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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Designing Pages

Hi all...since so many of you voted for this topic, here's the first!

There are all kinds of ways to design your pages--often, we find that we don't even start out thinking in those terms, but just let them develop as we go along.  That's how I work most often!

There are almost as many ideas on page design as there are journal keepers doing it--so we'll have a post here occasionally on what we like and what we do.  Sometimes one simple image is enough; some people use borders or lettering, sometimes graphs work.  Nina Johansson, one of our correspondents, fills a page as she goes along, on a busy week--a little bit each day.  The result is amazingly pleasing!

I like to think in terms of the information I want down there, whether it's something I plan to share, an informational page, or just a need to DO it, for my own sake.  I try to keep balance, harmony and a pleasing variety of sizes in mind, if I'm paying attention to design...

...and sometimes I don't!  Just "get 'er done!"

So...here are a couple of recent pages and how they developed...


The other day a strange bird alighted outside the French doors...it was somewhat backlit and I didn't realize what it was till I got the binoculars.  It's a brown-headed cowbird, a rather nasty pushy bird that takes over the nests of other birds, laying its eggs there.  The larger hatchlings often crowd out the smaller babies.  But--it was fun to see it, so I grabbed the closest dark pencil and did a quick sketch.
I decided to add color, so moved over to the desk and my watercolors!  

This was mostly wet in wet--but I loved the gloss and reflected sky color on the bird's head...

He had a lovely iridescence to him, so I did a little underpainting of the blues and greens, and added part of his perch.

I started adding the dark to the bird's body, using a mixture of burnt sienna and ultramarine.  I'd been complaining that I couldn't do calligraphy worth beans, so figured lately I needed to actually TRY.  I chose colors that complimented the bird, though it would have been nice to make the word "brown", well, BROWN.
I decided a subtle border and some spatters would help hold the page together and contain it...again, using a color that harmonized.  The spatter helps cover a place where I had my hand in the paint!  And you can see I'd started to sketch another bird head, but he flew off...a few notes begin to pull this page together.

More notes and information--the notes were places to balance the composition a bit as well as to provide information.
So...this is a very simple page, overall, but I like it!  (Need to practice my calligraphy more though.<:-))


This spread is much more complex--pretty busy, really!  If you have a collection of images like this, you need to put a bit more thought into how to pull it together, to create a bit of flow and unity.

This one came about when I was doing very quick sketches at Eagle Days on Saturday--mostly ink gesture sketches, since I couldn't get very close to the big birds.  I didn't worry about placement, size or anything else, just sketched as fast as I could!

After we left the hall where the live birds were, we went to the nearby woodhenge.  I sat on a log in the winter sun and took my time sketching, on the opposite page.  While there, I picked up the bone fragments you see in the circle--remains of an eagle's meal, I'm sure.  All this was done with a technical pen, in black, and the images to across the gutter a bit, to tie them together.  Fish bones go over onto the landscape, posts, shore and water cross over in the other direction...

Back home, I sketched the bones and started adding color and more notes; I made the two pages harmonize as much as possible, using the same washes on both sides of the spread.

The circle was added later, with a template, to contain the bones and unify the spread.

I'd done one REALLY bad sketch, in a hurry, so I collaged on the Missouri Department of Conservation logo over it--they'd been presenters, and the colors went well!

The left side seemed to need something, so I added the background blue--same color as the frozen lake...

A bit more calligraphy and a partial border of "feathers" at upper left, and I was happy with it!

(These are two very different papers, by the way.  I bind my own books and don't really worry about facing pages.  This is HP on the left and a quite textured watercolor paper on the right.  The ink and the watercolor went on differently, but I didn't care.  I find it instructional!)

So...these are just a couple of ideas; there will be a lot more, both in the book and here!  (And in fact there are two PDFs on my CD at right on Design Ideas with lots of suggestions.)


  1. That is the prettiest brown headed cowbird I ever saw :)

  2. Thank you! He was surprisingly pretty, I didn't realize they were so iridescent.

  3. Great post, Kate! I've been a longtime fan of your journaling style and it is one of my intentions for 2011 to do more illustrated journaling myself. This is very inspirational! I like your new blog a lot.

  4. I'm so glad you like it, Lynn! I've enjoyed your stuff, too...

  5. this is great Kate - I have had a number of requests for composition tips recently and have been planning to put some thoughts together...just got to find the time for it!!!

  6. I love your lettering. I especially love the shadows and color harmony. I'm so glad you created this blog. It's genius!

  7. Thank you! I'm glad you like it, I'm very pleased with the response it's gotten.

  8. I can't thank you enough for sharing how you arrive at the end result. It takes the mystery out of it. I just love this blog. Ive said it before, I just don't spend enough time reading it!

  9. Glad you liked it, Helen! I was just looking at a whole section on designing your pages in my new ebook--it didn't make it into the Artist's Journal Workshop book, in that form.


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