The mystery of the unobtainable sketchbooks

I’ve finished my latest sketch diary, depicting our eight-day holiday in Devon and Somerset earlier this year.

I’ll be sharing it on here soon, as soon as I’ve scanned it, and fixed a couple of pages where the wording isn’t laid out in a very readable way. Such are the perils of drawing on the fly.

sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Here’s my daughter flicking through the finished article. If you click on the picture you’ll be able to see a short video of the whole thing on Instagram.

Perhaps you can tell from the video how thick the pages of this sketchbook are. If it had sound, you’d definitely be able to tell, by the particular timbre of the ‘swoosh’ noise they make.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been using these mystery 44-page sketchbooks which turned up in TK Maxx, and its sister store Homesense, for £3.99 each. The only indication of the brand is this inscription at the back:

Valentina sketchbook

I’ve never seen another type of sketchbook with such thick pages, and I love them. I tend to draw in pencil first, then rub it out when I’ve inked over the lines, then I add watercolour. While that would cause problems with many sketchbooks – scuffing of the surface, or wrinkling of the page – it’s no issue at all on this paper: in fact these heavy pages would take acrylic just as easily. Colours don’t even come close to bleeding through, so you could also use any type of felt tip, even a permanent marker.

So far so good: but there’s a problem, which I’ve mentioned before, and which, several months later, seems all the more certain. They’re not available any more. If you’re familiar with TK Maxx and Homesense, you’ll know that they’re basically overstock outlets: they buy up surplus goods from the manufacturers and sell them on at lower prices. They even have signs up all over the shop to remind you to pounce on that bargain because you can’t rely on it being available next time.

The Valentina sketchbooks were around for a couple of years though, so I became complacent, just picking up a couple every now and then. If I’d known they were going to become unobtainable, I’d have bought ten or twenty!

Now, I do fancy myself as a tenacious Googler, so I wondered whether, with a little work, I’d be able to find this stockist and buy directly. Here’s what I found:

  • The same blog post that I’ve mentioned here before, asking if anyone knows where to find more. The follow-up comments are full of people who have found that post and shared the same desires and bewilderment:

Okay I’m an art student from Manchester and these are the only books I like using! me and two other of my friends have about 14 between us, after traveling to around 7 different TK MAXX we brought everyone we could find. you need to grab them while there in, its something that you just got to buy when its there! there an amazing price, I have everyone I know trying to find me a stockist to buy them from, no luck so far!

  • This Italian stationers appears near the top of results for “florence vip for valentina” but, despite offering many beautiful items, it does not stock the sketchbooks I want.
  • A company profile showing that Florence VIP shipped 1,572 kg of ‘journals’  from the port of Livorno in Italy to Georgia Ports Authority in the USA, as recently as 28 June 2016! This also provides an address for the company in Florence. If I was willing to pay for a subscription, I could view where else they shipped to…  But in general this is good news, surely, as it shows they are still operational.
  • Street view for that address does not look very much like there’s a stationer’s there, nor does it look like a particularly likely place for a notebook manufacturer. However, it would be a great excuse for a holiday to Florence, and while I was there, I could make another sketch diary… if I found something to draw it in. Heh.

For the meantime, please yell if you see these in a TK Maxx or Homesense near you. I travel quite a bit for work, and my colleagues live all over the country, so I might be able to nab them one way or another!

Right, off to my scanner.


Finally: my Frome holiday sketch diary

summer dresses by Myfawy TristramWell, this has to be some kind of record: I’ve only just finished my holiday sketch diary, 22 days after returning home. I think we can safely say that it’s time for another holiday now!

I’ve been thinking about why it’s taken so long, and my best guess is that I broke my own guidelines for making sketch diaries: I hardly collected any labels/leaflets/tickets this time, and did a lot more painting. I cared too much about pictures looking right (not that this means they all ended up perfect – far from it!)

Never mind, it’s done now, so here it is, a week in Frome (Somerset, UK).

Continue reading “Finally: my Frome holiday sketch diary”

Jersey holiday sketch diary

Toop and the telescope by Myfanwy Tristram

Two holidays in a year? That’s unusual for us, but we couldn’t turn down the chance of a good cheap break when some friends offered us the use of their house.

And you know what holidays mean – sketch diaries. It’s been a good year for them, what with our week in Bath and then my work trip to Chile. Now here is my Jersey diary.

After making, and then writing about the previous diaries, I thought a bit harder about this one. My initial plan was to try to draw more, and write less.

As you’ll see, it started off that way, and ended with plenty of writing. It turns out that there are some things you just can’t express in a drawing – like a fete that was so disappointing that you leave within ten minutes.

Anyway, for better or worse, here are the pages.

Jersey Diary page 1 by Myfanwy Tristram

Click to see any of the following images at a larger size.

Jersey sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Another difference about this diary is that it is almost entirely in watercolour (including much of the lettering – some of which came out much neater than I would expect, and some, not). We packed very light, and I took a watercolour set which was about the size of a phone – I think it may actually belong to my daughter. It was quite nifty though – eight colours, and a telescopic brush.

Having such a limited choice of colours was really good for my mixing skills. There was no black, for example, so the darkest shade I could muster was a mix of blue or green, with dark brown.

Jersey sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

As this was a family holiday, as usual, I didn’t have time to sit down and sketch from life. Almost every image was drawn with a phone photo as a reference.

Sometimes, I wonder what the value is in this approach – after all, I have the photos, why do I need to make a sketch?  But in the case of the zoo animal paintings, I found that working from blurry, unclear phone photos did something useful. It made me focus on light and shade much more than I usually do.

I mean, if I was trying to draw flamingo at home, I’d probably reject a blurry image and do a Google image search for something clearer. Without that option, I painted something differently than I normally would have. That’s a good thing in itself.

The hog at the top of the page is drawn with a pencil that has a multi-coloured lead  – you never know what colour is going to come next.

Jersey sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

People who know my husband may be surprised to see the red hair peeking out of his knight’s headpiece here – he dyed it pillarbox red for the summer. If it’s a sign of a mid-life crisis, well, let’s just say there are worse things he could have done.

The picture of my daughter looking through the telescope is an example of an image drawn from a phone photo that I actually really like.

Jersey sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Jersey sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Jersey sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

The last couple of pages were completed at home. They have the most writing of all, and they’re probably the spread that I’m most pleased with – so much for trying to break one’s habits.

A Bath holiday sketch diary

Bath diary by Myfanwy Tristram

We’ve just returned from a family holiday in Bath, Somerset. One of the things I enjoy most about going on holiday is having the luxury of time to draw – I kept a sketch diary while I was there.

Click each page to see it at a readable size.

Day 1: The journey

Bath diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Key learning: light grey, light pink and light blue are not the *best* colours for text that you later want to scan in. This makes particular sense when you remember that illustrators often use blue pencil to sketch under their illustrations because it can be so easily removed afterwards…

Day 1: Arrival, plus bonus page of holiday purchases under £5.00

Bath diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Day 1: shops; Day 2: Hedgemead Park

Bath diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Day 2: Walk and an afternoon with my bro; Day 3:Roman Baths

Bath diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Day 4: Fashion museum
Bath diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Day 4: Fashion museum, Japanese food, the Makery; Day 5: Postal museum

Bath diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Day 5: Postal museum, lunch at St Swithin’s Church, park; Day 6: book shopping

Bath diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Day 6: The American Museum in Bath, Kaffe Fassett

Bath diary by Myfanwy Tristram

 Day 6: the American Museum; Day 7: swimming and adventure golf

Bath diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Looking back over the week, my primary thought is that while it was a lot of fun, and relaxing, it was a very tame holiday: well, I guess that’s what you get for going, with a family, to genteel Bath.

The only real wildness came in the form of all the yarn-bombing and colour explosions at the American Museum, and to be honest even that is the sort of anarchy that one’s grandparents might find thrilling.

I am off to Santiago in Chile for work next week, though, and I still have half a sketchbook left – so, if I have time to draw, it may end up being a diary of two very different parts.