Did you know that you can improve a drawing 75% before you even start drawing? Knowing how to use a viewfinder for drawing landscapes is the first step. Whether you are a nature journaler or a plein air painter this video and blog post will help you.
Why Your Eyes Betray You
Your visual system is not setup for making great art. Your visual system is setup for keeping your butt alive. What does that even mean? Our eyes and the visual centers of our brain are good at paying attention to our surroundings. We are good at scanning large areas and paying attention to the big picture. However, there is a lot more information coming through your eyes than what you can fit on your paper or your canvas. This is especially dangerous for drawing landscapes. A lot of times we are attracted to the expansiveness in a landscape. If we aren’t careful we bite off too much. We try too big of a drawing. We get frustrated, we get lost in the details, and we lose touch with the basic artistic priorities.
Your most important job as an artist is to make intentional decisions about what visual information to include and what to ignore.
If you don’t know how to make good decisions or even worse if you don’t realize you have to make decisions then your drawing will suffer. Using a viewfinder helps you be more intentional and disciplined. Your field of view with both eyes is between 200 and 220 degrees! That is far more than you can fit on paper.
How to make a viewfinder
Save the plastic container that salad mix comes in or get a sheet of cardstock or other heavy paper.
Decide what shape you are going to make your viewfinder. Put some thought into how this shape will fit on your pages. For more about composition and layout of journal pages see this video.
Trace your shape and carefully cut it with an X-acto knife or scissors.
You can add grid lines to help you with proportions.
Go out and use it right away!
Pro tip: Make multiple viewfinders of different shapes and sizes for your kit.
I really started using a viewfinder before my second trip to Tanzania and it really made my nature journal pages much better.
Once you know how to use a viewfinder for drawing landscapes you will thank me!
If you want a step-by-step guide to landscape drawing in your nature journal check out this post.
Do you want to practice landscape drawing while improving your nature sketches? If so, practicing drawing landscapes with charcoal can help you.
First, and most importantly, drawing with charcoal will help you see values better. But what are values, you might ask. Value is the art term for how dark something is. We think about color a lot but actually value is more important. Below is an example of a value strip showing levels of value.
While charcoal is not the most convenient material for the field it offers many benefits. Foremost being its ease at achieving precise values (especially compared to watercolor). It can also be challenging for perfectionist people like myself.
Landscape Drawing: How to Use Charcoal in 10 Steps
First, choose a landscape photo that has extreme values. For more about how to choose a good photo for a landscape see this video
Next, start by drawing in some of the darkest areas that you see.
Don’t think about edges. Instead focus on the mass of objects and use your charcoal to draw from the inside then towards the outside of shapes. This goes against how we usually draw.
Next, use a rag or paper towel to smudge the charcoal around the paper. By so doing you are knocking the values back down towards the middle.
After knocking the values back to the middle ground take some time. Look closely at your subject and adjust the values in your drawing accordingly. What in your landscape drawing needs to be darker.
Now you can knock the values back down with the rag.
Next, use an eraser to lighten some of the values in your drawing that are too dark.
Repeat steps four through seven a couple times.
Stop before you start fussing over details too much.
Start another drawing. You will get better by doing many landscape drawings. Don’t rest on your laurels if your first try looks good. And don’t give up if your first try looks bad.
For more inspiration around drawing landscapes in your nature journal check out this video by John Muir Laws.
In August, the North Coast Nature Journal Club is in for a treat! We are going to escape the heat but still get outside at Heart’s Desire Beach in Tomales Bay State Park! This gorgeous and sheltered beach is nestled between a biodiverse forest and the scenic Tomales Bay. In addition to endless botanical subjects to investigate we will have expansive vistas waiting to be painted.
We will focus on techniques for cultivating curiosity and organizing information on the page. We will also have ample opportunities to practice landscapitos in an incredible setting.
The temperature will be relatively mild but we will be in and out of the sun and despite the protected location wind will probably pick up as the day progresses. Hats will be useful and comfortable layered clothing is essential. Wear comfortable shoes, bring a folding stool if you have one, a potluck item to share, utensils for yourself and water to drink. There is a bathroom on site. We will go for a short walk on fairly even dirt trails and some sand and end up at some picnic tables. Scooters can be accommodated but wheelchairs will probably not be able to work.
We will meet at 9 am in the parking lot. (earlier than our usual start time) Look for people standing around with sketchbooks. Bring a potluck item to share for lunch around 12:30. Bring food that you can carry with you on the trail.
$8 parking fee at this location
$20 suggested donation.
This class is limited to 12 people. Please email me to reserve your spot.