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 C. Rosinski

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 C. Rosinski

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 C. Rosinski

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

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

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

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

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 Completed

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 happy drawing:

Here are the supplies you need for this whole series of lessons, plus a few others I added to make your drawing life happier. I’m Blick affiliate and get some money when buy from my links, so thank you very much if you do.

Derwent Graphic 2B
Derwent Graphic HB

Derwent Graphic 2H

(If one is out of stock, get the next softer grade.) – Derwent Graphic Pencils are good inexpensive art-grade graphite pencils to start with.

Canson Classic Cream Drawing Pad
– This inexpensive Canson paper has a good tooth for graphite and it holds up to erasing fairly well too. It does dent, so don’t press too hard when you draw or you’ll ruin the grain.

Faber-Castell Kneaded Eraser
– This is the brand of kneaded eraser I use. It’s not too sticky or oily. It’s just right.

Alvin Vinyl Eraser
– The vinyl eraser is good to have for erasing marks the kneaded eraser won’t remove, and for general clean-up around the edges of the paper.

Helix Electric Cordless Eraser – A tapered ergonomic shape that stays out of your way and inexpensive. Sharpen it’s nib by spinning it on rough paper or sandpaper, then you can ‘draw’ extraordinarily delicate lines and textures in graphite gradations, along with dozens of other things that you’ll invent to do with it. You’ll go through a lot of nibs, so pick up extras.

Kum Long Point Pencil Sharpener –  The only pencil sharpener I use. Two holes: one hole sharpens the wood, and the other sharpens the graphite. Makes a very long sharp point and hardly ever breaks lead. There are extra blades in the back.

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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4 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.

  2. Samantha Mcmillan says:

    I only have paper in my printer I have printed the bee finder could you please tell me how to transfer to card how do you make a bee finder for A4 I paint landscapes thank you

    • Carol says:

      Hi Samantha,

      The proportions of the viewfinder are the most important thing, so print it on whatever paper you have and then transfer it to card stock exactly like it is. The bounding box you draw in has to be the same proportion too, so draw around the inside or outside edge of the viewfinder and draw within that box. If you want to draw at a larger size, you can draw diagonal lines through the corners of the viewfinder box, and as long as the your bounding box’s corners are on those diagonal lines, you can make it as large as you want and it will still be in proportion.

      I know your landscape won’t be the exact size of the viewfinder box, so one way to handle that problem is to position it around the most important part of the scene and work outward from there.

      Hope that helps!

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