Adding borders around my sketches

January 27, 2020 | 9 Comments

Last week was a big one and I wasn’t able to devote as much time to sketching as I had liked, so to mix it up a little, I decided to draw borders around nearly all my sketches.

This simple idea made the week much more interesting as instead of worrying about what I was sketching (or not!) I was thinking about the layout of my pages. Designing the composition of the whole spread is one of the most important aspects of keeping a sketchbook (for me), and I spend a lot of time each week thinking about different layout options and ways of finishing my pages to create an interesting spread.

So it was really fun to have a self-imposed rule and to draw borders all week, even when I didn’t think the page needed it. There is no doubt that adding a border or frame around random images on a page helps to tie the overall composition together!

Here are my pages from last week… and at the end I’ll share some of the discoveries I made this week about borders and my new project idea!

A random page and I had fun drawing borders to add ‘order’ to the page.

I was trying to line up my borders in this spread… more about these pages below.

The page from my morning cafe visit showing the first pass when I’m sketching people.

I’m used to putting down some loose shapes initially which works great for buildings but when it comes to sketching people I feel that I need to ‘tighten’ these and make them more accurate. The other thing to consider is that the subject is moving and might notice me – I have to make sure I’m calm, relaxed and deliberate.

For something different and completely random…

It’s a nice challenge to make a fun page out of boring objects. And it’s curious that these type of trivial pages are the most interesting down the track. Note: This page has a coloured block (something I used a lot in the old days such as in Sketchbook No. 15) rather than a true border.

These are quick sketches from a self-filmed demo for the Buildings Group run-through. When I do a fairly static layout like this – two full page sketches – I often add a frame to just one page to create some interest.

No border on this spread, but I feel another trend emerging… text in vertical columns!

Trying to be a good student and doing my own exercises for the Buildings Group run-through– well some of them!

The sketches on these pages were done somewhat randomly and the borders added later.

More vertical columns of text and a border that I didn’t feel I needed to add… but as it’s the rule of the week I did.

You see my teacups all the time, but what about my teapot? I haven’t sketched it much lately… so here it is.

I’ve had this Beehouse (Zero) teapot for many many years and use it multiple times a day. I have two of these as one lived in the office (in the old days when I worked as an architect).

I nearly always use loose leaf tea – I did this at work as well. This a perfect pot for me as I can get two teacups out of it and the second cup is the same infusion as the first. It’s also a fantastic pourer.

And I just realised (looking up my blog archives) that my tea cosy is nearly 10 years old. I’m not a knitter as such, but back around 2010 I did make a few tea cosies as I was inspired by the Wild Cosies by Loani Prior. You have to keep the pot warm!

Trying an overly ambitious patterned colour block and then a few quick people sketches from photos while eating my lunch.

A sketching catchup and some Westfield people while chatting (so I wasn’t really concentrating on my sketching). A simple frame around the row of people.

More vertical columns and another border that I didn’t need to add – but did anyway.

Some days I am just too busy to fit in a quiet moment to sketch, but if I have to drive somewhere (such as to an appointment or meeting) I plan to arrive 10-15 minutes early so I can do a sketch from my parked car. So this is what I did on Saturday… just a simple little sketch of a typical Mosman cottage. Fun to do!

And…it just so happens to be a good lead in to the exercises coming up in Week 3 of the Buildings courses – volumes, edges, thickness and depths with a theme of houses.

And finally…

Another spread done for Buildings – this time sketches accompanying a bonus video all about the important of Ground Edges. (See this article here for more about this topic.) I didn’t add any borders to this, but if I did, what would I have done?

I printed off a copy to show you. What do you think? Which do you prefer?

Here are a few comments about my ‘border’ explorations:

– All the borders in these pages were added after the sketches were completed, and in many cases I was simply sketching and not thinking about page layout before I started. Maybe next week, I should draw some borders first (although this is something I don’t normally like doing as I feel constrained by a frame)
– I really love the way borders add order to a scattered page – but on the other hand, I love randomly composed pages with lots of notes and I don’t think these type of pages need borders. So I think the true power of borders is seen when they are used to tie together the elements don’t really relate to each other.
– I seem to be into drawing borders around my headings too.
– Drawing borders is a good way to practice straight lines (teaser here for a bonus video I added into the Buildings course recently – if you are enrolled in the course I added it into Lesson 1 bonus material)
– Drawing borders is a good way to slow down – hard to get straight lines if you rush
– All my borders last week were done with a medium weight black pen… what other options are there? (Note. I have lots of ideas!)

Hmm, I’m excited about giving myself a sketchbook layout theme for a week (the start of a new project?) and want to continue with borders for this week as well.

Do you want to join me?

Are borders something you use in your own sketchbook?



  • Rhonda Roebuck says:

    I do love borders! I use them both before and after drawing. I once read that starting with a format (border) puts you in charge of what space you will use. You are not just relying on the edge of the paper, but you have made a decision on how to start. I also find that borders help me see negative space. If I am drawing, for example, a chair, then with a border I can see the outline of the chair by looking at the empty space around the chair enclosed by the border. Exciting compositions can happen when you cross the border and allow parts to go outside of the enclosed space. Jane LaFazio has great examples of this in her sketchbooks. Needless to say, you have hit on a topic that interest me!! I would enjoy joining you in a border project!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Rhonda – great that you like borders too. I rarely use them beforehand but I know a lot of people do and agree with your comments about how great they are. My project will be all about sketchbook layouts – borders and beyond!

  • Afrikia says:

    Much better with borders ! 🙂 (y)
    By the way, If you didn’t see it, I’m sure you’ll like a lot the Brenda Swenson video devoted to determine formats and borders… really amazing ! 🙂

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Afrikia!!!! great video by Brenda and it’s cool that she decides after her drawing. Thanks for sharing

  • Raquel Feria says:

    It is a great work!

  • Mary says:

    Thanks Liz, I am keen to use more borders as I think they can make a more dynamic layout. On a recent sketch of a building I did a little study of the ornate trim, to one side. Once I painted the sky I realised that would be a natural place to stop, then realised I had a lovely little border segment to the main sketch.

  • I use borders from time to time. Some sketches need them. Usually a smaller sketch, just in ink looks kind of lonely on the page so it gets a border. I like to draw them so that maybe one side will run thru part of the sketch but break the line at the sketch. Does that make sense? I also like to see what other sketchers do with borders.

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