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Personal Projects: Why They Are so Important

As artists and illustrators you’ve probably heard it before –  working on your own projects outside of client work is really important for your development.

Let’s face it, working in the field of illustration can be difficult and discouraging at times. Finding client work, submitting to publishers, trying to find an agent – it’s a constant grind for most of us, so it’s important to set aside time to work on personal projects. This can be anything – a single illustration, a series of illustrations on a theme, a comic, a picture book, the possibilities are endless. A personal project will be something that excites or inspires you – something you are passionate about. Working on a project that means something to you will give you the fulfillment and satisfaction you can’t get from client work alone. And this is vital over the long term in maintaining your creative energy levels and personal artistic happiness that will spread out into all other areas of your work and life.

I think the importance of personal projects can be summed up into three main points:

Skill Building

Personal projects are a great way to build your skills and discover new techniques. When working on something for yourself you’ll push yourself harder, and often find you produce your best work. Creating something that has personal meaning almost always gives you better results than something you create for a client.

Gain Confidence

Building skills with personal projects will also help grow your confidence. It’s a good idea to start out with smaller projects at first, so you can see them through to completion. Completing your projects is key, because that gives you the confidence that you can see them through, and will give you a sense of accomplishment. This will in turn motivate you to start another project – perhaps bigger or more ambitious that the last.

Personal Fulfillment

Have a picture book or comic idea that you are excited about? Instead of submitting it to agents or publishers and playing the waiting game, you may want to consider working on it for yourself. There are many options for self publishing these days, even if you just decide to simply publish your project on the internet. There is a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in seeing your project complete, and you may even find you can build yourself an audience along the way. I myself have published quite a few projects this way, and I have found it very fulfilling and motivating.

A Final Word

With the openness of the internet and social media right now, there are minimal barriers to getting your work out there. Of course the challenge is in getting your work noticed, but that’s part of the fun in building an audience. There’s never been a better time to be an independent creator. There are so many creative ways to get your work in front of people, and many artists are already doing just that – side stepping the traditional publishing routes and building audiences for themselves. I think we will see this trend continue to grow in the future.

About the author

  • Chris JonesCHRIS JONESContributor

    Chris Jones is a Canadian based children's illustrator. He has always been interested in telling stories visually, and his colorful style focuses on humor and expressiveness. A graduate of the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD), he has illustrated for several magazines and educational publishers. Chris is inspired by good music, good books, long walks, and generous amounts of coffee. Chris is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

To Database or Not to Database – Organizing Your Contacts

For illustrators, building and maintaining a contact list for your marketing efforts is one of the most important things you can do for your business. Putting in the time and effort to build a highly targeted database of contacts is vital. To get your work seen, and for you to get hired – reaching out regularly to a targeted list of companies with whom you want to work is something you simply must do.

The software you choose for your database depends on personal preference. There are many contact relationship management (CRM) software choices out there – some free, some paid, many that are over complicated, and many with features you would never need to use. For myself, after looking at many of the options I settled on the simplest and most customizable choice – a spreadsheet. It’s simple, sortable, searchable, and exporting the data for labels or emailing is very straightforward.

The great thing about using a spreadsheet is you can customize the fields exactly the way you want. It’s easy to color highlight certain fields so you can get creative with color coding to help you track or remember certain details. You can set up drop down menus to select from pre-determined data. You can also set up additional spreadsheets in the same workbook – one for a list of publishers, and others for submission lists for picture book dummies, or lists for other contacts.

In my workbook, I have separate sheets for Publishers, Agents, and Picture Book submission lists (so I can track who I’ve sent to, who has responded, etc.)

For my main publisher list, here are the fields that I track:

  • Date of last contact (last time you emailed or sent a mailer, letter, etc.)
  • Status (Client, On file, Lead) – for this I built in a drop down menu with these choices built in so I don’t have to retype them when entering a contact
  • Newsletter (here I indicate if I have them on my email newsletter mailing list)
  • Category (Trade, Educational, Magazine) – again I use a drop down menu with these choices – I like to use these categories so I can group and sort contacts into sub lists to target mailings
  • Xmas Card (the last time I sent them a card and if they are on my card list or not)
  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • Title
  • Company
  • Address
  • City
  • State/Province
  • Zip/Postal Code
  • Country
  • Email
  • Website
  • Last Contact (here I keep notes on the last contact I had with this person)
  • Additional notes (here I note and submission guidelines, special considerations, etc.)

 

The key to maintaining your database is to regularly go through and make sure the information is still current (your database is only as good as the data that is in it). I like to break it into small chunks and try to check 10 or so records each week until I reach the end of the list, then I just start again, repeating the process.

Another really useful thing to do is to save your spreadsheet into an online file sharing service, such as Dropbox – this way you can have access to your contacts from any device are using. Even your phone if you need to check some information while on the go. Or, another option would be to build your spreadsheet in Google Drive – and again you could have it available to you on any device

DOWNLOAD:

I built my spreadsheet using Excel, and I am making my template available here for anyone who would like to use it as a starting point for their own list, or for reference. The template includes my main publisher list template, as well as a second sheet template for a picture book submission list.

–> Download my Excel template

About the author

  • Chris JonesCHRIS JONESContributor

    Chris Jones is a Canadian based children's illustrator. He has always been interested in telling stories visually, and his colorful style focuses on humor and expressiveness. A graduate of the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD), he has illustrated for several magazines and educational publishers. Chris is inspired by good music, good books, long walks, and generous amounts of coffee. Chris is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Adventures in Self Promotion

For freelance illustrators, self promotion is a necessary part of the business. Potential clients need to know about you and see your work if you want to get hired. For illustrators with agents it can work a little differently, but if you are  going it alone, a good consistent self promotion plan is key to growing your business.

Self promotion for illustrators is well covered topic, but I thought I would share my experiences in in the hope that some of my strategies will inspire you in your self promotion efforts. A bit of background so you know where I’m coming from: I’ve worked on and off in freelance illustration for about 10 years, but didn’t take it seriously as a career until 2011. That was when I started actively promoting myself and seeking out new clients and opportunities. I don’t claim to be an expert by any means, but here are some of the things I’ve tried, and my thoughts on their effectiveness.

Postcards

Postcards are commonly seen as one of the better ways for illustrators to promote themselves. With so many online printers to choose from, getting postcards printed is fairly cheap and easy. Mailing them can be a little pricey, especially if you are sending out large quantities, so I am continually honing my mailing list to keep it just under 300 contacts – consisting mainly of art directors and editors. If there is more than one art director at a publisher, I’ll send it to as many as I can, and also to editors at the same publisher if possible.

Some of the things I’ve done to help my postcards stand out:

  • I have them printed at a larger size (5 x 7″). The increase in printing cost is minimal, and mailing the larger size costs exactly the same (from within Canada  – which is where I am based).
  • I always get them with rounded corners. I like the look, and this keeps them consistent with the design of my business cards too.
  • I use full color, full bleed art on both sides. I figure this doubles my chances that an art director will take a liking to at least one of the images. It also allows the opportunity to use two related images, creating a bit of a story from the front to the back. On the back I leave a less busy area of the art for the stamp, and just affix the mailing label right over the art. I’ve checked with the post office, and I’ve confirmed that this does not affect the mailing of the postcards. Sometimes a bar code is stamped on the back at the bottom, but I’ve been informed that there is no issue if the art is underneath the bar code. So far I’ve had no issues when mailing them this way.
  • I’ve also done variations where I list some of my previous books on the back alongside the artwork
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ABOVE: Front and back images from some of my postcards

Seasonal Mailers

I send out a seasonal card each year to my clients and a small targeted list of art directors I would like to work for. Instead of a standard size card, my strategy has been to make an (11 x 17″) poster with a bit of a narrative to it.

My strategy for the posters is:

  • They contain a narrative that is hopefully engaging, so the recipient will at least read it
  • The poster shows the same character throughout (showing my ability to illustrate a character consistently in various scenes)
  • My aim is to make the piece something more than just a nice picture – something that’s hopefully fun and memorable enough that the art director will want to pin it up on their wall. If my poster is pinned up or saved, I consider that a successful mailer!
  • I also dress up the envelope – using my branded logo on the return address labels, incorporating some of the artwork from the poster, and adding a personal handwritten message. Little touches like this will hopefully make my envelope stand out from the slush pile

 

I received quite a good response from my last seasonal poster mailing, and this lead me to rethink my mailing strategy going forward. I’ve been sending out postcards 3 times a year for 3 years now, and I’ve had a better response from my one small poster mailing than almost all my postcard mailings put together.

promo-2

ABOVE: My last seasonal mailer package. I included a red construction paper pocket that the posters were folded and inserted into for extra protection and for a bit of an exciting reveal

Larger Format Samples (ie: Posters!)

The response I got from sending a more comprehensive package to a smaller group of contacts was much better than my postcard mail outs. So this year I’ve decided to stop sending postcards temporarily to try out a different strategy:

  • I included a couple of posters and a few tearsheets. This was sent to a small, targeted list of 20-30 art directors/publishers I want to work with, or I feel best suit my art style.
  • The first poster was from a series I had been posting on social media collecting some of my Kids characters – my aim here was to highlight my character designs and facial expressions
  • The second poster reproduces a picture book in it’s entirety on the poster- the aim here was to show my character consistency, pacing and composition skills across an entire book, and hopefully increase the likelihood that the poster will be read – since who can resist reading a picture book?!

 

I also dressed up the envelope and in these packages I included a letter and my business card paper clipped to the letter

promo-1

ABOVE: A promotional mailer that includes tearsheets as well as 2 11 x 17″ posters

Thank You Cards

Maintaining a good relationship with your existing clients is just as important as trying to gain new clients. You’ve worked hard to get your existing clients, so you want to do everything you can to nurture that relationship and keep them thinking of you when they have a new project.

One of the little things I like to do is to send a handwritten thank you note after a project is completed. It’s quick and easy to do, but a little personal gesture like this can mean a lot. I regularly have little 4 x 9″ cards printed with some of my artwork on them, and a space to write a small note. I then just pop them into a regular business sized envelope.

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ABOVE: Sample of a “thank you” card I send to clients once an illustration project is wrapped up

This wraps up the short summary of my promotional strategies over the last few years. The key is to keep sending samples out on a regular schedule, and always be open to trying new and creative ways to get your work out there!

About the author

  • Chris JonesCHRIS JONESContributor

    Chris Jones is a Canadian based children's illustrator. He has always been interested in telling stories visually, and his colorful style focuses on humor and expressiveness. A graduate of the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD), he has illustrated for several magazines and educational publishers. Chris is inspired by good music, good books, long walks, and generous amounts of coffee. Chris is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Who Inspires You?

Who are some of the illustrators out there that inspire you? That was the question I asked my fellow contributors here at Once Upon a Sketch. Along with giving me some names, I also wanted to know why they loved their work. This is what I got:

Macky Pamintuan

James Bennett – One of my all-time favorite children’s book illustrators. From colors, to background detail and storytelling, just an overall superb illustrator. His editorial artwork is something I’ve looked up to all the way back to my art school days.

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Peter De Seve – To me, one of the best narrative illustrators in the biz. He’s known for his character designs, and justifiably so, but his compositions and the way he delivers a story in just one image (His New Yorker covers are amazing) is also why I picked him. I also love his muddy watercolor palette and rough, free flowing sketch work that show underneath his paintings.

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Phil Hale – All emotion and kinetic energy. His form & compositions are always inspiring. There is nothing static and boring in his work and I can always feel a dark intimidating energy from them.

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Chris Jones

Robert Williams – During my early school years he was a big inspiration and influence for me. I really admired his painting style and how he mixed it with flat compositional elements. And his mix of car culture and psychedelic and apocalyptic imagery are just plain crazy fun.

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Dan Santat – I really admire his great character designs, sense of humour and playfulness in his work, and his wonderful use of colour.

1897018_10152308065881488_1638602574_n Continue reading

Collaboration: Stretch Your Creative Muscles

What is collaboration? It’s a process where two or more individuals work together to achieve shared goals. Collaboration can take many forms, but for this post I’m mainly referring to an artist/writer or artist/artist partnership. Since the internet came along, collaboration has become more popular and a lot easier. With the barriers of geographical location removed, there are many more opportunities to find a partner you work well with.

I’ve made a point of collaborating on various projects for quite a few years and I’ve found that it has many benefits. I’ve worked on projects I would not have otherwise, and I feel it has helped me to grow professionally and creatively.

Finding the Right Partner

Finding the right partner to collaborate with is key. Ideally, you want to find someone you work well with, where each partner can focus on their respective strengths to create something unique, something different than either of you could have created alone. For a partnership to work well, both collaborators need to treat the relationship with respect and professionalism.

Here are a few of the key benefits I found in my experience with collaboration:

Motivation

Working on personal projects is fun and exciting. But there can be times where you struggle with maintaining momentum. When working in collaboration there is another person invested in the process and outcome, and this can be a real boost to your motivation and energy level throughout a project. When someone else is counting on you to deliver your part of the work, it can really help you buckle down and just get it done.

A Creative Challenge

Working with a partner can help you break out of your comfort zone and grow as an artist. Your collaborator will have their own way of thinking, and you can be exposed to new ideas, subject matter, and points of view. All of this can lead to solutions you may not have considered otherwise, and often it can help you break through barriers in your own work.

Develop Relationship Skills

If you treat the collaborative partnership in a professional manner, you can benefit from gaining experience in a number of areas that will serve you well in your career. You’ll develop your communication skills, a sense of accountability for your work, the art of compromise, more patience, and a level of professional trust. All of these skills are very valuable when you are working with clients.

Build up a Body of Work

If you are sharing the workload with another person and each working in your areas of strength, you’ll have the opportunity to complete projects more efficiently than if you were working alone. And, if you are an illustrator working with a writer, perhaps you’ll be able to complete projects you may never have completed alone – especially if you do not write yourself.

Expand Your Network

While you’re collaborating you’re also building a professional relationship with another person. Good working relationships are very valuable, and building them over time through collaboration is a good way to expand your network. You never know where opportunity will arise in the future from those relationships that you have developed.

Cross Promotion

When you are working with a partner, you add their network to your own when it’s time to promote your projects. A bigger network means more exposure, and more exposure is always a good thing.

Is Collaboration Right for You?

Even if you prefer to work alone, it’s worth exploring the possibility of collaboration. It can open up a whole new set of opportunities for professional and artistic growth, as well as develop your skills in other areas.

If any of you reading this post have had any experiences with collaboration, we’d love to hear what you may have learned, or any tips you’d like to share.

Streamline your Workflow with Manga Studio Story Editor

I think it’s fair to say we’re all looking for ways to be more productive. We want to make our workflow as streamlined as possible so we can get more done in a day. Well, if you do any comic or graphic novel work and have yet to try out the Story Editor in Manga Studio, you may want to read this mini review – it could help improve your workflow and increase your productivity.

While working on my current graphic novel, I decided to try the Story Editor in Manga Studio EX 4 to see if it could help me save time and make the whole process easier.

One of the main benefits I’ve found in using the Story Editor is that it’s helped me focus more on working out the flow and pacing of the story and less time managing different files. I can quickly lay out my rough sketch pages, add in dialogue, and move pages or scenes around to fine tune the flow and pacing of the story – all from one application.

The Story Editor – Overview

When creating a new file in Manga Studio, you have the option of creating either a page or a story. Basically, a story is a file that groups all of your individual pages together in one place (think Adobe Bridge but with a lot more functionality). With the Story Editor you can easily write or import all your dialogue, view and edit all your pages, make global changes to dialogue or font styles, and export your pages to individual files or as a PDF (great for creating a book dummy).

Creating a new story

When creating a new story file you are presented with a window where you can set the dimensions of all the pages (you can set your own or choose from a number of templates), margin guides, output resolution, and indicate the number of pages you would like to set up for your story. You are also given the option to add some footer information to all of your pages (title, copyright info, and position of page numbering). All of these settings can easily be changed later if you need to adjust things.

Continue reading

How Manga Studio convinced me to draw digitally

Well, mostly. I still prefer to work on my rough concept and thumbnail sketches traditionally, but for refined sketches and final linework I find myself using Manga Studio more and more frequently. I’ve made numerous attempts to switch to drawing digitally using Photoshop, but for me, the drawing tools in Photoshop just don’t feel as smooth as they do in Manga Studio. Drawing in Manga Studio feels very natural and as close to traditional methods as I’ve experienced. In addition, there are a few very good pen tool options that make the drawing experience that much better. I’m going to talk about some of those options here.

Just a quick note: For the purposes of this overview I’m working with Manga Studio 4, and only talking about the pen and some related tools. The newest version (Manga Studio 5) looks like it has quite a few interface improvements and other new features (Tracy Bishop did a great video overview of Manga Studio 5 on the site in May last year), but for the tools I will be talking about, I do not believe a whole lot has changed.

Okay, here is an overview of some of the features and the drawing tools that really sold me on using Manga Studio:

Pen Tool Options

My first impression when using the pen tool was how nice and smooth it felt. The pen is very responsive and I was impressed with the line quality you can achieve. There are also some very interesting options and settings available for the pen tools:

Stroke-in and Stroke-out

On the pen tool options palette there are check boxes for stroke-in and stroke-out. Turning these on will taper your line at the beginning or end (or both) of your stroke. You can also use these stroke-in and stroke-out options in conjunction with your pen speed.

pen-tool-options-palette

This tapering of your line is applied in addition to the regular pen size tapering you would get with the reduced pen pressure as you finish or start a stroke, and will ensure your line starts and/or ends in a nice tapered point. The great thing is that you can turn this option on or off, and adjust the amount of tapering for either end of your stroke as needed when drawing.

stroke-shot

Correction

Another great pen tool option is “Correction”. With this turned on, Manga Studio will smooth out your pen stroke after you draw it. You can set the level of correction, so you can apply a very subtle correction or a lot of correction, depending on what you need. This option can be really useful if you are drawing some large round shapes or arced lines and want them to have a nice smooth feel.

correction-shot

In my experience, I’ve found that the smooth feel of the pen tool, in combination with these two options above can really help you achieve some great looking line work. Continue reading

What we wish we knew before we started out as artists?

Welcome back Once upon a Sketch and happy 2014! It’s been a long break but now it’s time to start a new chapter in OUaS’s history. We have a lot of great new voices that will be working on the site and I can’t wait to hear what they have to share with you. Since we have a lot of new voices we thought it would be good to ask everyone a common question. Everyone gave great answers so without further adieu here is our teams answer to the question “What we wish we knew before we started out as artists?” Continue reading

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Once Upon a Sketch Podcast Episode 6 – Round Table State of the Industry

In our sixth episode we welcome our friends Donald Wu, Chris Jones and Mary Reaves Uhles to discuss the state of the freelance illustration industry. We talk about how the industry has changed, our uses of social networking to make connections and finally getting around to the mediums that we all work in. It’s a great conversation with good information.

Links
Donald’s Art Rep catalogs – www.mbartists.com/cgi-bin/iowa/catalog.html
Buffer App – www.bufferapp.com
Tweet Deck – www.tweetdeck.com

Audio Version of the podcast or listen on iTunes

podcastroundtable02 Donald Wu – 
Born in Hong Kong, Donald grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area after moving there as a child. Years of drawing doodles in school along with a love of comic books led him to study illustration at the California College of the Arts. While at school, Donald was introduced to many different mediums ranging from watercolors to acrylics. Although Donald started his career using traditional mediums, Donald has since made the transition to digital medium. Donald continues to reside and “doodle” in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Website
Agents website
podcastroundtable01 Chris Jones – 
I’m an illustrator with an expressive and humorous style that is fun and engaging. I’m equally comfortable working on picture books, or sequentially in comics/cartoons.Born near Toronto, Canada, and raised on comic books, red licorice, and Saturday morning cartoons, I’ve been drawing with a passion ever since I could hold a crayon!I’m a Graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design, and a member of: the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the Picture Book Artists Association.
Website
Twitter
 podcastroundtable03 Mary Reaves Uhles – 
Mary Reaves Uhles has worked for over a decade creating art for children. Her pieces have been included in books and magazines around the world. Prior to beginning her career as a freelance illustrator, Mary worked as an animator on projects for Warner Brothers and Fisher-Price Interactive. To this day her work features a cinematic quality essential to bringing characters to life.
Website
Twitter
 podcastroundtable04 Norm Grock – 
Norm Grock has been drawing since before he even learned to swim which is saying a lot considering he grew up in Hawaii. Since leaving the Islands’ beautiful beaches and landing in Oregon he went to college and received a degree in graphic design. Now living in Portland, Oregon, Norm spends countless hours perfecting his craft as a freelance illustrator working on several children’s books. With over 15 years in the children’s entertainment industry Norm would like to start working on his passions and create his own intellectual properties.
Website
Twitter
 podcastroundtable05 Wilson Williams, Jr – 
I have been a professional commercial artist and designer for over thirteen years. My pens, pencils and wacom pen have been drawing and painting images from my imagination my entire life. My work is whimsical, fun and captures the measure of my spirit.
Website
Twitter
ouas_featuredimagepodcast004

Once Upon a Sketch Podcast Episode 4 – Roundtable Adobe’s Big Switch

This month on the Once Upon a Sketch podcast we welcome around table of children’s book artists to discuss Adobe switching their software model. Donald Wu, Chris Jones and Mary Reaves Uhles join Wilson and I to give our thoughts and reactions to the Creative Cloud announcement. From how it affects small one person companies to is it worth it to make the move to the cloud. We try to figure out these questions.

Links
Adobe Creative Cloud

Adobe Creative Cloud VS Creative Suite (Infographic)

Alternatives to Using the Adobe Creative Suite

Adobe announces plan to switch to subscription service

Audio Version of the podcast or listen on iTunes

podcastroundtable02 Donald Wu – 
Born in Hong Kong, Donald grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area after moving there as a child. Years of drawing doodles in school along with a love of comic books led him to study illustration at the California College of the Arts. While at school, Donald was introduced to many different mediums ranging from watercolors to acrylics. Although Donald started his career using traditional mediums, Donald has since made the transition to digital medium. Donald continues to reside and “doodle” in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Website
Agents website
podcastroundtable01 Chris Jones – 
I’m an illustrator with an expressive and humorous style that is fun and engaging. I’m equally comfortable working on picture books, or sequentially in comics/cartoons.Born near Toronto, Canada, and raised on comic books, red licorice, and Saturday morning cartoons, I’ve been drawing with a passion ever since I could hold a crayon!I’m a Graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design, and a member of: the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the Picture Book Artists Association.
Website
Twitter
 podcastroundtable03 Mary Reaves Uhles – 
Mary Reaves Uhles has worked for over a decade creating art for children. Her pieces have been included in books and magazines around the world. Prior to beginning her career as a freelance illustrator, Mary worked as an animator on projects for Warner Brothers and Fisher-Price Interactive. To this day her work features a cinematic quality essential to bringing characters to life.
Website
Twitter
 podcastroundtable04 Norm Grock – 
Norm Grock has been drawing since before he even learned to swim which is saying a lot considering he grew up in Hawaii. Since leaving the Islands’ beautiful beaches and landing in Oregon he went to college and received a degree in graphic design. Now living in Portland, Oregon, Norm spends countless hours perfecting his craft as a freelance illustrator working on several children’s books. With over 15 years in the children’s entertainment industry Norm would like to start working on his passions and create his own intellectual properties.
Website
Twitter
 podcastroundtable05 Wilson Williams, Jr – 
I have been a professional commercial artist and designer for over thirteen years. My pens, pencils and wacom pen have been drawing and painting images from my imagination my entire life. My work is whimsical, fun and captures the measure of my spirit.
Website
Twitter
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