Viewfinders: The Value of Looking Through a Hole

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I’m about to go on and on about the value of looking through a hole. There are no metaphors involved, just a method that can save hours of dithering and frustration when composing a painting or sketch.

I carry a plastic shutter-style viewfinder, called a ViewCatcher, with me, for quick composing of drawings and sketches. Sometimes I just muse through it, which makes me look a like a freak. This little plastic square has made my work a great deal more efficient and harmonious.

They’re great for sketch outings, to determine what to include and what to leave out of a drawing. I’m notorious for running out of paper, failing to block out the composition first. Set the ratio of the viewfinder to match the page you’re using, then decide what you want to draw and how to compose it. I’ve been concentrating on composition in this fashion lately, making more successful drawings and paintings because of it. Thumbnail studies on yellow stickers helps tremendously, too.

On bright days, it’s good to be able to isolate a color, too. The little hole is great for that.

You can buy a ViewCatcher or you can make a perfectly good viewing tool for less.

My nephew took up drawing recently so I thought I’d send him one of his own, and was reminded that this fabulous item costs $9 to $15 (at Daniel Smith) – I suspect at the time I bought mine years ago I experienced hysterical amnesia after I looked at the receipt, so I decided to make one for him instead.

In my rather embarrassingly large collection of unused art supplies, I dug up a wire-bound Artist’s Trading Card format (2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ baseball card size) watercolor paper notebook. I figured I could cut holes in it and make a collection of commonly-used ratios, plus a tiny holepunched viewer to isolate colors. First I had to turn the white paper 50% grey.

I bought a Copic art marker in a color that matched the ViewCatcher, and bought that for about $3. Toner 5 Grey T05S is marked T5 on the end cap. There are other brands as well, or you could mix your own middle-grey color and paint the sheets. (So far materials are approaching the cost of just going and buying a ViewCatcher at full retail price. But I digress.) I colored a number of the little pages, then drew, labeled and cut small windows of popular ratios for drawing papers. You’ll still have the remaining pages for sketches and notes.

It’s a portable thing to carry; just flip out the proper page, compose your picture, and enjoy how much better your drawings are!

About Leslie Strom

Stand out. Be bold. Prove you exist. I try to do this in web design, writing, publishing, and with my frequently bad ideas. Since I spend about 85% of my time collecting information and am willing to set myself out as a human cautionary tale, I think you might enjoy the enlightening (or not) tinkertoy workings of my mind. Welcome!
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6 Responses to Viewfinders: The Value of Looking Through a Hole

  1. I’ve made several (extremely cheap) of my own (to give to students) by gluing two square pieces of mat board (I was doing a lot of mat cutting at the time which is probably where I got the idea from), with square cutouts in each, together. I beveled edges and glued another couple of square pieces together (the size of the first cutout). The bevels keep the square piece from falling out and allows you to slide it up and down in various formats.


  3. Giuliana says:

    I think I’m in love with your blog. Just read a few articles, and you gave me ideas for the next 6 months. First thing, though, I’ll subscribe. Thank you!!!

    P.S. I envy your Mini-Cooper. When I was a teenager a family friend had promised me his old white and red Mini for when I would get my driver’s license, but it was stolen a month before I passed the test. I’d say that is when synchronicity goes wrong.

    • Leslie Strom says:

      Thanks for making my day! And about the MINI Cooper, I think every person should have a fun/sports/muscle/whatever car once in a lifetime. It took me six months looking to find the perfect car; the previous owners had taken very good care of it, and the original owner had gotten every nice extra he could think of. He didn’t put anything whimsical on it; it’s a tasteful dark green with winter package and leather and sunroof, and without stripes or chrome or anything like that. I briefly considered putting on daisy wheels just to piss off my mom (a designer who loves great design and rolls her eyes at the overly cute) but I didn’t think I could live with them for long. (So if you go looking for a nice used MINI for your own, know that these are out there.)

  4. “when synchronicity goes wrong”, that is hilarious Giuliana! I wrote an article on synchronicity (many people don’t know what it is) that was relatively serious, so your words stood out.

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