I am trying to draw freehand ovals and circles. I'm not having too much difficulty with circles, but ovals are are more challenging.

As you can see in the photo below the ovals are irregular, and not real ovals. The circles I can "flesh out" correcting irregularities, but not the ovals.

What can I do to improve my ability to draw them? I know I could use tools, but my goal is to do this freehand. Right now I am simply drawing them over and over, but I word prefer some direction.


  • In most cases you flesh out an oval the same way you do a circle. Can you explain the issues there?
    – Scott
    Mar 16, 2013 at 19:37
  • Th issue is that even when fleshing out, I can't seem to get them to be symmetrical. I used Yisela's method below and it has been most helpful. Mar 17, 2013 at 9:53
  • 1
    Allow me to suggest that you draw circles and ovals very, very fast, but with the axises @Yisela demonstrates below. Very fast, several lines on top of each other without lifting the pen from the paper. Just scribble them, and after a while you will improve on circles and ovals without the axis.
    – benteh
    Dec 8, 2013 at 16:33

2 Answers 2


I think a good excersize would be to start by using axes. You mention you don't want to use tools, but freehand axes can give you a great view of hoy ellipses work, specially in perspective. Once you are comfortable with the 'theory' you can get rid of them.

Every ellipse has two axes or diameters, called a long diameter and a short diameter, which cross each other at their centers and at right angles:

enter image description here

When the eye of the spectator is in the plane of a circle and outside of its circumference, the short diameter of the ellipse appears as a point, and as the eye varies or departs from the A plane of the circle, the short diameter increases in apparent length until it may appear equal to the long diameter, which can only be true when the line of direction is at right angles to the plane of the circle.

Once we 'step back', the space in the ellipse does not compress equally. The back half of the circle is compressed more than the front half. This is the foreshortening that occurs when we see the surface of an object at an angle. The farthest points to the left and right of the ellipse do not rest in the vertical middle. They sit slightly above the vertical center.

Similar to the concept in perspective that objects closer to the viewer appear larger than objects further away, when looking at an object in perspective the parts of the object closer to the viewer will appear larger than the trailing parts:

enter image description here

You can find more information and some examples here.

  • Thank you, I tried using the axis, and it was extremely helpful in getting the symmetry correct. Mar 17, 2013 at 9:52
  • @RobertAntonReese Glad to hear that!
    – Yisela
    Mar 17, 2013 at 19:20
  • 1
    @RobertAntonReese: hopefully, you noticed the very crucial difference between an oval and a foreshortened circle in Yisela's (very good) examples. Ovals are symmetrical on "both" axes. The foreshortened circle is NOT symmetrical on the horizontal axis.
    – horatio
    Mar 19, 2013 at 21:26
  • @horatio I did not notice that, that's a very good insight, and explains some issues I have had drawing cylinders. Thanks for the valuable comment. Mar 20, 2013 at 9:13

Circles are tough, but you can start with ellipses and dial in from there. For them to look nice they have to be done wit a certain speed. What I see on your example is that you draw them slowly, "paining" them. What you are looking for though is sketching techniques.

So here are some basic things you can do:

Instead of rotating your wrist joint to curve the line, keep your wrist straight, lift your elbow up from the table and draw with your whole forearm moving. This takes a bit of practice but you can draw many ellipses and fast. And due to the whole forearm moving, your line becomes more steady.

This also helps with control of pressure. Try to barely touch the paper and start drawing thin "helping" lines, once you see you are where you want to be, increase the pressure.

Also, remember that every line has a beginning and an end, thinning out at the start and end. this helps you connect the ends of your circles. Together with enough speed, this should get you nice looking shapes.

Lastly, this takes practice. I have drawn hundreds myself. But it's not hard once you stop slowly painting them but practicing making them past and crisp. They don't have to be perfect, but they need that certain "speed" to not look wobbly.

Here you can see that there are helping lines under the final lines. And that they are not perfect, but have a dynamic to them:

enter image description here

  • Thankyou for your comments, you've given me a lot to mull over. Mar 18, 2013 at 22:18

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