To project or not to project – thoughts on the camera lucida and other projectors

Kato (work in progress) oil on canvas, 5x7 inches

I'm driving myself a bit crazy stressing over whether it's ok or not ok to use a projector.

I've had on my mind for a while to paint some portraits of my pop culture icons, including Bruce Lee as Kato using a freeze frame I selected from an episode of Green Hornet as a reference. I drew his face over and over, upside down and right side up from the photo, with and without a grid and it looked honestly, well, crap.  The fact is, I can't be as accurate as I want with the likeness without the help of a lightbox, projector, tracing with carbon paper underneath or a camera lucida.

I could give up and say well, I'll just not do it.  I could print my reference picture out on my ink jet printer and use carbon paper to get the outline on canvas, but the carbon can smear and mess up the painting.  Plus, I am constantly having to buy ink for the printer.  I saw an ad on instagram for the Lucy camera lucida and did some research, with an amazon reviewer saying I could get a similar result from a $5 iPhone app, so I decided to give the app a go.

It is easy to use for 5" x7" paintings like this one.  I'm happy with the accuracy of what I was able to make, but the painting looks a bit stiff and I consider it an underpainting because it needs more "painterliness". I used the app to do the outlines in pencil (see pic above left) and then used the posterize greyscale feature to help me see the values.  It took me pretty much a whole day to get this much done.  I used only three colors -- titanium white, ivory black and a mid grey from the 12 shades of grey line.

I've used the lucida also to practice some water glass and toilet paper paintings.  I'm super happy with the realism of the lucida assisted paintings, however I can feel trapped by the lines and afraid to violate them because I didn't find them on my own in the first place.  That said, being afraid to violate the good bits of a non-outlined-first painting is also a problem for me.

used projector to nail ellipses

I do feel guilty and like I'm cheating to get direct photo assistance with the rim of the glass and water line or exact location of the cardboard tube and shape of the roll and feel  I should disclose the use of the lucida when I post on IG, just like when i use a photoshop hashtag to indicate I've significantly altered a painting with photoshop.

I also worry about a stigma or scorn of anti-lucida people and I don't seem to be the only one because there are only 3,500 posts out of 10 million art posts that are tagged #cameralucida and I'm pretty certain a lot of people use it or projectors or tracing photos for realist art.

My goal is to make more better art, which includes drawing better, to express beautifully the points i want to get across.  I believe just drawing every day, painting every day, lucida or no, is helping my drawing. I will still need to use a projector for accurate portraits at my current skill level if that's what I feel motivated to paint.  I totally want to do some bike parts next and they are very geometric.  I have a drafting background and love the precision of scientific drawing and vintage technical engravings, but I also want to find the path to more  expression.

What happens in future layering on Kato will show if I can, to my satisfaction, use lucida for accuracy but then find a way to break out of the outline box...

What do you think about your own use of a projector?  Has it helped or hurt your art or artistic development?  Should the process be disclosed if one uses (their own or open source) photo references directly (tracing outlines)?

2 thoughts on “To project or not to project – thoughts on the camera lucida and other projectors

  1. Kamron says:

    Not cheating at all and the war hauls used modified photo transfer technique which I personally love I just wish I had a large format printer

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