The LUCY Drawing Tool is an improved reinvention of the classic camera lucida. Even though the camera lucida was not patented and given a name until the early 19th century, the optical concepts behind this device have been known for over 400 years. It is hard to know how long artists have been using camera lucidas and similar devices, such as the camera obscura, but we know these devices have been available and used to one extent or another for centuries.

The camera lucida was widely used by artists and naturalists alike through the first half of the 20th century, but was slowly replaced by modern electronics like computers, cameras, and projectors. By the turn of the 21st century, the camera lucida and its optical predecessors were all but forgotten.

Until 2001 when artist David Hockney ignited controversy with the publication of Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters. Hockney’s book argued that advancements in realism and prospective starting during the Renaissance were due in part to innovations in optical devices. Artists, including some of the most famous and greatest, were using optical drawing tools to help create their masterpieces. The Book Secret Knowledge seemed to rewrite art history, but Hockney was just reminding the world that these tools existed and still exist. This growing interest in these optical devices helped inspire a young art student named Les Cookson.    

It was the fall of 2005 and Les was standing in a darkened classroom crowded around a mysterious box-like device suspended on the edge of a table. Just in front of the device, an old desk lamp illuminated a few gourds arranged at the center of the table. When his turn came, Les peered through the device and saw a vibrant ghost-like image of the gourds hovering over some drawing paper.

As what he just saw sank in, several ideas emerged simultaneously sending chills down his spine. This simple device created this hologram like image with no electricity!  The image could be drawn! Artists have been using devices like this for hundreds of years!

After the demonstration, Les’ painting instructor told the class the device was called a camera lucida, but all Les could think was, ‘why don’t people know about or use these anymore?!’  The answer to this question came as the instructor explained that camera lucidas are interesting, but their images are super small and hard to see without spotlights, so they have become obsolete.  The second wave of chills came as Les realized he could understand how this device worked, so he could improve it. He could make it relevant and useful again. Somehow, Les just knew it. 

Les spent 4 years researching and reading, experimenting and building, tinkering and testing, reinventing the camera lucida into something that was useful for today’s artists. A bright adjustable image with no need for dark rooms or spotlights. A larger and steadier image. The ability to enlarge photos along with drawing live objects. Les’ LUCY Drawing Tool solved all the historic problems with the classic camera lucida but retained all the magic.