How Sketchbook Design (the course) changed the design of my sketchbook pages

July 12, 2021 | 14 Comments

Most of you would have already heard that my Sketchbook Design course is returning soon with a Group Run-through starting on Wednesday 4 August.

Update 23 July: Doors are now open again – click here for more info.

But as my blog is where I share personal thoughts and reflections on my work, I thought it would be fun to collect a few thoughts together about how Sketchbook Design changed my work.

During the prep for the course, I looked through my entire collection of sketchbooks (12 years worth – over 250 books) and did a lot of analysis of my own work. And then once the course started in January this year I was so incredibly inspired by all the ideas which were generated by the group.

Another aspect of the course, which made it so impactful for me, was all the live reviews I did of work from the classroom. These helped me analyse my design process and made me realise how many compositional principles from my architectural career inform my page layouts.

So I’ve had a lot of thoughts floating around my head about sketchbook design in the last 12 months!

As a result, I’m finding that I’m…

  • Generally spending more time on design and have realised how connected my decisions about an individual  sketch are with the overall page design
  • Aligning objects even more than I used to – especially on simple pages
  • Creating more contained compositions and trying new layouts with white space in different areas
  • Drawing lots of maps
  • Using more positive shapes and less negative spaces – in particular with skies. I’ve been doing more partial skies for the last few years, but now I’m using taped edges a lot!
  • Thinking more about the flow between my pages and returning to an underlying grid for a book. (I first used a three column grid during my trip to BCN in 2013 but it’s been fun to return to this approach)

I still find it harder to create layouts in my everyday sketchbooks than I do when I’m travelling.  I think this is mainly due to the subject matter – it’s repetitive and can seem mundane.  But when I’m travelling it’s much harder to find the time to design and finish my pages each day.So I’m really pleased with the amount of time and focus I was able to devote to design during my busy trip… but, wow! I had a lot of homework every night!

I have lots more to say on this topic… but let’s get going with some examples!

Everyday sketching

So here are a few pages in the last 12 months from my 8×10 Stillman and Birn Alpha sketchbooks that I think are interesting…

Travel sketching

Here are a few of my favourite pages from my recent road trip from a composition point of view.

It was really hard to choose! I’ve mainly picked a lot with smaller images but also a few single-image spreads so that you can see how I vary the shape of the sketch, location of white space and position of text.


Oh ah! Putting this article together is making me really excited to go through this course again and share more about my Road Trip sketchbooks!

But enough about me…

I know that the course had a significant impact on the sketching of many – not just the design of their pages, but also their whole approach to sketching. Here’s an example:

“An inspired course with so much information to be processed! I now have much more confidence now to just sketch – not to worry it’s not good enough. I just have to get something down no matter how mundane and make sure to leave lots of white space with which to add to the story. The class was a breakthrough for me to not just complete an assignment but to take extra steps to provide a visual narrative that I would not be embarrassed to show to others. “
– Linda

Sketchbook Design has returned – find out more here!

I’ll be hosting a Group Run-through of the course starting on Wednesday 4 August which will include 6 live Q&A sessions. These livestreams are always the highlight of any SketchingNow course so I’m looking forward to going through this course again in this highly interactive way.

If you did the course earlier in the year, you’ll have free access to this Group Run-through. Stay tuned for a separate email from me with more details or simply visit the Sketchbook Design classroom and you will find more there!

Finally, if you were part of the first group to go through Sketchbook Design, I would love to hear from you. How did the course change your sketching and your sketchbook pages?

Please let me know in the comment section below (if you are reading this via email, please click on the link below and add a comment on my blog – thanks!)


  • Prashanta Bhat says:

    As an alumnus of the SketchBook Design course, i can vouch for the great take-aways that have been life-changing in terms of my sketching. From gaining sketching confidence to adding a date or text or just composing the page, this course was excellent: my sketches and pages are now a lot different (better) than what they used to be! Thanks Liz! So eagerly looking forward to the RunThroughs again.

  • Martine says:

    I did the sketchbook design course in january and absolutely loved it! I highly recommend this course, my pages look so much better now. And I am looking forward to the rerun as I have changed my A5 portrait book to an A4 landscape book, so it will be good to see some landscape examples.

  • Kathy Harbison says:

    Hi Liz Sketchbook design was an amazing course learnt so much and improved the look of my pages enormously.
    Made a page go from ok to something special. I look forward to this Group Run-through. So much great talent out there.

  • Cheryl Andre says:

    I am so looking forward to participating in the group rerun through of the Sketchbook Design course starting in August. I had signed up and paid for the course last winter, but my daughter-in-love’ Brain cancer the first week of January turned out worlds upside down. Everything centered around her care and managing house and home and well being of my young granddaughters took priority. Her death in late March followed by my brother’s death of Pancreatic cancer three weeks later, seven months after his diagnosis has been devastating. I help my son and granddaughters, stay isolated to protect them and I have escaped into books and not done any artwork since December. I am hoping to break this reluctance to pick up pen and brush with Sketchbook Design. I haven’t been able to do through the group run through of Edges. I thing perhaps breaking in the new wood turned fountain pen created by my brother will help me break the barrier. The Livestreams have been a lifeline for me, though I haven’t but pen or brush to paper, my eyes, ears and brain are taking refuge in the discussions, demonstrations, and lessons you so generously and joyfully presented. I loved your sketches and blogs of your long NSW road trip. Vicarious traveling was so wonderful. As soon as my granddaughters can be vaccinated, I’ll feeler safer broadening my world.

  • Peggy Bowman says:

    Sketchbook Design in January 2021 was my very first Liz class, and at first I was overwhelmed by the huge number of students enrolled in it. That being said, the international “community” Liz has created and encouraged is generous, supportive and eager to learn and share. I learned so much from Liz’s Livestream feedback sessions, and from the interaction with my fellow classmates. If I want feedback, I only have to ask, and often, it’s opened my eyes to wonderful possibilities that improve my sketch or page layout. I’m a story teller; my daily pandemic journal had become repetitive and boring – there was really no design, just a small sketch, the date/weather and narrative. During Sketchbook Design, I worked in a larger sketchbook and used Liz’s tools to think about what to put where and how so I could tell a better story. I’m really looking forward to the Group Run Through.

  • Digonnet Frédérique says:

    For me too, a first training with Liz and a discovery of what the composition of the page can help even more when one is still a beginner and not very satisfied with his drawings… when one succeeds in having an interesting page it motivates even more and relieves a little of the pressure of the “nice drawing” 😉 Knowing that the course is starting again will encourage me to choose a bigger sketchbook…I also think I’m already going to start thinking more composition for my next vacation drawings…

  • Peggy Wilson says:

    From all of the classes I have had over many years, college included, this was the best class with the most solid technical information I have ever had. The examples and videos are exceptional. The group share pages and feedback, priceless. I am very excited to follow the next class to absorb more juicy information to apply to my sketches. My old habits of how I used a sketchbook have been difficult to break. I understand it will be a process, and I’m excited to participate in the next class to improve. Thank you Liz, for continuing to provide this resource of valuable information!

  • Maria Lopes says:

    I love all your Sketchbooks.
    They are always great and always make me travel and/or admire watercolor painting.
    But as I’m a Graphic Designer, I prefer your sketchbooks of: “8×10 Stillman and Birn Alpha sketchbooks”
    The others are freer, “breathe” more on the pages.
    But I repeat, everyone is beautiful and interesting.
    The only thing that changed was not making the horizontal lines blue. Is not necessary ?

  • Karen King says:

    When I took the course I had been keeping a personal journal for several years. I somehow had the impression when I sat down to add to my journal I had to finish it all at once, and when time was short, my fast scribbles left me with a somewhat uninspiring journal. Your design course taught me to slow down because your journal is worth the time. Now I may finish it in one sitting, but frequently just jot down what I can and add to it when I have time. Also, I never gave much thought to design or composition for my journal, although in my paintings those are the most important elements. Now I am satisfied and pleased to look back through my carefully drawn and planned journal. Because, after all, it is worth it!

  • David Campbell says:

    Sketching with a lot less concern lately. If things go a little off there’s always plan B (ignore and carry on!) and C,D… Plus I’ve been trying things inspired by the works of the Sketchbook Design student body. It’s a terrific community. My newer pages have a more coherent and consistent look, and I’ve gone back and elevated several old pages retroactively — that’s been so satisfying. Am quite eager for the run through!

  • G Clauson says:

    Liz…I took this class in January and learned so much. I have already absorbed so much from you, but this class focused so much on the lay-out of a page and what makes it visually interesting and easy on the eyes. Excellent class with an excellent teacher! Thank you so much.

  • Liz Steel says:

    Thanks everyone! I ‘ll try to reply to you all soon

  • Judy Wilson says:

    Hi Liz,
    Since doing the Sketchbook Design Class I have made the breakthrough of sketching on a daily basis. I also have many ideas on how to add variety to my pages. I have been experimenting with a variety of sketchbooks and pens whereas before the course I would have been more rigid in my choices. I know I can go back to the class again and learn more. What a great class it was. I will definitely be tuning in to the next run through!

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