Free plans for a drawing camera

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CliveCatterall
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Post by CliveCatterall » July 7th, 2018, 10:06 am

Back in 2007 (a few months before I joined LV) I read a book by David Hockney called something like "Secret Knowledge" and a book by Philip Steadman called "Vermeer's Camera". Both books presented very different evidence suggesting that certain great masters painted pictures using optical aids, such as a Camera Obscura or other Perspective Machine. I became fascinated by the subject, and read other books on the same subject, such as Kemp's "The Science of Art" etc.

Being a scientific instrument designer, my natural response was to build an instrument to explore these ideas - to see how well these things really worked in practice, as I've been fascinated with photography since I was about 4 years old. (As a Designer I disagreed strongly with some of Kemp's conclusions). So on and off for the last ten years I have built a series of camera obscuras, but none of them were quite right - some were difficult to build, some were not easy to use, some frankly didn't work that well.

Finally last year I had a great design that I was sure would work well, but I didn't bother to produce any plans - I just built it. It worked well, and was easy to build. For me the project was over!

This January I was at a design conference and got talking to some graphic design professors who were very excited about the possibility of using a camera obscura to help teach drawing to their students. I agreed to draw up a set of plans and post them online. And here I finally get to the point of this post! If anyone is interested in building a desktop camera obscura that projects a scene, portrait, object or whatever onto a sheet of plain paper for you to trace here you are!!

http://www.clivecatterall.com/Desktop_Camera_Obscura.zip

These plans are free, and available under the CERN-Open Hardware License v1.2. The purpose of the restrictions of this license is to try and make sure that the design always stays available for free. (I did wonder about just releasing them in the Public Domain. Couldn't decide which was best)

Clive

Cori
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Post by Cori » July 8th, 2018, 4:08 am

That looks like a fascinating project (not that I have the hardware skills/tools to make it work.)
There's honestly no such thing as a stupid question -- but I'm afraid I can't rule out giving a stupid answer : : To Posterity and Beyond!

CliveCatterall
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Joined: December 9th, 2007, 3:02 pm
Location: Hereford, UK
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Post by CliveCatterall » July 8th, 2018, 4:28 am

As an ex Design and Technology teacher (amongst many jobs I have done), I'd say it looks harder than it actually is! It looks difficult because there are quite a lot of parts. Each one is quite simple. :wink:

For me the most interesting stage is the one about to happen. Does the availability of this optical drawing tool actually make any difference to how well students can learn to draw? Leonardo da Vinci wrote about students using a camera obscura and a glass plate "perspective machine" (Kemp's term), Albrect Durer went to Italy to learn about "Italian Methods" and produced drawings of various devices to help artists learn how to "see" forms in perspective.

I'm crossing my fingers that the Graphic Designers don't decide that the project looks too difficult, and they do actually build the machines!

Clive.

Cori
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Post by Cori » July 9th, 2018, 12:58 pm

It seems like it would help -- drawing is about choosing what to draw, in part, which would be an important aspect of this. There's also the basic confidence-building of being able to see how simple lines on a page combine into a picture/design. Helping people to see what IS there, rather than what they think is there. (I've seen drawing lessons that suggest drawing things upside down for this reason, to help detach from what it 'ought to look like'.)

Very interesting to see how it pans out in practice!
There's honestly no such thing as a stupid question -- but I'm afraid I can't rule out giving a stupid answer : : To Posterity and Beyond!

CliveCatterall
Posts: 374
Joined: December 9th, 2007, 3:02 pm
Location: Hereford, UK
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Post by CliveCatterall » July 9th, 2018, 2:03 pm

That's interesting. I've often used the trick of looking at a drawing in the mirror to be able to "see" the errors in form and proportion. It can be really hard to see the faults when you've been looking at the drawing for a while, and this can help you to see it anew. I expect drawing things upside down allows you to see the 3D shapes without your understanding of their 3D shape getting in the way!

I know photographers who like viewfinders that show the scene upside down (like a large format view camera or a Hasselblad medium format camera). Because they don't see the objects as objects, they can compose a scene by treating these objects as flat shapes and arranging them in a pleasing pattern. Sort of like the drawing things upside down trick.

I'll post back here if the teachers ever get around to building the camera obscuras and give me some feedback. It may be some time ...

Clive

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