Trial and error

The projection worked fine, although it took a while to set up correctly.

The projection worked fine, although it took a while to set up correctly.

I don’t like working from photos, but there are certain situations when it’s necessary. A posthumous portrait is one of these.

Even when working from photos, I seldom grid, since it’s limiting and rigid. The only exception is very large works where I can’t see the whole space at arm’s length from the canvas. Even then, I prefer to draw first and grid from that, rather than transferring directly from a photo.

The long-running discussion about the use of the camera obscura in Renaissance painting has been percolating in the back of my head. Since we recently acquired a video projector, I thought I’d see whether it would might make a decent substitute for a camera obscura.

We did not get this projector with painting in mind. Our idea is to project Top Gear episodes on the wall of our garage next summer while soaking in our (as yet imaginary) hot tub.

I hate this kind of jury-rigged thing.

This kind of set up scares me.

I spent about an hour figuring out how to line the thing up with the canvas and adjust the aspect ratio. Since it’s meant to project slightly upward, it needed to be meticulously squared off to the canvas. The easiest solution would have been to make my easel absolutely vertical and high so the projector would be positioned as if it were on a table in a conference room (its natural home). However, my ancient Jack Russell Terrier kept knocking it over. I ended up balancing it awkwardly on a stool and a wet-canvas carrier.

When I finally got it aligned, it took just minutes to transfer the design to the canvas as a workable value study. It was better than gridding in that my brushwork was far more fluid. I can see how it might be useful.

Not for this project, however. I’m reaching into my psyche to understand this painting, which means that my ideas morphed radically as I worked. After a few hours (including two lovely faces) I realized I had created an unexpected and insolvable design issue. Since composition is everything, I wiped it out. I’ll just start again tomorrow.

Part of the point of drawing is that you work out these issues long before you ever pick up a brush. Once you can draw competently, it’s actually faster to draw from scratch than to fiddle with projection and transfer experiments.

Was it a waste of time? Absolutely not. I may be able to use what I learned somewhere down the road.

Carol Douglas

About Carol Douglas

Carol L. Douglas is a painter who lives, works and teaches in Rockport, ME. Her annual workshop will again be held on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park, from August 6-11, 2017. Visit for more information.