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Ellipse Tutorial by seangordonmurphy Ellipse Tutorial by seangordonmurphy
You know that green ellipse tool that you bought in art school? Do you know how to use it for something other than oval shapes? Do you know what those "cross-hair" marks are for? And do you know how to use it for technically correct perspective drawings?

TOO many comics artists don't, and it's driving me crazy. So instead of starting a blog that starts showing examples and naming names, I figured it was better to make a quick tutorial. And this isn't just for cars but also for guns, fire hydrants, and millions of other machined objects found in comics.

If you go through this and you're still stuck, please don't write to me. I'm happy to show you at a convention to make it clearer, but within a blog this is the best I can do. Check out "Perspective for Comic Artists by David Chelsea" for more.

TIP #1

Cars are a whole lot easier to draw if you know how to properly use perspective and ellipses. The more familiar you are with the math, the more fun it is to draw cars. Once I figured out the ellipse tool and starting drawing tires that actually looked like they fit the car, I was hooked. A good car drawing is 50% about making the tires look correct. Check out the tutorial I'm posting in my gallery.

TIP #2

Comic artists are usually good at drawing Batman because they care about Batman. Batman resonates with them on a personal level of some kind whether from watching the cartoon, playing a video game, or dressing up like him for holidays. It's easier to draw things when you care about them.

It's my opinion that most artists are bad at drawing cars because they don't really care about them. Sure, they like driving them or maybe they like the engine noise, but they still see them as machines and not as works of art (maybe because most artists are poor, they can't afford a cool one that they would see as a work of art). In other words, they don't care about cars like they care about Batman.

The first car I got good at drawing was my car in high school: a yellow Honda CRX. Because it was mine (and because I had all kinds of memories and feelings wrapped up in it), I found I could draw it better than I could the Batmobile. From then one out, the more I learned about cars, the more interesting I found them, and the better I got at drawing them. Understanding terms like "down-force", "apexing", and "four-on-the-floor" makes me draw better cars because it's using more of my brain to do it. I don't want to JUST draw a Batmobile, I want it to have the correct spoiler and be leaning on the correct wheel as it power-slides through a corner. I want readers to be infected by my love of the Batmobile via my drawing.

As an exercise, find a car that you like and do some research on it. Learn about it's design team, the time in which is was created, and why it was a good or bad car (or pick a plane, a boat or any other machined object). Try to build a connection to it by understanding it's story.

If you're having trouble, here's a link to a Top Gear episode where they did a quick documentary about the history of Saab (it's 12 minutes). I never liked Saabs, but the history of Saab issuch a cool story that it makes me want to draw one. Watch it and see if it does the same for you.


It's okay if you're the type who hates drawing cars and will always hate drawing cars. To be honest, I hate drawing poker tables. And it wouldn't matter if I learned about the history of poker tables, I'd still hate it. But I bet it'd still get better at it.

TIP #3

It goes without saying that practice makes perfect. And it's the same for cars. It's hard at first, but the more you draw cars, the more familiar you are with their basic principles and curves. Soon you will be able to quickly sketch a convincing car into the background of a panel without referencing.

Most of all, be patient. Cars are one of the hardest things to draw, I find. But once you get good at them, every other machined object is easy.
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Amacdesigns Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2016   General Artist
very helpful thanks
KorinaDragonClaw Featured By Owner May 2, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I haven't gone to art school yet. Anyone care to link me to a free ellipse tool for GIMP? Does GIMP even have an ellipse tool?
BrianVander Featured By Owner Nov 1, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
so very helpful Sean  thank you 
Doodlee-a Featured By Owner Oct 27, 2014  Student Digital Artist
I never knew what to do with that ellipse template, ahaha. This is fantastic!
zilvart Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
great tutorial:D
Jimpai Featured By Owner Jul 11, 2014
Thx alot man this little tutorial helped me alot
but i have angles on my templates how do i use them??
rambocambo Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thanks for the tutorial. 
CMGfx Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2013
Great stuff!
Sequential76 Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2013  Professional
This applied to me thank you.
Palmer3ldritch Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2013
Thanks. Helped a lot!
DEVMALYA Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
this just goes on to show just how much of a legend and a freaking expert you are. you are amazing. this was really helpful :)
NeutronComics Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Very cool! Thanks for sharing this. :)
gph-artist Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
You sexy beast. Awesome, simple tutorial. And one I know I much needed.

I still hate drawing cars...

But this'll stick in my mind.
vanchoran Featured By Owner Jun 18, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
thanks for the is awesome
starvinartist Featured By Owner May 15, 2013  Student General Artist
Ummm....thanks for this!
livewiredstudios Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2013  Student General Artist
Holy crap....I thought it'd be a helluvalot more complicated than that trying to figure perspectives with templates lol...I've been using something a little more old-er school than templates.... a freaking compass. Yeah, they take longer and no, I never realized the same template shapes sizes and all until you pointed it out....

...and now that you have, I think it's time to retire the compass...

No, not really. I still love my compass...even if it drills holes in the paper without trying lol
sweeney899 Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2013  Hobbyist Artist
I just got more useful info and training from this than I did in school! You were right lol. Plus its a good exercise to keep me busy at work...when i should be working lol
joslin Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thanks for this. I suck at drawing bikes and cars so I decided to make it change. I used your ellipse tutorial for this [link]. Thanks again! I really like your art, so thank you for sharing this.
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2013
Perfect! Cars and bikes will be more fun to draw now.
emalterre Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2013
thank you for this
you must work day and night to do your job illustration, comic books and these tutorials ?
So thank you, for the time you spent (even if it is your job and paid for this)
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2013
Thanks! The tutorial was for free.
emalterre Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2013
it helps me so much to improuve my skill level (which is very very low)
I am waiting for the TPB of Punk Rock Jesus, I don't know if I can find it by now ?
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2013
Amazon very soon. Like next week. Or in a comic shop right now.
emalterre Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2013
ok I will check it out as soon as possible, I don't want to miss it. I truly fell in love with your style, through the pages you have posted on DA.
I had to realise a six pages comics story (beginner style) for a little comics magazine the number six is about the "Rock" so your page inspired me (off course I am a beginner and it is not that good as Punk Rock Jesus). So it helps me a bit. Thank you for this
johnercek Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2013
this deserves daily deviation. thanks so much for posting this, i thought the ellipse template was useless till i saw this.
gerimib Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2013  Professional General Artist
SasaBralic Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2013  Professional General Artist
Awesome! Thanks for sharing Sean!
BanzaiSquirrel Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2013
Cool! Thanks for the tips!
BillReinhold Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2013  Professional
Thanks Sean! I think I've gotten this correct most of the time, but not consciously. So I'm sure I've probably gotten it wrong on occasion too if my shadowed inks didn't hide it..

Now I'll never forget this tutorial!
darrenrawlings Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Ellipse master!
artofkarenwang Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2013
Thanks for the tutorial! It's been super helpful. (:
AntSang Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2013  Professional Artist
Thanks man, that's a great tutorial! Gotta dig out my old ellipse tool now...
StefanieOdendahl Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
very useful - thanks for sharing!
BalanComics Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Thanks for this! I'd always corrected my mechanical ellipses to SOMETHING like what you show on the "correct" car drawing, but I never knew why it didn't look right if I just used the ellipse template. Very cool.
TimTownsend Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2013  Professional General Artist
Ellipses are for pussies.

seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2013
You're an ellipse.
TimTownsend Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2013  Professional General Artist
An obtuse one at that.
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2013
Your ellipse is so wide that it's practically a circle. :)
TimTownsend Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2013  Professional General Artist
The ladies dig it.
BrunoBull Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2013  Professional General Artist
Just bought a second-hand copy of "Perspective for Comic Book Artists" (having seen an old post of yours in which you mentioned that book), read it all and found a big part of it quite complicated... the circle/ellipse chapter is one which I was struggling with! Still have to sit and actually DRAW while I read it, though, to study it a little more fiercely...
But this tutorial helped a lot to understand how to apply what David Chelsea explains! Thanks a lot! Seeing your art and reading all you have to say about it is always inspiring.
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2013
There's WAY more info in there than you'll need. I went through it in college in between class because it has better perspective lessons than the teachers at SCAD did. I don't measure nearly as much as it says to in there--it's just good to know.
BrunoBull Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2013  Professional General Artist
Yeah, that I figured: there's no way an artist on a "one-page-per-day" basis can go through all the steps he explains to measure EVERYTHING. But yes, it's good to know indeed.
Thanks for the feedback, Sean!

"Punk Rock Jesus" will premiere next month here in Brazil, on a monthly Vertigo magazine we have here! Can't wait to finally read it!
smbhax Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2013  Professional General Artist
But isn't an ellipse just a failed circle? > _>

Seriously though I remember you illustrating these points in a YouTube video someone captured from a convention or something, and I've always thought they were darn good tips and things I'd never even thought about before.
JavierReyes Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2013  Professional General Artist

...yes I'm screaming
cpaul26 Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2013  Student Digital Artist
Thnx for sharing this!!!
Jason-Pedersen Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2013
Eyeball it!! Excellent advice. Too many people sit there hemming and hawing, when it's one of those "if it looks right, it's probably right" situations. We draw for believability, not accuracy. Leave that up to the people doing instruction manuals. HA!
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2013
Well, eyeball some of it (like the degrees thing) but measure some of it. That's what I was getting at. :)
BringerOfStorms Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
"...ends up looking like shit!" HaHA! I dig your straight to business style my friend. Keep it up, you are serving a greater good with all this!

M41C0N Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Thank you so Much Sean...
artistjerrybennett Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2013  Professional General Artist
I truly appreciate your willingness and commitment to helping out artist hone their craft. I don't see this kind of encouragement from the pro community at all, and it's refreshing to see that some still care. And to get tips and tutorials from one of the most brilliant and unique comic pros out there is huge. Thank you.
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