The Sparrow's Perch
Life’s Library’s Shelves — Behind The Scenes Pt. 2

Life’s Library’s Shelves — Behind The Scenes Pt. 2

Why hello there friend! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Gosh. And the Perch looks a little different too! I’ve been doing a little tinkering while I’ve been away, and I’m so glad you’re here to see it today.

A lot of people have been (justifiably) teasing me to finally post the continuation of my last post on the design process for Life’s Library’s shelves. The boring truth is that I really didn’t expect life + college to get so busy, so writing this just kept getting postponed until after every single assignment was done. Sorry it took us so long to get here, and thank you all for being so patient with me. 😭

Okay. You’ve been waiting FOUR MONTHS for this, so we’re just going to dive right in!


  1. For newcomers to the Perch: Hello! Welcome! Come sit with me for a while. You also might wanna check out the first post of this series (which is linked above) for some context on what the hell is going on here.
  2. Stick around to the end for some personal updates and housekeeping!)
  3. This post reads as a little inside jokey, and I’m sincerely sorry if the names are Too Much, lol. I swear future posts won’t be like thisthis project is just special in that it was an intensely collaborative experience, and I wanted to give due credit in the debriefing.


Marble: A very neatly organised shelf filled with classic-looking books, a calla lily and a typewriter. Two white marble horse figurines flank both elevated ends of the shelf.

Sketch of Marble by Will.

We’re finally getting to the second half of the shelves! And we’re starting off with the classy shelf (nice). This one was hard because I… did not know how to make the shelf actually look like it was made of marble, so I ended up just grabbing a texture off Freepik. A designer has their ways, oops.

I really wanted to make this shelf look like it belonged to an old, wizened writer—perhaps one who had a penchant for large, round-rimmed glasses and vintage typewriters? This is also the only one with a design behind the shelf as well: the little swoopy wallpaper is one of my favorite elements here.

As mentioned in the little caption below the image, the flower in the vase is a calla lily (also called an arum lily!), and I just personally think these are the most elegant flowers ever. I mean just look at this lily valley in California.

Also I’m definitely not saying that this is the favorite shelf of one of the founding creators of Life’s Library or anything. You heard nothing from me.


Pearl: The ocean shelf. This is the only two-layered shelf, held together by sailor rope. Several nautical elements like an anchor, coral, a ship in a bottle.

Sketch of Pearl by Haley!

My beloved ocean shelf! Lots of soft pastel colors here, with a neat little corkboard in a corner, and plenty of shells and coral as decorations.

I don’t know how many of you know this, but I actually grew up really near the beach, so I visited the ocean a lot as a kid. I genuinely didn’t know this was uncommon until my friend told me that living in a landlocked US state meant that they never saw the sea in person until they were a teen, and that’s just absolutely bonkers to me. I read a lot of Percy Jackson as a kid too, and have always loooooved the descriptions of the Poseidon Cabin at Camp Half-Blood, so this was my way of trying to capture the concept.


Quartz: Parisian! Lavenders, a vintage camera and an Eiffel tower figurine.

Purple and pink are the main accent colors here, with a cool slanted book display. I think I’ve had someone say that the layout of the books here gives them anxiety, lol, but I like how casual the leaning looks here!

I think out of all the shelves, the turnout of this one surprised me the most. This was supposed to be a somewhat geology-themed shelf, I think, with warm colors and greens (a palette that eventually went into Willow a little further down). I didn’t intend for this to look Parisian at all, but you know that quote from Turtles All The Way Down about how every person is both the storyteller and the story told? I feel like art is like this too, sometimes. A lot of my designs are deliberate (especially in the case of this shelf series, where I had a lot of lovely sketches to work from), but every so often the end result is as much a mystery to me as it is to anyone else!


Rose: The shelf of my dreams, based on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Light softly dappling through a stained glass window, mile-high stacks of books, a candelabra, rose, and chipped teacup.

An early (sideways) sketch of Rose by Bex.

I don’t think anyone would be surprised to find out that this is legitimately one of my favorite shelves—the Disney theme, the sparkles and light through a stained glass window. These are my brand. But, okay. Storytime. So the draft for this shelf actually looked drastically different from the one above…

An early draft of Rose, featuring. um. way too big windows.

Look at those windows! The stained glass design here is a lot closer to to the designs in the film. This draft was also a big departure in style from the earlier shelves as well. If you recall, for example, a lot of the shelves up till now featured their themes in subtler ways: in shelf textures, twirling vines, a little succulent plant. Here, the rose is up front and center. But if you haven’t looked at Bex’s sketch for this shelf yet, I suggest you do so now, because this was her incredible reaction to me posting the draft up for feedback:

(Sorry Bex love you but you knew this was going to make it in. MWAH)

Basically she was looking at the shelf to find the rose (in a vase, like in her sketch) instead of the windows. This was like, one of the biggest highlights of making the shelves for almost everyone, I think. 😂

In the end though, I did end up redoing the shelf because the stained glass design looked too similar to some Beauty and the Beast merch that had already been made, and I didn’t want to risk any copyright issues! I definitely think this all turned out for the better, though—I’m so, so proud of the end result.

(Okay I feel a little bad for calling Bex out like that, so have one of her brilliant comebacks instead.)

I genuinely still chuckle at this.


Scale: The science academic shelf. I was trying to make this shelf an encapsulation of the traditional nerd aesthetic: a Newton’s cradle, Rubiks cube, Tardis, and a bulletin board of post-it’s and a checklist.

Emily’s sketch of Scale!

I basically designed this as a love letter to Emily, IDK if you can tell. This TARDIS in here is all her. The corkboard from Pearl makes a reappearance, this time with little organisational elements—the checklist and the sticky notes! I personally use a lot of sticky notes during my revising, so it was fun to get to incorporate that into one of the designs as well. I think this was the first shelf that I designed according to a predetermined color palette, and I really like how the colors here turned out!

The Tennessine thing is a little inside joke within the team, too. The planning channel for the LL project was called #operation-tennessee-lemur, though I’ll let someone else in the server explain why because this post is getting looooooong.

This is also Hank’s shelf, but no one is surprised at this.


Tulip: This is probably one of my favorite shelves! The concept was basically “disorganized”, so I had a lot of fun finding random elements to put in the shelf.

Early sketches by Jake.

If Scale was for Emily, Tulip is for Allison. This is the most haphazard shelf out of the lot, with elements that have absolutely no business being next to each other. A shoe? A banana? Yarn? An owl? Even the books are stacked precariously on top of each other, ready to collapse at any minute. Honestly, I envisioned the owner of this shelf to be a mess of a college student who is way too busy cramming for finals to care that their bookshelf has grown an entire ecosystem (like me, basically. This shelf is a colorised photograph of my soul). I think a lot of people who ended up in this shelf do actually knit though! Shoutout to all the chaotic disaster bookworms who ended up in this shelf too. We’re focused on the important things.

FUN FACT: I swear I didn’t know this while I was designing the shelf, but Allison does in fact own a taxidermy owl that looks way too much like the one in the shelf. Which is only a little creepy.


Willow: Musical shelf. I’m VERY fond of the color palette for this one; I love how warm and homey this feels. A ukulele, headphones, metronome and a record poster gently illuminated by a circular lamp.

Two sketches, by different people this time, and I incorporated elements from both! This one by Emily, and another one by Alys.

And here we are, friends. The final shelf.

The plant in question here is called the pussy willow, for which the shelf is named. When I was a lot younger, I basically begged my parents to send me for piano lessons, but we couldn’t afford it until I was much older. I started going at 13, though I never did get to finish my music education because I had to move away for college. I’m still really grateful that I got to go at all though! Even if it takes a long time for me to be able to read sheet music now. I also have those exact green headphones, heh.

All the designs are my babies in different ways, but Willow is really special to me, partly because it was the last one I designed, and partly because of its color palette. God, I fell so deeply in love with the warmth and versatility of this color scheme that I ended up re-purposing it for my entire blog—the one you’re reading right now!

On making art: some lessons from the trenches

It’s really easy to think of the practice of making art as a solitary activity—a journey that the artist makes alone.

And maybe this really is the case for some people! I’m sure there are artists out there who hole themselves up in their studios, bleeding their souls out onto their canvases. But one of the main reasons why I wanted to make this post (that turned into a series) was that in my own experience? Graphic design has, more often than not, been an intensely collaborative undertaking.

After the book club launched, a lot of people talked to me about how impressive they found the shelves—that I designed them all in about a week too, no less. And I never felt like I could fully accept these compliments. Because yeah, I did end up doing all the busywork of picking the colors and preparing the final designs, but I hope these posts have made it abundantly clear that these shelves aren’t just mine, they’re the whole planning team’s. They for sure wouldn’t have been this good or made this quickly if it weren’t for everyone else also coming up with ideas for names, layouts, compositions. This was my most ambitious design project to date, but it’s also the one that I had the most help in.

And as I’ve grown into other design gigs after Life’s Library, I still think this principle holds true even when I’m handling the entire design process myself—from sketches to drafts to finishing touches—because a lot of my art I make as gifts for other people, some of which I just so happen to accept money for (lol). I think this helps to keep me grounded when I start spiraling about how I’m not good enough to work on certain projects, because it comes back to being sincere about the things that you put out into the world. In the end, I just want whoever’s on the receiving end of the art to be happy!

So I mean it when I say that all of the shelves were gifts—for myself, and for my friends and colleagues who were just as excited about this project as I was. Maybe I’m just this sentimental, though.

(Little caveat here that I’m able to say this because all of the art I’ve made so far have been for projects that I really care about, and this in itself is definitely a form of privilege. I have a lot of friends who are graphic designers too, but don’t get to work on things as cool as designing for book clubs or subscription boxes, or whatever. I’m in a lucky position to be able to do what I love for money, but also not have to rely on my freelance income to put food on the table.)

I also wanted to make a point here of how I personally never thought I would become an artist, ever, because I always thought I wasn’t “cut out for it”, but instead I will link this post by my brilliant friend on why thinking of art skills in terms of talents is super harmful, and this vlogbrothers video on the concept of fixed vs growth mindsets, because I think they articulate at much greater length and depth than I’m at capacity to in the waning hours of this blogpost.

(whispers) But hey, listen. Here’s the point of all my waxing poetic about art and design: if you’ve been waiting for a sign to try that thing you’ve been afraid to try, this is it. Especially if it’s art, especially if it’s writing. You owe it to that little voice inside you to at least try.

And thus ends the blog post proper! Now for some housekeeping & personal updates.

Man, this ended up being so much longer than I anticipated it to be. Again, I’m sorry that this post was FOUR MONTHS in the making! Talk about inconsistent.

In the meantime, though, so many things have happened since I last updated this blog! I finished the first year of my bachelor’s degree, bought a new laptop (with my design commissions! 😭) that doesn’t slow to a crawl every time I try to open two Adobe programs at the same time, got accepted for a full undergrad scholarship, started a new part-time job as the artist-in-residence for marginsbox… and read so many books. The next post here will in fact be a book review (with some new ART) on July 03 for one of my most anticipated releases of the year, so hey! At least you don’t have to wait for four months anymore?

As I wrap up this series on the shelves, most of the posts I have planned are book-related, but I’d love to talk more about art and design if there’s anything you guys wanna know more about! I’ll be down in the comments all week if you wanna have a lil chat, so I hope to see you there!

Thank you so much for reading, and see you around the Perch!💛