From a mathematial perspective, the perfect circle doesn’t exist, so technically it is impossible to draw one. However, from a purely visual perspective there are several ways you can draw a circle that looks perfect.
Any mathematical concept like a circle is technically impossible to draw completely accurately. You could draw a line that measures 10cm long, but it will never be exactly 10cm. It is all a case of visual perspective and relative accuracy.
In art we rarely need mathematical perfection. Visually our minds fill in every image we see. If we see something that closely resembles a circle, our minds will recognise it as a circle and any minor imperfections are unlikely to be seen.
Physically it is also very hard to draw the ever changing but consistent curve that makes a circle. Even the most dextrous artists will have trouble drawing a smooth even circle without some kind of drawing aid.
Imagine the number of times each muscle in your fingers and hand need to adjust as you draw the curve of a circle. Our brain is a fantastic organ capable of amazing things but even with endless practice any circle we draw will have imperfections.
3 Reasons Why Drawing Circles Is So Hard
1 – The physical demands when drawing a circle are incredibly difficult. Our eyes imagine the shape and send nerve signals to our hands and fingers, but with every millimeter of line the eye adjusts these signals to tell the hands where to draw. This happens thousands of times every second creating a feedback loop which overloads the synapses in the brain. Slight deviations happen as our hand adjusts to draw the line and these imperfections are unavoidable.
2 – Whatever you draw with, the line will never be perfectly consistent in width or density. If you use a pencil the tip will wear, so the line will become imperceptibly wider as you draw. Even with the best fine liner pens, the flow of ink and the speed of movement across the paper will mean tiny imperfections in every line you draw.
3 – Paper has a textured finish. It is never perfectly smooth and the absorbency varies very slightly even with the best paper. The imperfections this causes may be microscopic, but they are still there. Natural fibres create variations which our brains cannot compensate for. Even smooth polished surfaces have microscopic variations, so aiming for true perfection is a futile process.
How Good Can You Get At Drawing Circles?
With practice and the right tools anyone can get good at drawing circles. The more you practice the better you will get. It really is that simple.
The tools detailed below will all help you to draw a circle easily, but if you have good hand eye coordination it is possible to draw visually accurate circles freehand with practice.
Use a square, a grid or even a hexagon like in the picture above to give you points of reference to follow. If you draw a square and then draw two lines crossing to form a two by two grid, the lines will touch the square where your circle should reach the square. As you draw each of the 4 curves they will join to form a circle.
A hexagon makes it even easier because each curve is smaller. Try practicing using both methods and you will begin to see improvements each time you draw. Eventually you will need to rely on the grid less as your eyes become more practiced at making the adjustments to your movement.
You will see in the paintings below I have drawn multiple circles. They were all drawn freehand. None of them are perfect, but they are good enough for our brain to recognise them as circles. That is all you need to achieve for most things you will draw.
How To Draw a Perfect Circle (with help)
There are various tools we can use to help us draw visually perfect circles. I have used all of them at some point. I am of the opinion that anything that can make drawing easier or more enjoyable is good. It just makes sense when drawing something as difficult as a circle to use any tools that will make it easier.
For all the methods below, having a flat surface to draw on is vital. Any imperfections will show up in the drawing however good your technique is.
Using a compass
This is the way most people will have learned to draw a circle. Make sure your pencil is sharp and fixed firmly in the compass. Be firm but dont press too hard on the point of the compass or the pencil tip.
Grip the top tip of the compass and draw the lines in a smooth sweeping motion. Don’t try to draw the complete circle in one go. Each segment you draw should simply join the last one until you complete the whole circle.
Making a stencil
This works well if you have several circles to draw that need to be the same size. You can buy plastic circular stencils from any good art shop, but you can make them too.
Draw a circle on some stiff card and carefully cut out the line you have drawn (remember to use a cutting board). Fix the stencil firmly in place with tape or a clamp and then draw your circle. Move it to the next position and repeat the process.
Using a pin and a piece of string
This is a method taught to me by my ever ingenious mother. Tie one end of a piece of string or any strong thread around your pencil, near the tip. Then tie a loop in the other end at a distance equal to the radius of the circle you want to draw.
Push the drawing pin into the point at the centre of the circle and put the loop end of the sting over it. Holding your thumb on the drawing pin to keep it firm, stretch the string until it is tight. Keeping the string tight draw a line, allowing the string to pivot around the drawing pin. Voila! You have a perfect circle.
Use a circular object like a bowl
Simply find a circular object the size of the circle you want to draw and place it face down on your paper. Hold it firmly in place with one hand and draw around the whole rim until you have a circle. I have used cups, bowls, jars and even a dustbin lid for this.
Anything that is circular and flat will do as long as it is the size you need. This is probably the fastest and easiest way to draw a circle as long as you dont need a very specific size.
Drawing a visually perfect circle is different to drawing a mathematically perfect circle. The first is possible the other is not. Mathematical accuracy is a matter of perception. It is always a relative term. In art, as long as the circle is visually accurate the person who sees it is unlikely to see any imperfections unless they really study it.
Practice is the only sure fire way to improve your technique. Draw the full moon, some bubbles or the wheel on a car. Make the practice exciting and it will help more.
Don’t forget to check out our other drawing tutorials here too. Let us know subjects that you want us to cover and feel free to ask any questions. We are here to help.