draw an oval with a compass

painted oval & circle decoration
painted oval & circle decoration

I need to paint some decoration based on ovals & circles on the cupboard project in my shop these days. We saw evidence of the layout on the original cupboard & its related objects. The one above has lost most of its paint, but the scribed lines are still evident outlining the decoration.

I looked up the steps in using a compass to draw ovals in Sebastiano Serlio On Architecture: Volume One, Books 1-5 translated from the Italian with an introduction and commentary by Vaughan Hart and Peter Hicks (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996).

drawing oval w compass
drawing an oval w compass
I made a simple mistake in this one, but it’s just practice for that very reason. I scribed the two circles too close together. I still got an oval; but its proportions are off. Serlio’s directions say “draw two circles such that each touches the centre of the other.” …now if I only had the book in the shop with me, instead of relying on memory.
I mixed some black pigment in walnut oil, japan dryer and a little varnish, and started outlining the shapes.
painted decoration - first step
painted decoration - first step


It will take some practice to get the squiggly lines right; so there will be more of this.  I hope to get permission to post some details of the originals, (the detail above is an outlaw, hence no context) the paint that survives on them is quite striking…

7 thoughts on “draw an oval with a compass

  1. RF; of course, there’s more than one way to skin a cat – but in this case, I’m matching my work to that of the original (I’m making the upper case for an existing lower case of a cupboard) and the lower case still has the scribed lines showing exactly how this joiner marked out his ovals. It’s simple, quick & precise. Loops of string can have some play in them…

  2. Dear Peter,

    Several years back while you were working in the Plimouth Plantation shop, I accosted you with many questions on the construction of turned triangle stools. You very patiently answered my questions and explained my errors. I just wanted to thank you for your guidance and inspiration. Your work is truly amazing. You can see some of what your kindness has wrought on my web site: bloodandsawdust.com.

    Thanks again!
    Tom R.

  3. Peter,
    Will you post pictures of the cabinet when finished?

    -I saw the episode with the elipsograph on Roy U’s show. Really neat!

    -Tom you have a great site

  4. peter, I was looking in the back of Safford’s Met furniture book remembering there was a piece with a similar paint scheme (fig141). Are you making the top section for the Museum of Fine Arts Boston piece in fig. 141d? That will make a very interesting exhibit at the museum.

  5. Steve
    yes, that’s exactly the case. Without permission, it’s dicey for me to upload images of the originals (too much) so I have kept it somewhat vague…
    But I can talk about it. Yes, the MFA in Boston has a lower case of a cupboard. The upper case is missing. The Met in NY has an over-restored example, well documented in Frances Safford’s book on early furniture there. So I will build a new upper case for the MFA which will be displayed just above the cupboard base. The new piece will be colored like new; thus doubling the interpretive punch – it will show the original format of the full cupboard, and also the color/paint scheme to its intended impact. It will be on display at the MFA when the new galleries open in 2010.

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