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Using a Camera Lucida

March 9, 2009

I’ve been reading Secret Knowledge by David Hockney recently and it got me interested in trying a camera lucida myself. I found one online and ordered it, and have been playing around with it lately. I should say that the service was amazing – I had it in a couple of days.

Drawing with an optical device is not at all what I expected – I thought it would be a quick fix (and sort of a cheat), but it comes with its own set of problems.  First of all, seeing the image on paper is way harder than you would think from reading the website. Plus it sort of jumps around and you have to train yourself to focus on one part of the image – which makes the perspective wonky. And you can’t control the size of the image except by moving closer.

On the other hand, you can do these drawings quickly, when you get conditions right – the best is to be in shadow while drawing something in bright light – not as common a situation as you might think!

Here are my first baby steps.  The first ones are done on black paper because I couldn’t see anything on the white paper that day (outside).

Here’s one done from inside looking out (with sun shining!) – notice how wonky it gets on the right hand side.

I then did a couple loking into roms that had more sun than I had where I was sitting.  I should be ashamed to show my son’s messy closet but here goes :

I tried some thumbnails from photos on my computer – this is really easy and goes so quickly –

I also tried to practice from freeze frames from a dvd.  I think where people are  concerned, the camera lucida is best used for preliminary measurements :

But, statues work really well (hmm, could  fear of portraits be a psychological thing for me?)

I have since found a manufacturer of optical devices that seems to have found solutions to some of the problems with the one I’m using now- I’m thinking maybe for my birthday….

14 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2009 4:22 pm

    This is sooo cool. I now need to really see what you were using – I’m off to look it up….

  2. March 9, 2009 5:03 pm

    Casey, I can see why you were tempted to try this but I’m predicting it will soon be retired to a cupboard and you will be back to drawing solo, which you do beautifully. I do love a gadget though 😉

  3. March 9, 2009 8:41 pm

    I particularly like the shapes in the second white on black. Interesting experiment; it’s harder than it looks!

  4. paintingsprintsandstuff permalink
    March 9, 2009 8:43 pm

    that was a fascinating book

    I’ll be interested to see how these experiments go

  5. March 10, 2009 2:40 am

    These images are beautiful, Casey! I’m not familiar with the camera lucida–is this like a camera obscura? I’ll have to do some research here–I absolutely love what you’ve done here!

  6. March 10, 2009 12:45 pm

    Leave it to you to take Hockney’s book one step farther! These are fascinating—keep going!

  7. March 11, 2009 2:10 am

    Isn’t it fun to try new stuff? I like the small head best!

  8. March 13, 2009 6:54 pm

    Hi Casey,
    thanks for this post. Somehow it totally slipped out of my memory that these tools exist. Never tried one but this sounds like fun.

  9. March 14, 2009 3:34 am

    I’m curious what the camera looks like. I can’t picture it. I briefly owned an opaque projector (returned it) and found it somehow distanced me from the work rather than taking me deeper into what I was drawing. It was a huge amount of work to set up and the room had to be dark for it to work and the original had to be small…
    It was an interesting digression along the way though.

  10. March 14, 2009 9:43 am

    I’m off to look this up also – sounds interesting

  11. March 16, 2009 1:08 am

    I’ve heard of this but never saw one till I followed your link. so, if I understand this correctly you are tracing what is projected on your paper? sounds interesting and I love how quick it must be.

  12. March 16, 2009 6:16 am

    I think we are all perplexed. But I always love your sketches!

  13. April 8, 2009 1:35 pm

    I remember reading that book. It’s really interesting to see your sketches using the camera lucida. I’ve only looked through a similar device once, when I was a child, at Santa Monica beach. An interesting technique that Da Vinci describes involves looking through a piece of glass and then drawing what you see on the glass. (I haven’t tried it.)

  14. April 11, 2009 11:27 pm

    I’m the manufacturer of the second camera lucida you found, and yes our lucida solves the problems you were having. It is a lot me stable, the image is brighter and the intensity is adjustable, the image is way bigger and it cost a lot less.

    Contact me, and I’ll give you a good deal on one for you birthday, so you can see the difference.

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