Finding Ideas for Painting with the Artist’s Viewfinder

Uncovering compositions for painting can be made easier with the use of the artist’s viewfinder, a handy tool for working out how particular subject matter could look as a work of art. The viewfinder can also be used as a drawing aid.


Composition Finder for Painting


The viewfinder is essentially a piece of card with a window cut out and through which the artist may peek through and see how a chosen view may work as a painting. This can be very useful for plein air painting or composing a still life. Making a viewfinder is easy, cheap and takes little time, and the benefits can be reaped when finding inspiration for painting.

Mistakes to Avoid when Painting


The viewfinder can be used to edit out confusing clutter and background detail to find the essential elements from which to compose a painting. A sound composition is vital to a good painting, for a bad composition cannot be redeemed by good painting technique, no matter how hard the artist might try. This can cause frustration and wasted time. In such cases, it is often best to scrap the work and begin again. The viewfinder helps avoid this from happening.


Elements of Painting


The viewfinder’s window proportions fit standard painting sizes, such as canvases and panels, proving an instant snapshot view of possible compositions for paintings. The window, being divided into quarters by string, also provides reference points for transferring the preliminary sketch onto the painting surface.


The viewfinder can be used in the following way:


Close one eye and look through the window. Holding the viewfinder at some distance from the eye will have the effect of zooming in, rather like a telescopic lens of a camera. This will have the effect of cutting out background detail and focusing on an object or element. This can work when looking for one object of study, such as a simple still life or an animal.







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Moving the window close to the eye will have the opposite effect by including more elements to the view. This has the effect rather like panning out with the camera, which can be good when painting skies, seascapes or similar panoramic compositions.


Landscape Format or Portrait Format


The window, being rectangular in proportions, can be held in portrait or landscape mode. Holding it in portrait mode will have the effect of emphasising the height of the painting, including what is above and below. This format of course, suits portraiture, but can also be used for other subject matter.


Holding the window in landscape format will have the effect of emphasising the width of the view by including what is on either side. This is commonly used for landscape paintings, seascapes and sky sketches.


Tips for a Successful Painting


Using the viewfinder when looking for possible composition for paintings will develop the artist’s observational skills. It is good practice to look at the world through the viewfinder and notice the difference between how the view looks through the viewfinder and without it. The artist may discover what would seem to be great subject for painting, may have unforeseen problems, such as a lack of focal point. The viewfinder may also reveal subject matter previously unconsidered that may make a great painting.


Artist Tool to Help Find Ideas for Painting


The artist’s viewfinder is a handy gadget for composition finding. Consisting of a piece of card with a window cut out, the artist may peek through and get an idea of how the view may work as a painting. The window can be used to edit out irrelevant background to find the essential element of a painting by zooming in, panning out, and by holding it in portrait or landscape mode. The viewfinder also provides an excellent drawing aid for artists.

This site comprise of pictures and excerpts taken from my two art instruction books. Oil Paintings from Your Garden can be purchased direct from the author via this site, or through Amazon.


My other book, Oil Paintings from the Landscape can be purchased through Amazon.


© Rachel Shirley 2010