I must admit to being a bit of a wimp when it comes to plein air painting. I love, love, love it, don’t get me wrong, but I need a little bit of help out there! Come on it’s intimidating! There’s the weather, the looky loos, the bugs, all that gear and of course there’s the 360 degrees of the overwhelming visual field!  Sometimes it’s enough to send me packing.

So I need all the help I can get! The one essential tool that I absolutely could not do without is the viewfinder. Over the years, I’ve tried most of them that are on the market, big ones, small ones, plastic ones, digital ones all in an effort to find the thing that is going to make it easy for me out there, maybe even help me to make better paintings! 


Some of you may even be thinking, “what’s a viewfinder?” It’s used to frame your composition and not just for outdoor painting. You can use it for any scene in the visual field. It helps you to narrow your focus rather than taking in the whole cone of vision that we usually do. 


So let’s talk about the viewfinders that you can buy, what I like about them and what I don’t:


1. ViewCatcher – I like this one because it’s small and sturdy. You want small and you want sturdy because you’ll have a lot of stuff to pack but too small and it can get lost in the shuffle. Well, it will anyway, but that’s another story. I also like that you can change the proportion from square to rectangle. It has a handy little hole to use to judge color and value. So this one would be a winner if it weren’t for the fact that it has NO guidelines. Bummer, because this is the most important part to me. This one is $9.89


2. EasyL – This one is pretty good. It’s sturdy and it has a value scale with holes to judge value and color relativity. You can actually take an erasable marker and sketch on this to establish your major shapes, but that is a step I’m not likely to do. I’d rather do a thumbnail. Time is of the essence out there and I want to make the most of it.  This one does have guidelines, but for me they are of little use and are honestly just more confusing and the last thing I want out there in the field is more confusion. So, for me, this one is also, a “no go”. This one comes in two sizes. I have both and my small one which I liked better, cracked. The small one is $5.89 and the larger one is $13.99

3. Picture Perfect – well first off, it’s got a funny name because there ain’t no such thing! This one is not as sturdy, is just too big and has too much information! I’m trying to make this all simpler not harder! So obviously, this one is out, especially since it’s $16.95!

4. Composition Finder by Guerilla Painter – This one is small, but not super sturdy. It also has lots of information, most of which I’d never use in the field. Not because I’m too smart, but because I’m probably too distracted out there. It’s a little too small and although it can change proportion and has little hash marks on the edges, it is still missing the most essential part of a viewfinder for me which is the guides! Another one that sits in my drawer. Oh, and it’s not so cheap either, it’s $9.89

5. My DIY viewfinder – Ok this one is home made, so I make them with stuff sitting around my studio and office; paper, acetate, tape, a sharpie and a hole punch. This one is the perfect size and comes in any proportion ( I make them to suit what proportions I like to paint in). It has a value scale on the side to judge relative value and  view color. AND…it has guidelines dividing my scene into four quadrants making it super easy to establish where everything is situated in my scene. If I lose it, and I will lose it, no problem. There are more where that came from. I can make these for my students with just a little time. I want them to have one. Best of all. I can share these with you too! They are FREE!

Happy Plein Air Painting!


Painting Minilessons
with Marla Baggetta

These “mini-lessons” grew out of my blog. I love sharing my experience behind the easel, so these are free. I write a new one every two or three weeks, so please feel free to share with artist friends.

​These lessons are mostly written text with graphics…short but useful tidbits from the foundations of painting that touch on subjects such as aerial perspective, simultaneous contrast or using negative spaces. I guide you through different aspects of painting and art that will get you comfortable with using pastels. You’ll gain confidence to attempt work that you might have otherwise been timid about.

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