Stephanie Bower

Stephanie Bower | Architectural Illustration: | Sketching Workshops: | Sketches: on Instagram at @stephanieabower & | Urban Sketchers Blog Correspondent | Signature member of the Northwest Watercolor Society

Sunday, July 15, 2018

TIP 9/10: Use Ellipses to Sketch Arches

Sketching Tip #9:  
Use Ellipses to Draw Arches...

I often see sketches in which arches look more like horseshoes than real arches! So to help you draw an arch that looks like an arch, here are some tips.

I start every sketch I do with what I call "Good Bones" or the foundation lines drawn lightly onto my paper. This way I can mess up or easily erase as needed, and I can establish early on what my sketch will look like.

In the sketch below, you'll see how I break down the shapes of a simple arch.
An arch has straight vertical legs (in red) up to a line called the "Spring Line" (in turquoise). The spring line is where the curved part of the arch starts. The spring line is often called out with some type of decoration or moulding. And in a straight on view like this one, above the spring line, there is usually some form of a circle (in light orange). 

We are back at the beautiful Pazzi Chapel in Florence!

And here is the analysis of an arch in a straight on view. You can see the vertical straight up and down legs on both sides, the SPRING LINE at which level the straight legs start to curve, and the circle I draw in lightly to help me get the correct curve of the arch!
In Renaissance buildings like this, the arch is typically a true half circle. In other countries and in other time periods, you get different shapes. 

Now let's look at an arch from an angled view. The circle we see in a straight on view is now flattened to an ELLIPSE!!!
I draw this in lightly to help me get the correct shape of the arch--makes things so much easier! 

And here are the foundation lines, or "Good Bones" that I draw in to establish
my sketch in perspective. This is the Chiesa in Civita di Bagnoregio where I
teach a workshop each summer!

Here you can again see the straight legs up to the SPRING LINE, which now
vanishes to my vanishing point, and I have also drawn in a light guide line
to establish the height of the arches, also going to my vanishing point.
Next, I draw in a very light ELLIPSE which helps me get the right shape
of the arched portion.
And to connect all the arches together at the same height, I add another guideline to establish the bottom of the ellipse. This helps me draw them at consistent heights.
This all might look a little technical, but it's actually really easy. Just make sure you draw straight legs, then use a circle or ellipse to get the shape of the arch above the spring line!

One more sketching tip to go in this series, and it will be on DOMES.
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  2. Excellent post! Spring line sounds so much better than ‘where the curve begins’, or tangent.

    1. Thanks, Peggy...thanks for following these posts! And I agree about "spring line". Never thought about how nice that sounds!

  3. Wow! I LOVE these tips, and your wonderful explanations!! THANKS so much for taking the time to do these. It sure does help!!

    1. Thank you so much for this feedback, Peggy, I appreciate it!

  4. Sketching the ellipse has really taken the stress out of drawing an arch in perspective for me - something you taught us during the Draw Civita Workshop. I am still a bit muddled about how to estimate the space between the arches in perspective. Could you remind me how that works? thanks!

    1. Hi Lisa...sounds like another blog post explanation...good question! I use my pencil and turn it sideways (horizontally) to measure the widths of each arch...
      hope that makes sense!
      Happy travels!

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