Experiment: Camera Lucida

So a couple guys did a Kickstarter. They created a modern version of the camera lucida: the NeoLucida. I was curious so I chipped in.


David Hockney, in his book "Secret Knowledge," proposed that many of the old masters used optics as they came available. This ruffled some feathers. I'm halfway through the book and I think it's a pretty interesting read. He includes some well thought out experiments and examples of the various optics (camera lucida being one of them).

The NeoLucida

Back to the Kickstarter. I received my copy of the NeoLucida in November and last night finally gave it a try.

neo lucida in its box

 The directions are straightforward. I thought, "piece of cake".

I clamped the NeoLucida to the table and put my drawing paper under the prism. I set up an 18" tall statue about 2.5'-3' away from me and got started.

In reality, there was a little learning curve and some trial and error to get the hang of it.



I had to:

  • constantly lean over the table and keep my eye about 1" from the prism
  • adjust my angle of viewing and kind of slide myself along the image as I traced so I could see the pencil and the little statue I was tracing

Like anything, it would take some practice to really get a good drawing.

neoludida_attempt1 neolucida_figure

my attempt  (about 5.5") and the statue I was drawing on





I can see how it would be useful for portraits or a very simple still life. I think it would be trickier to use for a composition of multiple objects. Plus I think I'd end up with a sore back with all that leaning over. There must be a better way to set up if I were to use it more (maybe a standing desk) but I don't think I'll use it very much.

It was a worthwhile exercise to be able to take a peek into historical drawing tools.

You can read a bit more about the history of the camera lucida here: http://neolucida.com/history/