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Combining art with writing

The books that are on display in Larry and Sylvia Adam's studio are pieces of art - they are unique and beautiful, perfectly reflecting the stories they hold, as well as the care and creativity that went into crafting them. Thumbprint Books Inc.

The books that are on display in Larry and Sylvia Adam's studio are pieces of art - they are unique and beautiful, perfectly reflecting the stories they hold, as well as the care and creativity that went into crafting them. Thumbprint Books Inc. is the latest venture of the couple and it combines both their strengths and talents.

They came to Bowen Island 20 years ago when Larry was the pastoral elder at Cates Hill Chapel. The move meant that he had to commute to Richmond for three years where he worked as a technical writer and lay-out editor. His work involved page lay-out and Larry became interested in graphic design software, photography, as well as creating hand-bound books.

"It started with the interest to combine stories and images," Larry said, adding that his first book was a collection of quotations he calls "distilled readings" that he put together in 1999. Out of the idea to gather meaningful passages to peruse and share with family and friends came a number of books. "I did volumes that contained Christmas readings and Easter readings," Larry said. "That led me to explore different types of books, from different material and bindings, to different sizes and formats."

Sylvia added that an example was a long skinny book. "We wanted to see what holding a different format would feel like," she said.

This interest to come up with a special presentations has prevailed over the years and many of the couple's projects involve unique, one-of-a-kind books.

Producing books for other people started when Sylvia was asked to create a painting for family friends who were celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary and wanted to have a memento of their time together. "I looked at the project and felt that it wasn't really suitable for a painting," Sylvia said. "I suggested putting a book together and incorporated photos of the couple, notes about their passions and pockets for people's letters."

The book was very well received and led to a similar project: a book commemorating a 50th wedding anniversary. Again Sylvia found a unique approach. She created a box of letters from well-wishers around the world, each printed with a nautical chart as a background to honour the couple's passion about boating.

Receiving material related to people's lives, Sylvia felt that she wanted to tell their stories. "This comes out of my own experience of growing up overseas and receiving letters," she said. "Even as a child, I treasured those things. I remember visiting my grandfather in Alberta as a teenager and pulling out a cassette recorder. I didn't live close by and had this longing to hear the story."

For Sylvia, a book has to reflect the person."We like to take on projects that are creatively challenging," she says. "It's a great option to just combine text and photographs but we delight in getting the pulse and sense of who the person is and adding a creative touch."

Sylvia went back to university a few years back to get a diploma in printmaking, sculpture, drawing, painting and ceramics. "I loved every one of those disciplines," Sylvia added. "Each of them brings a skill that increases my ability to make a customized art piece."

And many of the books Thumbprint has created are just that: pieces of art. "We want to do a range of projects, from typical print on demand memory books to more customized versions" Larry says.

For one of the books, Sylvia incorporated a piece of sculpture. She explained that they set out to produce a memory book for a former school teacher and principal and took the time to learn more about his life and his passions. "Every summer time, he would take his family in a boat up the coast for a holiday. There, he would find pieces of yellow cedar and carve them to create family totems," Sylvia says. "He included humorous things about incidents that happened to family. One of the carvings is a self portrait that shows a twisted mouth." Sylvia found out that the man had suffered from an abscessed tooth when he was a child. As a result, he had to have part of his jaw bone removed, leading to uneven facial features. "When I was interviewing him, I noticed that he would always turn that side of his face away," Sylvia says. She came across the carving of a self-portrait that exaggerates the twisted mouth and decided to make a small replica in clay. It now adornes the leather bound volumes of the book (in five different colours for the different family members and one to keep).

It's hard to put a price on a memento like this. "The pricing for our books is based on hours," Larry explains. For prices and examples, see

"We have a lot of ideas for combining stories and art," Sylvia says and Larry adds, "We welcome people to be very involved in the process rather than just providing a service. We realize we can accommodate that better than a larger company and have more of a personal connection."

And even though the projects can often be time-consuming, Larry and Sylvia enjoy them. "Both of us are the most energized when we work on creative endeavours," Larry says and Sylvia adds, "We're at our best when we are in a place where we are curious and bring our own gifts."