How to

How to Draw an Ellipse

Understanding the Elegance of an Ellipse


An ellipse is not just an ordinary oval; it is a sophisticated and refined shape. What sets it apart is its mathematical definition and the ability to draw it accurately. While many people may mistakenly refer to it as an oval, there is more to the ellipse than meets the eye. By employing simple formulas and a clever technique, you can effortlessly draw and incorporate ellipses of any size into your creative endeavors.

The Significance of Foci

An ellipse possesses two internal points known as “foci” (plural of “focus”). These foci play a vital role in defining the shape. On the perimeter of the ellipse, the distance between each focus, the edge, and the other focus remains constant. This unique characteristic not only results in an aesthetic and pleasing shape but also allows for precise and straightforward ellipse drawing.

Mathematical Definition of an Ellipse

To draw an ellipse accurately, some mathematics come into play. However, fret not, as it is perfectly manageable! All you need are the overall dimensions of the ellipse, namely the length and width at its maximum points. These dimensions are referred to as the major axis and the minor axis, respectively. Using the following formula, you can determine the location of the foci:

C = √(A^2 – B^2)

Here, C represents the distance between the center and each focus. A denotes the radius of the major axis, and B represents the radius of the minor axis. To gain a clearer understanding of the relationships involved, refer to the diagram below.


Once you have identified the relative positions of the foci in relation to the ellipse’s center, drawing the shape becomes a breeze.

Drawing an Ellipse with the String Method

A simple yet effective technique for drawing ellipses is the string method. Drive two nails into the pattern at the foci and create a loop of non-elastic string that connects both foci. When you pull the string taut, it will extend to any point on the ellipse. By keeping the string loop taut and moving a pencil around the foci, the string will guide your path. The fixed length of the string ensures that the pencil stays equidistant from both foci, resulting in a precise and well-defined ellipse. Refer to the diagram and video below for a visual demonstration.


While the string method is excellent for drawings and layout purposes, cutting a precise ellipse requires the use of an ellipsograph – a clever jig capable of moving in an elliptical shape while carrying tools such as a pencil or a router. Building an ellipsograph is straightforward. You will need two dovetailed tracks made of MDF, positioned perpendicular to each other. Two hardwood pieces should be milled to fit snugly in the tracks, with a bolt added at their centers.

Attach a rigid plywood arm to both bolts. To control the size of the ellipse, you must determine the major and minor radii of the shape (A and B as per the above formula). Attach a router to the plywood arm and secure it to the sliding blocks. One block should be positioned at the minor distance from the router, while the other should be placed at the major distance. As you maneuver the arm along the ellipse, the two sliders will seamlessly pass each other in the jig, creating a flawless ellipse.

Embrace the Ellipse – No Need to Fear!

Drawing an ellipse and understanding the associated mathematical aspects should not be intimidating. With a little practice and a grasp of the fundamental concepts, you can confidently create this captivating shape. Let your creativity flow and explore the elegance of ellipses in your artistic endeavors.

Alexia Young

Hello and welcome to the world of Alexia. I am a passionate and dedicated artist who loves to create beautiful, mesmerizing art for everyone's walls. I believe in the importance of encouraging people to express their creativity and be happy.

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