The Art of the Ellipse

Published by patrick honner on

ellipse -- conicThis article, the first in a series about drawing, is about how important the ellipse is to the artist.

The author gives a nice, if long, explanation about the significance of the ellipse, but it basically boils down to this:  circles are everywhere. And often, when we are looking at circles, we’re looking at them atilt.  We see projections of the circle, and projections of circles are ellipses.

Think of it this way:  suppose you have a hula hoop and you hold it parallel to the ground.  The shadow you see is circular, but if you tilt the hula hoop, the shadow will change–into an ellipse.

I don’t have a hula hoop, so I made do with a key ring:


As the circular key ring is rotated, it becomes less parallel to the ground; the shadow becomes less circular and more elliptical.  And at the end, the ellipse vanishes–an ellipse eclipse!

patrick honner

Math teacher in Brooklyn, New York

1 Comment

Alan · October 2, 2010 at 5:23 pm

I believe I did a project on this for Math Analysis- a group project on ellipses with Geometer’s Sketchpad/Geogebra. Good times, good times.

If you look at the circle as a sphere, then you can always take a cross-section that resembles an ellipse. This can also expand to when looking at a latitude/longitude system based on the sphere. They all resemble ellipses at one point.

The cone and the ellipse can be seen in Autodesk inventor, for example, when creating the cone and then slicing the graphics to reveal the ellipse shape.

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