Technical aids – from the notebook – 6

By | February 2, 2014
Technical aids - Overhead projector, pantograph, checkered paper, photography, slides and Camera Lucida.

Technical aids – Overhead projector, pantograph, checkered paper, photography and Camera Lucida.

To use originals and technical aid is nothing new. Various methods have been used throughout the whole history of art. If you believe this is cheating or not is a totally individual viewpoint. To create art is not about making it as hard as possible for one self. To create art is all about expressing one self, and to do this you can use any method you like. Artists who have used photographs and other people’s images as templates are many – and they are not worse artist for it. In contemporary art it is common to use an overhead projector or enlarged photographs. Nowadays it is also possible to work with images on the computer and then use a video projector. Technology moves forward!

Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura (Latin = dark room) is a box shaped instrument which is the basic principle for an ordinary camera. On one side it has a small hole in which light rays can pass. Objects are placed outside the box and will be depicted upside down on the opposite inner wall to the hole. The inventor of the camera obscura is unknown. The theory of camera obscura is described in Arabic literature from the 1000s.
During the 1500s the optic was developed and the camera obscura was provided with a lens which meant clearer and sharper images.

The simplest form of box-camera is based on the principle of camera obscura. A smaller box, for example a shoebox, is provided with a light sensitive film on one of the walls inside. A small hole is cut with a pin on the opposite side of this wall and then you leave it to expose for a while and afterwards you process the film.

Camera obscura has been used by artists since the 1500s to make sketches and templates for paintings. There are many examples of this method being used in art history. One of the more famous is Vermeer who used this method to create templates for his paintings.



Camera Lucida

Camera Lucida is a prism shaped so you see both the motif and the drawing paper at the same time when you look through it. Camera Lucida was common during the 1800s. An English company has started selling a modern version of the Camera Lucida.
The Camera Lucida Company


Pantograph was a technical aid to enlarge drawings. The machine consists of linked arms that can be adjusted to the magnification you want.

The simple square pattern

The simple square pattern is something most people have used. You create a chequered pattern over the image which needs enlarging and then create a larger sized pattern where the enlargement is going. Then you copy the image square by square.


Photographs as a template for paintings have been used as long as the camera has existed. In the early days of the camera you received your images on a small piece of glass. Enlargements from this format could be created using, for example, Camera Lucida, a sciopticon machine, an episcope or lanterna magica which is an earlier version of a projector.



Slides helped artists to enlarge images. All you had to do was to take a picture of the motif, place the projector at a suitable distance and then, using charcoal or pencil, copy the image onto a canvas or paper. This was used a lot by artists during the whole of the 1900s.
The first colour slide, Kodachrome, was made by Eastman Kodak and was introduced in 1936.

Overhead projector

An ordinary overhead projector can be used to enlarge images. The images can be copied in an ordinary copying machine onto clear overhead paper which can then be used in an overhead projector. Images could also be edited on a computer and printed on transparent paper. All these examples are common techniques and are also used frequently by many artists who work with graphics and photography.