Quick Tips: How to use a viewfinder for observational drawing and painting
Always hold the viewfinder the same distance from yourself and your subject (at arm's length, keeping your elbow locked), so that you get a consistent view through the viewfinder. Before you begin to draw make a note of two or three key points where objects appear to meet the edge of your viewfinder, this will allow you to accurately line up your viewfinder later while making your drawing. Keep the viewfinder straight both vertically and horizontally, the tendency to tilt towards the scene should be avoided as this will create distortions.
1) Use your viewfinder to focus in on an area of the subject.
Looking at a whole landscape or still life can be daunting so use your viewfinder to select one view to concentrate on. Think about what would make the most interesting composition.
2) The picture plane
The easiest way to understand the term ‘picture plane’ is to place a piece of acetate on a window, and to draw what you can see, as if tracing from life. The acetate on the window is your picture plane.
Drawing from life rather than copying a photograph is something that beginners often struggle with as it involves converting a 3-D object into a 2-D drawing on their paper. Drawing with a viewfinder helps by framing the subject and giving the impression of a flattened picture plane.
3) How to use negative shapes to improve your observational drawings
Negative space is the space around and between subjects in an image. Too often when we draw something, we stop observing and start drawing from memory. Instead of drawing what is in front of us, we draw what we know and remember about the subject. So, for example, when drawing a mug, we start thinking "I know what a mug looks like" and don't observe the precise angles of that particular mug. By changing your focus away from the mug and to the negative spaces – such as the space between the handle and the mug, and the space underneath the handle and the surface the mug is sitting on – you have to concentrate on what's in front of you and can't work on 'autopilot'. Often by working from the negative spaces rather than focusing on the object, you end up with a much more accurate drawing.
Frame an object (such as a chair) with your viewfinder making sure the object appears to touch at least 2 sides of the viewfinder rectangle. This forms a border around the object and enables you to see the negative space between the chair and the borders as ‘trapped’ shapes. It might take you a while to get used to seeing the negative spaces as shapes, so be patient. Draw a border on your paper the same rectangle ratio as your viewfinder. By noting where the object appears to touch the border of your viewfinder, you should be able to recreate the negative shapes on your paper. Observe both the positive and negative shapes; start with the biggest shapes first, leaving detail until the end.