Projectors and such


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Susan Truex of Murfreesboro, TN, wrote, “What about using alternate forms of transferring an image to canvas, other than traditional drawing skills? Many of my colleagues and students, fearful of their abilities, use projectors and trace. I know there’s a chance of image distortion, but is there a deeper, moral standard that needs to be considered?”


The Kodak Carousel. These are now found at garage sales or turned in to photo shops. A variety of lenses is handy. This one has a zoom lens. One need to be on the lookout for spare bulbs. While slide photography is an almost moribund art, value can be found in archived reference.

Thanks, Susan. Most illustrators think projecting is not a moral problem. It’s a time-saving, creative asset.

Projection also allows fine artists to find elements within photographic or other images that may be emphasized for creative benefit. Laborious linear drawing, often awkward to the painterly mode, can be avoided. Further, projected images tend to show where things are, not how things are. This gives the tracer an opportunity to feature specific parts — say shadows or patterns — without having to plot distances and other relationships. Simply put, projection releases artists from other concerns.Rating today’s devices, the almost obsolete slide projector (e.g. Kodak Carousel) beats out the commonplace opaque projector for colour and sharpness. If you’re using slide projectors, you need to stock up on spare bulbs — they’re going the way of the dodo. Many of the currently popular digital projectors have less than stellar images when viewed close to the projected area. That being said, a digital projector and an easel-side monitor is a deadly combo. Once you get the hang of the technology, the advantage of digital-photo to canvas work is speed. There’s no waiting three or four days for slides to be developed, if indeed, they are still developing them. At the top of the current clickback we’re showing the three types of projectors I use in my studio.


The time worn Artograph. Wonky and primitive, it can still do the job. Surprisingly, opaque reference when reduced to black and white can be valuable when comparing tone values, a benefit you don’t get when real life reference is right in front of your face.

Recently, while hanging out in NC Wyeth’s well-preserved studio, I noticed his old Magic Lantern. Wyeth had his sketches turned into glass slides by a professional photographer.

Regarding image distortion, it’s actually lack of distortion where projection comes up short. Photo-dependency often brings on a stultifying photo-tyranny that overruns the imagination. Keep in mind that mountains often need to be taller, faces need to be caricatured, and nature herself may need a ferocity, sublimity or personality that photography can’t always grab.



A Canon digital. There are more and better of these sorts of devices coming on stream. Zoom, autofocus, power point slide show and other features make them state of the art. A rigmarole to set up, they are still pretty fast from shot to projection. The bulbs are mighty expensive.

Best regards,


PS: “If you paint from 35mm Kodachrome, you’re likely to end up with a 4×5 foot Kodachrome!” (Sergei Bongart)

Esoterica: The real downside to trace-projection is a condition known as Projector Addiction. Over time, chronic PA can cause an artist to completely lose the ability to draw. The antidote is to gradually turn off the machine earlier and earlier in the tracing process — just like you were weaning yourself of booze. In this way, drawing is reinvigorated, individual imagination is slowly restored, and style once again shows her pretty face. The addicted artist starts to feel better (and, if guilt-ridden, slightly more moral).


Don’t marry the projector
by Bill Angresano


original painting
by Bill Angresano

I have been an illustrator/fine artist for over 25 years, and when I have projected, I didn’t mind the results, after all when you apply the paint, you have to re-draw “lose” some or all of the drawing. What I love is the drawing! So for a very long time now I do a cartoon, in full value, transfer just the “large shapes” and paint/redraw and in some cases embellish or actually change for the better my composition or idea. I like that freedom. Projecting lends itself to being “married” to the photo or reference material that I just personally don’t enjoy. Either way the end result is what really matters.

There are 4 comments for Don’t marry the projector by Bill Angresano

From: Ned Mueller — Nov 30, 2009

It is apparent that many artists including myself have a problem with “projecting” When I was in art school one would probably get thrown out if we relied on such a crutch. While Illustrators have used it and I am sure some fine artists also, the general consensus was that if you put in the long hard work to learn how to draw and used the projector and knew what corrections needed, it was somewhat tolerated. I feel that the person who learns how to draw well, also develops a whole lot of other senses; as generally, learning to draw, is developing your good judgement… which transfers to better compositions and I suspect sense of color…and simply a sense of what works. Unfortunately it seems like so much is being dumbed down, for a lot of bad reasons.

From: Margaret Rooker — Dec 01, 2009


From: R. G. Estrada — Dec 09, 2009

I guess it is a matter of what the end results are. What makes me wonder is that I have seen an artist use the projector always and this artist paints the same picture at least 10 times. All of the pieces ( look the same) sell as “originals” . I am not sure that the buyers know that there are around 10 pieces all looking the same.

Of course this approach makes the painting process quite fast but could we compare it to sweat shop painting? How is that different from going to China and get any painting replicated in a couple of hours and call it an “original”. It am troubled about the projector use for that reason same. Also, if you are going to use it please disclose it to your buyers. I think that is an important piece of information.

From: Sharon Sargent — Jul 04, 2011

I have now painted for 51 years. I have always drawn and painted “the hard way”. Somehow I get more pleasure from doing it “the hard way”. I think that using projectors is like canned soup. Drawing and painting from scratch is like true home made soup from scratch! There is simply no comparison. The pleasure of creating a piece of art is part of the reason for doing it and that pleasure somehow shows on the surface of the piece. This pleasure touches the viewer and makes the piece all the more desirable to look long at it. Somehow the use of the projector makes it phoney. What can I say? I just don’t like it…


Showing up without crutches
by Lesley Humphrey, Houston, TX, USA


original painting
by Lesley Humphrey

It is the mark of the artist present in the work that is of artistic value, in the end, over and above his ability to replicate life accurately. I prefer a distorted, authentic representation of what inspired the artist over a well drawn image. One entertains and appeals the head, and invites critique, the other you feel in your gut. If you must project, let’s have an area where you show up without crutches, huh?


There are 2 comments for Showing up without crutches by Lesley Humphrey

From: Anonymous — Nov 27, 2009

You’ve put your finger on it as usual, Lesley! Are those blackpool donkeys by the way?!

From: Sarah Clegg — Nov 27, 2009

Forgot to add my name, sorry!


A moral dilemma
by Adriana Rinaldi, Oakville, ON, Canada

Thank you, thank you, for writing this letter. Some of my absolute favourite painters use projections equipment, i.e. Joseph Raffael, a superb watercolour artist, and Carolyne Brady, now passed away. I sometimes use one and sometimes don’t. But it has always been a moral dilemma for me. It’s true, it does free me up to just get on with the painting part, which is the most important part to me. Sometimes all I want is to just roughly get the outline right. Your letter was very timely!


Determining size and placement
by Carol Morrison, Oakville, NS, Canada


original painting
by Carol Morrison

I am delighted to see that you also use the clunky Artograph from time to time! I acquired one from another artist who is going the digital route. I am doing a series of paintings of victims of injustice using images received by email from Amnesty International, and was having difficulty getting the facial proportions right. Now I print off a copy, and project it onto the canvas using the Artograph. I use the projected image to determine the size and placement of the face on the canvas, and to trace the outline and main features of the face. This saves a lot of frustrating guesswork!

There is 1 comment for Determining size and placement by Carol Morrison

From: stephen pitt — Dec 28, 2011

That painting is sterile and lifeless. Look at Van Goghs Dr Gachet


Drawing does not define the artist
by Greg Freedman, New Westminster, BC, Canada


“Backing on a Chip Barge”
acrylic painting
by Greg Freedman

When the evidence that Vermeer used a camera obscura to sketch his canvases, many people (including more than a few critics) claimed he was cheating. David Hockney scoffed at this and said, “I’ll give you a sketch produced by a camera obscura and you give me back a Vermeer.” It has been estimated that true drawing facility (the ability to accurately draw what you see) is so rare that only about 1 in 1,000 possess it. Still, with 6.8 billion people on our planet, that means that 6.8 million people have this ability. I know there are a lot of artists out there but I doubt the number is 6.8 mil. I doubt it is one thousandth that number. So it would seem that the ability to draw well is not what defines an artist.

There are 3 comments for Drawing does not define the artist by Greg Freedman

From: Babe — Nov 30, 2009

But it does define the best of the best.

From: Kathlyn — Dec 16, 2009

Greg, can you give us a link to the study (or some keywords such as author for looking it up) that gave that estimate of 1 in a 1000 having drawing facility? I would be extremely interested in that work and the conclusions. Thank you.

From: stephen pitt — Dec 28, 2011

learning to draw helps one learn to see and coordinate. There is nothing wrong with a cold, dank lifeless projection,but when one looks at Goya and Van Gogh you may notice a lifelong resonance that never wains.


Doing it
by Diane Hart, Marietta, GA, USA

If this is something that is so widespread and acceptable among fine artists (I am not commenting about illustrators here), how come there are no classes offered on “How to use projection to enhance your work?” at the local art schools? Why isn’t it written up in artist’s statements “I strive to capture the light with the best projection technology available.” I have never heard an artist in any circle I have been in, openly admit to doing this. As artists, we love to talk about our new techniques, or paint color or whatever, but I have NEVER heard anyone talk about their latest and greatest projection system or even more, share this “deep, dark, secret’ with their potential clients. Am I missing something here? I think that if people did not inherently think this was immoral there would be more open discussion about it.

I am a still life artist and have never used any type of projection in my work. As I admire other artist’s work, I now have to ask myself if this artist is “projecting.” It sort of feels like trying to compete in the Olympics with everyone else being on steroids. Did I not get the change of rules memo from the judges, that it is now OK to use steroids? With all of this in mind, I appreciate your openness and “transparency.” I don’t care if people use these methods, I just think it should be written on the package so the playing field is level.

(RG note) Thanks, Diane. Yep, nobody teaches it, not many admit to doing it, and some are really embarrassed that they do. Many who do it privately don’t let on they are doing it. Working in darkened studios, behind closed doors, they’re called “darkworkers.” A lot of them belong to secret wizard clans or attend witches covens. All of them eat a lot of toads.

There are 8 comments for Doing it by Diane Hart


From: Shirley Peters — Nov 26, 2009

Last year in my Painting Diploma, we had lessons on how to use projectors. It was for a ‘post modern’ exercise, where the artist borrows from the masters, and from advertising, and from one’s own photographic history and juxtapositions these incongruous images onto one canvas. We used overhead projectors. The works were amazing!

From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Nov 27, 2009

I have never been to art school, so have no personal experience. Likewise, I don’t know what is taught in art schools in the US or Canada. But here in the UK I have heard complaints that drawing is not taught in art schools any more; that it is not considered important. I have no idea how much truth there is in this, but when one visits the Tate Modern or sees entrants for the Turner Prize one is tempted to believe it! (No doubt this will elicit responses from British members of this forum – I am more than willing to be corrected!)

And yet, what do most ordinary people put on their walls? Invariably the more “conventional” types of art. So though we might not be “cool”, we traditional artists still have our place and our public.

From: Anonymous — Nov 27, 2009

As a British artist Patsy, I couldn’t agree more. You only have to look at entrants and winners in the recent BP Portrait awards to see that a very high proportion of paintings must have used projection or tracing rather than life work. But having said that, I do use projection and tracing myself in formal animal portraiture – simply because accuracy of likeness is essential and getting a dog or a horse to pose for hours in the same position just isn’t possible as it would be with a human. Almost all of the wildlife artists I know work this way too (in fact I’ve only ever met one that didn’t) but as Robert rightly says, we all do it behind closed doors and certainly wouldn’t tell our buyers and clients that this is the basic method.. And we DO feel guilty about it (or are made to but don’t really know why!

The key thing though, as others have said, is to put your own mark on such work via style, medium, composition, brushwork, backgrounds, etc etc. That’s what makes things original and (unless you are into hyper-realism) far more interesting than a photograph.

From: Anonymous — Nov 27, 2009

Well put Diane! I couldn’t agree with you more. Shame on you Robert for your insulting comment. I can’t believe you had to add the last two sentences. Making fun of Diane for her opinion is way below the belt, especially coming from you.

From: Laura — Nov 28, 2009

Oh, come on…those last two sentences were just plain funny. No animals were hurt in the production of those words… :) We all know people who hide things in the dark, the ones who are secretive and protective of their work and techniques, who don’t share anything…and so be it…but I’m glad I know where all those toads went!! Ha ha.

From: Anna — Nov 29, 2009

Diane! I do believe your comparison to be a little flawed. Steriods ARE ILLEGAL, projectors & artographs are not! Your playing field is as level as you want it to be. Neither do I see anyone labelling their canvas “I use cheap nasty paint and crap canvas’s, so expect fading and warping” a far worse crime than projecting from a purchasers point of view I would suspect. It may be less upsetting if you concentrate on your own art journey not everyone elses!

From: Patricia Getha — Dec 11, 2009

People buy art because they like what they see, not because the artist did or did not project the image. Most artist that use a projector CAN draw. In my acrylic class I tell my students to use what ever method they choose to get the info on the canvas. The primary focus of the class is not learning to draw rather, we focus on painting techniques, color mixing and capturing the right values, etc. I state right in the description of the class that basic drawing skills are necessary so students know up front that we are not spending time learning to draw. I don’t care that an artist uses a projector………now printing your image on the canvas and painting over it is another story. You get into some REAL ethics issues with that one!

PS. I was an illustrator and graphic designer in my previous life so in that light, we used whatever aids we could to hit the deadlines.

From: Anonymous — Dec 15, 2009

Patricia, I couldn’t agree more. For me my drawing skills eb and flow depending on the amount of practise I get (much like the speed I run depends on how often I run, or what is chasing me – but that’s a whole notha story) – I find the time I spend drawing the image on to be a tedious mechanical thing. Painting on the other hand is the magic part, the part I love and want to spend my time on improving. We are all entitled to take whatever approach to our art we wish. If it is important to the buyer/judge that images are not projected, then they should ask about that at time of purchase/judging, then I believe it would be important that the artist be honest about their process.


Power’s out — learn to draw
by Ed Pointer, Afghanistan


“Prairielands – Moonrise Kansas”
original painting
by Ed Pointer

The projector is the bane of creativity. Yes, I am aware there is much good art coming from this endeavor but there’s a TON of bad art, too. I’ve seen projectionists even duplicate the out of focus depth of field behind the subject in their painting. We are now to the point where almost everyone projects – this requires very little talent other than becoming a master at duplicating surface colors and texture. One with such “talent” would be very good at painting on dinner plates and flower pots.

I’ve often wondered if those who project don’t have, down deep inside, a sense of guilt at not having perfected their drawing skills. Should we ever have a massive power outage the “projectionists” would find themselves without much talent left to actually complete a decent painting. I’ve seen awards given to projectionists by the judges in art competitions because of their super realistic paintings, complete with crocheted doilies and silver shiny pots only because they’ve mastered the ability to use projectors. Very little creativity just masterful surface duplicators with no real depth. I guess I’m a purist… sorry.

There are 5 comments for Power’s out–learn to draw by Ed Pointer

From: helen tilston — Nov 27, 2009
From: DJ — Nov 27, 2009

Ed, please don’t ever apologize for not using a projector!

As a public school art teacher, I don’t let my students project but have seen other high school students use projectors as crutches, and win awards. It turns my stomach.

I would rather see the imperfections of a human hand/eye/heart, than a machine’s results.

Anyone can trace. The artist will make art.

From: Suzette Fram — Nov 27, 2009

I’ve seen awards given to projectionists by the judges in art competitions because of their super realistic paintings, complete with crocheted doilies and silver shiny pots only because they’ve mastered the ability to use projectors. Very little creativity just masterful surface duplicators with no real depth.

I have to take exception to this. Drawing and Painting are 2 different things. If you draw (produce drawings as opposed to paintings), or are learning to draw, then you must learn to draw without the help of a projector. But if you paint, the drawing is just the placement of your elements which are then covered with paint. It is in the placement of paint that the painting comes to life and it is the paint application that will make it a good or bad painting. The two are very different art forms and I think that makes a lot of difference. While a certain amount of drawing is part of every painting, it is not THE painting.

From: Terry Rempel-Mroz — Nov 27, 2009

I agree, Suzette. When one uses a projector it is to get the outline and placement only. You don’t paint with a projector on – besides the garish mismatched colours it would be a nightmare. True – everyone can trace/project – but only an artist can then “colour between the lines” and infuse the piece with their mastery of the medium. The projector is a tool only – it is not the art. I think that the protests against using projectors speak of the basic insecurities some artists have – perhaps their drawing ability is good but their painting ability lacks mastery?

From: Faith — Nov 30, 2009

Terry and Suzette,

You are just setting up an excuse for artists not to learn how to draw. You can create somehing decent any way you like, but remember that masters know how to draw and paint and much more. It depends on what kind of expectations you have from your inner artist.


The valuable imperfection of the human hand
by Skip Rohde, Asheville, NC, USA


oil painting, 60 x 60 inches
by Skip Rohde

The projector became a crutch when I started using it too frequently, first to “confirm” the accuracy of my figures, then to use it in drawing them in the first place. I allowed the projector to do the job instead of my eyes. Finally, it became addictive because the projector was so accurate that I began to rely on it exclusively. The big problem with projectors is captured in your quote: “If you paint from 35mm Kodachrome, you’re likely to end up with a 4×5 foot Kodachrome!” Paintings done from projected photographs always have the look of an enlarged photograph. Mine did. So I put my projector away in its box. It’s a pain to set it up, so I only get it out when I really, really need it. Then it goes right back in the box again. My drawing has improved and my paintings no longer look like they came out of my camera. Artists are human, after all, and human-drawn things are going to be imperfect. It’s that state of imperfection that shows the human hand.

There are 5 comments for The valuable imperfection of the human hand by Skip Rohde

From: David — Nov 27, 2009

Great concept! I’d love to see another version, more like the original. Strip the soldier, focus on the lifeless flesh. Lose the big flag, maybe have a smaller one somewhere … his tattoo, her pin? After 8 years of War Without End, we should be seeing much more of it in art, music, lit, etc.

From: Arlene Laskey — Nov 27, 2009

This image is a touching Pieta for our time…another mother with another son grown up to offer his flesh as sacrifice.

From: Virginia Wieringa — Nov 27, 2009

Utterly powerful!

From: Dwight — Nov 27, 2009

This is a very profound piece of work. I was really moved when this came up.

From: Linda Danielson — Nov 29, 2009

to Skip Rohde: Your image of the Mother and soldier son is one of the most heart wrenching things I have ever seen. One look and I cried, thank you for making sacrifice more relevant and real………


Useful applications for projectors
by Nicholas Simmons


“La Vida Breve”
watercolour painting
40 x 70 inches
by Nicholas Simmons

There are a few useful applications of projectors besides just getting the image on the canvas or paper. I’ve had a digital projector for some time, and find it invaluable. For artists working with (and perhaps combining) multiple images, it provides a way to instantly toggle between them for comparison and choosing which parts of which references to use. This process requires the ability to see images in quick succession, as any lapse can disrupt the concentration and memory. The images also need to stay in precisely the same place over and over (even more important in the tracing step). A slide or opaque projector is a nightmare in this situation; slides (in addition to being expensive and cumbersome) can and do move, and anyone who has ever tried to place pics in an opaque projector the same way twice — let alone quickly — knows it is virtually impossible to do, as even the tiniest deviations create terrible “keystoning” and parallax problems.

Another vastly important yet never-discussed aspect of projector use is discerning the optimum size for a painting. I have a theory that every painting has its perfect size. I can’t back that up with anything scientific — it’s an intuition, but it has certainly held true for everything I do. To me, some paintings need to be on an intimate scale, and others need to be large. How large? The projector is a tremendous tool in making these decisions, allowing you to see your concept from small to gigantic. I go over this in demos in my workshops, and people are astounded how their ideas take on a whole new meaning and level of excitement by simply having the opportunity to check things out at various scales. Does wonders in the inspiration department, and experimentation invariably leads to this feeling I’m describing: every painting has its perfect size.

As for the tracing part, that isn’t the picnic some people imagine. With digital projectors, you have pixellation to deal with, making smooth lines jagged and graduated color into something like a mosaic. Things that look clear from afar can be unrecognizable up close, and anything that was unclear from a distance… well, you get the idea. Decisions constantly have to be made while transferring the image: simplifying and discarding here, embellishing and refining there. While some of this can probably be done by a person who can’t draw, a solid drawing background is indispensable. Also, while many artists can draw beautifully at “normal” scale, making a drawing wall-sized is a very different matter. Had they been around at the time, I have a feeling Michelangelo himself might have had a few laptops with projectors pointed at the ceiling.

There are 6 comments for Useful applications for projectors by Nicholas Simmons


From: Kathy — Nov 27, 2009

I bet you’re right about Michelangelo. And I have often thought that there is a perfect size for each painting. I never thought of using a projector to try to find that perfect size. Good idea!

From: David — Nov 27, 2009

Gorgeous painting! I can hear her heels and the guitars … brava!

From: Terry Waldron — Nov 27, 2009

The point is, Nicholas, Michelangelo DIDN’T have a laptop, et al, and his work… well, just look at it! Using

projectors, etc, is short-changing the essence of art – decision making. Every step of a piece of work, from the first marks on the paper to the finished piece, involves complex design decisions. I’ll take the clarity of my mind and eye over the mechanical disfunction and short=comings of a machine! To use a projector or a computer would be like “seeing” my piece through cheesecloth…

From: Bill Hibberd — Nov 27, 2009

Wow! 70″ watercolor. I don’t think I’ve seen anything that courageous for a while.

From: Dianne — Nov 27, 2009

re: “This process requires the ability to see images in quick succession…” To see: Ah, ha – I believe that’s the key. Every artist has, and is entitled to have – their own way of ‘seeing’, visualizing,in order to create. A brush is a tool; a rag is a tool – it is what you accomplish with them that is important.

From: Anonymous — Nov 30, 2009

Re Michelangelo – it’s is most certainly ok to cartoon or project your own drwaing to a larger size. What’s not ok is to project a photograph.


No soul in projected work?
by Pepper Hume, Spring, TX, USA


“Long John Silver”
polymer clay doll
by Pepper Hume

I’m afraid you missed the mark on using projectors in the painting process. The real “moral” issue is in WHAT you project. I work out a composition, a drawing small and use a projector to grade it up to the correct size of the final artwork. Projecting an image the artist developed is simply a mechanical shortcut. Call me old-fashioned, but to project a photograph and then fill it in sounds like hack work to me. Lots less work to use Photoshop which has some very good effects if somebody wants a “painting” of a photograph of their house or dog. That ain’t art.

I know, I know, millions of hours have been invested over the centuries trying to define what art is. But one thing most agree on is that for art to happen, the material must pass through the brain of an artist, not just a mechanical lens. And yes, I realize that photography has been accepted as an art form of its own. But even there, a living brain has gotten between the subject and the image on the paper/screen and made artistic choices. I believe that if you can’t draw it, you have no right to paint it because you haven’t gotten “into” it. You don’t know it, your hand hasn’t felt how the shapes and forms interplay. Sure, you may paint a pretty image but it will have no depth, no honesty, no soul.


Compromises either way
by Carol Marine, Austin, TX, USA


“Red Light District”
oil painting
by Carol Marine

Wow, it is so great to hear you say this about projectors. They are my views exactly. I feel similarly about using photographs to paint from. I heard in college that the greatest sin of all as an artist is to paint from photos, but I now see that you make compromises either way — painting from life or from photos. Painting from life forces you in many cases to work very quickly. For example, when outside the light changes very quickly and you generally have at most 2 hours to get a scene down. When inside, even common still life objects change quickly: many flowers, especially tulips, weave and dance, cut fruit browns, leaves wilt, etc. Also, when working from life, you are met with an intense amount of information that you must cull through and interpret. Working from a photograph, on the other hand, means viewing an already 2-D image, where the lights are lighter, the darks darker, and the colors not nearly as vivid. The upside of working from a photo is you have all the time in the world. You can study it for days at a time. You can take 50 photos of a scene, from every angle, and at every f-stop, and then paint your own take on it. I know many artists who do absolutely stunning work from photographs, and many who do equally stunning work from life. And some who do both.

There is 1 comment for Compromises either way by Carol Marine

From: Darla — Nov 27, 2009

Carol —

The point is to learn how to see. I’ve been painting for years, and have used photos, projectors and painted from life, and I feel like I’m just now starting to “get it”. Though I’ve been cleaning out my studio, and some of my old sketches are actually good!

I love your painting, especially the effortless-seeming brushwork. I look at it all the time on .


Projectors not useful
by Robin Shillcock, Groningen, Netherlands


“Torrent de la Selle, les Ecrins”
oil painting
by Robin Shillcock

Projectors a “useful tool” for artists? I don’t think so. Perhaps for illustrators who produce gadget-art or for painters of mega-portraits of dictators — because both have strict (if not lethal) deadlines. Vermeer was a superior craftsman and a great artist who knew what he was doing when he used a camera obscura to study the play of light on all kinds of objects. He observed them through the camera, and used the effects to his benefit in his oils.

If Susan Truex’s colleagues and students are “fearful of their abilities” there’s all the more reason for them to trash the projectors and pick up that pencil — and draw! There are few shortcuts in becoming a good artist-craftsman, you simply have to start making your 20,000 mistakes or do your 10,000 hours of laborious work a.s.a.p. to master the art. The “concerns” as you put it, are all part of the learning process.

By using a projector to transfer an image an artist skips this part of the creative process, and becomes too result-oriented. Painting is not about getting “the image right,” it’s about how you approach the world, how you use your eyes and brain and heart and hand, and that includes accepting the limits of your abilities. After all, style is not only the result of what an artist can do, but as much the result of what he cannot do. Whilst drawing (and it really doesn’t matter if you draw in line or tone, from the real thing or even from a photograph) the brain immediately starts working out solutions, possibilities, etc. Besides, if you draw, there’s no need to switch on the gadgets. N.C. Wyeth may have enlarged his sketches with the help of a magic lantern, but he sure did his drawing first.




Wild Ixora

oil painting
by Ifthikar Cader, Sri Lanka


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes John Deckert of CA, USA, who wrote, “Painting a picture from a projected image is like sex without foreplay. You get the job done, but you’re missing half the fun.”

And also David Lloyd Glover of West Hollywood, CA, USA, who wrote, “Some illustrator colleagues I knew were prodigious users of the 35MM slide projector. Guys like Bernie Fuchs, David Grove and Bob Peak used them with great skill and style. I found projector work to be tedious and frankly quite boring. Kills your eyes and hurts your neck. Nothing like dipping a hogs bristle brush into some thinned out dioxazine purple and slashing out a fast sketch and then diving into the palette with wild abandon. You feel free and exuberant!”



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Projectors and such



From: Eric A. — Nov 23, 2009

No problem using projectors if you’re looking to get in the outline of a reference at a much larger size. Many artists who still draw everything will make their drawing small and use a grid to translate to the size of the canvas. That’s not much removed from simply projecting the same drawing onto the canvas.

Camera obscura was used by a number of artists. Slide projectors and opaque projectors are used by artists such as Chuck Close (perhaps not as much since his disability) and William Beckman and other “realists.”

One can be a purist all one wants, but if the image traced from a projection is then imbued with its own artistic embodiment, I have no problem appreciating the result. I admit, though, that if a painter is tracing not to save time but because of a refusal to develop drawing skills, I hope I don’t find out because it would really diminish my opinion of the artist, if not of the “art.” I create all my pictures with my own effort, and I know how much more I feel a part of them when they’re being made and when they’re finished.

From: Darla — Nov 24, 2009

As a person who has used projectors quite a bit for illustration, there is one problem with doing things this way: often photographs don’t look like what you see with your eyes. Even if you use a projector, you generally have to redraw to make things look right, especially for larger works. That said, they are a great time-saver for things like signs, murals and blowing up your small sketches.

From: Laurie — Nov 24, 2009

I started using a projector because of chronic pain. working is difficult enough without having to work at getting perspective right. I paint architecture mostly. Even the tracing can put me under for a day after. In my mind, it is what I do with the paint after wards that makes my work what it is.

From: Brenda Poole — Nov 24, 2009

In the time it would take to set up all this slide stuff you could teach yourself to draw! Do you want to create something new or do you want to trace? I am not in awe of art that is mass produced or when the artists tricks the public into a painting. Do you honestly believe your art would sale if you told everybody you would be tracing?

From: Noumenon — Nov 24, 2009

While projectors can be of great help to transfer OWN images (sketches & layouts) to large canvases or fresco, they can indeed do a lot of harm to artist’s ability to draw, to facilitate certain level of laziness and desire to make shortcuts where it’s not really necessary.

And what about all those unskilful but stubborn bunglers that push their way into art (and their bad ugly work onto art market)? Projector is another handy tool for them to proceed…

In any case, many of those devices (like many things technology brings) may turn into crutches and artificial limbs for people who otherwise should walk normally without them, but very soon people may forget how.

From: Raymond Mosier — Nov 24, 2009

I am convinced that one has to be able to draw in order to paint, that drawing is essential to painting. How a sketch or drawing is transfered to the painting support is unimportant. Turning a photo into a painting is a different matter. A painted projected image of a photo is exactly what Bongart said it is. I think a photo should be used as inspiration only. A photo usually hasn’t the best composition or value range (mine do not). I recently did a “house portrait” as a gift and used a projected image from my photo to get the archetectural elements and proportions correct. The house looked “just like a picture” but the art experience was anything but satisfying despite having to alter some of the trees to make a better composition and making minor value shifts here and there for shadows and showing different planes. I also had to make the lawn less tidy to keep it from looking like a pool table.

I will never do my second house portrait.

From: anonymous — Nov 24, 2009

Projection has pitfalls noted. Worse, it also invites unauthorized use of photographs lifted from websites. Even low resolution steals could enable low quality paint by number ‘Genn’ paintings to proliferate. Is this the chinese factory method? More disturbing is the printing of photo on canvas and subsequent overpainting which renders works imbued with a ‘digital’ quality that cannot be escaped. You can see such virtualized work in galleries all over. Since ‘what can be done will be done’, the purist must accept that yet another technical shortcut is cluttering the field for traditionally skilled artists and vying for the almighty buck..

From: Rick Rotante — Nov 24, 2009

No matter how you dance around the issue of projection, there is always something wrong with it if you put “artist” somewhere in your bio or when you sign your work. For those who rely exclusively on these items, you drag art down and demean the centuries old process and traditions of creating art from your own ability and expression. To call yourself an artist after tracing work, is where society has ended the ennobling ability of creating art. You might as well as get someone else to do it for you and then sign you name. I have a short fuse for those who to create good work by taking every short cut to do it and then feel satisfaction in the results and call themselves artists. If you won’t take the time to do it right, with all its faults, do something else, like gardening and leave artwork to those who still believe in the principals and traditions.

From: Elizabeth — Nov 24, 2009

“The map is not the territory”. What’s good for Vermeer…..I don’t see anything wrong with projecting or even tracing elements from a photograph to save time. And it might even encourage the interest in learning to draw as once the eye/hand coordinate in tracing one begins to learn how a 2-D line drawing can be developed from a 3-D image, and then a lightbulb might go off where one begins to try to ‘see the lines’ in a ‘from life’ still life. People who have never drawn have to start somewhere. And if someone enjoys tracing and coloring in the lines as their own form of creativity, and for pure enjoyment, then it’s true: art is painting not painted. No one forces anyone to buy the silly digital replicas of paintings but if there’s a market for it, who does it hurt? Scarcity thinking in artists causes some artists to get all high and mighty about it. I say let people ‘do art’ however they want. Rules and ‘shoulds’ or ‘should nots’ kills all art.

From: Valerie — Nov 24, 2009

Okay – if you want to trace and project, fine. I prefer not to. But what about those who trace and project for perfection – then enter into juried shows and win against those who do project but do not enter their projected pieces into juried shows?

From: Dwight Williams, Idaho — Nov 24, 2009

One of the best uses of any projection method is to purposely throw the image out of focus. It’s better than squinting or any of the other methods discussed recently in The Painter’s Keys.

I have used it in workshops and classes for years to get students looking for large shapes and good or bad compositional aspects of the photos sans detail.

It can be a wonderful starting place. What the photographer saw in the “real” detailed world can now be judged in terms of the largest shapes.

From: Consuelo — Nov 24, 2009

If using a device, such as a projector, brings morality into question then using one is probably immoral. Furthermore – The ability to draw (free hand) is a ‘gift’ and I would suggest it’s something that separates the good artists from the average Joe artist.

From: Sally Jackson — Nov 24, 2009

Edgar Degas traced his images over and over again. If he had a projector he would have used that too. He was fascinated by photography and changed his compositions radically once he knew what was in front of him. The musicians in the orchestra, for example, were between him and the stage. Before photography came along he had looked beyond them to the stage performers, afterward he made thm part of the composition.

From: damian — Nov 24, 2009

That’s funny makes me look at paintings differently, does it make painting ‘coloring in’. Is a good painter one who doesn’t go out side of the line. Have you got a new day job Robert I noticed I could buy one of these magic lantern machines you talk about at the links at the top of this page

From: Rawbear — Nov 24, 2009

Listen to the “purists”! My grandfather was using a hand drill to make holes in wood to make furniture. Do you think that a skilled contemporay cabinet maker who uses an electric drill produces lesser quality work? Do you think that using acrylics, instead of oil, produces bad “art”? Do you think that using projectors, computers and new media is not “art”?

Every new technological and stylistic advance motivates a wave of naysayers who will swear by the old methods only. They did say that impressionism was “not art”. They swore that Picasso was not “good” (and still do).

Andy Warhol. Talk about using every technological tool and method available to him!

I have seen a lot of boring “art” done the old, hand-drawn way, even if it was technically very impressive. I have seen quite a few very exciting pieces done with projector-tracing: it’s all about what you do with the tools…

From: Burt — Nov 24, 2009

Eventually someone will cobble together an mechanical device that will copy and paint, let you dial in your brush strokes and color selections. It will be so fast you’ll be able to let it paint one, take a look at it, accept or rejected it, paint another one or frame the once you have. Once you dial in the mistakes, or the happenstance stroke characteristics, you won’t be able to tell the difference. “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” What then? And if you think that will never happen, there’s this lake front property I can let go…. Personally, I accept that everything changes, even the process of change. At some point it will be a visually imaginative computer literate, mechanically inclined worker who has mantle of painter. Maybe he’ll be able to gain a reputation and make a living. Maybe not. Perhaps by then painting will be the same sort of art that whittling is now. And I’m not putting whittling down. It’s just that the technical processes will change, the economics will change, tastes will change. To get hung up over the use of a projector makes no more sense than fighting a rear guard action against premixed color in tubes.

From: Doug MacBean — Nov 24, 2009

I’ve used a projector in the past, and found it hastened the process, without fiddling with minor details. Over the years I have progressed back to sketching directly with my brush, no drawing. Basically I am simply lazy.

When the large areas of a composition are brushed onto a canvas, the rest kinda follows. The eye becomes trained to impose it’s own grid system. I just refine my strokes. Drawing with the brush builds confidence and speed. It also illustrates tone, from the outset, and you can see, with the lights on.

Whether projecting or painting from photos, keep in mind the lens length. A wide angle camera lens distorts the human visual perception, as does a long telephoto.

Even though I call myself a realist painter, it’s the little boo-boo’s I make in the painting, that seem to make the work more interesting.

From: Richard Smith — Nov 24, 2009

It’s a tool and it depends how you use it. If you take a photo and slavishly copy it onto canvass, then what’s the point? But if you use that same slide to get some of the donkey work done and then go on to add your own touch, then you’ve used it in the same way as reference photos, or even sketches.

From: — Nov 25, 2009

It depends where your interest lies. As a WC artist I find printing my work difficult because that is not the part I want to do. If I use someone else to do my printing, does that make me less an artist? Drawing is an art, just as painting is. You can be good at one or both. If you are only good at one, you creatively make the other work somehow. I have a passion for drawing and painting, but not printing. Art will sell or it won’t. Sales don’t make an artist. Innovation and courage does.

From: Andrea Loeppky — Nov 25, 2009

This is probably the first time I out and out disagree with you regarding the use of projection to transfer images to canvas. Despite what you say regarding the long history of professional artists using this aid, I still say it is cheating. In my view, part of the technical skill is getting an image from in front of you onto the canvas, and using artificial means for doing this is sort of like paint by numbers (without the colour chart of course). Would it be okay to have someone else execute a sketch and then hand it over to you to paint within the lines? Maybe I am naive but I think not! Part of what I admire in great art is the artist’s drawing/sketching skills to create a well designed painting including perspective, proportions as well as necessary distortions.

Kettleby, Ontario Canada

From: Jeanne Long — Nov 25, 2009

An Artograph projector really was instrumental in my learning how to draw. When I decided to try to paint, I was too eager to get to the actual painting to learn how to draw well. Plus, when drawing right on the watercolor paper, my many erasures spoiled the surface of the paper. So I bought a large Artograph and projected my photographed images onto the paper. Then I could get right to painting. I worked hard on developing watercolor technique. But, as you can imagine, I soon felt quite guilty and frustrated. It felt a bit like coloring in a color book. So I decided to learn how to draw better and dispense with the machine. But how? I came up with a plan. I’d draw the drawing as best I could, and then check it with the Artograph and find out where I was right and where I was wrong. With a back and forth, drawing and checking, I noticed steady improvement. I also discovered that the better I knew the subject, the more accurate I had to be to get a true likeness. It’s easy to fool yourself when working on people you don’t know. But when you know them, a millimeter can make all the difference in getting a likeness or not. Now I rarely use the Artograph, except when I am doing a commissioned portrait. I’m not about to have the drawing even a little off in that case. Plus, I much, much, much enjoy drawing more than I used to. It is so frustrating to work so hard on something and have it not look right, and not know why. The Artograph helped me to see the why of errors so I could go on and improve my eye which furthered my satisfaction in successful completion.

From: Louise Lemay — Nov 25, 2009

After searching for years (really) I found a used Kodak slide projector. I was determined to find one after I took a slide to a photo store and it was scanned in a computer. Everything that was shadow came out as solid black. I was told “well there is nothing there” There was. I could see it when holding the slide on my sunny window. I realized that you cannot mix two different technologies. Slides where ment to have light pass through it.

When I finally found the projector and projected the slide on the wall everything was there. To have a computer print (cheaper than sending the slide out to be printed) I projected the picture on the wall and took a picture of that with a digital camera and had that printed. Slides are fragile. Having a paper computer print is better than nothing

There is a more important reason I use a projector (overhead or

slide): When I have a pencil on paper sketch that has freshness and spontaneity. I always manage to loose that in a carbon tracing. My brain is too busy concentrating on the activity of tracing. It sucks the life out of a sketch.

With a projection onto canvas I am still relating to the sketch. That is worth the wait of having the film developed. Plus I have hundreds of slides from my childhood to today.

The overhead projector needs some getting used to but it does the job.

From: Monika Smith — Nov 25, 2009

I’m in complete agreement with your comments. Technology is part of our world and we use these tools. The few that actually make their own brushes, grind their own paint, etc are few and far between and becomes part of their practice and vision. Nobody is really willing to give up these advancements and if they are there, well, use them. We’re all searching for an original voice and the tools provide a means to accomplish this.

The statement that I found interesting was the ‘fearful of their abilities…” So much for artists leaping into the abyss and facing their muses! Does this mean that they are creating work that is less worthy because they can’t do this? I would wonder just where normal lies, and just what ethical and moral arguments could be applied. (Philosophy/ethics 101 anyone?)

Or have they just been indoctrinated that all aspects of their work has to be ‘original’? It seems to me that it’s an ongoing discussion of the value of craft, training, playing the notes over and over again until perfection. Some are willing to do this, but the most are not and I would suspect due to our cultural bias of wanting it now, and regardless, of how we reach the vision. It does bring to mind Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers where he posits that 10,000 hours are needed to achieve a high level of expertise. I get it with his comments on musicians practicing–starting off gifted is important–but those who increase their practice will improve and will reach the giddy heights of international fame. Or dancing, or even programming. Added to that, a lot of other factors seem to have to be in place, including a supportive environment or high level mentor. There seems to be that layer of ‘must learns’, done over and over to achieve a level of competency that allows the leaps to excellence and occasional genius. How does that model apply to contemporary arts which is becoming geared to conceptually based?

From: Lucy Bates — Nov 25, 2009

For several years I have used a projector, both overhead and opaque, and have felt guilty and kept it a secret. Your advice has made me guilt free, yeah!! During a workshop I must rely on my drawing skills which are still in tact but I would rather get on with the painting. Because the drawing takes less time, I don’t fear attacking my white paper and don’t worry about doing it over when I take chances and my colours don’t work out.

To me it is like using a calculator – a person still needs to learn to do math in case his calculator malfunctions. Or in the case of a projector a bulb burns out with no replacement.

From: Jan Kuschner — Nov 25, 2009

I used to think it was sinful to use a projector until I discovered other well known artists using them. When I received the Artograph AGS from my husband one Christmas, I sure changed my tune. I specialize in painting homes by commission and can’t tell you how many times my sketch would run off the edge of the paper. Now I use my projector for placement of the home only. I still use my God given talent to sketch the rest of the home in preparation for the painting. It’s good to know there are other artists out there who enjoy this product.


From: Skip Van Lenten — Nov 25, 2009

I think of drawing as a mental thing. There is a point in the process when it feels “right,” and an actual physical connection between the subject and the drawing can be felt in the brain. Using a projector bypasses the the joy of making that connection, and the pleasure of knowing that we are “seeing straight.”

From: Consuelo again — Nov 25, 2009

The responses indicate they’re coming from two camps – The ‘for projectors’ camp appear to be illustrators and the ‘against projectors’ camp are the fine artists – ergo ‘apples and oranges’.

From: Peter Worsley — Nov 25, 2009

For many years I have been using an opaque projector for projecting images to my canvas, and a monitor (earlier my laptop) beside my canvas for showing images as a guide to my painting. I use Photoshop Elements to produce a grey-scale sharpened image to project and trace, and Expression Media software to select images to paint, and to easily blow up in size to examining details.

See my online articles on how I paint:

Peter Worsley

From: Toni Williams — Nov 25, 2009

What a timely letter as I have been having this debate with my artist companions lately.

Being a primarily plein air painter, this “tool” is very bothersome to me. What about one’s abilities to draw, know perspective, see relative shapes? Aren’t these abilities an intrinsic part of our talent as artist?

If we rely on artificial means to create our work, what’s the point? A learning tool, yes, but to create work that may be seen by the public…I can’t agree.

I have been in the field with some artists that bring digitally enhanced 8×10 photos to the location. Where is the ability and talent in that? Once again, I guess it’s a tool. Maybe I am just a purist. I just want to see how Charles Fries, William Wendt and others saw as they painted en plein air all those years ago…no projectors, no digital cameras, just using their passion and skills as artists.

Thanks for letting give my opinion.

From: Ben Novak — Nov 25, 2009

Re Photo-projection:

This method is not true art.

It is not a visual poem, it is not the emotion or the interpretation of form by the artist.

The artist has to be actively involved with the subject. That is a problem with photos used as a base as well.

If drawing shapes is really that complex for some of artists, perhaps they should concentrate on the abstract.

To me most photo-based art is so evident that I reject it out of hand.

Transposing and enlarging a drawing the way the old masters did it, that is art.

Call me absolute or opinionated, but what is the difference of going the extra step with “painting software” and then a giclee print on canvas?

From: Malcolm Ker — Nov 25, 2009

As a collector of art I certainly recognize when a painting is badly drawn. I also understand that throughout history artists have used various devices–squaring off, tracing from cartoons as in the Sistine Chapel. I don’t think these devices are harmful if the work turns out well and using projectors for part of the work is okay by me. Robert seems to be advocating limited use anyway. If it was good enough for Vermeer it’s good enough for me.

From: Bjorn Thorkelson — Nov 25, 2009
From: Allan W Buffett — Nov 25, 2009

I collect everything to do with Andrew Wyeth. If you look at his work you will see, particularly in the faces, a kind of strange, angled, flattened quality, hard to describe. It’s as if the perspective or the form of the face is off a bit on a lot of them. Also proportions do not always seem to be okay between face hands and body. He is reported to have not projected. Could this be the reason for the work’s strangeness, offness, and also its appeal?

From: Jeanine Fondacaro — Nov 25, 2009

So glad to hear your views on projecting. I have used my Prism by Artograph for years. It’s not that I can’t draw my subjects sufficiently, but when working on larger projects (as in murals) and when on the clock in someones home, it’s a matter of cost efficiency. I capture gesture or perspective only, not detail, which can only be added with sincerity later. I also have had a few animal portrait commissions lately, and to catch the correct framing it is very helpful to project some guidelines, not much is needed to get proportioning correct.

From: Raymond St. Arnaud — Nov 26, 2009
From: Anne Shingleton — Nov 26, 2009

My view is that artists have always been very creative about how they work, and will use anything to help the process along.

I have no moral issues with using photographs or some kind of projecting device so long as the finished product works. It doesn’t work if it looks like a photograph.

In actual fact, working from an image that has already been processed by the eye of the lens is more difficult than working from life. There is distortion of the perspective, enormous limitations in the tonal range, and the colour is a superficial generalization. The information we receive through our eyes is much, much, much greater.

Being an artist, first and foremost, is all about learning to understand what we see. The problem with using only photographs is that the final product often ends up looking like a copy. The skill to avoid this problem lies in being able to interpret photos so they serve only as an aide memoir of what we would be seeing if we were there on the spot using our eyes. This learning to perceive what we really see and not what we think we see never stops, and photographs not only lead us into pitfalls but also give us very limited visual information.

Perhaps most disastrously of all, photos can serve as a distraction from the original spark of passion that started the whole process rolling in the first place and can impede the flow of creativity while working.

From: Melissa Evangeline Keyes — Nov 26, 2009

Drawing is a skill, not a gift. If this was not so, we wouldn’t have writing. And it’s a struggle to learn, most forget what an effort it took as children, learning to correctly draw the ABC’s.

Mechanical devices have their place, and we should consider them, as well as keeping, and constantly honing our drawing skill.

From: john ferrie — Nov 26, 2009

Dear Robert,

This might be good advice for a Grade Five social studies project where everyone is doing a report on their favourite country.

But the moral use of a tracer is really irresponsible advice to give an artist, established or up and coming.

This use of projector tracing imagery is CHEATING!

It bothers me more that artists paint the way things look rather than paint what they feel or really want to express.

Paintings should look like paintings, not photographs. And I suspect any artist using this cheesy technique is probably painting from a photograph or a magazine and not from the voice they have within. Mine would be screaming with the words of George Jetson”Jane, stop this crazy thing!”

And to say that a tracer “releases an artist from other concerns” is really perplexing. Artists should be concerned about every facet of what they are creating!

The final result is crucial, but nobody likes shortcuts…and they stick out like a sore thumb!

John Ferrie

From: Gail Harper,ny — Nov 27, 2009

…its not the tools…..its the persistence in learning to be the best we can with ANY of them and our own individual integrity, using our Godgiven talent and ENJOYING the learning process and therefore….the end fruits to be shared with humanity.

From: Toni Stevenson — Nov 27, 2009

Wow, We can now add projecting and tracing to the list of never ending debates over religion and abortion. Strong opinions that are difficult if not impossible to change.

When painting figures or portraits, I trace a small photo and enlarge it by using a grid to a larger canvas. It helps me in the placement of my figures. When I get the opportunity to paint a figure or still-life from life, I just draw and paint. Outside in Plein Air I just paint what I see, and get comments on my work that it looks like a photograph. I have developed my drawing and observation skills over the last 50 years, but still I will use a photo when I want to for placement when I need to.

From: Theresa Bayer — Nov 27, 2009

Hey, anything goes… I prefer drawing. Even with a projector, an artist still has to know how to draw–in order to move things around and to correct distortions.

From: Linda Wolff — Nov 27, 2009

I don’t use a projector but I don’t have a quarrel with those who do. It’s a tool and the creative artist will use it creatively. Those who are lacking in creativity or drawing skills will use it to create a coloring book page … and the viewer will know the difference. I draw plein air and sometimes grid photos — my photos — for some of my paintings but I view it as a starting point not an ending point. After all, the object is to get the paint on the canvas to create an image that is compelling. I think this guilt about using tools can be blamed on the Walt Disney animations that made it appear that an artist’s brush loaded with paint created a complete painting without error from start to finish leading the general public to believe that an artist who makes errors, changes, and adjustments as he or she develops their painting is somehow deficient, lacking skill but in fact these changes — choices made by the artist — are all part of the creative process. It’s not how the drawing gets on the canvas … it’s what the artist DOES after the drawing is on the canvas that make the painting.

From: Bjorn Thorkelson — Nov 27, 2009

Once again…I think it comes down to moderation. As it is with all things “addictive”…moderation is the key. Drink in moderation, eat in moderation, project in moderation.

From: Jackie Knott — Nov 27, 2009

I’ve never used a projector but I do use a ruler. The difference is in millimeters for portraits. I don’t think that makes me anymore of a purist than my colleagues who project. If it helps you nail a likeness, whatever works.

Yeah, I CAN draw and arrive at the same image but I have eliminated the margin of error while redeeming the time. Get the job done as efficiently as possible.

Our interpretation of the piece reigns over every crutch, gadget, specialized tool, method, or shortcut we take. I can’t tell you the times I have elected not to include a shadow, to soften a wrinkle because it was distracting, or altered the fold of a dress because it just looked weird. If one wanted an exact image we would have burned our brushes and canvases when photography was invented.

Speaking of, are photographers any less artists if they manipulate their images in the darkroom or Photoshopping? Nah.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Nov 27, 2009

This discussion made me think of an exhibition of large representative paintings I saw a couple of years ago at an arts center in southern Vermont. The artist is well-known regionally, and teaches art at several institutions. His paintings, which included landscapes as well as delicate interiors and still-lifes, were technically well-done, with the still lifes considerably larger than life-size. I could appreciate the technical skill, but the paintings seemed lifeless to me. After going through some of the other galleries, I re-entered the gallery in which his works were displayed through a different door. As I did, facing one particularly large work at the far end, I realized what it was: all the paintings had the proportionate distortion of perspective at the top of the sort one gets from aiming a projector at a wall from a table.

This is, I think, a good example of the value of knowing how to draw. This artist apparently was unable to recognize and correct for the distortions, and his paintings suffered for it, the landscapes in particular (because the line of sight is longer). It also meant that none of his work, including the still lifes and interiors, was done from life, but from photos, which added to the dead feeling: flat shadows and odd contrast. Good drawing skills would have made all the difference. As would some time spent working from life.

It was a useful thing to have learned. I have never used a projector as an aid, but I do not rule it out: there may be situations in which it is useful. I simply have not felt the need so far, and perhaps never will.

From: deborah — Nov 27, 2009

I agree with Nicholas Simmopnds. It isnt easy to use one and requires as much skill to correctly translate the image as if one drew from life, not to mention having to sit in the dark which i hate. I think if those of you have a problem with being addicted and/or worried about your drawing skill, go and spend some time sight size drawing and do some cast drawing, than you will feel better about your abilities and not feel you are cheating. It isnt cheating, Sickert went to a school later inlife that soley taught transferring drawings with grids. Loo at his late work and you will see photographs from newpapers beautifully interpretated.

From: DaveK — Nov 27, 2009

If tracing or projecting does not result in art is any photography art? If the photographer manipulates the image afterward does that create “art”?

From: deborah — Nov 27, 2009

excuse spelling, my keyboard sticks.

From: deborah — Nov 27, 2009

If it is creative it is art. I think people get confused with skill and ability which can be learned as in Classical drawing and painting, it comes with practice. I sometimes use the projector, and I know the results would not be any good if I did not already have the skill to use colour, paint and draw well, which came from looking working from life. If I use images which I have created on my computer, the creation ends there. Using a projector enables me to enlarge the image and produce it as a piece of ‘art’ in a frame.

From: Peter Geisser — Nov 27, 2009

I’m a stained glass artist who majored in painting back in the 1960s. As a student I took a sketch to the graphics department and tried out the new machine, nick-named the “Lazy Lucy”. In a half hour I had my black lined cartoon completed, which would have taken four hours using the traditional grid method. I brought it to my incredulous teacher. After a lot of contemplation on this process, we both concluded that the use of projection for our projects was not much different than a painter buying tubes of paint rather than grinding them themselves, or using acrylic -the new media that dried quickly. It is a tool, and like all tools it is not what it is, it is what you do with it that gives it importance. I’ve never apologize for this part of my process, nor do I think painters should apologize for any tool that allows them more time to do better work. Tradition is the fire that is passed down, not the wood that we burn or the ashes that follow. Think about it next time you use a phone, or email- it is about communicating and for artists, it is using your time well and communicating well. In stained glass as in all of the “traditional” arts, many like to hide behind the process to make their art more precious. The Durers and DaVincis survive innovation and sooner or later become the new tradition. There is nothing but pride involved in looking down at younger and newer traditions and technologies. Ansel Adams, Kash, and other masters of photography were not taken seriously at my art school 50 years ago. Do what you do, do it well and admire those who do it differently.

From: Debra A. Bickford — Nov 27, 2009

It’s a good thing for me that I love technology because being a full time art teacher in a High School requires me to know how to use it in many ways. I have very well developed drawing skills and I require my students to draw from observation. However, that in no way stops me from using technology when the time and task call for it. In my own work I am a painter. To me, painting IS drawing….only with many more and varied tools, materials and techniques. When I teach watercolor, the first lesson I give is to make 10 or more different kinds of lines with 1 brush – the more kinds of marks you can create the higher your grade.

I work from life as well as from digital images I take in the field. Working a full time job does not always allow me the time to paint on the spot but I always have my camera with me. I take beautiful, well composed, clear shots but, I am a painter. I use the digital images as painting refrences in many many ways. The shots are mine, I can do as I like with them. I love the way a camera can freeze time for me so that I can study the composition and improve my paintings.

From: Robin d’Arcy Shillcock — Nov 28, 2009

Dear Terry RM, in Holland we have an expression, “The soup is never eaten as hot as it is served” meaning in the case of this debate, that the theory is different to the practice. Compare the use of projectors to communism: in theory it may sound good but look at the rotten results. I am an incorrigible realist, so y’all have to relate my remarks to the wonders of illusionist painting and not to other approaches or styles in painting. Photography is wonderful! And has its uses, but I draw the line at projectors: art is basically about learning and understanding, coupling what you see with what you feel. Project and you kill (think of communism!) the possibilities that surface in your mind whilst drawing. Project and keep your fingers clean like in the laboratory —and nothing to show but the end result, not the sweating and grappling with your subject nor the sketches and studies which we so admire in Leonardo, Rembrandt and Winslow Homer. Vermeer is a question mark: did he draw and if so, where are his sketches?

The 17th century camera obscura was indeed a box (before that a tent or a room), essentailly a SLR (single lens reflex). If you want to stretch it, sure, call that a “projector”. The image was projected onto a glass screen without the complete annihilation of depth and “air” between the objects, as in photographs and on slide or computer screens. Drawing evolves the sense of space in the brain, even if it is only in flat lines: I look at my sketches and see the scene, in co;our and in space and that helps evolve my paintings.

From: Luc Poitras, — Nov 28, 2009

The great Norman Rockwell made extensive use of the opaque projector. For what reason? It saved him considerable time.

What counts is the painting—-period!


From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Nov 29, 2009
From: Ann Price — Nov 30, 2009

I have never used a projector..but I see merit in a form of it, such as using a tablet pen in a digital program, put a picture as a background, and sketch the basic elements in, then blow it up and use that as a basis for a painting.

And for those who call it “cheating,” “cheap,” and “knockoffs”, I have fine motor control and muscle issues. I am capable of drawing well in my mind…I just wish my hands could cooperate anymore without seizing up. I can paint well enough with large brushes. I am glad there are ways to compensate for difficulties.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Nov 30, 2009
From: Richard Mazzarino — Nov 30, 2009

Let’s get something straight about “gridding” vs. “tracing” When you grid a work, it’s an original drawing transposed in a larger format, but it still is an original DRAWING. Likewise, if you take an original drawing and use a projector to enlarge it, it is still and original DRAWING. The issue here is being confused as letters from contributors are added. No

One takes issue with the use of a projector for the above purpose because it’s a transposition of an original work. What many, myself included, are saying is using a projector for any other reason undermines the principals of what good art is supposed to be. That is, personal voice, creativity, from the heart, spirit and ability of the individual artist.

As for Rockwell, the man was under the gun to produce work for a weekly deadline and probably did use whatever means necessary to get the job done. Few of us fall into that category and have no excuse for relying on artificial means to create our work. It’s lazy, uninspired, misinformed and just plain wrong to use one for fine art. I believe buyer still want an original creation done from the heart with mistakes and errors included as long as they see the truth in the work.

From: Dustin Curtis — Nov 30, 2009

Paintings projected and traced can hardly stand up to paintings designed and created. The bottom line is the finished piece of art. If it says what you want it to say, then it doesn’t matter how it was created, in my opinion. However, I think most great art is great because it was designed, composed, drawn, and created by the artist. It is rare to have a photograph or other projection that has all that’s needed to be a great painting. The main problem with projecting images is that the artist severely limits themselves. It’s like a guitarist using a synthesizer to fake the guitar. There is a difference and there always will be.

From: Leah — Nov 30, 2009

If I could sum up the debate, those who use projectors to slavishly copy photographs might as well proclaim – I settle for being a mediocre artist at the most. Those who rely on original drawing say – I will enhance my skills to whatever level that might take me. Few from the second group stand a chance to become exceptional artists, but none from the first. However, they never set that goal for themselves anyway. The sparks occur when the first group wants the forbidden fruit…to be called great artists.

From: Lynda — Dec 04, 2009

IProjection to enlarge one’s own art/design is one thing, projection of a photo to “color in” is another…the latter is not art, it is photo enhancement. As such, it should be offered as such with all honesty. Maybe it is still an “art form”, but it isn’t art in the true creative sense and should not be viewed, judged, sold, or advertised in the same light. Just my opinion :)

From: Craig Banholzer — Dec 19, 2009

I disagree with Robert’s initial reply on two counts. First, the idea that Jan Vermeer was using a projection device is only a guess. There is no documentation that he owned a camera obscura, let alone that Antonie van Leeuwenhoek made the lens.

Second, there is clearly a real danger of distortion when using photographs, especially when models have been closed too close to the camera. There is a solution, though: learn to draw, then practice it, improve on it, love it, and whether or however you choose to use photos, you will not be a slave to them.

From: artist from Australia — Mar 16, 2010

I’m looking at buying a projector. That’s how I found this discussion. I don’t understand you people that say “it’s just plain wrong”, etc etc. It’s not a moral decision you know to decide to buy a projector. As someone else said “the purists”. I agree. You come across all hoity toity. Once the drawing is up on the canvas, then the paint goes on and covers the drawing (it IS drawing after all! a pencil was used!). How on earth you can tell which painting you see is done via projector and which not and then judge it as if you are God or something is beyond me.

Ok I’m off to check out more projectors. Now if only I had the money….

From: Mary Anne Z. O’Sullivan — Sep 02, 2010

I’ve drawn all my life and realized how much else is learned by the hands-on crutchless labor of simple drawing. If nothing else it teaches us “how to see” so much more than a simple projected image can. I have and do project my own sketches and drawings if I decide to transfer them to a canvas or watercolor paper. But to project a photo of something would rob me of true expression and the viewer’s ability to join in my feelings of empathy for the subject. For me it would turn the painting into a mere technical project.

From: Vespuccia — Mar 12, 2011

I’ve seen quite a lot of paintings in national portrait prizes that look like the artist has projected a photo onto the canvas. Sometimes it’s obvious because of distortions, or they’ve have gone to the extent of reproducing the photo’s out of focus background, as someone else commented. I just chose to see these artists as photographers who manually ‘print’ their photos with paint. And since I consider photography an art, I have no problem calling people who use this method artists. But then there’s the question: should they be called painters or photographers? And should they be obliged to reveal their methods?

Personally, I prefer work that comes directly from an artist’s head. William Blake went further than you purists and considered it even immoral to paint from life, he only worked from his imagination, which meant that all his work is immediately recognisable as his.

A ‘purist’ artist with incredibly accurate drawing skills who never uses a projector can still create soul-less work; you don’t need technology for that, just a lack of imagination and emotional depth. The highest art involves the imagination, but photography can involve imagination as much as painting. To say otherwise would show a complete lack of understanding of what art is. Technology has been blurring the line between traditional painting and photography for ages. Get with the program, purists; but if you want to be a ‘real’ artist with a unique style, paint from your head and heart.

From: jc — May 09, 2011

I wonder why no one addresses the effect of projectors on the art of drawing itself. I think even those who use projectors to start a painting will admit that their use produces a much more mechanical and/or contrived drawing than a drawing from life or from a photo merely as reference. If the old masters had projectors and had used them think of all the great drawings that we would not have. I went to school at a traditional art academy where figure drawing from life was taught extensively and the effect on my ability as a draughtsman was great. Today I will occassionally use a photo as a basic reference when a model is not available but I understand that the camera lies. Until my early thirties, working only from life was almost a religion for me and I never use a photo for still life since the “model” is always there.. This way I learned to interpret the form from three dimensions to two dimensions and I think this is lost on artists who rely too much on projectors. They trace proportion, scale and foreshortening accurately but have glaring fault in modeling the form and anatomical detail. This is obvious to anyone with a grasp of what good painting is about. They also have little understanding of how to model the portrait or figure with color. My problem with projectors isn’t that it’s cheating but rather that it somewhat numbs the artist’s emotional response to his subject and lacking that, there is no art , just illustration. The true subject of painting has always been the language of painting itself. I think that those painters that try to bypass the art of drawing and the foundation it creates for the understanding of that language, not only short-change their patrons but themselves.

From: Brian V. — Dec 19, 2012

doers do, the rest criticize while toiling in obscurity.

From: valerie norberry vanorden — Feb 14, 2013

I have an artograph projector which is gathering dust…I much prefer to draw from life. I find projected images really are just for getting the proportions right (I used it for house portraits), to place the windows correctly, but otherwise I am dependent on my own drawing skills God gave me.

From: Daniel Moody — Jan 08, 2014

Learning to draw from life is essential there is no short cut around this and thoroughly understanding the human form. Now, think of Michelangelo’s great work for the Sisteen Chapel at the Vatican, say his great cartoon drawing of the Sybil that was drawn directly from

observation in red chalk. At some point that was cartoon was enlarged and transferred to the wall/ceiling and pounced with a bag of sinopia as dots on a surface.. At that point the drawing was not unlike a projection however it takes an artists to make that thing move and come to life.. this ability is what drawing from life gives you.



Leave A Reply

No Featured Workshop
No Featured Workshop