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Is that cheating ? The controversy about using a projector or a lightbox for your paintings

Is using a lightbox cheating? The controversy about using a projector or a lightbox for your paintings

We all have different ways of working and there are many possibilities to make a preparatory drawing for a painting. To make that drawing some artists will project an image from a picture on their canvas or paper, use a grid system, a light box or a charcoal transfer as other artists will prefer a free hand drawing. So is using a lightbox cheating?

I don’t think there is any right or wrong way to proceed, but I have tried all these methods and by now I have decided that working from my own free hand drawings is more satisfying.

is using a lightbox cheating

You might be interested in : how to build your own light box

What are the pros and cons of using a projector or a light box?

Mostly, it might depends on the kind of Art you want to make. If you are painting very abstract or expressionists paintings, there might nor even be any need for a preparatory drawing . If you like photorealism, then it is a different scenario. When I used a projector, charcoal transfer or a light box, I did it for very intricate and realistic looking paintings that would have required many days or weeks of drawing. That was a shortcut so I could get to the painting part more quickly.

Leaves Lace, watercolor on paper

Leaves Lace, watercolor on paper. I used a light box to transfer the very complex drawing

I am less interested in trying to look perfectly realistic and litteral now and more interested in an interpretation of what I see. I don’t want to make a painting that has the look or feel of a picture, but if you like hyper realistic paintings then I guess using a projector or a light box makes sense.

I am less interested in realism in my painting now.

I am less interested in realism in my paintings now. Forest Dream, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches

When you are using a projector or a light box, you will end up drawing mostly contours of shapes and contours of light and shades areas. You still have to do some simplification and decide what details you want to keep and what you want to leave out so you don’t end up with a giant puzzle looking image that doesn’t make any sense.

Using a projector is not a consequence of recent access to such technology. If you are interested in the subject, I recommend you watch David Hockney BBC documentary : The lost secret of the old masters. A compelling investigation into the use of optical devices since the 15th century.

Johannes_Vermeer_-_Het_melkmeisje_-_Google_Art_Project

It is highly probable that Veermer used a camera obscura for his paintings.

Johannes Vermeer – Het melkmeisje – Google Art Project” by Johannes Vermeer -Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Why I prefer a grid system or free hand drawing

The thing that bugs me the most when I am using a projector or a light box is that it does not feel like I am learning anything or becoming better at drawing. To me one of the nicest perk of being an artist is that you don’t stop learning, taking risks, making mistakes and learning from those. Personally, and this is just one point of view, I find “safe” art, art that is focusing on the perfection of the end result is way less exciting than art that is more personal in its imperfections. Also my idea of an accomplished artist, the ideal I want to reach is an artist who also can draw.

If you project your drawing then there is not that much difference with a coloring book page and your painting, you end up filling areas with the right color. It is still creative and might give you a good end result but it feels like something is missing in the process.

Using a grid

Using a grid system helps me scaling the drawing for large paintings.

Using a grid system helps me scaling the drawing for large paintings.

For very large paintings, I like to use a grid system if I work from a picture as scaling can be challenging.

You need to be very exact in a portrait if you want to achieve a likeness so I will also sometimes use a grid system when working for a picture for a portrait. It is still hand drawing but with a little help 🙂 Sometimes I will also draw on newsprint paper so I can erase and change my mind as much as I want to before transferring the drawing on watercolor paper with a light box. I do that because watercolor paper can only take that much erasing before the texture is damaged and the damage will show when you start painting.

Using a grid system helps me scaling the drawing for large paintings.

 

Free hand drawing

For most of my figure drawings I now use my free hand drawing. I know there are probably some mistakes in proportions and maybe the likeness is not perfect but they still look more personal, the way handwriting is more personal than typing.

I find it way more satisfying to work from my own free hand drawings even though they might never reach the perfection of a projected image

I find it way more satisfying to work from my own free hand drawings even though they might never reach the perfection of a projected image

What is your favourite method of drawing for your paintings? Do you consider using a projector or a light box to be cheating?

 

Is using a lightbox cheating? The controversy about using a projector or a lightbox for your paintings
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