Projectors and such
Robert Genn

November 24, 2009

Dear Rodney,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?"

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.  

There's nothing new about projection. In 1670 Johannes Vermeer was using a 
lens invented by his friend Antonie van Leeuwenhoek to project from one room 
onto canvas in another.  

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. 

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. 

Best regards,


PS: "If you paint from 35mm Kodachrome, you're likely to end up with a 4x5 
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