From contained to open compositions

February 5, 2021 | 8 Comments

We’re now into Lesson 3 of my Sketchbook Design course and we’re exploring open compositions – overlapping, and extending, placing elements randomly and more.

This is more my style than last week where I was trying to contain everything. I struggled a little at the beginning of the week to keep each sketch/element separate. But after a few days it became a lot of fun and I’ve actually found it a little hard to switch gears! I really enjoyed the contained week – and thinking about some of the design principles we have been discussing in the course. In particular I’ve become even more aware of alignment, positive vs negative (including the use of white space) and becoming more intentional about everything I add to my page.

But once I get my flow happening again, I know that my preference will still be for more open compositions!

I didn’t do any exciting sketching this week, but I’m pretty happy with some of the layouts as they’re a bit different from usual. And so these pages demonstrate the main theme of the course – spending a little time to design takes away a lot of pressure to produce masterpiece sketches and enables you to create a beautiful page even with average sketches.

Anyway, I could go on and on about this theme.. but it’s time to share the pages.

Here they are…

Trying to sketch some Lego (Fabuland) while my nieces and nephews were playing with it during a family gathering. I could have done more to this page…

The map shared earlier this week… and some notes related to sermons on the Lord’s Day (Sunday). Composition note: Sometimes I just feel like a solid page of text!

Yearly visit to Ergon cafe while my car was being serviced.

And then my typical afternoon cafe work session at Goodfields. They have some new patterned plates so I asked for them to sketch (without any food!)

Was busy prepping for my weekly Sketchbook Design Livestream so I wasn’t really focusing on my sketches or the design of the page… but it was fun to record the film crew at work.

Time to order from the new menu and see what the food looks like on the new plates. I was talking to the owner and managed to knocked over my coffee (clumsy me!). I didn’t want to mop it up so let it dry naturally and then sketched over the top.

And just to give an idea of the sequence of pages  – the Bernini page – sits in here.

Bits and pieces… trying to do some overlapping.

So there you have it… at the moment I’m not getting out much for urban sketching or other outings. So cafe visits for work sessions is all that I seem to be able to manage. But of course I’m super thankful that I am able to visit cafes.

I’m looking forward to experimenting  some more with open compositions in the coming days.

If you are doing the course, have you found it easy to switch from contained to open? Which has been more comfortable for you?


  • Janice Troyer says:

    I’ve found the switch from contained to open compositions a huge challenge. But that’s good, it’s pushing my boundaries and forcing me to experiment with things I’ve never done before. Always a bit scary, but you are always so encouraging for us to try different things and not worry about how it comes out, Liz. I appreciate that!

  • Mihaela Savu says:

    Hello Liz,
    Your journals are all real art journals, even if you call them “Traveling” or ‘Architecture” or “Everyday” journals, they are beautiful… It is a real pleasure to look at your drawings and sketches and learning from your works… Related to your today’s topic, I have a question, it might be a silly one, but it would be very useful to know your opinion, or anybody else seeing it:
    When you just started journaling or even later, have you ever did a quick sketch of how you wanted your page/pages to look like, before doing the final drawings in your journal? I am asking because I just started a travelling journal, which is more a journal of places I used to go to, drawing from photos mainly, and as I go along I don’t want to have pages I don’t like, along with the finished (and good) ones ! But, if I do a sketch on a different book, it takes longer to have it redone and finished in the main journal! I don’t know if I am clear enough ?
    Your comments are more than welcome ? Thank you!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Michaela – not a silly question at all and it’s something that I talk a lot about in my Sketchbook Design course. Yes I have done a design beforehand at times. But only occasionally:-)

  • Mihaela SAVU says:

    I meant, exclamation not question sign!

  • Cathy Ramsey says:

    Fun lesson, Liz, as always! I’m finding the change a bit challenging, and that’s all good. I like the open composition part but overlapping is new to me. I normally do landscapes and maybe a few critters so I’m having to think about how I want to make that work. There are some truly excellent examples from other folks in the classroom, which makes for plenty of inspiration to try new things. I love your courses, thanks for pulling this one together!

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