Introducing “The Tea House Diary”.

A notebook designed to inspire creativity. Another concise, elegant tribute to Japanese culture.

Creative conversations

It was an Italian cafe in Zurich and every table in the room was full that morning. The tall ceiling room carried the low humming of two people conversations, both business and casual. Behind the room-wide cafe counter, in one corner of the very large espresso machine, the water steamer screeched and, every so often the higher pitched, clinking sound of ceramic cups being stacked up punctuated one’s thoughts and speech.

- I’m thinking of creating an art edition with some of my drawings. Something that looks and feels like you’re holding one of my journals yourself. What do you think?
- Oh, that is a wonderful idea. Will it be like a notebook? Something where I can also write my notes while looking at your art?
- Hmm… well, not quite. For my first edition I was thinking more of a collection of twelve mini prints following the seasons, doubling up as postcards. You can detach them, write a message in the back and send them to friends, but I wasn’t thinking of a white page personal notebook. Would a notebook be better?
- Not sure. Honestly, both concepts are nice. One is more like a book, and the other more of an everyday object. In either case I would buy them for your art and because I know you would make sure they were gorgeous.
- Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. And that compliment. I will let you know how the idea unfolds.

Keeping tabs on ideas

It was the summer of 2018, and I wrote down a one line note in my personal notebook – “i: white page notebook with art images”. Whenever I come across a new idea, I write it down on a notebook page, and I mark it that way, with an “i:”. I keep this notebook at hand at all times so I can write ideas down easily. At this stage, no judgements of the idea’s quality or feasibility are made. I have a number of ideas for which execution is impossible today, but they are simply waiting. Waiting for me to meet the right artisan, or master the right technique. Filed away in one of my favourite spaces at home, the bookshelf. Structure and habit are a big part of my creativity rituals.

In December of that year, “One Moment, One Drawing”, my first art edition, was launched. I finished the imagery for my next edition in 2019, with a plan to publish it in 2020. And then, along with the pandemic, came new obstacles for every stage of that project. I sighed, I mulled over various workarounds. I went back and opened old notebooks. There, staring me in the face was “the white page notebook”. A “What if?” went through my mind.

Creating “The Tea House Diary”

What if I put together some of my smaller format paintings from 2020? What if I shared with others the answer to how I have kept my creativity this year, of all years, and in the years before that?

I could just paint more and not press print on any edition this year, I thought. I made yet another note on that year’s notebook – “i: ink 100 Japanese bird species in 100 days”.

Comparing print outcomes with the original painting (on the right) to optimize one of the images in “The Tea House Diary”, 2021
Assembling and hand-binding “The Tea House Diary”, 2021, image courtesy of Namban

Fast forward to March 2021. The cherry blossoms are open on my balcony and I am holding the result of that “What if?” in my hands. The result of that one note written down nearly three years ago. It is a new, slow edition. It is also a notebook. This is “The Tea House Diary”.

A collaboration between artist and artisan, with reproductions of my ink paintings in a hand-bound format.

To answer the question “Where does my creativity come from?” and help you maintain your own, I have gone back to another detail of Japanese culture. In a concise format and with a few exercises, I will walk you through the core elements of a Japanese tea house and how they relate to my own creativity.


Will you join me on this personal walk? It is not quite the same as sitting across that Italian cafe table for a conversation, I know. But with a bit of luck, by the time you finish its pages we might be able to sit down again for one. And yes, I inked those 100 birds, and more, too.

“The Tea House Diary” edition details

  • “The Tea House Diary”, a soft cover notebook featuring daily habits for more creative moments
  • 75 sheets, non-lined
  • 4 ink painting reproductions and 1 ink brush pen drawing reproduction printed on 250gsm paper stock
  • Each copy assembled by hand using traditional Japanese book binding technique
  • Size: A5 14.5 cm width x 21.0 cm height x 1.0 cm (portrait-oriented)
  • Weight: 300g
  • Available from March 2021 exclusively at www.mafaldatenente.com/tea-house-diary.
  • Follow art and new editions in progress here or at www.instagram.com/mtenente