The 21st century camera lucida

Last May 10, I became aware of a rather interesting project on Two guys – Pablo Garcia and Golan Levin – have designed something called the NeoLucida, which will have the honour of being (a) the first portable camera lucida to be manufactured in nearly a century and (b) the lowest-cost commercial camera lucida ever designed.

"But what is a camera lucida?" I hear you cry. Well, this little rascal performs an optical superimposition of the subject being viewed upon the surface upon which the artist is drawing. The artist sees both scene and drawing surface simultaneously, as in a photographic double exposure. This allows the artist to duplicate key points of the scene on the drawing surface, thus aiding in the accurate rendering of perspective. In short, a camera lucida is a drawing aid that allows you to trace what you see.

An engraving of a camera lucida in use circa 1830

In 2001, artist David Hockney wrote a book Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters in which he argued that the great artists of the past, such as Ingres, Van Eyck, and Caravaggio did not work freehand, but were instead guided by optical devices.

In order to stimulate interest in media archaeology – the tightly interconnected history of visual culture and imaging technologies – Pablo (who is Assistant Professor of Contemporary Practices at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and Golan (who is Associate Professor of Computation Arts at Carnegie Mellon University) decided to create their own camera lucida – "To make this remarkable device widely available to students, artists, architects, and anyone who loves to draw from life."

Working prototype of the NeoLucida

The resulting NeoLucida design is lightweight (9oz., or 0.25kg), sturdy, compact enough to fit in a handbag, highly adjustable, totally non-electronic, and released with a liberal open-source hardware licence.

When I first heard about this little rascal I was super-interested (I can only imagine your surprise), so I immediately bounced over to the associated KickStarter Project Page. After watching the cool video, the next thing that attracted my attention was that someone pledging only $30 will eventually receive a NeoLucida camera lucida along with a carrying pouch, instructions, and other "stuff."

I was "poised to pledge" when I realised that this pledge level was already sold out. In fact any pledge level I could afford that included a NeoLucida was already gone.

"Oh dear," I thought to myself (or words to that effect). Oh well, a $2 pledge promised to keep me informed of any future updates, so I signed up just to stay "in the loop." You can only imagine my surprise later that very evening when I received notification that something interesting was going on. It seems that the interest level was so high that Pablo and Golan had worked with KickStarter to add an additional pledge level. For $40 one would receive a NeoLucida from their second production run.

Of course I signed up immediately (you don't get billed until the project is successfully completed). I was hoping to let you in on this secret soon enough, but the next morning I just bounced over to KickStarter to check the status of this project and I see that the $40 pledge has already reached its maximum of 3750 backers and is already gone.

I'm sorry.

All I can say is that when my NeoLucida arrives (sometime towards the end of this year) I will experiment with it and tell you what it's like so you can live vicariously through me (grin). But seriously, I really can't wait to start playing with this little beauty...

wly2013's BLOG
wly2013's BLOG