Big Controversy: Should Artists Use This Tool?

17 Nov 2011

David Hockney asserted that Jan Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait was created with optical tools.
David Hockney asserted that Jan Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait
was created with optical tools.
The camera lucida is something I've known about for years, but I didn't know there was such controversy surrounding it--or that people felt so passionately about its historical use or lack thereof. Latin for "light room," the camera lucida is a device used to help artists draw and render by superimposing an image of an object onto a drawing surface so that you can see the subject and drawing surface at the same time. It can help an artist sketch complicated passages of a drawing or even make a contour line drawing of objects.

And while the tool is not particularly well known or widely used now, documents going back to the 1600s describe the existence of a similar tool. Even commercial artists from the 1950s through the 1980s used a variation on the camera lucida because it provided a quick and accurate way of drawing.

But here's where the real fight began. Several years ago, artist David Hockney asserted that many of the masters of Western art--Ingres, Jan Van Eyck, Caravaggio--used the camera lucida and other optical aids to help create their art, insinuating that the skillful realism so highly prized in art history was a sham. Gasp!

Reactions were extreme. On one hand: boo, hiss, and a lot of umbrage about the idea that someone would claim that the Old Masters cheated their way to the art that we revere them for. On the other hand, artists were intrigued by the camera lucida. They wanted to know how to get their hands on one; many started experimenting with it.

I still love the work of the Old Masters and the idea of them using tools to render doesn't really doesn't change the way I feel about it, though many scientists and historians have refuted Hockney's claims. More importantly I don't think that the paintings and drawings that belong in the Hall of Fame of Western civilization are so easily explained. There is a lot more too them than just good rendering.

The camera lucida's existence goes back to the 1600s. It was patented in the 1800s, and was used by commercial illustrators as recently as the 1980s. Some artists still use it today.
The camera lucida's existence goes back to the
1600s. It was patented in the 1800s, and was used
by commercial illustrators as recently as the 1980s.
Some artists still use it today.
But the point is that the camera lucida is a tool, and every tool has its place. Many artists don't use the camera lucida. I've never used one, but there are apparently many artists who believe there are merits to its application when it comes to drawing complicated perspectives and spatial relationships. I'm mostly intrigued by all the reactions the controversy over the camera lucida received, but it is interesting to know how it works and what it can do. The more I know, the better I feel I understand art and my place in it--no matter if I decide to use (or not use) that new knowledge or those tools in my work.

If you feel the same way--that knowledge is power!--our eBook, 25 Technical Questions & Answers for Artists will be as informative for you as it was for me. It's a good read and clarified several things for me about the more formal aspects of art-making. And if you can find a dime, you can get 25 Technical Questions & Answers for just that. Download and enjoy!

P.S. What your thoughts are on the camera lucida and the idea that the Old Masters could have used it? Have you used it? Would you? Leave a comment and let me know!

 


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lovestopaint wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 6:20 AM

This is how they put your picture on your birthday cake.

Copy Cake makes a nice one and I have one of thoes.

bellaartista wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 6:31 AM

When art work is entered in a judged show, how can it be judged fairly if someone has used a device to copy the drawing aspect of the piece versus someone who has drawn it freehand? How do others feel about this?

Is copying, art?

Linlily wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 6:50 AM

no matter how you manage to get an outline or sketch on the surface, you will still need the ability to "paint" the image.  Your quality of work and style will evident in the finished artwork.

on 18 Nov 2011 7:04 AM

If one traces an image, one has not drawn it and a vital portion of the creative process has been bypassed.

This is my article written in 2004 addressing David Hockney's assertions.

www.artrenewal.org/.../hockney1.php

billf wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 7:06 AM

I thought that the camera lucida was a box with a mirror and a candle - the precursor to the light box.  The picture in the article shows a long stick.  Which is it?

I can create fine art with or without the aid, so I am not worried what people think whether I used one or not.  I will readily admit if I used an aid or not, but sometimes I find myself boasting when it was done all freehand without any aid.

rooman43 wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 7:26 AM

Tracing is good. Tracing is not cheating. Not everyone, even some artists can trace well. If the endgame is a well drawn/painted image or piece, then so be it. This idea of tracing is somehow cheating is nonsense.

whimsyville wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 7:40 AM

I agree with linlilly - it is merely a tool to assist with the outline - it is no different than using varied brushes to achieve different painterly effects. I can teach anyone to create a water color flower with the right type of brush - i can NOT teach everyone to complete that painting with the detail and imagination of the masters....that is where the 'artist' comes in - it is a gift.

on 18 Nov 2011 7:53 AM

I was surprised to found out that Norman Rockwell projected his photographs when sketching out paintings. But it explains the amount of detailed realism he could achieve. I have no less respect for Rockwell's work - he's still an amazing illustrator who told the American story in a way we can visually relate to even decades later. The key is using your reference without being a slave to it. As an illustrator, I compile all my reference in Photoshop and often project a final sketch/composition onto the painting surface. Then, as I paint, I'll continue tweaking the drawing to fit the flow of the painting.

liquidmethod wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 7:57 AM

In my humble opinion, it's the processes of drawing and painting that makes every finished piece an accomplishment.  This process leaves mistakes for us to learn from.  It is the struggle within to render not just what you see, but to bring out the imagination envisioned from inside you.  It's easy to compare the Artograph to the Autotune used in the music industry.  It helps those that can't sing stay in tune with the melody.  To me, it's an undesired tool that I have no need for.

Harry Gray wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 8:02 AM

I'm for the "real" thing attitude.  I was disappointed when I saw a photo of Norman Rockwell tracying a photo projection.  I understand such tools for commercial use as "time" is critical and thus any tool (computers) is what the industry will demand.  As for myself the only use of such tools I use is if I made the orignal drawing/painting and wanted it larger then I feel that is fine because I did the "work" and applied the skills first.  

colorfield wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 8:26 AM

The folks at artrenewal.com had a lot of very articulate contempt for Hockney at the time his "expose" came out. While there is documentation of artists' curiosity about and experimentation with lenses over the centuries, much of Hockney's claims show his ignorance of, for example, all those ateliers today than produce precise images by sight-size. No "secret knowledge", just hard work and practice. The camera lucida is tricky to use, and the irony of Hockney's claim was the akwardness of his own drawings when using the device. Learning to draw is a life-long labor of love. Even Ingres in old age, according to the young Renoir who saw him draw in Rome, angrily crumpled up his first several attempts at a sitter's portrait before he nailed it perfectly. -Will Butler

Skcudym wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 8:33 AM

Well now lets see if an accountant uses a calculator or a computor does that make him less than an accountant? It's a tool no problem tool are good. Would you feel you were cheated if your doctor send you to a hands on healer or would you prefer he used the proper tools to evaluated the condition. You still have to know how to draw and how to paint a camera or anything else will not do that for you.

akrummel wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 8:46 AM

it's just a tool. it is useful at times and in those cases i use it. the camera is useful at times. painting portraits of young children or animals would be nearly impossible without the camera. the computer is useful for arranging compositions more quickly and experiments with cropping.

all of these processes can be done without the tools and artists should be able to do them traditional ways before using the "shortcuts".

every tool makes it possible for an artist to transfer his feelings to the canvas and they're all good

Marsha Hicks wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 8:47 AM

When I was 13, I used a device that helped me get my Perspective. but I do all my painting free hand, and if i want to get it life size i ruler or tape to get the right  Perspective. the use of a camera or copying device is not acceptable in my book for accomplished artist. but i always say that you need to start some where to get it right, and do tell some people to use a copying device to start if they are nervous about drawing, or can't get started like they want to. I also say once you get it right this way try to do it with out a helper the same picture that is either using the picture they have copied or the actual object. I do under stand that time was an object to contend with and they may have needed this prop in the past but now we are modernized now, and we can use our own photo's to draw from to get it right. but a copy machine now days in my group it is unacceptable the use one in our competition or show these in a art show.  

on 18 Nov 2011 8:56 AM

Projectors of all types are popular amongst photorealists/hyperrealists still today. I own two opaque projectors plus an overhead projector which I use for my hyperrealism work. There's generally too much detail to retrieve from the reference image to just draw by hand, just for the purpose of saying you drew it. Even with a projector a simple line drawing of a very detailed scene can take two or three days solid, it's just a tool at the end of the day. For my other styles I just use freehand as I enjoy the drawing, I enjoy the practice and the challenge.

wirebeads wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 9:24 AM

Hi,

I both do a little artwork and I also create jewelry. It would never occur to me not to try new and old tools to help with my jewelry making. So, therefore, it would never occur to me try and learn about new and old tools that would help me improve my art. I think sometimes people become 'purists' and it may hinder their creativity. Just my opinion.

aquabone wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 9:27 AM

i have always loved art! expressionism in particular---

dabbled in my youth- now in my 40's and i have decided to dedicate more time when i can... so many great resources these days.

**anyway-

i must say i have been amazed at the number of people using tracing methods- i had no idea! and i am certain that the average person doesn't know!

i am sorry- but there is no way around it for me- i cant accept that!

if i rip a page out of my sons coloring book- the lines are prepared for me- and if i put all the right colors in all the right places- and it looks nice when i am done- am i an artist? nope!

i can appreciate the pereson doing the work enjoying themselves- but to sell the work- or put it in a contest- no offense- but not right...

mohdrazif wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 9:34 AM

Hi Courtney. This is the first time that i have heard about this device. Even though i really do not understand on how it works. If the Old Masters have used it, i guess they have their own reason to do so. And definitely the reasons are none other than to produce good quality artworks. But lets not forget that cameras were not around at that time. Well, if we say that its part of cheating, then what about looking at photos to copy? I could say that its part of cheating too. But as an artist, what do you feel? are you satisfied with what you are doing or have achieved? To me, i would be satisfied if i were to just use freehand, without using anything else.. As far as i am concerned, no one in the world created anything except GOD. As an artist,  we do things just for the sake of art that is beautifying of what we see and feel. What's said here is just my personal point of view. Thank you

yvonnesart wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 9:50 AM

Actually, we have developed a similar tool we use in our weekly workshop: it's called "make a coloring book page out of your own photographs, enlarge to the needed size and trace it onto your canvas or paper. This goes on all the time. Is it cheating? Of course not; we are using our own photos, or one borrowed with permission from someone, we paint it our selves, we do all the work and there are never ever any 2 alike even when the same pattern is used. Does anyone see a difference with using this and the camera lucida?

yvonnesart wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 9:53 AM

to Bellaartista: In our annual judged shows, we specify no works be entered which have been done in an instructional class where the entire group has copied compostion from the instructor. Paintings done later on one's own, using the pattern are always different and are acceptable.

MarkLa wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 10:19 AM

Use what you want but please inform the public and judges if you are copying photos or projecting drawings/photos.  There needs to be classsifications so artists who paint from nature can be recognzed and supported.  I am amazed at how many magazines feature artists who copy photos (calling them reference photos does not work for me) and/or project images to copy and fill in like a coloring book.  Again, if that is your passion, fine, just label what you do clearly as some people do care about the process not just the result.  

Enault wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 10:21 AM

All's fair in love and art.  I have not used this device, but I see no reason not to.  At the other extreme are those who feel that direct painting, without even a sketch, is the proper way.  Opaque projectors, tracing paper, transferring to a grid, or whatever.  They are simply tools to be used so one can concentrate on the truly creative, and fun, part of the process.

connieolson wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 10:36 AM

I see what you are saying about using it for the complicated perspectives.  If they did use them, they still had to design their picture, eliminating what is not necessary and exaggerating what they want to express.  They have to order it because you cannot just copy something to produce great art.   You can look at many of the old paintings of the crucifiction to see that, although all the figures are in their place, only some portray the agony and sorrow that others have captured.  I would think that some tried it and used it in this way, using it for the perspective or quickness of getting it lined up properly and then had to go through the processes of good design.

If I can render works without using this and get the results that I do while acknowledging  that I can't compete with the Old Masters, why would the ones who drew every day and totally understood great design have to bother with something that might, in the end, not give them the freedom to express themselves fully.  

As with everything, we experiment with different techniques and then make a decision to discard it if it doesn't produce the results that we thought.

Connie Olson

gaubatzme wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 10:36 AM

Yes, it is just a tool - a tool to cheat with. If you cannot draw without it - you can not draw. So paint by the numbers...it is even faster...or go paint a house, you can then call yourself a painter.  Sarcasm aside, the drawing phase is where the design elements are developed. I won't take short-cuts or copy.

vtpete wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 10:40 AM

Having written an iPhone / iPad Camera Lucida app, I'm obviously a huge fan of devices that help you be the artist you want to be.  (www.cameralucidaapp.com)

In college, my art professor taught us how to use our pencils and rulers to measure angles and use triangulation to get proportions correctly.  He taught us how to squint to identify key tonal areas.  If you want to draw a portrait that actually looks like your subject, many of us need help (IE, tools) to get those proportions correct.  The camera lucida is an amazing way to do this.

Art is about evoking emotion.  Who cares how you create the art?  Why should it matter?  Is taking a photograph of a subject cheating?  Of course not.

And, is it fair that in a judged show someone used a tool to create a "better" drawing?  In my opinion it doesn't matter.  It's the art that's being judged, not the artist or the technique used.  Using a tool such as a camera lucida is, (in my opinion again) like using better paints or higher quality paper... or a more interesting subject.  

Feel free to contact me at pete@cameraLucidaApp.com if you want to learn more about my Camera Lucida drawing app for your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad2.  I love a little controversy!

aquabone wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 11:01 AM

brutal honesty-

looking at comments from proponents = denial.

i'm no technocrate in any way- at anything-

but both the artist and the viewer deserve better... just sayin'

aquabone wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 11:02 AM

MarkLa says:

"Use what you want but please inform the public and judges if you are copying photos or projecting drawings/photos.  There needs to be classsifications so artists who paint from nature can be recognzed and supported.  I am amazed at how many magazines feature artists who copy photos (calling them reference photos does not work for me) and/or project images to copy and fill in like a coloring book.  Again, if that is your passion, fine, just label what you do clearly as some people do care about the process not just the result."

i agree!

SharonHoupt wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 11:15 AM

I think it's perfectly ok to use one.  Most of what I draw is freehand, but if I wanted to use one I would and I wouldn't care what others thought about it.

on 18 Nov 2011 11:31 AM

Camera lucida, projector, whatever the aid might be, to think that use of any device is "magic" and "explains" the excellence of the Masters is ignorance--I've seen students misinterpret "information" radically that was projected onto the wall. They mis-read perspective, foreshortening, turns of head and all the features in it.

Artists who follow techniques slavishly of any kind hamper the fluidity of their work, however. There is so much more to painting than drawing an accurate figure, face, or composition, and if you think you can get by without learning what is necessary to paint any painting, you are just deceiving yourself and putting off the inevitable. Without knowledge, what you see is arrested at the level of ignorance vs. knowledge (on an ascending scale) of your "seeing."

So let anybody use any aid they want to. Why should I care if it gives them a little boost? You're going to need a lot more than that to become masterful.

Sue Bussoli wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 11:49 AM

The comparison to painting from 'real' life or photos always has the purists up in arms. The fact is it is better than standing by the wayside doing nothing at all. The art of observing takes place in both. Using anything to assist you to create is what charges up the energy zone to do it again. Practicing more and you see better results perhaps without any need for help. Who makes all these rules? Aren't all rules of art broken all the time?

'We judge ourselves by our intentions, others judge us by our actions' what were the masters intending?

Sue Bussoli wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 11:49 AM

The comparison to painting from 'real' life or photos always has the purists up in arms. The fact is it is better than standing by the wayside doing nothing at all. The art of observing takes place in both. Using anything to assist you to create is what charges up the energy zone to do it again. Practicing more and you see better results perhaps without any need for help. Who makes all these rules? Aren't all rules of art broken all the time?

'We judge ourselves by our intentions, others judge us by our actions' what were the masters intending?

Dtmeyer wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 12:33 PM

Artists throughout history have used the technology available.  Brushes and pigments were the latest technology at some point.  If we don't consider the new tools introduced, art becomes stagnant.  I certainly don't find painting with my fingers or sticks very appealing!  I say bravo to whatever artists want to use in their pursuit and expression of creativity.  And, at the same time, if you choose not to use the new tools, that's fine, too.  Diversity is not just good but necessary for the full expression of art.

Chess wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 1:13 PM

I have no problem with artists using any and all tools available. Photo Realists have used projectors, illustrators use light boxes, the masters used string grids etc. I have tried a camera lucida and found it to be limiting and very cumbersome, also the size of the image is rather small. It is very hard to see the image  if projected onto white paper and it is not stable. Large paintings would have been impossible with the lucida. A good image that illuminates life is what art is all about and whatever means available to achieve this is fine with me. Personally I prefer to work from life so these tools hold no particular interest for me. In the future I will always be open to experimenting with new or old ideas.

RKM wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 1:54 PM

Regardless of the existence of camera lucidas or camera obsucras or any other device used or supposed to have been used by old masters, the crux of the problem with Hockney's assertion is  his thesis that those works could not have been produced by any other means. All of those devices were devised from the and are products of the human mind. If humans were clever enough to devise tools that could function as aids, isn't it equally and obviously possible that the human mind to discover the means to develop the skills needed to produce the masterpieces of the old masters? How is it that a Rubens differs so vastly than a Rembrandt or a Velasquez? That David Hockney used te lucida himself, as if to prove his thesis, is a failed venture since the drawings he produced using it were really no better than that which has has produced without it for the bulk of his career. He was, himself, unable to produce a van Eyck, for all that he supposes the camera lucida is capable of. There are many fine artists extant today who have, by virtue of their consummate virtuosity, disproved Hockney's claims. I could start with a Jacob Collins or Daniel Graves before moving on to a plethora of accomplished artists working in the realist/classical vein then point out that the only thing Hockney's exercise has proven to me is the fact that no great artist has ever been the product of any device...no, not even Vermeer who no one would dispute used a camera obscura.

Cndressing wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 2:08 PM

It's all fair. Many people use grids. Many others dont have to. In the end if its being judged the only thing that matters is if the two different methods made a piece that works.

Celia Blanco wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 3:51 PM

I think the camera lucida is merely a tool.  The artist will still need to have the ability to present you with an interesting well rendered drawing or painting. I traced when I began drawing as a teenager,  it taught me porportion until I felt comfortable drawing freehand.

KatPaints wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 5:32 PM

Come on Courtney!  Lucy is old technology. They went out about 20-25 years ago. Now the name of the game is scanning and loading digital images to be adapted.

Yes an artist needs to have skill, but all this emphasis on technique overlooks the aesthetics of the work. Having a good concept, a mood and other non-technical qualities to a work of art is important.

Debbie Ray wrote
on 18 Nov 2011 7:37 PM

Heck, is it not basically the same as tracing a pattern onto the canvas or using an overhead projector??  I, being a newbie to art was really surprised to learn that these techniques were used.  I thought artists just painted free hand.  lol

on 18 Nov 2011 9:56 PM

It does not surprise me.  Non-artists today do not know that many contemporary photorealists project a color slide onto their canvas to draw and paint from.  I do not know why this "dirty little secret" never gets talked about in art magazines;  I never see articles about it, so that is another reason the public is so awed by the absolute identical detail that many who paint photo realistically achieve.  Personally I prefer to draw from life, to make collages and mixed media, and do not need to use this camera trick to achieve my art.

on 18 Nov 2011 10:04 PM

I believe the use of tools in visual art is meant for graphic designs and not for drawing, except d artist is a learner still learning 2trace an outline.

However, a professional artist who used the lucida or any form of projector knows at the back of his/her mind, he/she wants 2cheat d aesthetic appeal of d joy of observation drawing without d means of mechanical aid.

Personally, I enjoy a fulfillment when I draw and paint freehand just as when I use computer or mechanical means for graphic designs.

on 19 Nov 2011 2:32 AM

David Hockney's claim in his book,Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, 2001, that artists relied on mirrors and lenses to produce their masterpieces  showed that he did not understand the limitation of the optical tools that came into use during the Renaissance or how and why the artists used them. They were aids helping artists learn and discover laws of perspective color and shadow and only  used by some painters in the 18 and 19th century when the quality of the equipment improved, see the retort to his theory in Scientific American  Dec. 2004. His claims of Ingres  using a lens, do not explain how the artist  painted people in poses that are physically impossible  ie,, Grande Odalisqdue 1814. She would need  extra vertebrae in her back to assume that position. It also does not explain why, when doing portraits, Ingres  erased so much he often wore  holes through the paper.  

I think Hockney was envious of the Old Master's skills and prowess and wanted to lessen his inferiority complex.  

on 19 Nov 2011 8:54 AM

Thank you Courtney for writing this & sharing with us!  I never knew about the camera lucida....amazing to think about it's history - even up to the current time!  The skills of spatial analyzing & visual perspective are ones that I aspire to with every painting/portait, etc. and have found my ability to achieve these has greatly improved!  Personally, this is not something I would prefer to use; however, see where it could be a valuable tool!  Happy painting friends!!  Rita Marie

vestaswitch wrote
on 19 Nov 2011 1:52 PM

When I worked in an ad agency, we billed the client for our time by the 1/4 hour.  They were not interested in works of art--they wanted something that looked good and was produced in as little time as possible.  Only once in three years did an artist actually do a painting, and the customer was not billed for the time.

I don't know what the deal was for many historical artists, but at least before photography was invented, I would think a portrait painting business was about the same--a good portrait in as little time as possible.  That's how you make a profit.  And if artists were commissioned for work, I do not see that we can criticize them for using the camera lucida.  If you were being paid to paint the ceiling of the Cistine chapel, I don't think you would hear the words "cost is no object."  Michelangelo couldn't have billed by the hour.

As far as non-commissioned artists. I don't know.  Technology is advancing so fast that these things will continue to come up.  Cloning, changing genes in our food crops, and things like that cannot be solved.  I doubt that the problems of art vs technology will be solved as well.

vestaswitch wrote
on 19 Nov 2011 1:52 PM

When I worked in an ad agency, we billed the client for our time by the 1/4 hour.  They were not interested in works of art--they wanted something that looked good and was produced in as little time as possible.  Only once in three years did an artist actually do a painting, and the customer was not billed for the time.

I don't know what the deal was for many historical artists, but at least before photography was invented, I would think a portrait painting business was about the same--a good portrait in as little time as possible.  That's how you make a profit.  And if artists were commissioned for work, I do not see that we can criticize them for using the camera lucida.  If you were being paid to paint the ceiling of the Cistine chapel, I don't think you would hear the words "cost is no object."  Michelangelo couldn't have billed by the hour.

As far as non-commissioned artists. I don't know.  Technology is advancing so fast that these things will continue to come up.  Cloning, changing genes in our food crops, and things like that cannot be solved.  I doubt that the problems of art vs technology will be solved as well.

debbeg11 wrote
on 19 Nov 2011 4:04 PM

Camera lucida, camera abscura, light boxes, etc. etc. are merely tools. I don't think they have anything to do with the results of the final painting. The ability of the artist is still going to show in the long run. They save time. As to the reference of a page in a coloring book...if you look at the colored page done by a 2yr old and then compare every year that childs work you will clearly see how much improvement has developed over time. The same is true if you had 10kids color the same picture they would all be different and some more skillfully done and others add to or disregard the lines. I do agree that an artist who takes the time to draw freehand and paints are more impressive if they do it with much skill. There is a time and a place to use these devices but regardless the skill and talent of the artist will still show at the end result.

Radiance@3 wrote
on 19 Nov 2011 5:29 PM

It seems to me that to reject the use of the camera lucida is to focus on draftsmanship to the exclusion of artistry.  Most anyone, with enough time and effort, could eventually get the perspective and proportions right -- but capturing the subtleties of a scene, the textures and shadings of color, the action and emotion... that's what makes a true artist.  Why allow technical issues to delay or discourage the creation of art?  Michaelangelo had to make his own oils, for example, but that's no longer necessary -- and if it were, there would be far less art in this world.  Not a good thing.

cdnpainter wrote
on 19 Nov 2011 5:30 PM

In my humble opinion, using any kind of tool to project an image that you did not draw yourself is cheating both you and the people who view and buy your work. The foundation of the artistic process is in the drawing, and it can be the most challenging and rewarding part of any work of art. Using a projected image falsely boosts your skill level without teaching you anything, and gives the illusion of a greater skill than you may possess. Are steroids a tool for athletes? Same thing; I have never used anything like this, and never will.

aquabone wrote
on 19 Nov 2011 6:04 PM

cdnpainer quote: "In my humble opinion, using any kind of tool to project an image that you did not draw yourself is cheating both you and the people who view and buy your work. The foundation of the artistic process is in the drawing, and it can be the most challenging and rewarding part of any work of art. Using a projected image falsely boosts your skill level without teaching you anything, and gives the illusion of a greater skill than you may possess"

exactly!

there is nothing that can convince me otherwise- if we can justify using these 'tools'- where does it end? why not just use a computer program to print out the outline of the painting- and begin there? the painter still has the opportunity to express themselves within the lines... many here have said that the drawing part can be learned- but its faster to just skip it!?? what the? thats just lame- and i think inside-you know it! these tracing 'tools' are not tools at all- they are a crutch- period.

imho-

once you have used one of these tracing 'tools'- it has now become craft- not art.

be honest- make art.

KatPaints wrote
on 19 Nov 2011 7:51 PM

Wow Courtney you hit a nerve; 48 comments so far.

Back in my younger years, I strived to be photoreal and did not trace. Yes it improved my skills of observation, but from an aesthetic stand point I rarely created something impactful. I wonder, what is the difference between tracing compared to slavishly commiting yourself to be a copyist of what you see? Yes one may take more skill by doing the drawing by hand, but it does not necessarily take more artistry, vision, and ability to design. I took the adage "draw what you see" too literally. I now realize that what you see may be also considered as what you envision." Draw what you envision." People like Rockwell not only had skill, but ideas and vision. They had a visual voice which distinguished their work from everyone else. To them the Lucy was a tool. To others it's a studio shortcut, and to others it is a crutch. I think there comes a point in time in every artist's life that we need to to make the decision to stick with focusing on technique or transcend it and make art. Staying with technique alone, keeps you at the level of a beginner. Those who cannot transcend technique usually find that their lack luster art hits a wall and interests very few. Paint with passion and vision and your work will strike a cord with someone and hopefully many.

KatPaints wrote
on 19 Nov 2011 8:12 PM

Thank you RKM for your rational and thoughtful comment.

leemo wrote
on 19 Nov 2011 10:42 PM

heavens forbid is this bellyho still going on. who cares. it seems to me artists are worse than politicians and religious bigots with their one true way.

does the art work spin your wheels or not - or as a famous black musian said there are two types of music bad music and good music. if youre tapping your feet its good music. if the painting holds you up and draws you into its environment, rather than you waltzing on by at a rate of knots, then mate youre a hooked fish.

what about artists who used drugs - picasso, modigliani and others? is there work now crap too.

vtpete wrote
on 20 Nov 2011 7:23 AM

Last weekend I went to hunting camp and six of us, ages ranging from 14 to 65 used my Camera Lucida iPhone app to do some drawings.  It was incredibly fun to watch the variety of art being created using a modern $5 version of this "ancient" optical device.

What became completely evident from using the tool was that it helped the artist to get proportions correct, but beyond that, the resulting image was unique to the artist.  In no way did the results resemble tracing or photocopying.

I love doing portraits.  And with portraits, I have always struggled to get the exact proportions and locations of key features such as the eyes, nose, mouth, etc.  A two percent error is immediately evident to the viewer (and the talented artist) and what would traditionally take a lot of time to get *just right* can now be done quickly and accurately.  

I usually use my camera lucida to simply mark the edges of these key features; the corners of the eyes, lips, etc.  This process ensures I'm free to then be creative with the rest of the drawing; whether it be line work, shading, etc.  I wish I could draw quickly and accurately without tools like this, but after twenty-five years of honing my art I'm sick of waiting for those natural skills to develop.  

-Pete

pete@CameraLucidaApp.com

itunes.apple.com/.../id362499096

Geneticks1 wrote
on 20 Nov 2011 12:07 PM

Sure, it's just a tool. And dumping dynamite in the lake is just a simple aid for fishermen.

Anything that mechanically reduces three dimensions to two is artificially solving painterly problems. I'll use photos, so I'm guilty up to this point. But then tracing the image? You might as well be tinting a photo.

Not talking about Rockwell or anyone else producing a commercial product for a fee. And re the old masters, not counting Vermeer? Prove it.

aquabone wrote
on 20 Nov 2011 1:29 PM

Geneticks1:

"Sure, it's just a tool. And dumping dynamite in the lake is just a simple aid for fishermen."

but your catching fish- it must make you a fisherman-- right?

on 20 Nov 2011 1:49 PM

A friend of mine and I purchased camera lucida from a company making them for artists test days and they are very interesting to use.  I think they improve your drawing skills and esp attention to detail.

Courtney...could you email me directly about this article?  I would love to educate our chapter by passing out this article to SPD chapter members when we take our devices to the meeting for members to learn about and try.  I think its a part of art history that many artists don't study.

thanks

doris woodruff

KatPaints wrote
on 20 Nov 2011 7:09 PM

My goodness, perhaps there should be a test that people are required to take prior to calling themselves artists. No hobbyists, retirees, literal copyists, or abstract artists allowed.

(Just Kidding)

rmayeur wrote
on 20 Nov 2011 7:55 PM

As long as an artist does not swipe copyrighted information or copy someone's work and claim it as their own, I feel that whatever tools an artist uses that makes their art uniquely their own, go for it.  It is their personal talent and tenacity that that will win in the end. Explore, learn and grow,  Go for it.

Reachel

pusskin wrote
on 21 Nov 2011 3:08 AM

If using a camera lucida achieves the desired result I don't see why it shouldn't be used. It doesn't compose the picture, come up with the original idea or paint it for you. It simply achieves the drawing more quickly. I trace, and use rulers and set squares (triangles) to make sure my uprights are just that. I have been told this is 'cheating' as is squaring up to transfer a drawing or using photographic reference material.  If we listen to this half the artwork we see would never be produced.

I do think, however, that one should aim to be able to draw freehand first and not just rely on mechanical means. One learns to see the subject, to think about it and assess the work in progress accurately ; even if using a mechanical process at some stage, the finished work will have been properly observed etc., and will be more than "just copying". Provided the artwork is totally that of the artist concerned I don' t see it as a problem.

on 21 Nov 2011 9:40 AM

To me its sad to think the camera lucida was used so far back.  I'm thinkin the art was totally free hand.  (no cheating).  I have nothing against using tools, I recently started using a tool or two but not until I got over the guilt of using it.  I go free hand all the way if I can.  Depends on if the works for myself or someone else.

Ed Meyer wrote
on 21 Nov 2011 4:29 PM

I believe most newer artists use a picture of the subject or landscape they are ging to paint.  I know if I am painting a landscape from a picture even if did part of the painting on site,  I will section off the photograph to get my schetch more correct.   I believe it is just another tool and would help make the painting better.  An experienced artist artist would not have a great need of this tool as would a newer artist.  

Ed Meyer

on 22 Nov 2011 10:38 AM

It's cheating.  Any child can trace.  Tracing eliminates a huge part of the actual process of drawing (which is also the foundation of painting).  If you don't like to draw, why are you an artist??  The "artist" also shortchanges himself in not allowing himself to grow and learn and in reducing personal expression in his work.  In addition, since the public is not aware of this cheating, those of us who work freehand are at a disadvantage in time and price (however, one hopes that discriminating buyers can tell the difference in quality and originality).  This cheating also cheapens art in general.

on 22 Nov 2011 10:41 AM

(Note:  My comment above was referring to fine art, not advertising or illustration.)

aquabone wrote
on 22 Nov 2011 5:31 PM

^^^  i'd say Lynn pretty well covered it!! ;-) ^^^

on 22 Nov 2011 6:13 PM

"Rather fail with honor than succeed by fraud."  --Sophocles (ca. 495-406 B.C.)

on 23 Nov 2011 9:28 AM

David Hockney has been one of my favorite artists over the years. When I heard about his claim that the old masters used the camera lucida to render thier paintings from it did not interest me one way or another because I didn't have a backgroung in Classical Realism.

About 7 years ago I enrolled in the Fine Arts League of the Carolinas in Asheville N.C. to study with Ben Long. Ben Long studied with Pietro Annigoni in Italy for 10 years.Pietro Annigonni's Classical Realism lineage goes back to Leonardo Da Vinci.

Anyone who has gone to an atelier school for Classical Realism has gone to boot camp. The training is riguerous. You can bet there was gross disagreement with David Hockney's claim.

I spent 3 years studying Classical Realism. That is a drop in the bucket for the amount of time it takes to be fluent in the art. However I can tell you that I have an opinion now.

I don't think it matters a hoot whether a person uses a camera lucida to reference their drawings from. But I absolutely disagree that the masters depended on it and that a human is incapable of being able to render highly accurate visual perspective and detail on her own. The Classical Realist teachings are a science that the brain develops into an incredible ability to master what it sees.

Besides when you are drawing and painting for 50,60 hrs a week for ten, twenty, thirty years studying directly from life why wouldn't a person be able to render with high accuracy even when blindfolded!

The issue isn't about the validity of the tool it's about  under rating  human potential.

For whatever it's worth that's my two cents!

Kristin      

cooles wrote
on 1 Dec 2011 3:28 PM

There is a very cool online shop that sells camera obscuras and the best camera LUCID-Art ever made, the LUCID-Art.

It's at http://GetLUCID-Art.com and they have a eBay store at http://AncientOptics.com

lesley50 wrote
on 9 Dec 2011 8:44 PM

Many people paint from photos or use devices to draw the image on the canvas but it still takes alot of skill to produce a painting which is pleasing to the eye or has the art wow factor. It does not matter what you use, if you can't paint or have an eye for composition or colour the art will not work for the viewer. Drawing is the first step but there are all the other elements of art which have to be considered to make a great work of art. For me I use devices only if i need a certain effect. Some people use digital means to recreate their image and then paint it. At the end of the day it is about creative process not a set of rules. I say use what you want but be honest in how you went about it. Let the veiwer decide and enjoy the process of whatever you do.

on 24 Feb 2012 3:22 AM

i think using a camera lucida is not bad in creating an artwork. After all it is not what is used to create an artwork is important but what  is created

on 28 Feb 2012 10:00 PM

Awesome!!! I'm going to get one and Hockney can include me with the Great Masters of the the past too. Really it's okay. It's a tool. Art is made with tools. Art is not something to take to seriously. Art is beauty. Beauty is subjective.

megmclaugh wrote
on 5 Jun 2012 1:45 PM

I think I agree with most commenters here in that I see the camera lucida as a tool. Masters, or anyone using optical devices of any sort, still have to be very talented to get a good result. Tracing does not make someone an artist, but neither does drawing freehand.

If you are interested in the Camera Lucida or similar devices, you may want to check out the Pre-Photographic workshop being taught this summer at the George Eastman House: www.eastmanhouse.org/.../photo-workshop-12-2012 Participants get to use early optical devices to make drawings and silhouettes, and make camera obscuras of their own, all while learning the history of these tools.

on 3 May 2013 9:48 AM

I have been an artist for over 40 years.  I do not use this device to draw.  I liken it to tracing a picture.  How can you claim to be an artist when this device is doing the mental work for you.  I agree with the other comment...If entered into an art show, how can a piece that was made using this device be compared to a piece that was not.  It's not fair to those of us that put in the time.  Just saying.

Rob Roy wrote
on 4 May 2013 9:06 AM

Courtney , How important is how the drawing gets on the canvas ? If as some say that the use of cameras ,tracing paper slide projectors  and the like should not be used ,these very same people think there is nothing wrong with using paper , brushes and paint made by others.  I do stained glass and for me to become a member of a guild i must create my own pattern where as there are people who knit allowed in the guild, they do not write their own pattern ... knit one , pearl two drop four.. Most people in the world paint for enjoyment and not for a living. To say to those people that you dare not use these tools but must do your own drawings would be a disservice . Are we more interested in the process or the final product ? I am just getting into painting on copper using crushed glass and firing it in a kiln. How I get the the drawing onto the metal is of no importance.

on 4 May 2013 10:08 AM

Use of tools is such an interesting topic for me. I've never used the camera lucida, but I've used other techniques that some would consider "cheating". Many artists today  making a living with their art  figure out how to generate a lot of art as quickly as possible. Short cuts are never a replacement for continued learning skills, but they can help on the business/quantity side of the art business, and can even be used to create interesting effects. Whatever techniques I use, I'm always pushing myself to build skills that enable me to maintain quality in the quantity of my work. I teach a basic drawing class and sometimes my students will ask me about tracing, camera lucida, photography or Photoshop. My answer to them is this: do what ever it takes to create a beautiful, original work of art. The end result is the most important thing. Even if I used a camera lucida I know I would not be able to do paintings as beautiful, skillfully constructed and original as Van Eyck's work. In my opinion, his work stands on it's own merit regardless of his process. Thank you for including this important category in the Artist Daily. Lucy Ellen Smith.

NevInEsk wrote
on 4 May 2013 4:33 PM

Many years back a few of Australia's best known artists purchased epidiascopes from me so they could project their landscape prints on the wall to the size required. They then taped the paper or canvas in the position they wanted and sketched the outline so they got the correct perspective and the elements required into the correct location.. All three of these artists commanded quite high prices for their work with prices skyrocketing after their deaths. Sorry but I cannot name them for ethical reasons.

antesoo wrote
on 4 May 2013 5:16 PM

If Michaelangelo or any of the Great Masters had access to acrylics,projectors paint in tubes or any other painting /creative tool they would have used them gladly.  Camera Lucinda,like tubes and projectors are just tools to allow the artist to express creativity in whatever way they feel necessary. A tool does not create inspiration nor prevent the perspiration of creativity.

mifasola1 wrote
on 4 May 2013 9:28 PM

I was close to purchasing one but I'm trying to enhance my drawing skills in other ways before I make a final decision.  I think they are useful in certain types of works.

on 4 May 2013 10:35 PM

I can and have drawn thousands of things without the aid of projectors or "freehand" . In fact, I've won contests with them. I've fed my family for years with them. As well, I've also used opaque projectors with many, of my smaller sketches/doodles to lay them out (larger) on canvas while creating a successful composition, and so becomes the size I need them to be quickly, rather than tediously redraw what I've already drawn several times already. Opaque projectors: they are incredibly time saving devices, not a crutch. I know I can draw. (I am confident, not cocky here) I am an accomplished artist. It's what I do for a living. Have been for nearly 35 years. If I know I can draw something the way it is without the use of a tool like the opaque projector, then why waste the time doing it? Lay it out quickly with the projector, but don't adhere to simply copying your referenced photo/sketch and then slavishly copy value for value, color for color. You'd be better off just printing out an enlarged copy of your photo and sign your name to it. Your an artist, it's your job to make it better than the photo. But it's perfectly okay to use a projector to get more accurate, initial drawings on the canvas before painting them. Anyone who thinks otherwise is merely trying to "wow" their audience with the inconsequential act of "Freehanding". Like that's going to make it worth more somehow...? To whom? Your audience? Your client, Yourself? or make it seem the artist's level of skill is "greater" or worth more somehow.  When I create a painting, I'm not trying to impress people with my artistic prowess, I'm trying to satisfy that hunger in my stomach. "Freehanding" is little more than a gimmick when advertised as such. Personally, I believe that coming up with an original idea is by far more impressive than copying something "freehand". It's what you do with it after you get it layed out that matters. That being said, it's relatively easy to spot work that's been done by the novice who merely traces or opaques an image and signs his name to an unfinished, unsuccessful work.

on 4 May 2013 10:56 PM

Even Michaelangelo, during the creation of the Sistine Chapel, first drew the images on large sheets of paper, then made pounce paterns out of them, stuck them to the ceilings for transfer and then painted them. Are we also cheating if we use all the colors made available to us which we buy from Blick's or should we make our own colors using our own recipes? Wouldn't you be ashamed to say that you uses a premade canvas instead of making your own painting surface from scratch. Aren't you apalled with yourself that you had to lay out your intitial drawing with a charcoal pencil and then had to use several different sizes and styels of brushes that you bought from Jerry's Artorama? ...and you call yourself an artist...

grimmett1 wrote
on 5 May 2013 12:47 PM

I have a camera lucida. As was mentioned, they're tricky to use and I don't use mine much. Plus, the outline you get is generally small and has to be traced/projected/rendered again to get the size you want so it's not much of a time saver. However, I don't see much difference between using this particular tool and using a Durer grid with or without a proportional divider, another method for rendering perspective and detail. Both will give you an outline, but if you can't draw and paint, you're still up a creek without a paddle on your trek to having a finished work of art.

Eric P. wrote
on 5 May 2013 8:58 PM

great for those that can free hand better than others. So lets just eliminate any people that love to try to paint. Can a pompous person here please explain how a person with Parkinsons can get a general outline. After all will they not need to still fill in the lines with paint and learn shadowing and color blending and all your required methods. Maybe we should just tell those that have the desire to just sit on the sidelines and be impressed by you amazing talent. Yeah when I look at someone that used an outline I think they are the same as a paint by numbers person. Some people really need to either get over themselves or be thankful they were giving talent. HAs any of your real artists ever wondered why Bob Ross was so successful? He made us want to try. ANd he didn't try to exclude. Then we may have gotten pretty good and moved on to more detailed works. BUT with his encouragement we tried. AND it helped those that didn't do so well appreciate what others that could create masterpieces could do and therefore help the industry overall. Art is to be enjoyed but it sure isn't arms and legs. I know this will shock people on this board but even though I practice my art skills it takes a back seat to being a compasionate person that doesn't have to tear others down to build myself up!

Yabut818 wrote
on 7 May 2013 6:08 PM

I'm all for using any tool that is available to create the art the way you want it. These days that includes photographs manipulated in Photoshop and then using the Find Edges filter.  Some people love to draw, others just want to get busy painting.  Art happens in the mind, and how it gets to the canvas is an individual choice.

sabrakuy wrote
on 2 May 2014 9:21 AM

  The only problem I have with this device, or the act of projecting in any way, or tracing, etc., is that I feel that there needs to be a separate category in art shows for these renderings. I believe that whatever it takes to make a beautiful work of art is ok. It wouldn't exist if you hadn't traced/projected it, and it may be beautiful; a work of beauty that wouldn't otherwise exist. Just admit it and don't put it side by side with one that was drawn free hand.

  When I first started painting I projected images just so I could learn to paint. Eventually I added drawing classes to my studies, and I read lots of drawing books. I learned to draw. Now, the drawings are works of art in themselves. Then I transfer and paint them. I feel better about that.

  I did take a class with a well known, nationally acclaimed artist who said that he was not opposed to projecting if you were able to draw the image yourself. He said it then just becomes a time saver.

  As for the masters of the past? Who cares. They are beautiful works. It makes me feel better about myself as an artist because I feel that "well, I could do that too, if I projected it." My paintings are pretty detailed. I get flack for that alone. But I hand drew all of the details. It can be done without a Lucida.

on 20 Jun 2014 7:20 AM

I mostly use photos as references, and they are my own photos. Whenever I take a photo I do it with the express purpose of using it at some later date as a reference for a painting. When I do any scenic paintings I do it freehand, however, I am also an aviation, automotive and military artist and when I do any art related to these I do trace. I do not believe tracing is wrong! If tracing is wrong, do not go and buy your tube oils at the art shop - get the ingredients and make them yourself; do not go and buy brushes from the art shop - go kill a pig and make your own Hog Hair brushes. Is using ready made equipment not cheating as well? No, use everything at your disposal to do your art, do not be afraid to trace or use the camera, they are just tools. If you do not have the talent and the will to produce art all these tools will not help you anyway. I have seen paintings of cars and aeroplanes that are technically perfect, you can see the artist is a pro, and yet the car, or the aeroplane is out of proportion! That just KILLS the whole painting!