Maryland Pastel Society events


February Challenge

Understanding the Ellipse

Well, I imagine by now you're beginning to see some progress in how you paint those spherical and rounded forms. If you've been following the challenges since we began in December, you've now drawn and painted six rounded forms and you've painted them using real life observation! Painting six of anything implies you're already ahead of the game. We now have a very nice collection of paintings on our blog, so artists keep up the good work.

If you're a newcomer to the MPS Drawing Challenge jump in anytime but try to work on some of the past challenges as we are tackling them with a step-by-step approach. The past challenges are listed on the MPS Blog

This month's challenge is to continue to gain more understanding of basic forms painted FROM LIFE. The form we'll be focusing on is the ellipse.  We'll still use those rounded forms but they will be cylindrical, symmetrical and elliptical! Ah yes, painting the ellipse can be tricky. In our last challenge you had the freedom to paint organic free forms but now it's time to throw in some technical skills.

Remember an ellipse is a circle in perspective. To emphasize this point try this simple exercise:
Hold a glass in your hand and look directly down over top of it and you'll see a circle. As you continue to slowly raise the glass higher and higher straight out in front of you you'll see a circle in perspective and the opening at the top of the glass will become smaller and smaller until it disappears and becomes a straight line in front of you. When you reach this point you have arrived at your "direct line of sight".  As you keep elevating the glass above your line of sight you'll then see the ellipse at the bottom of the glass in perspective. You may be thinking, yeah, yeah, I already know that…but observation is the key to understanding form so humor me and do the exercise anyway.

Here are a few tips about drawing and painting the ellipse accurately.

First, measure your object, top to bottom and side to side. Using a softer pencil (4 or 6B) place light pencil marks on your surface to indicate the sides, top and bottom of the object. It can help to lightly draw a vertical guideline between one side and the other to keep your object symmetrical and straight up and down on the page. Having a carpenter's square nearby is also a great way to check this as long as the bottom of your painting surface is level. A corner mat sample works well, too. Try and avoid those leaning objects. Once you place a line that is not truly perpendicular to the bottom of your drawing surface the next thing you know all of your objects whether they are wine bottles or buildings will be leaning. If the objects in your painting are leaning too far to one side they'll stick out like a sore thumb. The viewer will pick up on that right away instead of noticing how beautifully you've painted everything.

Now, lightly draw in the shape of your object. Moving your pencil around in a circular motion draw in the ellipse on the top of your object. Don't commit with a hard pencil line but keep it loose and light and you'll start to see the ellipse emerge. Use this same approach to draw in the ellipse at the bottom of your object. If your object is not transparent and you can't see the complete ellipse pretend that you can and draw the ellipse all the way around the bottom or top as show in the illustration. Note, that the ellipse at the bottom of your object is slightly more extreme than the ellipse at the top because it is farther down from your line of sight. If the object is above your line of sight than the opposite will be true.
mps 352

Begin the drawing using light pencil lines that can easily be corrected or erased. Not too much pressure let the weight of the pencil do the work!

mps 352

Four Common Mistakes:
1.Top and bottom ellipse too far off in relation to one another
2.Ellipse has intersecting corners
3.leaning object
4.asymmetrical ellipse

Remember that vertical line that you laid in at the beginning of the drawing? Check to make sure that one side of the ellipse mirrors the other. If not, take the time to make the corrections.

Turning your painting surface upside down can show you problems with your drawing.

Have a small mirror handy to view the object in reverse. It's amazing how many times I have caught a major drawing error in my work simply by using this tool. Whenever, you're working with symmetrical objects a mirror speaks the truth.

One last thing…your ellipse should not look like a football (with pointed corners)! An ellipse is one round shape, no intersecting points.

Well, that should get you started! Now, here's what you need for the set-up!

Select one tall vase or bottle and one round bowl. Place an object inside the bowl. You may select any object that interests you to place inside the bowl…a goldfish, a valentine, a bagel, to name a few. If you select a wine bottle please don't get too consumed with the lettering on the label!

The bottle or vase and the bowl with the object inside must be set on different planes. You can use books or boxes to create a higher plane or any other means that you come up with as long as you have one elliptical object somewhat higher than the other.

The skills you have practiced in the first two challenges still apply to this challenge; perspective, shadows, edge control, etc., but now you'll be practicing to accurately draw the ellipse. The ellipse and cylindrical forms can be found in trees, lakes and buildings. You will also find the understanding of ellipses necessary when drawing the torso, arms, legs and head of the human form.

They're everywhere!

Good luck with this challenge. Take your time with this one! Please send the results of your February Challenge to me by February 28 to post on the blog!