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Idea Book : A Photo-First Approach to Designing Layouts

{Reported by Annie Hafermann}

You know I love working with sketches....always have. So I was very excited to get my hands on the book A Photo-First Approach to Designing Layouts by Donna Downey! Good ol' Donna has done herself proud with this one! It's a collection of 41 "designs" (aka sketches), 100 layouts, and 642 photos (now THAT is an impressive number of photos...seriously!!)

The book is aimed at really getting through those stacks of photos you have hanging around. It's about using formula's (sketches) that Donna has put to the test...achieving lovely layouts that really pack on photos and tell stories. Donna uses these designs as starting points , believing that once you get the photos cut to size and layed out, you can then be free to embellish and get creative.

With that in mind, the book is set up with 25 "main designs" that accommodate from 3-10 photos (with most of them being between 6-8 photos.) Each design is shown with four layouts based on that design. (all of the layouts are done by Donna) The layouts range from simple photo + word + a bit of cardstock/patterned paper to some with really cool paint and stamping techniques (which I note only b/c I did a fair bit of "oh must try that" when looking through's definitely NOT a technique book though.) At the back there are 16 bonus designs that do not have any accompanying layouts, but provide lots more inspiration.

All in all I think it's a GREAT book for anyone interested in multi-photo layouts with lots of space to journal or embellish. I know it's a book I will use over and over and over and over.

What I made:

Wave Runner, based on Design 16, five photo design

Supplies: Patterned Paper: Rouge de Garance, Alpha Stickers: Scenic Route, Journaling Spot: Making Memories (I used the BACK), Metal Word Plate: Making Memories, Buttons: Misc.

For this layout I used the exact dimensions of photos given on the design (love how easy that was!!). I shuffled the sizes a little (to get my sequence right), but otherwise, went right along with the way it was sketched out.

Fairy Princess Ballerine, Design 17, three photo design

Supplies: Patterned Paper: Bo Bunny and Crate Paper, Cardstock: Bazzill, Alpha Stickers: Paislee Press and Making Memories, Metal Flower Eyelets: Making Memories, Ink: Stazon

For this layout I turned the sketch 90 degrees and cut my photos slightly larger than the design specs. I also moved my photos more toward the center of the page (took inspiration from two of the layouts Donna did based on this design.)

26.2 Miles, Design 13, Nine Photo Design

Supplies: Cardstock: Bazzill, Patterned Paper (scalloped): Pink Paislee, Alpha Stickers: Creative Memories, Punch: EK Success, Date Stamp: Staples, Metla Tag: American Crafts, Metal Clip: Making Memories, Misc: Sewing machine and pink cord

For this layout I used the photo sizes set out in the design (I would NEVER have been able to do it without having the photo sizes!!!) I swapped the position of the 4X6 photo and the journaling block, but otherwise followed the design pretty closely.

What I like:
1.) 25 designs with 4 layouts based on each design = 100 layouts...LOVE THAT!! There are also 16 BONUS designs...AWESOME!
2.) I REALLY LOVE that the Donna D offers us photo sizes. One can always disregard or change the sizes, but having them as a place to start is super helpful. Can't emphasize enough how much I love this feature (For my layouts included in this review I literally, grabbed photos, cut them just as directed and went from there....BRILLIANT!)
3.) The designs are clean and unclutter....they speak to the heart of the matter. They allow plenty of room for journaling which I think is SUPER important!
4.) Under the design number on each page, it says how many photos it accommodates. This is really helpful when you have a given number of photos you want to use on one layout, you can flip through and very quickly see which designs will work.

What I didn't like:
There isn't much about this that I didn't like, but I can see that some of the "pluses" could be double edged swords....for example

1.) Since the designs are very clean and straight forward, they don't give guidelines/suggestions on how to layer your papers or where to add embellishments. That being said, Donna says in her intro that this book is about scrapping lots of photos and telling stories, not so much about complicated or frilly layouts (those are my words, but I think that's what she was getting at :) ).

2.) There aren't suggestions in the designs on where to put journaling or titles, BUT because they are very clean sketches, there is plenty of "white space" to add them and there are four layouts based on each sketch, so lots of ideas and inspiration.

The Dealio-
Publisher: Simple Scrapbooks, a CK Media Property
MSRP: $14.99
Available:,,* (best price at time of publicaiton)

What do YOU think?
Do you like to work from sketches? Have you had the pleasure of being inspired by this book? What do you think of it? Have you made anything based on designs in the book? We'd love for you to share your thoughts and links to your work!



Joli said...

This sounds like the perfect book for me!!! Thanks for the info! Off to add it to my amazon cart.

JennV said...

I have actually never worked from sketches before, but I actually think this book would fit me well. I am one of those people that tries to scrap EVERY photo and am always looking for multi-photo layout designs. Thanks so much for this review; I may just have to go out and buy this book!

Heather said...

This is for sure the perfect book for me. The examples you posted and what you described are 100% my style of scrapping. I often crop my pictures to the size I like then design from there. I'm all about pictures first...this is going on my must have list.

Heather Crawford said...

Ummm, this is one of my MOST favorite idea books..I would definitely recommend it to anyone..I like it so much, sometimes I just like to flip through it and look at I have cranked out several layouts from this book..Five stars in my opinion!

Aly Dosdall said...

great review and awesome layouts annie! i would love this book as sometimes using a sketch cuts down so much on time. and for me it's all about the photos and stories.

noel joy said...

love the lo's and the review annie! :)

Christine (MA) said...

May need to go take a look see on this book. Thanks for the heads up. And love the LOs you were able to scrap with a bit of help with this book.

Marla said...

I have started to work from sketches when I get to a place where I cant possibly think of a LO for my photos. I am thinking that I REALLY need to invest in this book from Amazon. It sounds like a perfect fit for me.

Nathalie said...

This sounds really good! I love the fact that she includes so many photos on pages which is never easy!

Kate Block said...

I LOVE to work from sketches, everything just flows more smoothly for me. I am going to ahve to invest in this book!!

Gisèle said...

I really love from working with sketches:-) it keeps me focused on my LO. Also, when there it is not a real completed Lo in colour, you are not swayed in using or trying to do the very same. You have room to put your personality in the LO. I am going to look for this book at my local bookstore, thanks for sharing it with us:-)

Diana said...

I have this book and love it. It's one of my favourites. I've done layouts using many of the sketches, and I've also used the sketches as starting points for pages (see two here:

I think the design I've used most from this book is the one you did 26.2 miles. It is great for pages of my little one's school concerts! You can fit so many photos with that one and it's not "just" a boring grid (though I do a lot of grids, so I quite like them.)

This would be a great book for a beginner as well as for scrappers with more experience.

Rebecca said...

This book really speaks to me. I usually scrap with many, many photos on my layouts, which is against the current trend. This makes me feel left out or behind the times sometimes, but I scrap to preserve my memories so I try to keep that in mind.

Sounds like this is the perfect book for me--thanks for the thorough review!

cassie d'ambrosio said...

I love this book and I love sketches. I usually do my own, but sometimes I want to speed things up so I'll use one of Donna's or a Pagemaps sketch. With Donna's sketches is so easy to use the same sketch for many layouts. Just by rotating or flipping it and adding different embellishments you can get many different layouts out of the same sketch. A while ago, when I was trying to teach myself how to make my own digital templates, I used one of her sketches from this book to create it. I recently used this digital template for a layout.
here's the template and here's my very simple layout