How to Use a View Finder

How to Use a View Finder

In the previous post, I listed a few of the basic items necessary for a good plein air drawing field kit. If you missed it or would like a review, you can read the post here.

One of the items I mentioned was something called a view finder. Today, I’d like to talk a little bit more about that and share some tips for using one.

How to Use a View Finder

Why You Need a View Finder

Quite simply, you need a view finder of some kind to focus your eye and attention. When you’re working outside, the whole world is at your feet. Everywhere you look, there’s something to draw or paint. The possibilities can be overwhelming!

Here’s one of my favorite views of the Flint Hills of Kansas. The first time I ever saw this country, it was a bitter cold day in December. A skiff of snow on brown hills, yet it called to me as no other landscape ever had.

How to Use a View Finder - Full View of Landscape
Here’s a reference photo taken with my digital camera at a normal setting. Viewing a 360-degree landscape through the lens of a camera is a great way to find a good composition.

This particular photo was taken in October and everything about it calls to be drawn. It captures a small portion of that panoramic landscape. A very small portion.

And yet there’s a lot of information here. Enough to overwhelm a beginning plein air artist like me.

Here’s a detail shot of the same image. Maybe not the most interesting possible composition, but you can see how much less overwhelming it is. With a digital camera or even a phone, you can snap the wide view—as shown above—then take as many close up views as you like until you find the composition you like best.

How to Use a View Finder - Zoomed in "View Finder" View of Landscape

How to Use a View Finder

If your view finder is a phone or camera, you probably already know how to use it.

But there are other types of view finders. I carry a small pre-cut mat with a dark side and a light side. I have several empty mats I use in the drawing process: small, medium, and large. For the sake of this post, I’m using a 5×7 mat. It’s easy to carry and use and is also a standard size that easily translates into larger sized drawings with the same proportions.

Here’s how I use it to find good compositions in a world of possibilities.

This is the Warkentine House. A local historical location and a museum. There’s a lot to like about this house. A lot to draw.

How to Use a View Finder - Street Scene

Because this is a shady scene full of shadow and middle values, I used the white side of my view finder. I held it at arm’s length and viewed different parts of the scene by panning to the right, then the left. Here’s one possible vertical composition.

How to Use a View Finder - Street Scene through View Finder Vertical

I repeated the process with the view finder held horizontally.

How to Use a View Finder - Street Scene through View Finder Horizontal

Even though I was using a small view finder (5×7), it was a bit too large to really isolate a single subject at such a close distance. This view finder works better in the wide open spaces.

If you’re thinking about drawing something close, consider using a smaller view finder. 4×6 or even 3×5 would be good sizes for isolating single subjects in a scene that’s this close.

You can also isolate smaller subjects by framing them with your hands or by using mat corners or simply using two pencils to create a “corner”. I like a pre-cut mat because it’s a single tool that’s light-weight and very easy to use and carry.

About the Autumn Plein Air Drawing Challenge

The Autumn Plein Air Drawing Challenge is a motivational tool designed to get us outside and drawing with colored pencil each September.

I’m going to draw outside at least one day a week. If you have more time, you can do more drawings.You can do fewer. The point is to get outside and draw, and however often you can, I hope you’ll join me.

I’ll post my drawings on a special group board on Pinterest. If you’d like to post your drawings, all you have to do is request an invitation to join the board. You will need a Pinterest account, but they’re free and easy to set up.

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