Sketchbook Design: Behind the scenes

December 23, 2020 | 12 Comments

Yesterday I almost finished filming my upcoming course – just one outside demo to go! I started filming six weeks ago and although I’ve spaced out my filming sessions, it’s been a huge job. Mainly because I have been doing all the filming myself and because I’ve been using lots and lots of examples from my sketchbooks.

Since it has been such an adventure I thought it would be fun to share a few behind the scenes photos. It’s also a good way for me to document the whole process.


I started out creating a massive digital database containing about 1500 of my most interesting sketchbook pages. I then added keywords to them (relating to the outline of my course) and then started the process of choosing examples. I did this over a number of days over my afternoon coffee at my local cafe.

This digital review of my work was great in the early stages, but when I started prepping for filming I realised that it was quite a process to find the sketchbooks for all the example pages . It was totally doable as I add a date to the file name of all my scans and then I can work out which sketchbook it’s in. If my sketchbooks had been in order this would have been easier.

(Aside: I’m going to change my system from now on and reference the sketchbook number rather than the date)


Tracking down my chosen examples was taking longer than I had hoped so I decided that it might just be easier (and more enjoyable) simply to flip through my full sketchbook collection and tag pages I wanted to use. This was so much better as it’s always nicer to view my sketches in real life (rather than scans) and in the context of a whole book.

As a result of this epic flip-through (I have approximately 250 sketchbook in my collection) I had piles and piles of sketchbooks on the floor!


And my sketchbook shelf started to look very empty! This bookcase is normally completely full including another shelf below. BTW I’m showing a lot of my early work inside the course so every shelf was depleted!


Then when it was time to film a particular lesson… I had to further sort the piles.


Almost ready to start filming… well not quite… still have to go through these piles.

By the way, looking through all my sketchbooks over a period of a few days was a really special experience. I did it in chronological order so that I got a real sense of my artistic development over the years. I also realised how much my life has changed since the early days (when I was working full time as an architect).

The other thing that really struck me was just how many unsuccessful sketches I have done! So if you are discouraged by your work at the moment, I have a fresh appreciation of that feeling!

Okay, back to my process…


One more big thing which I did before I started filming was to create a Sketchbook Design sketchbook. It’s a 8×10 softcover Stillman and Birn Alpha book which contains the entire content of the course. It’s a little meta I know… but oh! I really love this book.


As for filming… as mentioned above I’m filming this course entirely on my own. However my videographer came over to help adjust my setup – making sure that all of my four  cameras had the right settings. I understand settings for photos, but video is another matter.

Here is a photo of my setup – can you see all four cameras and the pile of sketchbooks on the floor? And yes, it’s pretty tight inside my tiny apartment but I’m making it work!


And then when I actually started filming, one of the cameras lost its settings… so a quick photo and email to my videographer to sort it out (some weird auto setting was the problem).

Hmm, there were a few other tech issues as well, such as a lens that stopped working and had to be replaced, but overall it’s gone really well! It’s been easier than I expected it to be.


As I filmed each lesson I put my sketchbooks back… so this is the state of my sketchbook bookcase after filming lesson 2. Now that I’ve finished all the parts of the course which require examples, I will be finally able to put everything back in order once more.


If you are wondering about the teacup on the table (did you even noitce it?) , it’s one of the T2 cups I bought to celebrate the launch of my last course Watercolour On Location. I still haven’t bought a special “Sketchbook Design” cup yet… but I’ll have to do so in the coming week.


And one final image showing some thumbnail pages which I did of two recent travel sketchbooks in order to review some of the design principles which I will be sharing inside the course. I’ve learnt so much about my own work in the preparation for this course.

Oh! it has been so much fun! And it has been really special to have a big challenging project like this to finish off the year. I guess you all know that I LOVE a good challenge – and this has certainly been one!


Finally, if you haven’t already heard… enrollment for the Sketchbook Design course is now open. I’m really looking forward to hosting a 6 week Group Run-through (with weekly livestreams) starting on 4th January 2021. I know that it will be a great way to kick off our sketching for the new year. I’m already super inspired through the creation of this course and I know that the lessons are just the start! The real magic will happen inside the classroom as everyone shares their own interpretation of the concepts and will encourage, inspire and motivate each other as a result.


Find out more about Sketchbook Design


Anyway, I’ll share more about the course next week, but I just wanted to celebrate the fact that I’m almost finished the filming and I’m now going to have a few days off. So this might be my last post before the 25th.

I know that this year is very different from normal, but I hope that whatever you do, you have a wonderful and safe holiday season. Sending you all a big virtual hug!




  • Fiona Campbell says:

    I’m soooo glad I enrolled in this course – originally I was thinking of it to get myself motivated to get on a new creative page (so-to-speak !) at a dreary time of year in Scotland, and do a new thing in a new year. Now mainland Scotland is heading into a preventive Tier 4 lockdown on Christmas Eve for most of January- perfect for keeping me focussed on the Sketchbook course – Liz, you may save my sanity ! Looking forward to Liz’s energy and enthusiasm plus meeting lots of other creatives on these fab livestreams.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Fiona!!! I’m hoping that the group will inspire us all – in fact I know it will! Have a wonderful Christmas.

  • Yvonne Carpenter says:

    I agree with Fiona – although here in Colorado (USA) we are not in lock-down nor will we be next year (likely never really), i just try not to go anywhere I don’t have to. And it is COLD! So a course like this is PERFECT to keep me focused and out of trouble 🙂 I can hardly wait! Thank you Liz for sharing the behind the scenes – this filming/course designing chaos is often hidden from us the general public. All we know is that one day “poof”, a course from Liz appears, lol!

  • Verena Wendt says:

    Lockdown in Germany as well (most shops, gastronomy, museums pp closed). Happy Christmas – no matter we may celebrate it a bit different this year – to everyone. After that starting the new year with this course is something I really look forward to. I’m sure this course will brighten things up considerably for me.

  • Martine Brink says:

    Same here in the Netherlands. We are in full lockdown and I fear that will last some time. So a new course to keep my spirits up and hopefully attend some of the livestreams is something to look forward to in these gloomy covid-winter months!

  • Lynda Hutchins says:

    I’ve signed up as a present to me from me for no real reason other than its so good to have something to look forward to . Lockdown in all its varying degrees is so tedious and I find it far too easy to fritter away the day so this course should bring a new focus to the day. Looking forward to starting .

  • Cora Brown says:

    Being in the first run of one of your classes is so special, I had to sign up. I’m looking forward to working on sketchbooks with friends around the world.

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