DRAWING WITH A CAMERA LUCIDA
David Hockney has been a favorite artist of mine for over a decade now. I love how his seemingly sloppy and improvised images utilize heavily academic techniques and approaches, as well as hint at historically important works. Hockney is not only an artist, but an art historian, who is concerned with the ways that pictures have been made over time. Hockney has studied ancient Chinese scrolls, as well as film, theatre, and works from Picasso, and is constantly working with modern technologies including cameras, fax machines and iPads.
Whether you are looking at his photo-collages, paintings, or his drawings, it is obvious that a curious mind is at work. I’m always fascinated by the ways in which Hockney addresses depth and volume, as well as composition, and subject matter. Pearblossom Highway (above) is a good example of Hockney’s ability to describe an otherwise mundane scene in an exciting way that considers both the image-making processes, as well as a satisfying end result.
“Everything Hockney does is about seeing what’s around us, and seeing it better. Recently, he went out in the Yorkshire countryside, where he has been painting for the past two years, and stopped his car beside the road. “I took one of those Japanese sketchbooks and I’d draw different grasses in the hedgerow. After 2 1/2 hours I’d filled the sketchbook, and after that I saw that hedgerow a great deal more clearly.”
“If you’d just photographed it, you wouldn’t be looking in that way. Drawing makes you see things clearer, and clearer and clearer still, until your eyes ache. The image is passing through you in a physiological way, into your brain, into your memory — where it stays — and it’s transmitted by your hands.” That way of working, in Hockney’s view, is well worth preserving.” (Why I Paint Instead of Just Picking Up a Camera, Bloomberg, USA 9/18/2006)
In 2001, Hockney published Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, an ambitious work that set out to study the use of optics used in creating drawings and paintings over the last 1,000 years. Though much has already been published on mirrors and lenses, Hockney was able to shed light on their importance in creating work, as well as specific processes used with camera obscuras and lucidas.
Since reading Secret Knowledge I haven’t been able to look at Caravaggio’s work the same. The book is a fascinating read and I highly recommend to all my friends that are practicing artists and art historians.
Below is a video interview with David Hockney, where he explains and demonstrates the use of camera obscuras and camera lucidas in the artwork of the Old Masters chronicled in his book.
The Camera Lucida Today
How thrilling it was for me to find NeoLucida on Kickstarter last week! Basically, the project is run by two college art professors that have also read and loved Hockney’s book and want others to experience the camera lucida first-hand. Within an hour after backing the project, all 2500 camera lucidas had been spoken for. A few days later the project owners decided to produce a second run of lucidas, and those also sold out in record time. While all 8,500 camera lucidas have been spoken for, I recommend keeping a close eye on the project. Every now and then someone will have to back out of their pledge, and that spot can be snatched up by an observant or lucky donor.
Drawings From the Camera Lucida
To wrap things up, here are a few images I found that were created by artists using a camera lucida. How relevant do you think this technology is today? Is the NeoLucida the best way to utilize portable optics for drawing in 2013? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.
Portraits by Pablo Garcia, created with an antique camera lucida (c.1900, left), and the NeoLucida (right).
From About.com: “A camera lucida can’t teach you how to choose what to put in or leave out of a drawing or painting, nor what kind of marks to put down. But, by eliminating the need to measure while you’re drawing to get the perspective accurate, it will increase the rate at which you work and free you up to experiment more as you haven’t invested so much time in one picture. The two pen figure studies above were both done in five minutes (they’re done on A2 paper).