First-rate Finds: Using the viewfinder

For readers who don’t much care about the technical aspects of this art experiment, this post mightn’t be for you… Perhaps you could pull up some YouTube clips of cats or puppies instead.
However, if you’re the least bit curious about the methods I employ to turn out a painting for this blog, stick around. In future, ‘technical’ blog posts like this one will fall under the banner of First-rate Finds – so you’ll know to either read on or move on.

Every now and then, I hit upon something that really makes a difference to my painting. I call these ‘First-rate Finds’. (Well, I don’t really – but I will from now on!)

For today’s First-rate Find, I will be singing the praises of the viewfinder.

A viewfinder is probably not an astonishingly new concept to many of you (they appear in every camera for a start). I myself was also quite familiar with viewfinders in theory. But, as anyone who’s ever rubbed chilli on their eyeball will testify, there’s a big difference between knowing about something and actually trying it out for yourself.

A viewfinder is simply a way of framing the view of whatever it is you are drawing. It aims to bring into focus what you actually want to be drawing, and to block out any peripheral information that may compete for your attention.

A viewfinder can be hand-held, but I prefer my double ended flexi-clamp: Far less movement!

Viewfinders also help you to see where things are placed in relation to other objects in the scene, as well as seeing where obkects are positioned within the boundaries of the surface you are working on.  

To this end, your viewfinder should be the same proportions as your page or canvas.

If you’ve got a square canvas, then the viewfinder needs to be square too!


Label your viewfinders by size to help in teaming them up with appropriate sized canvases.

A viewfinder doesn’t have to be bought; it can be cheaply and easily made with some sturdy card or straw-board. I used the backing board from spiral bound notebooks and other similar weight card. I measured out a square or rectangle that fit the proportions of most of the canvases I had lying around, and cut out a window. Try and leave a fairly thick border/frame – you want something to block out the distracting ‘sidelines’ of your composition.


Lines placed along the side of the viewfinder mark the half-way points between each corner of the view. Corresponding marks placed along the edge of your canvas give you a direct reference to where the objects in your composition should be drawn your canvas.


The trick is to keep looking at the whole composition and just mark in some basic placement lines to begin with. Once you’ve mapped out the outermost edges of every objects and shadow, details can start to be blocked in. This saves you the frustration of having spent hours on one small section of your drawing, only to realise that it’s out of proportion (or throwing out the proportions of the rest of the composition) and you need to rub it out and start over.

I started using viewfinders back in February and it’s made a real difference to the speed with which I can get a drawing down on my painting surface. It’s not like I don’t have to concentrate (smoking brain cells will testify to that!), but I’m less likely to make mistakes. When I do, it’s easier to see where I’ve gone wrong, and how to correct them.

For years I have been drawing without view finders, because I felt like it was somehow ‘cheating’ a little. Like using a dictionary to find words when you’re playing Scrabble instead of relying on your own vocabulary. But I’ve since come to see that by perhaps using the dictionary in Scrabble also helps to grow your vocabulary.  If I have to, I can now look at a scene with an imaginary viewfinder to guide me, in ways that I couldn’t have if I hadn’t tried out these simple devices for myself.

Try it (if you haven’t already) and let me know how you fare – I guarantee it’ll be less excruciating than chilli in your eye!


What discoveries have you made that have helped your drawing pursuits?  I’m sure there are artists out there who have their own tips to share. Please leave a comment below – I’d love to hear from you.


2 thoughts on “First-rate Finds: Using the viewfinder

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