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[Drawing] Cylinders

category: Design | course: Drawing | difficulty:

Let me tell you a secret. The favourite basic shape of the world is not the cube nor the sphere … but a combination of both! The cylinder can be found everywhere, and is often an even better shape to approximate form, than a cube. A tree trunk is a bunch of cylinders, as well as its branches. The human body is best approximated with a cylinder, as well as most animal spines. Really, they’re everywhere.

What’s a Cylinder?

A cylinder is what happens when you add depth to a circle, or extend a circle in the z-direction. The top and bottom sides are flat circles, and in between those is a tube connecting them. It’s basically a bunch of flat circles stacked on top of each other. Not surprisingly, for the top/bottom we can use ellipses, and we can use straight lines for the part in between.


Cylinders in Perspective

If you’re not looking at cylinders in perfect side view, you need to keep a close eye on the rules of perspective, or your cylinders will look odd. As usual, the straight lines should converge into the distance. This automatically leads to the fact that the side that is furthest away should be represented by a smaller ellipse than the side close to the viewer. Nevertheless, it’s important to make a distinction here between the size of an ellipse and its degree (or width).

Because the other side is further away, it’s smaller; we learned that from cubes and vanishing points. But, because of its different position, we’re looking at it at another angle, so the degree should be greater. I hope the image clarifies this more.


Putting Cylinders in Boxes

If you’re using a really tricky perspective, or you have trouble with cylinders in general, there’s always the option of drawing a cube around it. Simply draw your cube like you normally would, nothing fancy, but make sure to draw through it. This means that you draw the lines at the back, which you normally don’t see, as well. Now you can use the front and back face of the cube to draw the ellipses that transform it into a cylinder.


You’ve probably noticed that some of my ellipses are rotated, and that’s good, because it is very important! We’ve thus far only used vanishing points as great guidelines for drawing rectangular shapes, but we can also use them for ellipses and circular shapes. All you need to do is make sure that the minor axis converges at the vanishing point as well.

Contour Lines

The contour lines for the cylinder are somewhat complicated. In one direction, we have nothing but straight lines. In the other direction, we have nothing but ellipses wrapping around the curvy side of the cylinder. Together, all these lines form a nice grid for you to see how the form of your cylinder works.

Just as with constructing spheres, it’s important to change the degree of the ellipse when moving in three-dimensional space.



Not surprisingly, these exercises should also be done as often as possible.

Simple Cylinders

Draw a cylinder in side view. This means that all you need is two ellipses parallel to each other, and two lines connecting them.

Open Video

Advanced Cylinders

Draw a cube, using one, two or three vanishing points (whatever you like). Now draw the cylinder inside it.

Open Video

Cylinders with Connections

This one is hard. Draw a cylinder, and add the contour lines. Now, at random spots, connect cubes or other cylinders to it. Make sure to follow those contour lines, and don’t forget the rules of perspective on the shapes you connect to it! When in doubt, check the tree in the image at the start of this chapter; it makes heavy use of (distorted) cylinders.

Test your knowledge with the quiz!
What do you use to differentiate between the front and back face of the cylinder?
Drawing the ellipse furthest away with a higher degree
A regular circle
Putting the cylinder within a well-drawn cube
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