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Composing a Page

When you are laying out a page, keep in mind that you have several elements to work with. First of all, you have the pictures that you're putting on it. Secondly, you have the background you're putting them on. Third, you have type that tells you, at the least, who or what's in the picture and possibly when and why it was taken. Fourth, you have any other design elements you want to use, such as blocks of color, lines, frames, and embellishments of all kinds from rubber stamps to charms to ribbons and more. These can be overwhelming, if they're not carefully placed. One of the main design points to remember is don't crowd. A cluttered page is unattractive and hard to read.

The Importance of Whitespace

Well, first of all, whitespace doesn't have to be white. Colored backgrounds are nice, too. But you do need to leave some space on your page. When you fill up a page with text and pictures, it's hard to look at because there are so many elements competing for your attention. Whitespace, sometimes called negative space, describes the open space between design elements. It can be between words or paragraphs of text. It can be space inside or around a picture, or between the elements of the page. It's easy to concentrate on what you're putting into a page, to the point that you ignore what you ought to leave out.

If the viewer's eye is to flow from one photo or paragraph to another, you need to give it a reason to do so. The reason can be whitespace. Whitespace is essential for providing spatial relationships between visual items, and actually guides your eye from one point to another. Whitespace doesn't have to be large. Just a generous "gutter" between text and pictures can make a big difference, as you can see in Figure 5.7. (Gutter is a typesetter's term for the space between columns of text.) The page on the left in Figure 5.7 is jammed full of stuff. The same elements, on the right page, have added just a bit of space and there's a noticeable difference in the "viewer-friendliness" of the page.

Figure 5.7Figure 5.7 This is a journal-style scrapbook page. It's important that the text be readable.

Eye Leading

The way you place your elements on the page can determine whether they're seen. The reader's natural tendency is to look from top left to bottom right, at least in English-speaking countries and in most of Europe. Therefore, you want to arrange your pictures and text so there's a natural flow from the upper-left side of the page to the bottom right. This is especially important if, as in the example shown in Figure 5.7, there's a lot of text to read. Use the photos to balance the page.

Wide margins also direct the reader's attention to the center of the page. Remember that the wider the columns of type, the more space needed between them. If you have three narrow columns of type, the gutter can be narrower than if there are only two. Also allow ample vertical space between the lines (called leading, it rhymes with sledding, as opposed to eye "leading," which rhymes with pleading) for the sake of legibility. Tightly spaced text "darkens" the page and makes it less attractive.


Flipping pictures is okay, unless there's somebody wearing a T-shirt with words, or a guy with one earring, or an obvious wedding ring, or a sign or anything similar that readers might notice.

When you use a photo, try not to place it so the subject is looking away from the page. If you have a right-facing subject, place it on the left side of the page. This way he, she, or it appears to be looking at the text, not away from it. If there are no characteristics like type in the photo that will give away the secret, you can flip a picture horizontally to give you more flexibility in the layout. Your reader tends to look in the same direction as the photo subject, and you want to keep the reader's eyes on the page.

The Rule of Thirds

Much to my surprise, when I started laying out scrapbook pages, I discovered that the same principles apply to a page as to a single photo. Make shapes work together within the context of the whole design, be it page or picture. Avoid crowding. Decide on a center of interest, and make it the focal point of the page.

Good photos and good pages have what's called a center of interest. In a portrait of a single person, it's the face. In a group of people, there's ideally one who dominates, whereas the rest are subordinate. The dominant one, because of position, size, or placement, is the center of interest. In a landscape or still life, it's the part of the picture to which the viewer's eye is attracted first. Your first step in composing a picture—or a page—is to find the center of interest. Most of the time, it's obvious. It's the dominant feature of the landscape. It's the one yellow flower in the field of red ones. In the world of advertising, it's the widget that goes next to the catalog description, or the house that's for sale. It's the reason why you're taking the picture or making the page. On a page about your child's birthday, it's the child blowing out the candles on the cake.

After you locate, or decide upon, the center of interest, look for anything that might detract from it. Is there something behind the portrait subject that interferes with him? Does he have a lamp, or a window, or some other object in the room that appears to be growing out of his head? If so, change your camera position, or else move him to a more neutral background.

Deer Me!

I once saw a remarkable portrait of the CEO of a large corporation. He apparently liked hunting, and had a trophy deer head mounted and hung on a wall in his office. The photographer who was sent to shoot a portrait for a business magazine was an animal lover, and managed to position the CEO so that he appeared to be wearing the deer's antlers. He looked idiotic. (What was most remarkable about the picture was that the magazine editor allowed it to run.)

The center of interest generally shouldn't be right in the middle of the page, unless it's the only thing of importance on the page. The center of interest also shouldn't be right at the edge of the page, because this tends to draw the viewer's eye away from everything else, and usually right off the page. It knocks the viewer off balance.

If you analyze a number of successful pages, you'll probably find that in more cases than not, the center of interest falls in one of only four spots. These spots can be defined, and even turned into a rule that artists and designers know as the rule of thirds. Quite simply, you divide the frame into thirds, vertically and horizontally, as in Figure 5.8. The four points where the lines intersect are the approximate "best" locations for the center of interest. The ancient Greeks had discovered this, along with many other geometric "rules" for artists and sculptors. They were used in everything from the design of the pyramids in Egypt to the Parthenon, to DaVinci's painting of the Last Supper, and are found with astonishing frequency in nature. If you want to learn more, visit http://www.goldennumber.net/.

Like all good rules, it's meant to be broken occasionally. (Think how much better the chocolate cake tastes after a week of dieting.) But if you follow it more often than not, your pages have a greater impact.

Figure 5.8Figure 5.8 The rule of thirds applies to any size or shaped page.

Coherent Pages

The main goal for your scrapbook pages is to be enjoyed and understood. Although it's lots of fun to use exotic fonts and quirky layouts, don't lose sight of the goal. When you have too many gimmicks on a page, your viewers don't bother with it. Limit yourself to a few interesting but legible fonts per document. Make your titles stand out by leaving whitespace around them—it's better than big black type for attracting attention.

When you are working with facing pages, try to do the two at once, or at least consider how the right-side page will relate to the left one as you put it together. Remember to put a "strong" element like a large title or contrasting color block and/or a large photo in the upper-left corner of the right page, so the viewer's eye is attracted back up, instead of continuing across the bottom of the right page, and out of the book. Figure 5.9 shows how this might look.

Figure 5.9Figure 5.9 Facing pages need to work together.

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