Painting Lesson - Beginning A Painting 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 grid(ed) viewfinder to map out a complex scene on your canvas. This is very much the same process as in the Lecture - Grid For Scaling in the drawing section of the site. Basically you will be looking at your scene through a viewfinder with a grid, the viewfinders grid will match the one that you will draw on your canvas.

Viewfinders used for painting are easily available from most art supply companies, see Figure 1 below. However, you can easily make your own by drawing a grid on a piece of Mylar or acetate film and matting it as seen in Figure 2. What appeals to me in making your own grid is that you can have as many or as little divisions to the grid as you want. After working with a grided 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 grid(ed) viewfinder with fewer divisions. As you gain more experience at drawing what you see you may not have to use a viewfinder at all.

Viewfinders for drawing and painting

For this lesson you will need a grid(ed) viewfinder with 4 divisions across and 3 divisions down, each at 2" squares as shown in Figure 2. You will also need a starched canvas that will divide up easily into the same proportion of squares as the viewfinder, for example 24" x 18" this will give you 6" squares 4 x 6 = 24" and 3 x 6 = 18".

The example below for beginning a painting is one of a class where the students are using a viewfinder with a grid to start their paintings. See figure of female in upper right corner.
Start this lesson by looking at your subject through a viewfinder, your subject may be a still life, interior space, etc., see Example (a). Begin to map and sketch-in the image on your canvas using the proportional grids intersecting lines to guide the accuracy of positioning the elements you are drawing. Use a very diluted Raw Umber paint to sketch-in the scene as in Example (b).

Example (a)

Using a viewfinder with a grid to map a scene onto a canvas

Example (b)

Using a gridUsing a grid on a canvas to draw accurately  on a canvase to draw accurately

After you have all of the forms and elements positioned on your grid(ed) 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 as in Example (c). As you work, use your paint rag to correct the drawing by wiping off the thin paint and redraw to make corrections, see Example (d).

Example (c)

Adding more detail to your composition

Example (d)

Using your paint rag to correct the drawing on the canvas

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 you depth and dimension to the over all scene and dimension to the objects in the scene as show in Example (e).

Figure (e)

Adding the tonal range of the painting

Now that you have a good range of value helping the picture to 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, see example (f).

Example (f)

Adding cool and warm colors and colors and the transitions of colors in the painting

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.