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If you often find yourself holding up your fingers to frame a scene, you might want to purchase a viewfinder. Designed for artists who paint or sketch en plein air, these handy tools help you plan out and isolate your subject matter by limiting your field of vision and cutting out unwanted areas that could otherwise distract. Essentially, they allow you to have a good idea of the final work before picking up your tools. Some viewfinders also allow you to localize color, make value comparisons, and ensure that your proportions are properly to scale. Speed up your outdoor art making with our picks below.
1. Color Wheel Artist’s View Catcher
We love how stripped down yet flexible this viewcatcher is. Just 3 1/2 inches square, it features a window opening whose size you can adjust by smoothly sliding a panel. Markings along the side help you set compositions for common canvases sizes such as 8 by 12 inches and 11 by 14 inches; simply flip the square horizontally or vertically to suit your work surface. The sliding panel features a small hole you can use to see true color, particularly since the entire finder is a neutral gray. Made of a durable plastic, this viewfinder will last you years.
2. Guerrilla Painter 2250 Composition Finder
Want a viewfinder that does more? This one features a window for isolating scenes as well as several other drawing aids. The central finder features marks along its edge to help you divide scenes into thirds; on its right is a value guide to make value comparisons, and on its left is a column of color complements for mixing grays and browns. Note that unlike our top pick, the card is white rather than neutral gray, which makes it slightly less effective. Turn the finder on its back, and you’ll find an illustration of the Golden Section and Fibonacci spiral to help you pinpoint focal points for compositions, should you want to create an aesthetically pleasing composition based on the Golden Ratio. This viewfinder is made of a thick paper, so we suggest laminating it for longevity.
3. Pixiss Grey Scale Value Finder
This is a set of 3 finders, each card measuring 3 inches by 5 inches and made of a thick, waterproof plastic. The viewfinder features a transparent rectangular window divided into 12 squares, and it is ideal for determining correct proportions rather than setting compositions. Because the window is material (rather than a hole, like our top 2 picks), we recommend storing this finder properly so it won’t get scratched. A second card features a gray scale finder, and a third shows a color wheel guide for identifying primary, secondary, tertiary, and complementary colors. Each card has a slit on one end so you can hang it on a lanyard for easy access.
4. Guerrilla Painter Tom Lynch Secret Plein Air Tool View Finder
This viewer aims to simplify the process of not just creating but also transferring your composition, making it an especially helpful option to beginner drafters. You get 3 cards attached at one corner via a pin: One is a clear plastic viewfinder with a rectangular grid divided into thirds; another is a white plastic card; and the third is a translucent red plastic card. Using the included dry-erase marker, draw directly on the viewfinder, sliding the white card behind it to more clearly see your arrangement, and block out colors by moving the red card into place. When you’re done, you’ll have a scale sketch to consult as you work on your full-scale piece.
5. Picture Perfect 3 in 1 Plus View Finder
This is the biggest viewfinder on our list, measuring about 5 by 11 inches. Made of cardboard, it features 3 rectangular grids in common canvas sizes, each divided into thirds. Opposite them, find 3 windows of the same sizes for looking through, each one made of red film to gray out colors. The grids are divided into thirds but also feature Xs to help you pinpoint important focal points as well as the center point of your scene. While the size might be a little cumbersome, you’ll always have 3 grids at hand when you need them.