A drawing a day with the NeoLucida

On January 1st, I started a drawing-a-day project using the NeoLucida, a portable camera lucida drawing aide. Now that I’ve passed the 40 day mark, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about the experience thus far.

Background: I have never taken a studio art class. My one previous attempt to learn to draw with the help of my grad school advisor fizzled out, despite his expert and eager advice. I’ve long been fascinated by the things I’ve read and seen about the (speculated) use of the camera obscura and other optical devices in the works of medieval and Renaissance painters. When I first heard about the NeoLucida Kickstarter, I knew immediately that I wanted one so I could try the method myself. And when New Year’s Day rolled around, it seemed like a daily art project would be a good thing for me.

The shape of the project thus far is this: one drawing on a postcard once a day, done with the pencil that came with the NeoLucida, which I hope to wear down to a nub. Most of the drawings have been still life tableaux, with a few exceptions (our cat, Emily’s hand, my choral group taking a break mid-rehearsal) — I wanted to keep it simple to make it easier to maintain the practice. The field of view of the prism is fairly small, making it simpler to draw small objects, and I’ve enjoyed the documentary angle of capturing little things from daily life. I set myself other restrictions for the first 40 days, such as not buying art supplies or Googling for drawing tips with the NeoLucida (or without), all of which boiled down to Keep It Simple, Stupid. (Some days I feel like I should have that tattooed on my forehead, backwards.) The postcards have almost all come from Emily’s extensive collection of postcards she’s either bought or scooped off free postcard racks over the years. There are some pretty funny ones from her college days in Montreal.

Going forward, I want to try more difficult subjects (requests welcome — and I’ll mail you the card once I scan it!), learn a bit about drawing techniques, and perhaps get some softer pencils and a fancy eraser.

Tips for other NeoLucida users:

  • Lighting is crucial: try and light your subject and paper at equal brightness. By extension, if you’re drawing a darker part of the subject, turn down the brightness on your paper. I use a Litepanels Micro light on a Gorillapod as my key light and a flashlight laying on the table at varying distances from the paper (to control the brightness), but studio lights aren’t necessary: anything relatively aimable/controllable will work. Brightness decreases in an inverse square relationship with distance: move your lights closer and farther from subject and paper to balance the light levels.
  • For your first few drawings, tape down the paper and be careful not to knock the gooseneck. Getting the paper and prism back in the same relative position when halfway through a drawing ranges from tricky-but-doable to guess-the-drawing’s-done-now.
  • Be sure to follow the instructions that came with the NeoLucida and experiment with the prism orientation and whether it’s mounted on the left or right side — find what works for you.
  • If you have both glasses and contact lenses, wear contacts when you draw. If you only wear glasses, use their Prescription NeoLucida guide to mod yours — Sugru’s great stuff and very easy to work with.
  • Post your work online! I’d love to see it and it helps keep you going to share it. Email, tweet or bookface me.

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