NeoLucida, a portable camera lucida for the 21st century

Published on May 8, 2013


Long before Google Glass… there was the Camera Lucida. The what? The camera lucida. It’s a prism on a stick! For making realistic drawings! It used to be everywhere. A portable version hasn’t been manufactured in generations. And they’re bringing it back. Really inexpensively. For artists and art students everywhere.

They have designed the NeoLucida: the first portable camera lucida to be manufactured in nearly a century — and the lowest-cost commercial camera lucida ever designed. They want to make this remarkable device widely available to students, artists, architects, and anyone who loves to draw from life. But to be clear: NeoLucida is not just a product, but a provocation. In manufacturing a camera lucida for the 21st century, their aim is to stimulate interest in media archaeology—the tightly interconnected history of visual culture and imaging technologies.


The NeoLucida, a camera lucida for the 21st century. Shown here is a working prototype, constructed from a combination of mass-manufactured and custom-machined parts.The NeoLucida is a drawing aid that allows you to trace what you see. The device is the first portable, authentic camera lucida to be manufactured in nearly a century—but they like to think of it as a disruption to widespread assumptions about art-making and art history. Their 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 license. It’s also the least-expensive camera lucida ever manufactured. If you enjoy drawing from life, or if you’re interested in experiencing for yourself how the Old Masters could possibly have created such accurate, lifelike drawings—then the NeoLucida is for you.

Some background history

Beginning in the early 17th century, artists routinely used optical aids to help them create realistic drawings. Lenses and mirrors were the “cutting edge technology” of their day (and sometimes, the trade secret) for making life-like images. In 1807, Sir William Hyde Wollaston invented the Camera Lucida—and brought life-drawing to a whole new level. Wollaston’s device was simple: a prism on an adjustable stand. When an artist looks down through the prism, they see the world in front of them, plus their hand on the page, combined in perfect superimposition.

In short, a camera lucida allows you to trace what you see. And it does so in full daylight; there’s no need for a dark shroud or box, as with a Camera Obscura. And that is the magic of the camera lucida: it’s portable, easy to use, and—with a little practice—you just copy the world onto your page with a confident hand.

By the mid-1800s, camera lucidas were everywhere. Indeed, the device is so effective in assisting accurate life-drawing that, according to the controversial Hockney-Falco hypothesis, it’s now believed that many of the most admired drawings of the 19th Century, such as the Neoclassical portraits of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, could only have been made with a camera lucida. This becomes astonishingly clear if you try one—an experience we hope to share with as many people as possible, through this Kickstarter.



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