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Using a Transparent Viewfinder Grid

Please keep in mind that there are many ways to start a painting and you should explore different ways, however, in this lesson you will begin a painting by using a gridded viewfinder to map out a complex scene on your canvas. This is very much the same process as in the Lecture – Using A Grid in the drawing section of the site. Basically, you will be looking at your scene through a viewfinder with a grid. The viewfinder's grid will proportionally match the one that you will draw on your canvas.

Viewfinders used for painting are easily available from most art supply companies (Figure 1). However, you can easily make your own by drawing a grid on a piece of Mylar or acetate film and matting it, as shown in Figure 2.  What appeals to me in making your own grid is that you can have as many or as few divisions to the grid as you want. After working with a gridded viewfinder with a 3 x 4 division, you may find that you are getting better at mapping an image to your canvas and you can create the gridded viewfinder with fewer divisions. As you gain more experience at drawing what you see, you may not have to use a viewfinder at all.

Figure 1

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Figure 2

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For this lesson, you will need a gridded viewfinder with 4 divisions across and 3 divisions down, each with 2” squares as shown in Figure 2.  You will also need a stretched canvas that will divide up easily into the same proportion of squares as the viewfinder. For example, a 24” x 18” stretched canvas will give you 6” squares: 4 x 6 = 24” and 3 x 6 = 18”.

Figure 3a, below, shows a class where the students are using a viewfinder with a grid to start their paintings. The student in the upper-right corner of the photo is using a transparent grid. 

Start this lesson by looking at your subject through a viewfinder. Your subject may be a still life, interior space, etc., as in Figure 3a.  Begin to map/sketch-in the scene on your canvas using the proportional grid's intersecting lines to guide the accuracy of positioning the elements you are drawing. Use a very diluted Raw Umber paint and small brush to sketch-in the scene, as in Figure 3b.

Figure 3a

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Figure 3b

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After you have all of the forms and elements positioned on your gridded canvas, continue to draw and build more structure to the forms and to the overall scene until you have a good representation of the scene drawn on your canvas (Figure 3c). As you work, use your paint rag to correct the drawing by wiping off the thin paint and redraw to make corrections (Figure 3d).

Figure 3c

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Figure 3d

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Once you have a good overall drawing of your subject on your canvas, start working on the various values in the scene, still using only the thinned Raw Umber color. This will create a monochrome value drawing that will give depth and dimension to the overall scene and dimension to the objects in the scene as shown in Figure 3e.

Figure 3e

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Now that you have a good range of values helping the picture come to life, you can begin adding color and shading to objects in the scene. Try to pay attention to the cool and warm colors and be as accurate as possible to the colors and the transitions of colors on the objects (Figure 3f).

Figure 3f

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Keep building the painting until you feel you have the best possible rendition of the scene. After you finish your painting, immediately start another one and develop it in the same way.