Saturday, June 11, 2011

viewfinders

The subject of viewfinders passed by in last night's blog and in the comments. I think I will write a little about those. In short, I think viewfinders are for beginners ( I guess I will need to post a baby animal tomorrow, I know some of you will be offended) here's why.

A viewfinders purpose is to cut a finite and absolute window out of nature before you, so you can transfer that onto your canvas. For people just learning to paint landscapes, that is a handy tool. The amount of complexity outdoors is simplified somewhat and they can copy whatever is bounded by the little L shaped pieces of cardboard. What could be wrong with that, Stape? Dirk Van Assaerts was known to have used one as early as the 17th century!

Well, the problem is this....... Cropping may be composition, but it is not design. Simply cutting a window out of nature and copying that, is the lowest form of composition as it doesn't include deliberate arrangement of the shapes and elements of a painting. The literal and exact representation of nature before you is a "must have" skill for the landscape painter. But it is not the highest form of art. It is journalism, not poetry. Fine landscape painters design their paintings. They arrange the elements and shapes within that picture into an artistic presentation. The artist who literally copies nature before him is going to have his lunch eaten by the artist who can design a picture, rather than having it imposed on him by the happenstance arrangement of the shapes as they naturally occur before them. A camera can crop, it takes human decision making to arrange, and an artist to arrange beautifully.

Again, as a learning tool a viewfinder is fine and beginning landscapists need a way to "get a hold" of the landscape, and bounding it with a viewfinder aids in the mechanical transcription of the scene onto the canvas. I think, however, that after the aspiring painter learns to deal with that, it is time to be rid of the viewfinder, and begin forging arrangements from natures offerings rather than numbly transcribing a selected piece of nature.

19 comments:

billspaintingmn said...

You're saying to tell your story.

Brady said...
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Brady said...

I agree with this especially for landscape, but what about still life?

When you can pick up the actual objects and move them around, making a quick check to see how they fit on your board seems to save time.

Sometimes I also take photos of the arrangement and put them in photoshop to see if a standard size or a custom size board would work better.

I guess it's kind of a modern view finder.

I think it's better than pulling out the table saw to crop a painting.

I know you're a landscape man, but what situations do you think it might be useful, if any?

JonInFrance said...

You mean to tell us that the art is not in the materials, Stape?

Stapeliad said...

I am definitely a beginner at landscape, and it is the only subject for which I use the viewfinder. I find it helpful. Using one doesn't necessarily mean slavishly copying without arranging, one can still move elements to suit the composition.

mariandioguardi.com said...

View finder, photo shop.....no substitution for good old thumbnail sketches. Drawing! what a great old art tool that is for the painter. Talk about tools that work.

clarkola said...

It is so true that a well designed painting knocks the socks off a rendered one. Standing out in the world with a flat rectangular board-ready for the magic show-WHAT GOES ON IN THE MIND of an experienced painter? Questions? Like-what's the most exciting thing here? How can I serve it up? Not too spicey? What shapes? How to get in? and stick around? Would love to hear the designer's mind as it talks to itself.
Thanks as always!

Karla said...

What a helpful post. No offense taken..At All!! So you can save your baby animal pic for another post. ha! And thanks to Marian for her comment on thumbnails as well.

Philip Koch said...

Though I agree with Stapes opinios on viewfinders I still feel we are overdue for another baby animal picture. Personally I'm hoping for an infant ocelot.

Deborah Paris said...

I couldn't agree with you more Stape, but I still want the baby animal. Ocelot? No, I'm a traditionalist. Kittens please!

Brady said...
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Terry said...

Hi Stape,
I agree with Marianne, the little doodle sketch is like a path to what in the motif touches your heart; a photo or the viewfinder short circuits this visual connection and becomes a mechanical problem of copying the scene. I studied with Daniel Pinkham this year and he adds to the little sketches a few words to describe the feelings sparked by the scene; to guide the design, the color/values/temp and brushstrokes; to at the finish evoke that feeling. The sketch sets the tone for the painting, we read paintings like we read hand written letters, it's the non verble feelings we miss in an e-mail or photo.
Terry

MCGuilmet said...

For those who might like to "frame" the shot every now and then, even different elements of the design, there is a way to do it with your fingers.

Hold your left index finger straight up. Bring your right index finger and thumb in horizontally and place them against the left index finger about a half-inch to inch apart to form a sort of "P" shape. Bring your right second finger down, bent at the first phalange to "close" the square shape. With this, you can make a quick rough square or rectangle anytime to cut out clutter and see how something would look on canvas. I don't use it much for composing but for 'positioning'.
...and fingers are free.

MCGuilmet said...

People WILL look at you funny though.

jeff said...

I use my fingers or I make marks or notes on the canvas or panel of the composition. I do use the viewfinders for teaching drawing as it helps beginners to get focused on how to deal with the edges of the paper and how to deal with the space.

I have seen some very good landscape painters who do use these viewfinders.

G. Baker said...

"Journalism not poetry" nailed it Stape, couldent agree more!

billspaintingmn said...

baby monkeys make me smile!

Simone said...

We crawl before we walk and walk before we run. We also copy before we design. View finders are useful tools for developing painters. When they get their sea legs under them most will rely less and less on a view finder. It is about stepping out of the comfort zone. Those ready to start designing should try painting clouds outdoors....

I think baby turtles would be nice. Reptiles are a good summertime animal for you snowbirds and many regard them as a symbol of peace.

stermyn said...

Great message on view finder use, I needed your "get rid of that thing" scolding on the Lyme workshop to kick the habit. no more view finder in my bag, one of many lessons learned and employed from those two days. s.