I have been hesitant to start blogging painting tips just because of that constant “I’m not quite good enough yet” attitude that I will likely always posses.  I realize that I have good info that I share all the time with my students, so really there is no reason not to share some of my views here.

I see this over and over on artist forums. This will be a debate that never ends.  To use or not to use a projector or lightbox, and is it cheating.  There are a few things you need to realize about these tools.  My outlook applies to realism, so keep that in mind.

  • If you cant draw at all, the projector and lightbox aren’t going to make a big difference in your finished painting.
  • If you want to learn to draw or strengthen your current abilities, tracing with a lightbox  is a GREAT way to do this.  I will talk more about this in a minute.
  • These are just tools. No more no less. They aren’t going to blend your paint, choose your colors, decide your composition,  or choose what brush to use. Just like using a ruler, masking tape, or an easel aren’t going to do the work for you. Really, what is the difference then in using a grid besides saving a lot of time?

I have been teaching for 13 years now. One of the  things that I have learned is that if someone cant draw, these tools alone aren’t going to make much difference in their work. First you have to know how to use these tools properly, which can be an art in itself. Second when you start blending and shading you are going to lose most of the lines you had drawn out. If you cant draw, you cant tell where to put them back in.  You are not generally going to have every line drawn in with these tools either. When you need soft shadows, if you had a line where the light and dark blended together you will always see that pencil line.

On the other hand if you take someone who cant draw well, these tools are a big help in the learning process. It is the same way that we teach children to draw their letters. We have them trace them over and over again. I can take someone and have them draw out a rose for example 12 times. By the 13th time, hopefully they will have improved on their initial drawings. Now, I can give them a lightbox and have them trace that rose 12 times. If I then have them draw it out on their own the 13th time, they will most certainly have improved leaps and bounds over the first scenario. Tracing forces you to see details and shapes that you may not notice on your own. It also forces you to see things as they really are, not how you think they look.  So often we get stuck in our head that trees look a certain way, or eyes have a certain shape that isn’t necessarily true. Tracing helps break that mold so that we can draw things on our own without the aid of a lightbox or projector, and draw them correctly.