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NeoLucida brings 19th Century sketching tech into the present


May 8, 2013

A view through the eyepiece of the NeoLucida

A view through the eyepiece of the NeoLucida

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As long ago as 1807 – and possibly up to 200 years earlier – many artists used an optical device known as a camera lucida to help them in sketching subjects. A controversial theory even suggests that some of the famous Old Masters created their masterpieces not by sketching freehand, but by using such gadgets. Now, two art professors are trying to bring the camera lucida back, in the form of the low-cost portable NeoLucida.

The new device was created by Pablo Garcia, who’s an Assistant Professor of Contemporary Practices at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Golan Levin, an Associate Professor of Computation at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University.

Just like the original camera lucidas, theirs contains no electronics. Instead, it mainly consists of a small, prism-containing eyepiece. That eyepiece is pointed toward the subject and extended over the paper on a goose-neck mount, which is simply clamped to one edge of the easel. When the user looks down into the eyepiece, they see the paper beneath it, along with a reflected image of the subject superimposed over top.

Then, they just start tracing. Is it cheating? Maybe, but if it is, at least it’s Old Masters-league cheating.

Vintage camera lucidas can currently be found on eBay, but according to Garcia and Levin, they typically sell for at least US$300. The NeoLucida, by contrast, is available for a minimum pledge of $30 to the project’s Kickstarter campaign. Unlike other such campaigns, however, this one isn’t aimed at starting an ongoing business. Instead, Pablo and Golan are more interested in using the NeoLucida to draw peoples’ attention to the relationship between art – particularly photo-realistic art – and technology.

Pledges will be used to cover a limited run of at least 500 of the devices, after which no more will be made. Once they’re all gone, however, the designs, CAD files and parts-suppliers data will be made freely available, open-source, to anyone who wishes to continue production.

Other modern camera lucidas are already available, although a couple of them are priced around $200, while another utilizes mirrors instead of a prism, resulting in the reflected image being displayed upside-down. All of them are also less compact and portable than the NeoLucida.

More information is available in the pitch video below.

Sources: NeoLucida, Kickstarter

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Great work..

I will support them.

And I must buy that book.

진국 박

Funny, I just paste the image into its own layer in Sketchbook Pro.

Jon A.

Saying that a similar device must have been used because the artiste got the perspectives right just shows a lack of belief in human potential. I once watch a man take a quick look at a key, grab a blank and a hand file and 'duplicate' the original key without looking at it again. It wasn't a perfect copy it worked better than the original.


Sorry Slowburn, Hockney never said that artists of the past couldn’t do perspective without an optical aid. He does point out the obvious use of such tools by some artists. And so what? Does anybody today think that they can better Vermeer or Caravaggio, even by using optical devices? These painters are doing a whole lot more in their paintings than simply copying nature. And I have no idea what your key cutter has to do with any of this; could a painter actually make an image of some real situation, “better” than the original? Memorizing a few contours of a key is hardly the same thing as painting a masterpiece.


I could for a long time about the camera lucida – I own a number of them, and a number of other optical artists devices. I did make a pledge for the Neolucida – and I'm thrilled that I got in under the wire. They are considering options for extending the project – as of right now, if you pledge a dollar or two you can get your name on the waiting list for more information. Meanwhile, if you have an iPad or an iPhone, there's a terrific five dollar app called Camera Lucida! It is inexpensive for a quality, specialized app. I have a plenty of experience, and this works better for me than traditional camera lucidas, and the other optical devices available. It is a great way to use the iPad or iPhone as a bridge between digital and natural media. It allows you to transfer images from and through the iPad by hand to real media. Like a real camera lucida, ithere is a learning curve. Google the Camera Lucida app, Gibbs Studio. The iOS App Store link is:


I recommend it. I draw and paint on my iPad every day, but I am thrilled to be able to use my iPad with the Camera Lucida app to transfer compositions, using real paint, on real surfaces, in real life. Thanks.

Carolyn Hall Young

re; fleming

Guided by a single glance and his knowledge of locks the locksmith made a few deft strokes with a file and made a key. Guided by a glance and knowledge the great master makes a few deft strokes with a paintbrush. the difference is not that great.

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