A convenient tool that no artist should ever be without is a viewfinder. This article covers what they are, how to make one and how to use it.
Landscape paintings are works of art that portray earthy scenery such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers, the horizon with sky and weather, and particularly wall art where the main subject matter is a wide angle view of the great outdoors. It can be any place in the world. A recognizable place that a lot of people know like “Yosemite National Park” or simply an isolated cottage in the woods where summers were spent or a city park where flowers blossomed or other outdoor places where you played as a child. A viewfinder can assist the artist capture nature’s beauty in oil on canvas for everyone to admire.
What is a viewfinder and how can it help with the composition of your landscape oil paintings?
A viewfinder is a nifty device used by photographers and artists. In photography, this optical gadget is the body part on the camera that the photographer looks through to compose, and in many cases to focus, the photograph he/she wants to take. In oil painting a view finder is a instrument that is not part of a camera, but is actually a small device that performs a similar function. Artists use these optical devices as an aid to compose their works of art. This tool is helpful in isolating the most appealing objects of the composition to be found in a larger photograph by getting rid of the unneeded objects.
Constructing a Viewfinder
A viewfinder is a handy gizmo for composing a strong picture. This is a simple technique that has been used by artists for hundreds of years. Creating an artist’s viewfinder requires little effort. There are two simple ways to making one. Which one you choose to make and use depends on the canvas you plan to paint on. For fixed sized canvases you may choose to take simple piece of paper, scrap mat board or cardboard and cut a rectangular opening in the center to look through. The opening should be the same proportion as the surface on which you plan to paint. For example a viewfinder for an 16” x 20” or 24” x 30” canvas could be 2” x 2 .5” or 4” x 5”. Other proportions that might be useful are: for 16” x 24” or 24” x 36” your viewfinder opening should be 2” x 3” or 4” x 6”. For a canvas that measures 9” x 12”, 12” x 16” or 18” x 24” the cutout can be 3” x 4” or 6” x 8”. After carefully measuring and cutting out the opening for the viewfinder, move it around slowly on the surface of your photograph until the composition that interests you or pleases your eye is framed in the window. Once you have decided on the image, tape the viewfinder in position on your picture.
Another viewfinder is made from two L-Shaped pieces of cardboard, mat board, or paper that when placed together to create a frame. You then look through this frame to compose your composition. This type is beneficial to determine what size painting required for the composition you have picked out. Never be constrained by the shape of the viewfinder. Physically move it around until you see exactly what you need, then get out your easel, canvas and paints to get started on your landscape oil painting. You would make this type of viewfinder using a ruler and pencil to mark two same size L shapes on the card. A good size is about two inches wide so they are able to readily hide the unwanted areas of the image. The length of the arms of each L can be any size; 6” to 8” will work if you are using one on photographs. If you start out with longer one you can easily cut them shorter later. The two L’s work much like an aperture of a camera. You move them out to enlarge the opening or move then in to shrink the inside opening. This makes it easy to size the focal area.
Using A Viewfinder
The purpose of a viewfinder is to frame and crop out unnecessary pieces of a photograph or drawing. These are background “noise” that could muddle up a work of art and take away from the overall unity of the piece. What you are left with is a focal point with which to begin creating your artwork from. It accomplishes this by taking away distractions from outside the field of view and allows you to focus only on the objects that you want to keep. How this would be done is to take your form of representation, such as a photograph, and continue to slowly reposition the viewfinder until you decide upon a precise spot that produces an interesting composition that catches the eye. Once you have made your selection, tape it to the picture with low-tack tape to hold it in place. This will allow you to draw as many sketches of the scene that is necessary or even sketch it right away onto your surface to get it ready for painting. The low-tack tape makes it possible to remove the viewfinder from the photo once your landscape work of art is through.
Either type viewfinder can be turned to portrait or landscape orientation. This permits the artist to use the viewfinder as a drawing aid to determine which orientation works best for the painting. By holding the viewfinder in portrait mode, the top and bottom of the view will be emphasized; by holding the viewfinder in landscape mode, the width of the composition will be emphasized. This helps you focus on particular parts of the scene, enabling you to decide what will make the best composition, both in terms of focus and orientation.
Lastly a viewfinder is also beneficial for training your eye to recognize good composition, because this instrument permits the artist to see how an arrangement might potentially work as a feasible composition for a landscape painting. In time the artist will be able to envision what the composition will look like without the aid of one.