Sketchbook Composition Liz-Style

January 17, 2011 | 3 Comments

A number of people have asked me for some tips on composition from sketchbook pages…. I think that rather than give a few ‘rules’ I would try to explain my thought processes for a few pages.

So here are two spread from Saturday in the state they were when I got home. Often I have to complete my pages at home (add text, tie the elements together).

And a third page from my day, thrown as a bonus.

Sketches from the day

Page 1 – Morning Tea

Normally, I  take a little thought before I start sketching – is it to be a single object? or a full page spread to describe the moment?

If a single object (or group of objects such as a cup, teapot and plate of scones…funny that I chose that subject as an example?) I try to think very quickly of what else I might want to do on the page in order to have a stab at its size and location. Sometimes I have no idea what other things I might what add to the page but I do have a feeling of where to put it based previously layouts in my book and what I think would add variety. Other times I don’t think at all but just draw…and occasionally I purposely challenge myself by drawing a cup of tea right bang in the middle of a page just to see what I can make of the full spread.

On Saturday morning (page 1) I was half thinking of drawing my scones and then I felt too embarrassed to let the world know that I ordered them so early in the morning so I just drew the tea and pot. I was actively involved in the conversation so I didn’t really get a chance to sketch a view of the cafe, or a detail a flower arrangement etc.

But just when we were finishing up I suddenly had a thought (out of nowhere) to draw the plan. This was as far as I got.

Page 2 – Lunch

I had a few minutes sitting at the table alone so I started drawing the fountain… then after the I had eaten my food I decided to draw a facade of the buildings of the courtyard. Still talking and not really concentrating on what I was drawing… once again this was a far as I got.

Page 3- Afternoon Tea (T2 tearoom if you are wondering)

Trying a very difficult view of the tearoom. I was rushed as it was closing time – so didn’t draw this as carefully as I would have liked to and rushed the colour. I am not going to do anything more to this page as it’s simply a sketch filling a double page sketch.

Now what am I going to do with these?? 

It is important for me to see the three pages as a sequence. I like the fact that I have a full page spread (afternoon tea) and a more sparse first page.

This spread is a record of the type of thinking that I do…

I decide what else I want to put on the page – heading, business card, map, text. An aside … I like to contain my text in columns or a block of text.

Should I consider adding another element – texture, colour relating to the page?

I mentally look at some options for putting these on the page – sometimes I struggle to picture it mentally so I scribble with my pencil the options. As I am an architect and deal with composition, shapes, spaces etc in my daily job I am very used to testing alternatives. I also think about the pages before (or after) and make sure I mix up horizontal and vertical elements. Sometimes I don’t really look at options…but a layout seems to jump out at me.

I just make a quick decision (ie. don’t worry too much) and start on the page. Often I change my mind as I am adding text etc. That is part of the fun for me.

So I decided to keep page 1 simple and I didn’t end up putting the map on either page.

BTW: this sketch is quite wrong in the fact that I drew the pot full of tea and then drew the cup full of tea. One of them should have been empty. As the tea had been plunged I am thinking that the pot should have been empty!

Often I make the wrong decision… or more accurately, I am not sure that I made the right one. So I’m not 100% happy with this result…but hey it is just a page in my sketchbook! And my sketchbook is the place where I explore and experiment.

I hope that you enjoyed this insight into the way I think about my page layouts.


  • AutumnLeaves says:

    I'd love to make wrong decisions in your mein. Sheesh. Your pages are always stunning, Liz.

  • Sandy says:

    Thanks for the demo Liz – you are brave and adventerous in your layouts and the almost always work! I think your architect training shows 🙂 lucky (talented) you!

  • Hey Liz
    I haven't been here for a while and well your sketches are changing. There is a great deal more in them, more lines, more colour.

    Lovely to see how things are evolving.

    You have a little mention over at my place.
    Cheers and hope you are well and happy.

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