Line Drawing Part One – How To Use A Viewfinder

This is the first in a series of five line drawing lessons. They begin with how to use a viewfinder to draw a simple silhouette and end with expressive line drawing from life. The skills you learn in one lesson help you succeed in the next.

This is a simple lesson about how to use a viewfinder. But in trying to explain things throughly, I’ve probably written too much, which I tend to do. Ha! So, there’s a slideshow at the bottom of the page with my voiceover talking you through it, if you prefer listening.


  • I mention an HB pencil and a rectangular vinyl eraser in these lessons. You can substitute whatever you have for those, but you’re going to need 9×12 drawing paper to fit the viewfinder.
  • Print this viewfinder template on heavy paper, or transfer it to cardboard. You’ll need string for the crossed lines too.
  • Print this image of a heart.
  • If you’re a drawing rookie, here are my supply suggestions.
Large viewfinder

Large Viewfinder

Make A Viewfinder With Crossed String Markers

Cut out the viewfinder and snip the small lines on the outer edges. Then insert strings into the snips so that they cross in the middle as shown with the red lines as you see here.

How Viewfinders Work

When placed on top of a photo or in front of your drawing subject, the inner edges and crossed strings create landmarks that help you draw an outline correctly.

Drawing Grid On Paper

Drawing Grid On Paper

Step One

Use an HB pencil to lightly draw around the outside edge of the viewfinder. Add the crossed lines through the middle.

(The outside edge of this viewfinder is proportional to the inside opening. You’ll learn how to make different sized proportional viewfinders in a later lesson.)

Drawing viewfinder Over Heart

Viewfinder Over Heart

Step Two

The heart silhouette is a bit challenging to draw freehand, but the viewfinder makes it easier.

Center the viewfinder over the heart and now you can see how it’s divided into four smaller quarters, with lots of reference points to help guide your drawing.

Drawing Grid With Reference Marks

Grid With Marks

Step Three

With an HB pencil, mark the points on the drawing grid where the heart crosses each line of the string and touches the inner edges of the viewfinder.

Measuring Distance With Pencil

Measuring Distance

You can estimate where the points are, or you can measure with your pencil tip and thumb. You can plot other points by measuring this way too.

For instance, it will help you draw the upper curves of the heart if you mark how far away the upper edges are from the corners like I’m doing is this illustration.

Heat Drawing In Grid

Heart Drawing In Grid

Step Four

I had to make my drawing very dark so you could see it well. Keep yours lighter so you can erase mistakes easily.

As you work, quickly look back and forth between the heart and your drawing. Use the marks to help place the line. If you’ve haven’t drawn very much before, this probably seems like a lot to keep track of. Just go slowly, and work your way around the heart

It’s OK to make lots of “trial” lines with your pencil until the outline looks right. As a matter of fact, most drawing is done by making a mark, checking to see if it looks right, and then correcting it. And, it’s ok to skip around and draw the easiest parts first.

Quarter Viewfinder Negative Space Rosinski

Positive and Negative Space

Sometimes it’s helpful to draw one quarter at a time. Cover all but one quarter, and then you can see that the heart and the shape beside the heart are both just shapes. (So don’t let them scare you.) Technically, the heart is ‘positive’ space, and the empty shape is ‘negative’ space, but when we draw them they are equally important.

Heart Drawing Done

Heart Drawing Done

Step Five

Use the vinyl eraser to remove the grid lines, and use the point of a corner for the delicate erasing around the heart. That’ll give you a little more control.

If you’ve drawn lots and lots of extra lines, look at the heart as you erase the extras. It’ll be kind of like you’re erasing everything but the line of the heart, and that’s fine. Knowing how to use your eraser really well is a skill you need to have too. :)

More Practice

Here’s a butterfly and bird silhouette for more practice, but you can draw any image like this. Choose a simple image from an ad in a magazine and give it a try. Don’t criticize yourself. Just have fun.

Slideshow Review

For some reason, the viewfinder seemed like a whole new thing when I attached strings to it. I thought, “Great Gods Above! What is the wondrous new thing before me!? It is like a window frame, yet also it is like a grid!!” I shall call thee ‘frame-grid!'” That’s what I call it in the review. Honestly, I deal with this type of thing every day.


Supplies for a good basic drawing kit:

Canson Medium Surface Drawing Pad
– A good sketching paper to start out with. But don’t press too hard or you’ll dent it.

Kum Two Hole Long Point Pencil Sharpener
– One hole sharpens the wood, and the other sharpens the lead. Gives you a nice long sharp point. And you get extra blades in the back.

Alvin Vinyl Eraser
– An inexpensive eraser that’ll do the job.

Derwent Graphic Four Pack
– Pencils 6B, 4B, 2B, and HB. Good pencils, and a nice grade range too.

Faber-Castell Kneaded Eraser
– These are really good for cleaning up smudges, and lots of other more advanced drawing needs too.

Small Storage Box
– This is a small hinged plastic box with a handle on top, inexpensive, with plenty of room for more stuff.

I get money when you buy anything from Dick Blick through a link from above, and that makes me so happy that I make art and create drawing lessons, and sometimes drink wine and sing a song I made up called the Circle Of Art which sounds a lot like that one about lions.

Cheers, Carol

About Carol

I'm an artist, an accidental author, and lover of life. I grew up in Yorktown, Indiana, and I've been writing (and drawing) this website since 1999.
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2 Responses to Line Drawing Part One – How To Use A Viewfinder

  1. Cindy Anderson says:

    You saved me from feeling guilty that I hate using a grid. I never wanted to be “confined” by my art! No more tedious small scale grid, photo detail problems and frustrating erasure work. That’s not art…….it’s a torture treatment!!

    • Carol says:

      Viewfinders are great teachers. But I’m with you, small grid work is torture. Your feeling of confinement, and erasing and redrawing, made my muse want to run and hide too. :)

      In the next lesson, we’re going to use the viewfinder to draw from life, but in the last three lessons, we leave it behind. Hope you enjoy them.

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