NeoLucida: kickstarting a new version of the Old Masters' favorite drawing gadget

Pablo Garcia and Golan Levin, two celebrated art profs and dead media specialists, have launched a fantastically successful kickstarter to recreate the Camera Lucida, a gadget much favored by the Old Masters. It uses an optical trick to superimpose the scene in front of you on a sheet of paper that you can trace in order to produce highly realistic drawings. They're producing a limited one-time run of them (a $35 pledge gets you one) (assuming, as with all Kickstarters, that this actually gets made -- caveat emptor!), and then the designs will be released as open source hardware for anyone to make.

The NeoLucida is designed to fit in a purse or bag, and the creators want to create a gallery of art made with it -- each one comes with a postage-paid card for you to send in one of your drawings

NeoLucida - A Portable Camera Lucida for the 21st Century (via Beyond the Beyond)


  1. Already sold out. They are looking in to getting more commercially made, but the original run is spoken for. If you donate $1 they will keep you in the email loop.

  2. An interesting tool, but those drawings look pretty lifeless and sterile to my eyes.

  3. That seems pretty cool. For the comment above about “sterile” drawings, a tool is a tool, and you can use it however you want. An artist could certainly make use of this to be able to visualize the “perfect” proportions of the subject, while stylizing the final result or creating a piece that is only loosely based on what is directly in front of them.

    My only question is why the felt the need to change the pronunciation. Every time they switched from “camera lucida” to “neo-luciːda” it just sounded awkward.

  4. I love that they got around the problem of too many backers by making limited pledges. Too often Kickstarter projects are plagued with delays and manufacturing problems because they have to deal with more backers than expected.

    1. I would have preferred an early-bird special and then pledges on subsequent runs.  Based on the interest shown on Kickstarter, it almost looks like these guys could quit their day jobs.

      1.  I also think that it was smart to limit their pledges.

        However, if it’s this popular, perhaps they should make it a business in which they are silent partners. This Kickstarter event could be an excellent example of proven market research if they ever decided to find backers.

  5. One half of me loves this project for the historical, technical, mechanical, and curiosity value.

    On the other hand, one half of me hates this project for the further dilution of what “artistry” stands for.

    It’s adding one more tool to the box of shortcuts available to “craftspeople” who (in my opinion) pretend they are artists. People don’t spend years practicing hand-drawing in order to be upstaged by someone with a tracing machine.

    As Anthony Burgess put it, “Art begins with craft, and there is no art until the craft has been
    mastered. You can’t create unless you’re willing to subordinate creative
    impulse to the construction of form. But the learning of craft takes a
    long time, and we all think we’re entitled to shortcuts…. Art is rare
    and sacred and hard work, and there ought to be a wall of fire around it.”

      1.  I don’t think comparing art based in “realism” to art based in “conceptual ideas” is a proper comparison, though.

    1. If you think that you won’t be able to tell the difference between a talented artist who uses this thing and some kid who never draws who uses it… you don’t have a very high opinion of artists.

      1. No joke.  After I told friends that I was now drawing with the iPad versus the pain-in-the-ass light box I’d been suffering with for years, they now look at my work and ask “oh, is that ‘the app’?” as if the app can suddenly draw for you, solve creative problems, etc.   

          1. Were?  I still meet people who think that coding and using Word are the same thing.

      2.  I’m more worried for the kid who never truly learns to draw, the same as I worry for people who fraudulently use motorized wheelchairs to make life easier on themselves.

    2. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Being an artist encompasses the use of tools, all tools, at one’s disposal. A camera lucia is a tool in its own right as much as a pencil is. The great masters all used all the tools and technologies at their disposal for the sole purpose of creating the best art they could. Being a purity troll is probably one of biggest obstacles to being an artist. You should study your art history harder.

      1. I’m not trying to be a purity troll, simply trying to make an argument for integrity. It’s mainly a matter of the degree of challenge.

        Side note: Since when has art history been the measure of technical skill? The only relation I see is the accumulation of knowledge about geometry and perspective, which could equally be considered an issue of science/mathematics and anthropology.

        With the new amount of insight we have into our historical art practices through the use of science, archeology, and even philosophy, why is it so much harder for us to let go of the myth making machine that holds us to revere artists who were simply better at hiding the fact that they were taking advantage of inventions, rather than relying on their own personal skills? I still personally would hold an artist like Thomas Eakins or Euan Uglow using geometrical diagramming and a plumbline as a tool on a higher ethical plane than I would someone who used a camera obscura, camera lucida, or even a camera and an opaque projector.

        There’s been a cohesion in the movement in the last few decades most would describe as “perceptual art” or “observational art”, linked to artists like Antonio Lopez Garcia and Rackstraw Downes, though they generally shun any term that suggests “realist”. Some would say it’s more a practice of studying our perception of our surroundings, often resulting in works of supreme technical skill. At the very least, it’s evidence that we do revere the skillfulness of the artist who doesn’t require photography or “traceable” optical aids to create a work of technical and aesthetic beauty. It is people like these guys who I consider my art heroes, and strive to be more like with every painting I produce (not in manner, just in ethics).

        It’s been 13 years since Hockney and Falco’s “Art and Optics” conference at NYU, and generally, art historians were quite reactionary to even the slightest suggestion that Ingres used a camera lucida, but as time has passed, many are relaxing their stance.

        So, given what we know now, what would be so horrific about offering a new baseline for what is considered technical skill/traditional aesthetics? Is it that so many collectors and museums would find their works to be of inferior value?

        At the very least we should be considering former “masters” in a new light. Far be it from me to stand in the way of a new understanding (or is it a return to popular opinion — that hand-drawing is hardest of all?) of what “skill” actually means.

      1. Not trying to be snide, Antinous, but “Just because all your friends are doing it, does that make it right?”

        Oh God. I’m becoming my dad.

        1. Oh God. I’m becoming my dad.

          Maybe, as you become a copy yourself, tracing holds symbolic meaning for you.

          1. I didnt read this whole sentence through before I visualized the person youre replying to drawing themselves using a -Lucida — in front of a mirror! B r i l l i a n t

    3. An artist is someone with the will to make art. Anyone can learn to draw if forced. It’s the will to create that separates artists from non artists, not who can do what and at what skill level. The debate can rage all it wants. Artists create while everyone else judges. 

  6. As one who does technical illustration for kicks (*ahem*, this is the most goddamn brilliant thing I have ever seen. I am sad that I will be unable to acquire one. It could save me untold hours of work.

    Also, the concept of a sui generis artist is a fallacy. We all stand on the shoulders of technical innovation. If not, then you had better be mixing your own pigments and shaving various animals to facet your own brushes.

    1. You will be able to buy or make one. It may take until after the original run is delivered (due in September). But I’m pretty certain someone will take the plans and list of Chinese suppliers and offer finished units for sale. If you’re well off you can find antiques on eBay apparently.

    2.  Art stems from observation. Observation was a skill before technical innovation made the tools.

      do you also mean to say that great writers need to start pounding their
      own pulp to make paper and great photographers or filmmakers need to
      build their own cameras?

      Paint and brushes are just the tools, they never were the art itself.

      1. You are clearly not very bright. My point is that technology does not confound artistic expression in any way, ever. Like any tool, it is how you use it that matters.

        Or would you rather we were all still spitting soot and red ocher onto cave walls?

      2.  Goodness, I wanted to reply in order to apologize for the very civil expression of my opinion–as I do regret that it seems to have caused you some distress–but it would seem one of the mods around here doesn’t believe in progressive, adult communication. I am well within my right to question the consistency of your chain of logic with respect to the creative enterprise. I employed no blue language and nothing in my expression–the actual words I used–could be interpreted as a ‘personal attack.’ I don’t know you, I know no details of your life, and made no such speculation. (Even the word ‘you’ is what grammarians like to call an ‘impersonal pronoun.’) If you haven’t the tenacity or wherewithal to defend your position, then you should keep your opinions to yourself.

        If paint and brushes are just tools, so then is the camera lucida. Again, it is how you use the tool.

        1. …one of the mods around here doesn’t believe in progressive, adult communication.

          I just assumed that your account had been hacked by a third-grader and took appropriate action.

          1. That I might bring my education up to speed, would you mind cutting and pasting the articles of the Disqus/Boingboing ToS which I violated? Or is moderation of this forum more capricious in character? And those are both serious questions. I enjoy the community here and I’d like to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes in the future. (I’d rather have sent this privately, but I am terribly un-tech savvy–viz. I still illustrate with pencil and paper–and could not track it down.)

            *edited for bizarre paragraph formatting thing that i don’t know how it happened

  7. I used one of these for a short time in the ’70s when I worked at the New Mexico Laboratory of Anthropology. Incredible eye-strain– I quickly switched to using a Polaroid camera and an opaque projector.

  8. Maybe I’m missing something, but I’ve been doing the same thing with my iPad for months.  Buy the ArtStudio app for a buck, a stylus for $20, and then take a picture of your subject with the iPad.  Import that picture as a layer, put another layer on top, and you’re in business.  The beauty is that it works with live models as well as penciled comic book pages.  I’ve made 30 so far:

    1. Good deal if that works for you, but I’ve personally never cared for the iPad as a drawing device. Plus the cost of an iPad + stylus + app comes to substantially more than $30.

  9. I’ve clearly raised some hackles in this thread.

    I want to make it clear, I have nothing against this Kickstarter project, the device, nor its makers. I applaud them for coming up with an idea for a well-presented item that they (possibly) predicted would be funded easily, if at all — and they did it without having to piggyback on a cause.

    That said, tools are used for good or for ill. I can see quite well how the neo-lucinda might be useful and proper for purely commercial art projects like technical illustration, advertising and whatnot, and I’m perfectly fine with that. However, when people use words like “masters” when speaking about drawing tools, then I believe one comes to an understanding that this word is used for a very specific subset of artists. In this case, artists who are masters, or experts, at perfecting the marriage of astute observation and dextrous eye-hand coordination.

    I have always assumed that here at Boing Boing, we don’t generally stand for obfuscation and dishonest behavior when it concerns politicians, sports figures, lawyers, marketers, upper-level retail management, police, or any other pursuit that one would hope to regard as a profession (or at least conducted in a professional manner). So, if it has been revealed that an artist has hidden from their audience that he/she has used a “tracing” tool, why do they deserve a pass, “master” or not?

    Even as recently as a few years ago, the Oakes brothers developed a drawing system/tool that uses split focus (like a camera lucida does) and a curved easel to more perfectly mimic our perception of space upon a two-dimensional plane. Fantastic, in my opinion. Why? Because it was their purpose from the outset to call attention to their exploration of how we perceive space and depth. I don’t believe at all that they set out to deceive the public with their uncanny drawing skills. Here, the art is in the understanding of perception, not as much in the drawing itself.

    In summation, I don’t think “masterful” drawing legitimately utilizes “tracing” tools any more than masterful athletic ability legitimately uses steroids and blood packing, or masterful lawyering or politicking legitimately utilizes legal loopholes. I think perhaps it’s time to reclassify who the artistic “masters” in our history were.

      1.  Yet the artist still had to create the original drawing in order it to be transferred. This is common in mural painting and large scale graffiti as well, though other techniques have replaced pouncing these days.

        Please, let’s not try to confuse the issue by confusing the intended use of the technique. To deceive or not to deceive, that’s the essential point.

        1. To deceive or not to deceive, that’s the essential point.

          Art is deception no matter the intention.

  10. Go check out the Kickstarter page RIGHT NOW – they’ve announced a second round of manufacturing. (Friday 10, May)

    1. I’m curious why you say it’s better than a device that doesn’t exist yet. 

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