Sunday, December 30, 2018

Making a mess

A couple of weeks ago I picked up The Artist magazine, and loved reading this article by James Hobbs. It spoke to me a lot, as sketchbooks are something I've struggled with for a long time now which I've briefly touched on before.

In the days before the internet, an artist's sketchbook was more likely to have been retained as reference... But social media has revolutionised the way we share our sketchbook work, particularly Instagram and Facebook, but also Pinterest and Twitter, have meant we can, within minutes, share our images with a worldwide audience and get the dopamine hit that a wave of likes and comments can bring... Gradually, perhaps unwittingly, we can find ourselves trying to make work that will be the most liked, loved and wowed, and not what will help us find the way of working that's right for us as individuals.

I can distinctly remember when the self conciousness over my sketchbooks first began to creep in - I began carrying one with me everywhere I went as a late teen in order to practise, but it quickly drew comments of “can I see your sketchbook?” I was always happy to oblige as I enjoyed the “oohs” and “ahhs” that accompanied it, but it began me on the track of thinking of my sketchbook as something that had an audience and that I had to make look perfect, which often paralysed me from actually creating.

This was only made worse by the rise of social media. I never had issues with sites such as deviantART and blogs as it promoted only showing your best work and finalised pieces. It was YouTube where the toxicity began to creep in. I've long enjoyed watching art YouTubers and their perfectly curated sketchbook tours in awe, but it resulted in me seeing my own sketchbook as messy and incomplete in comparison, and wanting to make my sketchbook as perfect as theirs. I didn’t realise that sketchbooks aren’t supposed to be perfect and curated, they’re supposed to be messy and incomplete and personal.

It’s taken me a long time to come to this realisation, to know that I don’t have to create a sketchbook for anyone but myself. I finally have a sketchbook now that I'm happy with - it's messy, it's full of ideas and experimentation, thumbnails, to do lists, and ticket stubs, things that have no relevence to anyone but myself and that's ok because it's mine. I don’t owe anyone my sketchbook, and if someone asks to see it I’m well within my rights to decline and offer them finished pieces instead. After all, you wouldn’t give someone access to your journal and what’s the difference? I've finally stopped starting new sketchbook after new sketchbook, always leaving them incomplete as I couldn’t keep up with the idea of perfection I’d set up for it. Stopped creating each page with the idea of offering complete strangers online a flip through of the final thing one day when I’d finally completed one and it was perfect. I'm no longer intimidated by a blank page because it doesn't have to be put up for public opinion and consumption. After years my art block has gone, evidenced by how much work I've been uploading to this blog recently, and it's all because I've re-learnt how to create like no one is watching.

Of course this isn't to say that all social media is bad - watching YouTube channels like thegothicalice and drawingwiffwaffles have been incredibly inspiring for me and have played a huge part in helping to remind me of what a sketchbook should be. Many artists and illustrators have managed to build their entire careers through their accounts, and I myself enjoy sharing my processes and final pieces with anyone who'll listen. But social media is definately able to give a constant self awareness that isn't always healthy, and I think it's time to recognise that. Not everything has to be shared to be valid or worth creating, sometimes the only audience you need is you.

Friday, November 30, 2018


A couple of weeks ago I drew some digital illustrations of Elphaba and Glinda with their representative elements. I mentioned at the end of that post that I'd quite like to extend it with other characters from Wicked, and felt inspired to draw Fiyero in a similar design.

Like I mentioned in that previous post, Fiyero is from the West as he's from the Vinkus / Winkie Country, which is represented by the element of Earth and fits Fiyero's character well. However I'd obviously already drawn the Earth element for Elphaba, so this illustration ended up being a bit more literal and narrative driven rather than symbolic. I knew I needed to include Kiamo Ko in the background as it's his castle! And the Scarecrow is obviously both a reference to his story, but also represents the element of Earth as their purpose is to protect the crops growing from it. The sunflowers are a nod to the sunflower field that Fiyero is taken to to meet his fate in the musical, and I added the blue diamonds as diamonds grow in the Earth and it's also a nod to the book as he has blue diamond tribal tattoos covering his body. I'm not sure it comes across very well with the final colour scheme, but I also gave him a medium skin tone to fit the book description (it's more obvious if you compare it to the illustration of Glinda I did before)

I'm actually really pleased with how this illustration came out! I'm considering turning the three into a set of postcards and die cut stickers to sell in my Etsy store.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Folktale Week

I'm not generally a person who enjoys online challenges - partly as they're usually far too vague to pique my interest and I have no idea how to illustrate what feels like words picked at random out of a dictionary, and partly in the case of huge challenges such as Inktober I'm usually so sick of hearing about it before it's even begun and tire of it taking over all of my social media feeds. I don't see the point in taking part in such things when even my favourite artists become background noise, and I doubt I'm the only illustrator who feels this frustration.

However when I heard of Folktale Week, which was held 12-18 November, it definitely felt relevant to my interests and came with a prompt list that actually excited and inspired me so I knew I had to take part. Looking back, I think I aimed a bit too high - I purchased a concertina sketchbook and planned to create a double page spread for each prompt, coloured entirely with Copic markers and coloured pencils to give the storybook feel I was after. I opted to do a double page spread for each prompt as then it would allow each illustration to stand alone, and be less obvious that it was leading onto the next image. I wanted the concertina element to be a bit of a surprise that I could reveal at the end, with each prompt leading onto the next to create a panoramic woodland scene.

You can view a video of the full concertina here on my Instagram.

It ended up being a lot more work than I initially anticipated with each illustration taking on average 5-6 hours, and although I gave myself a few days head start I still ended up falling a little bit behind on the final two days as I was busy with other commitments - how people manage to do month long challenges is beyond me! I actually really enjoyed the process though, I haven't created work to a deadline since leaving uni and I thrive really well under that kind of pressure. Not having the time to over-plan and over-think everything is really liberating and allows me to just get on with it and switch off my perfectionism.

The first prompt was 'Forest' which is why I decided to set the whole thing in the woods, and apart from the reference to Baba Yaga in the first image, I decided to keep most of the prompts fairly vague and inspired by folktales rather than a direct representation of. I felt that if I tried to match each prompt to a particular tale, then the whole concertina wouldn't flow as well, and I wanted the viewer to be able to decide their own narrative from the images.

The very last prompt with the raccoons is definitely my favourite, but then again they are my favourite animals!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

"It's not lying...its looking at things another way"

The Scarecrow (Fiyero) walks on stage. He bends down & knocks on a trap door in the floor.
Fiyero: It worked!
He opens the door & Elphaba climbs out.
Elphaba: Fiyero! I thought you'd never get here.
She touches his straw face.
Fiyero: Go ahead, touch, I don't mind. You did the best you could. You saved my life.
Elphaba: You're still beautiful.
Fiyero: You don't have to lie to me.
Elphaba: It's not lying... its looking at things another way.
I guess this illustration is a massive spoiler if you haven't seen Wicked, sorry about that. Personally I think knowing Fiyero's fate of becoming the Scarecrow from the beginning helps you appreciate his character more.

I've always found this scene really sad. I feel like the fandom generally focuses on Glinda and Elphaba so much, that Fiyero's sacrifice gets completely overlooked. He loses absolutely everything, even his body, for Elphaba, which is a pretty huge deal anyway but especially when you consider how proud he is at the beginning of the musical. To go from being the popular guy at school whom everybody envies and wants to emulate, who can have his pick of anyone he wants to date, to become reduced to a scarecrow is major to him. But he's OK with it, because it means he gets to be with Elphaba and he’s finally happy.

Fiyero has always been one of my favourite characters, and I do find it kind of sad (although also understandable with time constraints) how much his role was reduced in the musical. Although Fiyero only properly features in one section of the book, his presence is felt throughout the rest of the novel as his fate affects Elphaba so much. In the book, he's a tribal prince from the Vinkus who the other students at Shiz are both intrigued and racist toward - they consider his culture "barbaric", his traditional tattoos "silly", and make detrimental comments about his dark 'ochre' skin. His 'otherness' is a big part of why he and Elphaba bond so strongly, and his section of the book is one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever read. I'm always adamant that Fiyero in the musical is much deeper than most give him credit for; Dancing Through Life is incredibly nihilistic, and his mask to hide his deep unhappiness is quickly seen through by Elphaba. But it's a shame that his character couldn't be explored more, so casual audiences don't just mistake him as a spoiled rich kid.

I spent a really long time working on this drawing - I started it last time I saw Wicked which was on 1st October, and have been working on it on and off ever since (more off to be fair, as I've had major surgery on my arm during that time too.) I'm mostly pleased with how it's come out, I'm still working on my style so there's a few elements that I'm still working on and ironing out. I stopped drawing this to work on my illustrations of Elphaba and Glinda that I posted yesterday, and all three of these drawings were done in Procreate. It's crazy how far I've come with the app, because I was struggling so much when I began drawing this, and finished it up today in a jiffy now I know what I'm doing!

I have a few more Wicked illustrations in the works, but I'm putting them on hold for now as I need to work on some other things. Although I'm seeing Wicked again next week, so I'm sure I'll come away with even more ideas!

Elphaba and Glinda

Elphaba Thropp Wicked Witch of the West illustration Wizard of Oz musical Glinda Galinda Upland Good Witch of the North Gillikin Country Wicked Musical Wizard of Oz

I've been working on some bigger projects lately, and took some time to just doodle these illustrations which ended up turning into a whole project of their own! You can see below the original illustrations in my sketchbook, they ended up being back to back which I thought was a shame as they were supposed to be a duo which was my initial inspiration for turning them into proper pieces of their own. So I photographed them with my iPad and completely re-drew them in Procreate.

Originally I just wanted to draw Elphaba in a nice woodland scene as it's currently Autumn, and then decided to draw Glinda in a similar style surrounded with air elements purely due to the fact that she travels by bubble (with the Mucha inspired art nouveau ring representing the bubble Glinda arrives in during the show)

It wasn't until I was halfway through digitally colouring Elphaba that I began to think about it a little more deeply, and I looked up which direction traditionally corresponds with which element. I should point out here that it varies depending if you're in the Southern hemisphere (as obviously everything becomes inverted, as North is hot and South is cold, whereas it's the opposite way for the Northern hemisphere). But for me in Europe, West corresponds with the element of Earth, and North corresponds with the element of Water. And the more research I did the more I realised this couldn't be a coincidence!

Elphaba Thropp Wicked Witch of the West illustration Wizard of Oz musical

Elphaba is obviously the "Wicked" Witch of the West, so obviously that firmly plants her as the element of Earth. I was immediately reminded of a quote I'd read by Wicked's costume designer Susan Hilferty:
"If you look at the Elphaba dress up close, you’ll see that it’s not black. It’s actually filled with color. The color that I was responding to was from looking at stones in the earth and gems. The design of her dress is layers that are built with over 40 yards of fabric that are stitched together to have a continuous sense of being from the earth. It’s created to look like the lines you would see in a chunk of earth."
Gregory Maguire, the writer of the book Wicked that the musical is based on, also mentions several times how Elphaba has an earthy smell about her, and obviously her green skin is very representative of the earth also. The element of Earth is also representative of "solidarity", which is a word that fits Elphaba very well - most of the trouble she finds herself in is due to her unwavering beliefs, she refuses to back down from her morals that she holds so dear, and she is fiercely loyal to those she loves.

Although I didn't draw him, it's worth baring in mind that Fiyero (Elphaba's love interest if you're unfamiliar with the plot to Wicked) would also be represented by the element of Earth as he is from the Vinkus/Winkie Country which is located in the West (which is how Elphaba becomes the witch of the West as she takes shelter in his family castle Kiamo Ko). In the original novel Fiyero is prince of the Arjiki tribe, and it's detailed how he lives off the Earth in a much more natural way than the rest of Oz (which marks him out as 'other' and is part of why he and Elphaba bond). Although he doesn't have that back story in the musical, he is turned into the Scarecrow which one could argue is also representative of the element of Earth as it's whole purpose is to guard the crops growing from the Earth. ALSO going back to the book, part of Fiyero's culture that marks him as Arjiki are the blue diamonds that are tattooed over his body, and diamonds and gemstones are obviously formed deep in the earth. Which is why I made sure to include a cluster of blue gemstones in the drawing of Elphaba to represent him!

Glinda Galinda Upland Good Witch of the North Gillikin Country Wicked Musical Wizard of Oz

G(a)linda Upland is the witch of the North as she hails from Gillikin Country. Although I had originally taken Glinda's bubble to represent Air, bubbles are obviously formed by water so once I made that connection it made perfect sense! Whereas I'd given Elphaba a warm, earthy colour palette, I cooled things right down for Glinda's illustration which further contrasts her against Elphaba. Water is representative of 'fluidity' and 'emotions', which again suits Glinda's personality perfectly: she is ruled entirely by her emotions and makes all of her decisions based on how she is feeling, and is the most fluid of all the characters as she makes the biggest change throughout the story line - she goes from hating Elphaba and being judgemental and conceited, to being one of the most empathetic characters who loves Elphaba with her whole heart.

I'm quite tempted to add to these and perhaps draw Fiyero! (and Nessa? And Boq?)

Monday, September 10, 2018

How Dorothy Saved The Scarecrow

Because I’ve been such a ball of anxiety about my artwork lately, it’s really stopped me from having any inspiration. I sit down and stare at a blank page with an equally blank mind. I think of things I could draw - musicians, that series of movie posters I thought would make a good portfolio addition, but it’s all so vague with no clear aim or direction that I just don’t bother.

About a month ago I was watching a YouTube video when the creator mentioned how they’d recently discovered musicals and proceeded to list off a couple of modern ones I’d never heard of. It made me chuckle to myself as I used to be huge musical theatre nerd. I used to live in London and went almost weekly at one point. It was my life and my biggest passion - I even got into drama school and was going to pursue it as a career, but my health took a nose dive and I dropped out. It’s my biggest regret in life honestly, and I often wonder how differently my life could of panned out. I guess that’s part of the reason I let theatre fade out of my life, and it’s something I haven’t even thought about in many years. But after hearing this YouTuber bring up the topic, a simple random thought entered my head - “I’m going to listen to Wicked later.” And I did just that, and everything’s just kind of snowballed from there. I’ve dug out all of my old theatre programmes and soundtracks, and more specifically am really caught down an Oz rabbit hole at the moment. I’ve always liked Wicked and saw it in London a few times throughout 2007-2010, but even then I didn’t like it as much as I do right now 🤷‍♀️

I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to discover how great the world of Oz is as it actually fits right into my interests - I love fantasy from Victorian through to the early 20th century, my favourites being stuff like Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh, etc. So why wouldn’t I like The Wizard of Oz? I used to be a real book worm but haven’t felt like reading much the past few years as it began to feel like a chore, but I devoured L Frank Baum’s books and have started Gregory Maguire’s Wicked series that the musical is based on. I’ve also been re-watching all of the movies - I’ve always enjoyed the Judy Garland movie (but who doesn’t??), Return to Oz scarred me as a child but I’m really quite fond of as an adult (I love a bit of 80s creepy-ness), and Oz The Great and Powerful has some good imagery but is better best forgotten.

What I’m enjoying most though is that it’s really inspired me to draw again!! I almost feel like my old self, happily doodling away every day, and I’ve reached that happy spot where the more you draw, the more inspiration comes. I have so many thumbnails of pieces I want to create and I have absolutely no idea when I’m going to get the time to draw them all!

I’m still not at a level I’m happy at in terms of my drawing ability right now, but I’m having fun and just trying to focus on that. I know that these things take time, after all. No doubt adding to it as well is the fact that I’ve been trying digital art lately, which has added an extra layer of difficulty as I’m floundering with it a lot and things are taking longer than they would have if I drew them traditionally as I’m not comfortable with the medium. I’ve had an iPad and an Apple Pencil for 18 months now because I wanted to get better with digital, it’s about time I got over my fear of Procreate and put it to use (I really do prefer Photoshop though 😩)

This is the first thing I’ve drawn in a couple of months, and like I say I’m far from happy with it but I’m pushing myself out of so many comfort zones right now and just trying to rediscover what I can do. It’s inspired by the chapter ‘How Dorothy Saved The Scarecrow’ from The Wizard of Oz as I just really loved the imagery of Dorothy stopping for a rest and admiring the view when suddenly a scarecrow winks at her. Initially I hadn't wanted to make Dorothy look like Garland's, but everything else I tried stopped her from looking like Dorothy so I just gave into it.

"When she had gone several miles she thought she would stop to rest, and so climbed to the top of the fence beside the road and sat down. There was a great cornfield beyond the fence, and not far away she saw a Scarecrow, placed high on a pole to keep the birds from the ripe corn.

Dorothy leaned her chin upon her hand and gazed thoughtfully at the Scarecrow. Its head was a small sack stuffed with straw, with eyes, nose, and mouth painted on it to represent a face. An old, pointed blue hat, that had belonged to some Munchkin, was perched on his head, and the rest of the figure was a blue suit of clothes, worn and faded, which had also been stuffed with straw. On the feet were some old boots with blue tops, such as every man wore in this country, and the figure was raised above the stalks of corn by means of the pole stuck up its back.

While Dorothy was looking earnestly into the queer, painted face of the Scarecrow, she was surprised to see one of the eyes slowly wink at her. She thought she must have been mistaken at first, for none of the scarecrows in Kansas ever wink; but presently the figure nodded its head to her in a friendly way."

Apologies if my blog starts to feel like an Oz stan account for a while, but this is the first time I’ve felt inspired in an absolute age and I intend to ride it out to it’s fullest!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Down The Rabbit Hole

If I’m being completely honest, I’ve barely drawn a bean since I finished university. I told myself it was burn out, I needed a rest, etc etc. In truth I was scared. I’ve mentioned how unhappy I’ve been with my style lately, and I’ve really been allowing it to intimidate me. I don’t know why: I was happy with my final pieces for my uni course which were more on track with the kind of work I want to do again, and I also drew an Alice in Wonderland piece, an update of an old drawing from way back, and was pleased as punch with how it came out. But then I didn’t pick up my pencil again, and allowed fear and self doubt to take over.

alice in wonderland

For the past 4 years, I’ve almost exclusively drawn portraits and abandoned my illustrative style. And I now feel as though I’m starting again from scratch. I barely know where to begin, there are so many mistakes and layers of lines, nothing looks fluid, I don’t remember how expressions work, I don’t remember how anatomy works, just how do I even art??

For a long time I’ve kind of romanticised a period of my life in my early 20s where I was drawing all of the time, and would upload several finished pieces a week to sites such as deviantArt and forums I was a member of. I recently re-discovered that old deviantArt account and it was eye opening to look back at all of my old work - mostly it was crap. But back then I was convinced I was good, and I don’t mean that I had any arrogance over it because I didn’t, I just had that unwavering confidence of youth. I was having fun, and therein lies the crux of it. Art is no longer fun, it’s almost painful because I place too many expectations on myself and so I just end up frustrated. Looking back at my old work, I can also see why my work was so bad then and it’s mostly because I was trying far too hard to draw a certain way with a certain style. And I feel like I’m slipping back into that frame of mind; I’m so frustrated that I’ve lost the fundamentals of how to draw, but instead of fixing that I’m getting caught up in style again and trying to make things look a certain way. I need to get back to basics. Things might be a bit haphazard in terms of style for a while, but I’ll never re-learn if I don’t.

New version on left, and original drawing from about 10 years ago on the right.

Monday, July 23, 2018

I finally finished art school (+ the degree show!)

Throughout June my art school held it's degree show as part of our graduation, which gave all students an opportunity to exhibit our work to the public. Along with our professional portfolios, we also displayed originals or prints of our project work along with any promotional material.

Plymouth College of Art Illustration degree show

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Holbein Acryla Acrylic Gouache

My idea of "drawing more" hasn't gotten off to the best start! In my defense I was so busy throughout June that I barely had time to sit down. I had my degree show and all that that entailed, made several day trips around the South West as it'll probably be a long, long time until I go back to Cornwall or Devon, and finally packed up all of my belongings and moved back home 350 miles away up North. Then I had my birthday at the beginning of July which involved a road trip to see one of my favourite musicians Roger Waters at a couple of his shows. And since then I've just been too lazy if I'm being honest! It's been nice to have a break after such a hectic few months, and the hot weather the UK is having turns me into a sloth anyway.

Although I may not have any new art to share, I did recently buy some new art supplies. Last summer I finally began using gouache, and I haven't looked back since. I was only an occasional painter before and generally preferred my markers, but when I did paint I stuck to acrylic or watercolour. I liked watercolour, but find it difficult to control both in terms of consistency as well as mixing colours. Nothing was ever as vibrant as I wanted and would often look muddy. And I feel my art style just doesn't work well with acrylic.

Monday, May 28, 2018

I turned myself to face me

I've been wanting to start a new blog for my artwork for a while, especially as my old one turned into my portfolio. And as I've just finished an illustration degree it felt like the right time, especially as I'm kind of in a funny place with my art at the moment and feel like I'm in a transitional period.

Doing a degree is weird, as it gets you thinking and overanalysing your work in brand new ways. Especially in the field of illustration as it's basically about commercialising your work and building it as a business. I've spent the last three years completing briefs and trying to get my work to fit into the right box of what industry I want to go in to, which has resulted in me feeling like I've forgotten how to just draw for the pleasure of it, you know? And to be frank, I don't much like the direction my art has gone in, I feel like I've lost myself.

This was my final hand in of work for uni. I've spent most of the past few years working on portraiture, and I'm really proud of what I can do but I miss working in a more stylised way! And the trouble with working in realism is it makes you an awful perfectionist, so it's difficult to go back on. If things don't look realistic to me now, they don't look right. And I'm a perfectionist anyway, so trying to experiment with a new style and grow as an artist is incredibly daunting as obviously when you're trying to change your style things are going to look a bit crap for a while while you're re-learning. And that can be especially frustrating when social media is full of people's 'best bits' and you're not happy with anything you're creating. It can be very difficult not to fall into the comparison trap and to remember the hours of work that the artist you admire is putting in behind the scenes. And it's because of this insecurity that I decided to start a blog, somewhere I can post things I'm not happy with and talk about my growth and just break down some of those walls and be completely honest.

So what is my growth so far? Before I drew portraiture, I mostly drew a lot of Disney fan art. Although I've drawn my whole life, it was when I was a teenager that I began drawing seriously, and that mostly involved copying the Disney style. I'd pause my DVDs and copy poses and expressions, and animators were the only artists I took any advice from. But I gradually began to loathe drawing in this style as it wasn't mine, I was just drawing in the standardised Disney way. There was nothing to set my work apart as my own.

From that, I began looking at my other interests for inspiration which is mostly music and the 1960s and '70s. I experimented with more psychedelic elements and began trying to copy Yellow Submarine instead of Disney, and then began trying to draw musicians themselves which is what lead me to portraiture as it was the easiest way to capture these people whom I admired.

If I try and draw in a more stylised way, I default to the Disney style as that's how I learnt to draw, and that's incredibly frustrating to be honest as it's still something I'm trying to move away from so I can do my own thing. Artists I admire nowadays are people like Minnie Small, Audra Auclair, Lois van Baarle, and Stacy Fahey. I will always love Disney, but I also love Studio Ghibli and illustrators such as Tove Jansson, Raymond Briggs, John Tenniel and EH Shepard. I also love reading, some of my favourite books being Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Wind In The Willows, and Winnie The Pooh. I want to take all of these inspirations, and use it to create something that's just mine.

For my final uni project I created a few music posters, and I feel this is the closest I've been able to come so far to something I'm happy with. Still a bit too Disneyfied, but getting there. I'd spent a long time thinking about how I wished I could draw without actually drawing it, so although these posters might not have been exactly what I wanted they took a lot of The Fear away and showed me that I am capable if I just do it.

I've been trying to complete a full sketchbook since last summer, something I haven't done in years. I used to see sketchbooks as a place for practice until I started watching sketchbook tours on YouTube and started to see them as works of art in their own right with perfectly cohesive illustrations on every page. This is an unrealistic way to keep a sketchbook, and that's something I have to remind myself of regularly. I enjoy scrapbooking and keeping my sketchbook as a kind of journal, and find this helps me stop myself from taking my sketchbook too seriously and giving up on it a few pages in. I'm almost halfway through, and am trying to get into the habit of drawing everyday and drawing on location as I know this is the only way I'll get to the place I want to be with my work.

And that's the stage I'm at right now! I'm wanting to turn my YouTube channel into a more art focused direction, and just really hold myself to all of the goals I set out instead of just talking about what I'd like to do. And I wanted an art blog so I can just share something whether it's perfect or not without any fanfare, and just share my progress and my journey. And I hope you'll enjoy following that! ♥
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