In this article: (click on these to bring you down into the article)
Not everyone can draw from sight!
Some classic methods to get an image on to the paper.
This Teacher’s Artist Disclaimer
How to use a drawing app on phone or tablet
Info on which app to buy
Apps for Apple devices
Apps for Android devices
Using Bubble levels to set up a device
Transfer an image without apps, YouTubes on more traditional methods.
Let’s state the obvious up front. – Not everyone can draw from sight!! Yet!
– Not everyone has the motivation to learn how to draw or take the time to practice.
– Those of us who paint or draw portraits know the importance of having an accurate image from which to start.
– Having an accurate drawing is a very important but a line drawing alone does not help your observation or painting skills. You get that skill from, drawing!
– Some “artists” see any method other than using your hand and eye as cheating! That is not my call to make.
Classic methods of how to get an accurate drawing onto your paper or canvas to paint without having skill or taking the TIME to draw it.
We know of some techniques the old Masters used. Some of them tried to keep their secret in fear of being accused of … cheating or someone else using it! Check out the movie, “Tim’s Vermeer”, 2013 ‧ Documentary. Very interesting on the secrets Vermeer might have used.
There are too many ways to mention in one article. You can do an internet search to find some instruction. A basic list include:
– Projecting an image onto a wall and directly tracing it. Very common today with Professionals and seldom admitted!!! Projectors have come down in price and size.
– Tracing a 1:1 image taped to a window or using light box or. Easiest to draw onto tracing paper but that takes another step to transfer the image to the surface. (See my article titled “Using a Printer to Enlarge Reference Photos to LARGE painting size”.)
– Drawing a grid on your reference image and the same scale grid on your surface. Nowadays the grid can be easily created on the reference with photo software.
– Other centuries old methods used lenses and dark rooms as in a camera obscura or mirrors as in a camera lucida. I am no expert in these, much is written on the web.
– Another old much simpler method included making a “Grid”, like tick tack toe or an X and + across a frame using black thread or wire. Draw the same scaled grid on the canvas. Support the frame just in front of your face, use a stick to support your chin or other method to ensure consistent eye placement.
– BUT NOW you can use an app on your Apple or Android tablets or phones!!!
– All these methods work as a tool or an Aid! Are they ALL Cheating??
“This Teacher’s Artist disclaimer”
It bears repeating that knowledge of drawing and the skills of observation is something that you CANNOT get from an app or any shortcut…. I would strongly recommend that those who of you who are new to drawing and painting portraits take the time to actually draw your subject (not just “sketch” it) for practice and study. You will start to see the subtle shadows that you need to render with paint or other drawing mediums. This practice drawing does not have to be perfect to start to see and render values. When drawing with graphite or charcoal you will see the subtle changes around the eye, nostrils, dimples, corner of the mouth, chin line, folds of hair, core shadows, etc. the values that create dimension. If you can see and draw them with charcoal your odds of painting them will improve! (Please join me in one of my upcoming drawing classes.)
How to use a drawing app on phone or tablet.
So now let’s assume you have downloaded an app on your tablet. The work is not over! There is a big learning curve to get the hang of these apps. See below for more info on which app to use and where to download them.
They all use the camera on the phone or tablet. You call up your reference photo on the screen and use the app’s features to adjust the size and position. You then look either through your device or at the display to trace directly onto your paper or canvas.
All apps need some method of supporting your phone or tablet. Some look directly down, so you need to stand over the device, or one uses a mirror device which allows you to sit and comfortably look at the screen in front of you. They work slick!
Remember you are an artist. Don’t ever draw lines that are boring! Using an app may make it easy to overdraw your subject and create a STIFF overworked painting!
First, practice with the app sketching a still life or some flowers around your house. Yes SKETCH! Stroke your pencil. Not TRACE! The sketchy lines you get will look very artsy. Don’t let your lines get too long or continuous. These lines are boring!!! Let them change in width and light-dark. You will like the results. Keep the lines light, you can adjust, correct and darken them later. If you plan on painting the drawing don’t use too many lines. Just indicate the critical lines. Critical lines and marks include the eyes nose and mouth. Mark the placement of the corners and the angles of the lids, and pupils. Also note the corners of the mouth, nostrils and ears. Things like hair and clothing can be loosely placed and drawn by eye when you are done with app. Now put the tablet down and look at your drawing. You are the artist. Refine and repair the drawing. If you don’t like the drawing you won’t like your painting!!!! Eyes are hardest for me. The subtle shadows and darkness of the lids in photos hide the details. Same with the corners of the mouth. Little differences change the expression. One common mistake from tracing or apps, that is hard to describe, is the side of the face in a 3/4 view or less angle. If you draw the line you see on the edge of the face, you are actually drawing the line on the back of the face, where the head wraps around. If you paint or draw that back part as the side of the face, the face will look too wide. As an artist you need to be aware of the front of the face, side of the face and the back of the head.
You can add more lines and erase or lighten the ones you don’t want or need. On a face, use light dotted lines for soft shadows like the cheeks or dimples or glint on the nose. When done, I roll a log of kneaded eraser over the drawing to remove the surface graphite that can smudge and foul the first clean washes. After the first wash dries, erase the lines you don’t want to see. You can leave the ones that will be covered with dark paint.
NOTE: Too many lines can make the paper dirty or cluttered or confusing. You don’t need EVERY line!!
Info on which app to buy:
Apps for Apple devices:
– “Da Vinci Eye – Anyone Can Draw” (for both apple and android) See below for more on this app.
– “Camera Lucida on the App Store” Beware: There seems to be another app with the same name. The one I use most is by Peter Moeykens and currently costs $15 ($9.99 for the app + $4.99 for a must have add-on to auto-correct for perspective). They have made amazing improvements for this app. You can use the front facing camera or the back camera. Camera Lucida uses a calibrating image within the app. You simply print this same image and place it on your painting surface. Then press a button, the app magically compares these two images and adjusts the angle and any distortion very quickly so you can start drawing in minutes!!!
There are many videos on YouTube and info on Facebook on how to use this app. Search YouTube for “Camera Lucida Tutorials”. Look for resent videos because of the many changes they have made. You really need to watch many of these. To use the forward facing camera you need one of my new easels or a base and mirror from Osmo. Search on “Osmo new base for ipad”. You might find one cheaper than Amazon. Or ask if I have started to sell my new special easels. Mine work great! For just the OSMO Reflector, see the Accessories tab in the OSMO store. There are different reflectors for different size devices. Just the reflector costs $10+5 for shipping or two cost $20 w/free shipping… Other places charge more.
Apps for Android devices: (these are just a few I have tried)
– “Da Vinci Eye – Anyone Can Draw” for both Apple and Android platforms. They routinely do updates to improve to all of these apps. In several YouTubes the app creator shows how you can use a tall glass to trace a photo. (I have tried this app but not spent enough time to make a comment. I would probably use it if I didn’t have a iPad.)
– “Artist’s Eye” for Android devices (phone and/or tablet). It has been improved to get close to the one above but does not have as many features. I have used this app many times on my android phone.
For larger drawings, you will need a device to support your tablet over or in front of your paper or canvas. If you are looking down at your surface it is very important that your tablet’s camera lens is CLEAN and directly centered on your work. It must be square, level, parallel, etc. so as to not get a distorted image. If the paper you will draw on looks like a trapezoid on your tablet’s screen you must adjust your tablet until it is the BEST you can get it (see using bubble levels below). The time it takes is worth it. It is frustrating until you figure it out.
As noted just above, you need a way to hold the tablet over or in front of your art. Please see my article on purchasing tablet holders to hold your device while you draw. (They are excellent for online Zoom learning too!)
Using Bubble levels to set up a device:
If you use an app with your tablet positioned over your paper you must ensure the tablet and paper are level with one another. Tool stores or home improvement stores sell bubble levels. If you buy them on line make sure they are around 32mm or close to 1.25″. You will find lots of tiny ones you don’t want!
YouTubes on more traditional methods to transfer an image without apps.
Here are a few YouTube for more instructions on drawing your images.
Lesson 10 / Doing a drawing for a Painting / Stan Miller YouTubes from Stan Miller are excellent! This one shows how to use light to trace an image onto your watercolor paper. You can use the easels I sell on this web page with Plexiglas to do the same thing!!
Four ways of beginning a portrait by Ben Lustenhouwer 17 min. YouTube where he discusses and explains 4 ways to transfer a drawing to Canvas or to WC paper, 1. Trace from full size drawing, 2. Projecting an image, 3. Grid method, 4. Drawing from direct observation. He gives good detail on each!!
This YouTube is from JD Hillberry is one using grid method, X-Cross, and using a prop-dividers to get a drawing on paper. http://www.jdhillberry.com
Last Change 19 Nov 22, checked links, 9 Sep 21, updated and eliminated extra words for the Camera Lucida. 20 Aug 20, added a PDF of the cal sheet and wording. 28 July 20, minor wording and linked to my article on Tablet Holders, 5 Mar 20, updated the tablet stands and wording. 3 Mar 19, updated the Tablet stand, 28 Aug 18, updated the prices. 29 Jun 17, edited and added Stan Miller link. 21 Feb 17, added tablet holder with desk clamp, 11 Dec 16, Added a YouTube on 4 ways to get a drawing onto paper or canvas.