Line Drawing Part Two – Draw From Life With A Viewfinder

This is the second in a series of five drawing lessons that take you from using a viewfinder, to drawing from life without one, and into expressive line drawing. In this lesson, I’ll show you how to use a viewfinder to draw from life, and there’s a movie of me doing that at the bottom of the page.

Line Drawing Part One – How To Use A Viewfinder


  • HB pencil
  • vinyl eraser
  • 9×12 paper
  • some string
  • Print this viewfinder on heavy paper, or transfer it to cardboard.
  • Here are my drawing supply suggestions if you’re a complete beginner.

You can draw any thing you want to in this lesson, although it might be best to set up a small still life that won’t be disturbed. I’m drawing a still life of four peppers in the step by steps.

Small Frame Illustration

Make A Viewfinder With Crossed String Markers

Assemble the viewfinder with the small hole for this lesson. Snip the marks at the centers on each edge and insert the strings.

Drawing from life with a viewfinder is done in the same basic way as you drew from a photograph in the last lesson, only you’ll need to set-up differently.

Grid on paper

Step One – Arrange a pad of paper in your lap or on an easel in front of you. Sit in a chair with a back. Trace around the outside edge of the viewfinder and add the crossed middle lines.

Holding Viewfinder

Step TwoRead though this entire step before you do it. It’ll make things easier. Hold the frame in opposite hand you draw with, brace your back against the back of the chair to steady yourself, and extend your arm as far as you comfortably can. Close one eye, and move the frame a little until you see an interesting scene to draw, or frame your still life

It’s best if the subject touches a least two edges of the viewfinder. This is fairly important, so move the chair if you need to.

Keep one eye shut and keep your head in the same position as you draw.Close one eye to see your subject, then mark the drawing paper. (You can both eyes for that.) You’ll do this several times, back and forth, holding the same position. Thankfully, you don’t have to hold this position very long!

Peppers Rough-in Drawing

Concentrate on drawing the outline shapes of the subject one section at a time. Look through the viewfinder and notice how each part moves away from, or towards, the grid lines.

Tip 1. Try explaining to yourself in words how you need to draw a line. For example, when I’m drawing a pesky line, I’ll say to myself something like, ” move the pencil down in a steep arc until it meets that line a little to the right of center.” It’s just another way to help get your mind, eyes, and hands to cooperate and draw what you see.

Tip 2. Try to see everything as shape. The object has a shape (positive) and the space beside the object has a shape too (negative). You can’t draw one without drawing the other, so pay attention to them both.

I drew very rough shapes of my peppers at this point. I concentrated on getting their big general shapes about right, and in the right positions. You can see that I used lots of “trial” lines, too. I’d make a line, compare it to the subject, and then make another until I drew one that looked about right, just as I did when drawing the heart in the last lesson.

Okay, now give it a try.

Peppers Detailed Outline Drawing

Step Three – Now you don’t need the viewfinder After you’ve drawn the general outline shapes, you can relax and draw naturally.

Add any other details you want by using the outline drawing to help place them. By comparing my rough drawing to the actual peppers, I could see where to add the inward dents of their body ridges.

Peppers Highlights and Shadows Drawing with Grid

Step Four – Shadows and highlights are important too. They’re shapes, they hold weight, and they’re part of the picture. Because you can’t always erase graphite perfectly, you need to “save” the paper for large highlights. So it’s usually a good idea to plan for them at the time of the line drawing instead of waiting until shading. It may help you to see them as just shapes if you squint your eyes as you look at them. (Some lucky people can simply take off their glasses and see everything as big lovely shapes.)

Don’t forget to draw any shadow that the subject is casting. Cast shadows give a feeling of stability and three dimensionality to a drawing, but they don’t have to be perfect.

I know you want to learn to draw realistically but don’t be too hard on yourself at this point. You’re taking the first steps in learning how to draw, so relax, take your time, and know that your skills will improve with practice.

Completed Peppers Line Drawing C. Rosinski

Step Five – When you’re done, as always, erase any extra drawing lines and the grid lines. Now sit back and contemplate your wonderful drawing. No one has ever drawn anything just like it before. It’s unique. Even if it’s awful in your eyes, it’s a record of a moment in your life that you spent drawing what was before you. That was such a lovely thing to do with a few minutes of your life. Drawing is simple. Drawing is quiet. Drawing is calming. Drawing is awesome!

Here’s how I use a viewfinder to create a basic line drawing. Although I’m moving back and forth to frame the subject, I’m using the same principals you’re learning in this lesson. After you know what you’re doing, you can use your viewfinder like this with good results too. I’m using the viewfinder without the strings.

In the next lesson, I’ll show you how to draw from life without a viewfinder by using the skills you’ve already learned. But, the better you are at drawing with a viewfinder, the more successful you’ll be at drawing without it! So practice. Practice a lot. Draw three or four times a week, or more if you can.

Adieu, until we meet with pencils in hand again, my friends,


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.

Posted in Drawing From Life, Drawing Technique, Line Drawing, viewfinder | 2 Comments