of the 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 advice: go and make yourself a cup of tea and draw what you see!!!


  • Related articles: How to Draw a Teacup - The Curiously Creative
  • Hi Liz
    My name is Larry Haley. i live in Worcester, MA. and I am currently taking your Buildings Watercolor course. I am just writing to thank your for your tremendous knowledge and enthusiasm. You have been a great inspiration in helping me understand some new strategies for overcoming barriers to improving my drawing. So I am trying to keep disciplined about it. I have spent most of my adult life as a carpenter and have loved it. In 1991 after meeting an architect involved in one of the jobs I was doing, I began going to architecture school in Boston which is near me. I finally graduated in 2000 but was plagued by wanted to do better design drawings. I did’t want my work to get swallowed by the computer.
    So your course and your generosity has been great.
    My sincerest thanks

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Lawrence – thanks for your lovely comment and so great to read about your experiences. Congrats for getting through architecture! All the best for your creative journey.

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