A short post on using an Iphone as a black mirror. Like most of my tips, this is not my idea and I understand this has been common practice for a while at the ateliers like the FAA which teach sight-size. I mentioned it to other painters who hadn’t thought of the idea and it was well-received, so I decided to post it here.
I made the following video a few years ago demonstrating the use of a mirror in sight-size portraiture:
And in the next video of Ben Fenske painting a landscape you can see how often an artist will reach for the mirror while working:
The fact is, the mirror is one of the most efficacious devices for checking shapes and proportions in painting. It can be used without sight-size, but having everything visually locked-in makes the mirror especially powerful as an artist’s tool. For commissioned portraiture, where speed and accuracy are so important, it is really essential.
In landscape painting, artists will often use welding glass (sometimes called a black mirror) as it also greatly reduces the values. This allows the painter to see a value range closer to what they can actually capture in paint, and simplifies the number of values they need to compare.
Enter the Iphone, the $700 black mirror.
The Iphone has a flat, black glass screen and works perfectly for measuring shapes, proportions and values while landscape painting. Most of us also carry our phones around with us all the time. I recently inherited an older Iphone to replace my Nokia. While I’ll miss the maps and the privacy of my previous phone, I hated the rounded screen as I couldn’t use it to check shapes. Since I often forget, lose or break my painting mirrors when I travel, it will be a nice upgrade (that and the fact that iOS supports Instagram so I can stop borrowing the wife’s phone to post).
Update: I recently came across this quote from Leonardo da Vinci in his Treatise on Painting:
It is an acknowledged fact, that we perceive
errors in the works of others more readily than in
our own. A painter, therefore, ought to be well
instructed in perspective, and acquire a perfect
knowledge of the dimensions of the human body;
he should also be a good architect, at least as far
as concerns the outward shape of buildings, with
their different parts ; and where he is deficient,
he ought not to neglect taking drawings from
It will be well also to have a looking-glass by
him, when he paints, to look often at his work in
it, which being seen the contrary way, will appear
as the work of another hand, and will better shew
his faults. It will be useful also to quit his work
often, and take some relaxation, that his judgment
may be clearer at his return ; for too great apph-
cation and sitting still is sometimes the cause of
many gross errors.