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Edition-of-One creates one-of-a-kind artwork for clients

There are some moments in life that merit preservation, milestones to be commemorated, events to be relived and accomplishments to be celebrated.

A new La Jolla artisan offers families, couples and individuals a unique, handcrafted keepsake to capture these moments. Zoey Abbott of Edition-of-One hand writes and hand illustrates commissioned books, triptychs, diptychs, scrolls, cards and framed art. The graphic design and layout professional recently moved her business from Portland to La Jolla.

Abbott’s books developed out of a hobby. Drawn to the art of book-making, she experimented by creating gifts for friends and family. When they pushed her to offer her services to strangers, she balked.

“I thought it would be strange to do it for strangers . . . because it’s such a personal thing,” she said.

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Instead, her books have given her entry to some of the most intimate, most personal moments in people’s lives: marriage proposals, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, new babies, retirement, once-in-a-lifetime trips shared by friends, recovery from cancer.

“I’ve only had the opportunity to be present once when one of my books was gifted,” she said. “It blew me away and reinforced why I do this.”

Telling stories through a combination of words and images, each project takes about a month to complete. Following a lengthy interview with her client, usually via e-mail or telephone, Abbott types up copious notes. She combs the notes for phrases to include in the text and ideas to capture in a painted scene. Once her outline is approved by the client, she gets to work.

“The client’s approval or feedback carries me through the process,” she said.

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The books are small, usually between 12 and 30 pages. The text is minimal; the images are simple.

“This is a precious format,” Abbott said. “It’s small. It’s delicate. It’s precious. You want the story to be the same way.”

High-quality materials add a richness to her books. The printmaking paper is from France; she hand-tears each page for a deckled affect. After assembling the pages into packets known as signatures, she hand-sews the packets together, then binds them in a traditional case binding. A handcrafted balsa box embellished with beautiful fabric houses the final product.

Abbott, 33, recently moved to La Jolla from Portland, Ore. after her fiance took a job with a local energy company. The coastal landscape is familiar territory, as her grandparents lived in the area for more than 40 years and she frequently visited them. She often accompanies her grandmother, Joan Abbott, on her daily beach constitutionals or weekend hikes up Mt. Soledad.

Art and storytelling are part of Abbott’s familial heritage. Joan Abbott has painted for years and still takes figure model drawing classes at the Athenaeum. Zoey Abbott’s aunt is also an artist, and several members of her family collect art.

She became interested in storytelling having grown up with her grandmother’s family scrapbooks. Each album - and there are more than 50 of them - was hand-assembled and decorated with words, drawings and other accents. Her grandmother would carve designs into potatoes to use as stamps.

“Art has always been in my life,” she said. “As I get older, I see the influence more.”

Born and raised in San Francisco with two older sisters and two sets of parents in her blended family, Abbott lived in many different places. She attended Smith College in Massachusetts and also studied at San Francisco Art Institute, Art Academy, San Francisco Center for the Book and Humboldt State University.

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While living in Japan, Abbott learned the art of sumi-e brush painting and calligraphy. During the four years she lived and worked there, she absorbed much of the Japanese culture and philosophy.

“It influenced everything about my life,” she said.

Artistically, it primed Abbott to create her one-of-a-kind books. Having chosen a precious-sized palette, each word, each image must have maximum impact. Her creedo is the Japanese maxim, “Beautiful things are born from limitations.”

“The Japanese aesthetic is reduced,” she said. “That taught me the economy of line. I love reducing something to the essence.”

This frugal simplicity is a contrast to the gluttony of America’s “supersize me” culture, where everything is “grande” and has no limits, Abbott said.

Still, after seeing examples of Edition-of-One keepsakes, there is no doubt that simple is better. That refinement forces Abbott to capture the very heart and soul of her clients’ special moments.

Frequently they aren’t even aware of the emotional threads or nuggets of memory until Abbott’s book captures them with crystal clarity.

It’s as if Abbott is a memory miner. She will sift through four pages of single-spaced notes to create pages in her books that often contain only a single line and an illustration in Japanese watercolor style. She gets ideas for images when she hears a spark in a person’s voice as they talk about the stories, she said.

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For more information, visit www.edition-of-one.com or call (209) 217-7000.