How to draw a cat using a camera obscura. An alternative way to obtain precision.

Many artists have used the camera obscura to paint accurately. The Latin term can be translated to mean ‘dark chamber’. Originally it was a darkened room with a small hole at one side or lens which projected an image of the scene before the camera obscura onto the wall opposite the hole or lens. The image is inverted. But it allows the artist to create a very accurate depiction of the scene and the scaling and perspective is going to be perfect. At least they can create the outline perfectly and then they can fill it in. It’s a bit like painting by numbers but perhaps I’m being a bit cynical.

Nowadays you can use modern versions which are much smaller which is a box or tent which does the same job. Camera obscura were the precursor to cameras. Cameras are built upon the same principles as were the early pinhole cameras.

Principles of a camera obscura in a pinhole camera
Principles of a camera obscura in a pinhole camera. Image: Wikipedia.
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The picture below shows a camera obscura of a manageable size. Below, I discuss how you could use a camera and a projector to replicate the method of using a camera obscura to draw a cat. In fact, it is better to do it that way because the subject can be frozen. I would suggest that you could only draw a cat using a camera obscura if the cat was snoozing!

Camera obscura from the 18th century
Camera obscura from the 18th century. Image: Wikipedia.

Below is some more detail on the topic.

  1. How to draw a cat using a camera obscura — The Camera Obscura
  2. Modern Version of Camera Obscura
  3. Examples of Suitable Equipment
  4. Method
  5. Videos Showing Conventional Way

How to draw a cat using a camera obscura is discussed here. I didn’t want to present the usual sort of web page on this topic, which are essentially drawing classes tailored to cats. There are a number of videos on the subject to. These are also based on traditional drawing skills. Video, though, is a better way to learn the drawing skills needed to make a decent effort at drawing a cat for the first time. And I will presume that most people who search for, how to draw a cat, will be first timers because an experienced artist would use his or her existing skills and adapt them to drawing a cat. I will also assume that we are talking about a domestic cat.

On that basis, I am going to suggest using modern technology to recreate the use of a very old method that was used by a number of very fine and some famous artists in assisting them to draw and paint accurately. I believe that modern technology can replicate its use resulting in a quick and easy route to learn drawing to a proper perspective and scale, while at the same time fitting in with the modern desire for instant fixes.

How to draw a cat using a camera obscura — The Camera Obscura

What is a camera obscura? The phrase means darkroom, Camera = Latin for “room”, Obscura = Latin for “dark”1. Originally a camera obscura was literally a dark room with a small hole (about 1 inch in diameter) in it. Light, reflected off objects outside the room and passing through the hole is naturally focused on to a vertical or horizontal surface (if horizontal a mirror is used). The image so formed showed exact perspective and was a good basis upon which a drawing or painting could be created. Leonardo Da Vinci, in 1490, described of the camera obscura in his notebooks. The image is reversed and upside down if not corrected.

The use of a hole produced a relatively soft image. In the 16th century a sharper image was created using a convex (domed outwards) lens. Giovanni Battista Della Porta in 1558 in his book Magiae Naturalis, advised the use of camera obscura for drawing.

The dark room became a dark box that assisted in drawing. In the 17th and 18th centuries many well-known artist used it including: Vermeer, Canaletto, Guardi, and Paul Sandby. Vermeer’s use of it was assessed from the camera like perspective of his paintings. People in the foreground were 1658_Officer_and_a_laughing_girlnoticeably bigger. The use of a wide-angle lens (to get in as much of the room as possible) must have been used as wide-angle lenses allow a person to be near the camera and still in focus and in the image. This creates a great sense of depth in the image and painting.

The image formed by the camera obscura was traced and copied in situ much like using tracing paper. Of course, the camera obscura was used with live subjects who kept still. Cats don’t keep still, which leads me to the modern-day version.

Modern Version of Camera Obscura

The modern-day version of the camera obscura is the camera and the modern camera is a digital camera. The smartphone has superseded the digital camera.

How to recreate the use of old camera obscura methods with modern equipment? Digital images created by a camera can be projected onto any surface by a digital projector. The digital camera/digital projector combination is very similar the camera obscura of old in the finished result; a projected image onto a surface. In this case it would be projected onto a wall, I suspect. You can buy digital projectors on Amazon for £40+.

Using computer or television – but this means using paper which is transparent

There are alternatives, however, that preclude the need for the purchase or hire of a digital projector. Modern digital cameras can be plugged into a computer to allow manipulation of the image, uploading it to the internet or transmission to a television (with the right equipment). The resultant image on a television screen would be very much like a camera obscura image only better as it comes from the screen to you rather than from behind you. This would make tracing it much easier. Although, using a conventional camera obscura it is possible to let the projected image pass through the paper and trace from that side. In other words, the paper becomes like a transparency.

An even better process would be to plug the camera directly into the television, where the digital projectorequipment allows, and use the television image in the same way, as a starting point to trace around and get the perspective and scaling accurate before standing back and looking the cat in real life (if it is your cat that is being drawn) to put in some fine detail.

I don’t think the detail of the subject matter is a problem. The difficulty is perspective and scaling and in this method of how to draw a cat those difficult bits are mastered almost instantly and can be refined until your eye requires the aid no longer.

Examples of Suitable Equipment

pico projector A lot of modern digital cameras can be plugged directly into the television so people can see their still images of movies on their large flat panel screens. Projectors are less well known. Here are just two examples.

Yes, cost is a factor. But they are cheaper in the United States and they can be hired. Also if hired for one day all photographs can be projected and traced for completion at another time. Hire costs are more manageable of course.


How to draw a cat using a camera obscura (modern version):

    1. take photo of cat
    2. connect camera to television or computer or projector
    3. trace around projected or television image
    4. complete drawing

Videos Showing Conventional Way

I made an earlier post that shows a series of videos on how to draw a cat.

How to draw a cat using a camera obscura — notes

1 — How to draw a cat using a camera obscura

Acer Pico Projector £331 at Just Projectors–  a UK based business.

Clearco HD multi-use projector £179.99 inc VAT at Visual Tronic

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