Lesson 1: Lines, Ellipses and Boxes
Ellipses in Planes
Put an ellipse in there. That's all.
It may look simple, but there are some pitfalls to watch out for. Don't worry about anything aside from getting the ellipse to be smooth and evenly shaped, and having it touch all four edges of the plane as snugly as you can manage. Of course, draw through your ellipses (as mentioned in the table of ellipses exercise).
Be sure to make use of the ghosting technique - this should of course be applied to every mark you put down, but it will especially help you here. Don't worry if you mess up - you'll have plenty of planes to practice with.
Purpose of this exercise
This exercise is just the beginning of something much more complicated. In the future, we'll be tackling constructing cylinders inside of boxes, and other similar challenges, and these will come with additional criteria that will need to be met. The purpose of this exercise however is just about maintaining the smooth, even shape above all else. That is your first priority. Second to that is, as mentioned above, fitting it snugly within the plane, touching all four edges. Given that these are generally awkward shapes to work in, I frequently have students who start deforming their ellipses, getting generally overwhelmed by the difficulty of the task.
More than anything, it's an exercise in calming down. The difficulties faced here are generally more of one's own making. Take it easy, and just try your best to drop a nice, even ellipse in there.
Things to remember
You're going to find that we're basically repeating the same things over and over - focus on a confident execution first, then address control/accuracy by using the ghosting method. It comes up so often because it really is at the heart of mark-making as a whole. So this isn't the first time we come across it, and it certainly won't be the last.
That said, let's take a look at how these concepts apply in particular to this exercise.
Mistake: Deformed ellipse
This is a mistake I see frequently. See how the ellipse is bumpy and wobbly, and it kind of reaches out to touch the edges rather than maintaining an evenness to its shape? Avoid this. As mentioned several times above, maintaining a smooth elliptical shape is critical and above all else is your first priority.
Mistake: Floating ellipse
I also see this every now and then, though less frequently. While getting the ellipse to touch all four edges is your second priority, it is still something you should strive to do. It's pretty clear that with this example, no attempt was made to achieve that goal, and the ellipse - though evenly shaped - was just plopped in the middle rather unceremoniously.
Ellipse Master Template
This recommendation is really just for those of you who've reached lesson 6 and onwards.
I haven't found the actual brand you buy to matter much, so you may want to shop around. This one is a "master" template, which will give you a broad range of ellipse degrees and sizes (this one ranges between 0.25 inches and 1.5 inches), and is a good place to start. You may end up finding that this range limits the kinds of ellipses you draw, forcing you to work within those bounds, but it may still be worth it as full sets of ellipse guides can run you quite a bit more, simply due to the sizes and degrees that need to be covered.
No matter which brand of ellipse guide you decide to pick up, make sure they have little markings for the minor axes.