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Craft With Conscience

'Craft With Conscience' began in early 2016 as a weekly Instagram series dedicated to sharing the work of other creatives and as a platform to openly discuss certain aspects of ethical art-making and consuming in the age of the internet and social media.  

This series arose out of my own frustrations related to seeing my work constantly copied stitch-for-stitch, sold without permission, and credited to other people.  Rather than wallowing in unproductive negative emotions, I wanted to find a way to bring this common issue to light in a positive way.  My solution was to share the work of artists, crafters, designers, and makers who I greatly admire for their originality and dedication. Initially, I shared work similar in materials or subject matter to my own, having heard the argument, "There are only so many ways to stitch plants, I'm not copying you..." one too many times.  The truth is, no matter what the medium or subject, every artist from hobby crafter to professional painter has their own perspective and voice. It takes effort to develop one's visual vocabulary and it can be disheartening when your's is taken and misused by other individuals and sometimes larger companies.

All that being said, now is an incredible time for working artists because of the vast resources of the internet including sources of inspiration, the ability to reach a large and global audience, and as a community building tool. As you may know, I love sharing my work on Instagram and following other makers. It's a wonderful way to connect with other artists, be inspired, and feel supported, but we all need to be aware of how we use these resources and what effect it may have on others.

Since the start of 2016, 'Craft With Conscience' has grown and evolved just like any other creative pursuit and has recently expanded to include short interviews with featured artists. I've asked participating artists a series of questions about their studio process, sources of inspiration, and how image-sharing sites like Instagram and Pinterest influence and affect them. I hope you read on to see what they have to say!

Craft With Conscience: Sarah Strickland

Sarah Benning

Sarah Strickland // Illustrator and Designer // Melbourne

Sarah is a illustrator and textile designer living in the creative hub of the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne. She works mainly with gouache on paper and has been painting for as long as she has been able to hold a brush. Sarah's work focusses on close observation of the everyday stuff around her. Lush
colour give her paintings an otherworldly feeling, that seeks to draw the viewer in, so they can calmly observe as well.

Check out her beautiful work through her Instagram or Website.

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1. I began my #CraftWithConscience series as a way
to simultaneously promote the work of other makers and to discuss the complicated issues surrounding creative inspiration and developing ones’ own visual vocabulary. The internet is an ever growing fixture in many artist’s lives and businesses, could you talk about the role the internet plays in your artistic and professional life?

The internet is probably a much bigger part of my life than I give it credit for. I know that I have had many successes by being able to easily share my work with the world and reach across oceans to people who like what I do. Something I can't even imagine would have been possible for me if I were doing what I do pre digital age.  For someone like me who finds it very hard to actively promote myself, the internet is a wonderfully easy and minimally stressful way to do this as well!

I use the internet everyday to communicate, research and inspire and for all it's pitfalls, it really is an amazing thing.


2. Where do you find inspiration for your work?  Do you work from life or from images and in what ways has the internet and/or social media impacted your design process?

My work is all about observation and spending a lot of time with those inanimate objects that don't often get a lot of attention, so I really try to slow down and just look around the space I'm in for inspiration and draw from life. I often find little scenes that I had never fully appreciated before. I try to honour those objects as best as I can by painting them into a lovely picture! Having said that, I do find images (photos I have taken or images I find) that really resonate with me and I will try to capture the feeling that the image gave me, in a painting.
I use these found images as a base from which to build my own imaginary world.

When it comes to composing the colour within a painting I go through all my collected bits and pieces, wherever I have them stored and try to put together a palette that I find really sings. This is the part I labour over the most, so I will take inspiration from wherever I can!

Having said all that I usually begin my process by scrolling through my very healthy Pinterest and Instagram accounts! Often just looking at the abundance of imagery makes me want to get up and actually create something myself (can also have the reverse effect!). The internet is really a great tool for finding imagery and information you might never have access to, which might spark an idea or help to flesh something out, but it is just a tool. I do try to find inspiration from as diverse a field as possible, I still even go to the library! In the end I want my work to look like I did it, so I really do just treat the internet as a tool, along with my box of paints and brushes.

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3. Sites like Pinterest and Instagram are popular places for artists’ to share their own work. They also act as public visual archives, often leading to creative work by others that walks the line between ‘inspiration’ and ‘infringement.’ Have you encountered copies of your work online and how does it affect you? What are your strategies for dealing with it?

Fortunately I have not had to deal too much with copies of my work as an illustrator, which speaks to my level of exposure I think.

In my professional work as a textile designer, I have encountered what I would call a startlingly similar design to something I had done and I think my first reaction was a kind of bemusement! I felt like I was finally a real designer - my design was good enough to be copied!

Levity aside, I am extremely conscious of the murky history of copyright infringement within the textile industry and creative world generally and therefore I work very hard to create unique and original designs. I have no interest in creating something that already exists. I am also lucky enough to work for a brand that really prides itself of on being a unique product so I am never put in an uncomfortable position where I am asked to copy something (which does happen!).

I guess I would also like to add I know how easy it is to subconsciously end up reproducing something - I know I have had to scrap designs altogether when I realised I have done this. Given that we are all looking at the same images on Pinterest and Instagram, we are all fed the same "creative ingredients" if you like. It makes sense that we will be creating very similar recipes. That's why I think it's really important to get away from the screen and find inspiration from the incredible world around us!

At the time I found one of my textile designs being appropriated, the design I had created was no longer for sale so it did not directly impact the business I work for. If this was not the case I think the best approach is to contact the person/business directly and privately. I know this may not always be successful, but I have witnessed a few instances where these feuds have played themselves out on social media and it can turn very ugly. I think this is where knowing your stuff about copyright laws is essential and some public education is definitely needed
here.  

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4. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or creative business people?

My advice is to find your own voice. I think this is an ongoing, work in progress for me, as we are not fixed beings, but I certainly feel much closer to this the more I make. It is what makes the work so satisfying as I am creating my own truth and also I think, what resonates with the world. Your own voice is your greatest asset!

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5. Do you have any favorite blogs, artists, or Instagram accounts that you’d like to share?

I have been following the work of artist Camilla Engman for years and used to religiously read her blogs every week! Now I am more of an Instagram fanatic. I love that I can have a glimpse into the creative worlds of the people I admire, I especially love those that share really interesting insights on how the hell they go about trying to exist as a creative person! I follow way more people than I can ever keep up with, but here are a few accounts that I love;

I love with a passion the work of Miranda July and her Instagram account! Her work is full of humility and nuance and humour.

Deserted in Parisis a wonderful Instagram account by Tal Spiegel who is a pastry chef with an incredible shoe collection, living in Paris. It's no good to look at if you're trying to quit sugar (not me!) but the creations he shows are true works of art! Talk about colour inspiration!

A Floral Frenzy is a rich source of just mind blowing, beautiful floral arrangements. So much colour and beauty to be found here.

I love reading Sight Unseen for staying up to date with what is going on in the design world.


Finally, it's super cheesy, but the most inspiring artists to me are the ones I know as mates, as I have seen their work progress and fly. A great example is my husband! We studied illustration together when we were just babies (pretending to be grown up) and have been each others greatest cheerleaders and critics for the last 14 years. He is a really incredible comic artist whose passion and commitment to his creativity are awe inspiring! I consider myself a lucky person to be able to witness this every day. He sporadically posts to his Instagram
@andy_monstercomics_isaac.

All images courtesy of the artist.

Craft With Conscience: Allyson Rousseau

Sarah Benning

Allyson Rousseau // Fiber Artist // Montreal

Allyson’s work explores the relationship between traditional methods and contemporary design. With each piece, and each new idea, her goal is to express a simple concept of good design by breaking down the design elements; color, shape, texture, space, and form. With this process, she is creating work to push beyond the realm of traditional craft making, with the ultimate goal of contributing a unique and lasting perspective in contemporary Fibre Arts.

Check out her website and scroll through her instagram to see more of her amazing work.

1. I began my #CraftWithConscience series as a way to simultaneously promote the work of other makers and to discuss the complicated issues surrounding creative inspiration and developing ones’ own visual vocabulary. The internet is an ever growing fixture in many artist’s lives and businesses, could you talk about the role the internet plays in your artistic and professional life?

When I began teaching myself how to weave back in late 2013, there were very limited resources available for self-teaching (on the internet, and elsewhere). Ironically though, the first woven art pieces that I discovered and that inspired me to learn how to weave were found on the internet. I could just sense that weaving was about to explode back into focus and have a huge impact on the practice of contemporary fibre artists.

Flash forward to 2017, and the resources are now very accessible, all over the internet, published in contemporary how-to’s, blogs, and new weavers are born every day through the facilitation of workshops held all over the world (and online!). It has been a really wild and insightful experience to have begun my practice sort of at the “start” of this new wave of weaving, and see how quickly it has spread and grown.

For my personal practice, I would say that I have been fortunate to find most of my clients internationally through the exposure and sale of my work on the internet. I started a shop on Etsy a few years ago, and I share most of my work on Instagram with the intent of reaching a large and broad viewership. So that is to say that the internet has a tremendous role and impact on my work. The possibilities for creation become endless when you open your work up to the whole world, and I think it has helped put me on the path to succeeding in certain goals that I have for my work.

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2. Where do you find inspiration for your work?  Do you work from life or from images and in what ways has the internet and/or social media impacted your design process?

I do my best to avoid the work of other weavers (which is maybe easier said than done) and the internet altogether actually, and instead take my inspiration from areas of my physical life. I am curiously interested in the good design of everyday objects and environments, and I think that a lot of my inspiration manifests itself subconsciously through various media that I absorb from my surroundings.

Social media has impacted my design process in the ways that I protect my work. As soon as you post an image or share an idea on the internet, you lose a certain percentage of ownership simply because others can take inspiration from that work and you lose control of how it is shared. So I think it has made me aware and cautious of what I post, and I try to share only completed ideas that are uniquely my own.

3. Sites like Pinterest and Instagram are popular places for artists’ to share their own work. They also act as public visual archives, often leading to creative work by others that walks the line between ‘inspiration’ and ‘infringement.’ Have you encountered copies of your work online and how does it affect you? What are your strategies for dealing with it?

I have yet to discover outright copying of my designs (and I hope that I never do…) but I have dealt with a number of instances where my style and designs have been appropriated in others’ work. I think that it is becoming increasingly difficult to brand myself as an artist, when there are so many weavers out there, and it can be discouraging to feel like one, in a sea of many.

The line that lies between “craft” and “art” is very thin. For some, weaving is a hobby craft, or an outlet to feel a sense of “place” in a community, and for others it is their art form, their chosen medium to produce thoughtful and contemporary fibre art. I categorize myself within the latter distinction, and feel I am constantly standing up for my work to keep it in that category- in the eyes of its viewers.

The way I can make sense of it simply, is that you would never ask an artist outright for their tips on how to achieve a certain technique in a painting…with the intent to do the same in your own work, for example. Art and Artists demand(s) a certain level of respect, and I find that because there are so many weaves out there, the vast majority of it automatically falls into the craft category…wherein people are comfortable copying techniques, and approaching other weavers for their tips and tricks. The line is made even thinner when you are trying to separate your woven artwork from the “hobby craft”, when weaving is after all a craft!

My strategies for dealing with instances of possible infringement issues are still a work in progress I think. The more of a following I accumulate, the more I learn about my own process for sharing work on the internet. I want to maintain engagement with my followers, and I wholeheartedly appreciate their interest in my work, absolutely! After all I am sharing it on the internet, so that it can be seen. But I think that dealing with any such situation requires respect and awareness on both ends, and maybe I need to adjust the ways in which I brand myself as an artist in order to receive the respect that I wish to have for my work. One way in which I can do so would be to stray away from Etsy as my shop platform- because Etsy is notoriously known and used for crafters.

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4. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or creative business people?

The best advice I can give, taken from my own experience is to be original. Create unique, and thoughtful work. You’ll never be able to please everyone, but staying true to your own style will give you leverage in what can be a very competitive field. Don’t sell yourself short. Make sure that your pricing fairly pays for your time and the quality of work that you produce. If a client really loves your work, they will pay the price. This is something that I have learned in dealing with customized work, and knowing when you might be dealing with somebody who is shopping around for the cheapest price.

Respect others and work hard!

5. Do you have any favorite blogs, artists, or Instagram accounts that you’d like to share?

I’m not a big blog person, but this is a good opportunity to share the IG account of the artist that first inspired me to learn to weave: @bymimijung, and on that note I recently came across fibre artist @britt_wilkins who coincidentally explores very similar elements of shape and form in her work.

I love the illustrative work of @martinapaukova, @karl_joel_irsn, and @atelier_bingo. Artist @micahlexier has a great eye and style for shapes, lines, forms, design, and found objects.

When I am looking for a laugh or a dog I turn to @napkinapocalypse.

All images courtesy of the artist.

Craft With Conscience: Tessa Perlow

Sarah Benning

Tessa Perlow // FIber artist // Asbury Park, NJ

Tessa is a fiber artist based out of Asbury Park, NJ. Using vibrant colors and expressive stitching her work seamlessly crosses back and forth between fine art, craft, and fashion. Often working from observation, Tessa reinvigorates an old world craft with rustic iconography, floral patterns, and plant design into something unique and modern.

To see more of Tessa's work check out her Instagram and visit her Etsy shop.

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1. I began my #CraftWithConscience series as a way to simultaneously promote the work of other makers and to discuss the complicated issues surrounding creative inspiration and developing ones’ own visual vocabulary. The internet is an ever growing fixture in many artist’s lives and businesses, could you talk about the role the internet plays in your artistic and professional life?

The internet has definitely been both a blessing and a challenge for my artistic and professional life. I have to be grateful that the platform of instagram exists- it is initially how I was able to get exposure to promote my business and keep me motivated to produce work. Right now social media is the best tool for me to generate business with my etsy but at the same time, I really do not like to spend too much time on my phone or on my computer.

I think as a result of social media and wanting to make money, I find myself gearing my work towards what people want as opposed to what feels right for me. One of my goals this year is to be confident in my artistic vision and definitely to make time to work on pieces I want to make and not necessarily share everything I do on social media. Sometimes you lose confidence in yourself with social media because instagram is such an easy vehicle of comparison. It’s tough- I am always tempted to delete my social media accounts to get a little break from all the noise but right now it’s too valuable a tool for selling; I really rely on the income.

2. Where do you find inspiration for your work?  Do you work from life or from images and in what ways has the internet and/or social media impacted your design process?

I am always greatly inspired by nature- plants and animals are a recurring theme in my embroidery.  I am also greatly inspired by movies, books, art history, and science.

I like to come up with a little theme every so often that I keep to myself but use as a go-to inspiration for color palette and motif inspiration. I went to F.I.T. where I studied fashion design, and one of the best things we did with every project was make mood boards and inspiration journals. Because of social media, there is a pressure for everyone to brand ourselves and to have a 'look'; to have a 'lifestyle'. What I try to take from my time studying fashion design is that though branding is important for businesses & artists, as the seasons change and your mood changes, let your inspirations change as well. When I first started embroidering I relied heavily on pinterest (I am still probably on pinterest twice a day) and used a variety of reference images to source for my art. I still like to use reference imagery but I definitely prefer working from life. I am trying to transition my pieces completely to works based on observation to maintain originality and heart. personally, I feel Its just more exciting and free to embroider over my drawings of houseplants and my cats than it is to stare at a screen.

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3. Sites like Pinterest and Instagram are popular places for artists’ to share their own work. They also act as public visual archives, often leading to creative work by others that walks the line between ‘inspiration’ and ‘infringement.’ Have you encountered copies of your work online and how does it affect you? What are your strategies for dealing with it?

I've encountered an instagram account that I saw was very obviously using my embroidery designs on clothing and patches as well as other well-known embroidery artists. At first, it’s natural to feel frustrated or sad about it but ultimately I do not let stuff like that bother me.  Situations like that are opportunities to tell oneself- it’s no big deal, I am full of ideas and I'll just keep doing what I do. In general I feel the most healthy when I just focus on my goals and not worry too much about what everyone else is doing. Plus I understand that sometimes the best way to learn is to replicate. When I was growing up, I tried to copy things that I really loved either as a learning tactic or because I couldn't afford the real thing, so really I cannot judge!

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4. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or creative business people?

My advice for aspiring artists is to firstly read The Crossroads Between Should and Mustby Elle Luna, It totally changed my life and I really need to give it credit for helping me through a tough time when I questioned if I deserved to think I could be an artist. Its an incredibly inspiring book and anyone who is creative in anyway should read it!

I think it’s most important to realize that you have a right to express yourself and that when you create, you enrich the world. I'd say never feel guilty prioritizing what makes you happy. For me personally, right now my happiness comes from embroidering and so I am literally spending as much time as I possibly can working on my craft. At the same time Its important to strike a healthy life balance, allow yourself to do other hobbies you love, and spend time with friends and family. As far as business advice goes I could definitely use some!! I feel very much like where maybe I have strong creative vision and am good at prioritizing work time, I probably lack in my business and communication skills. I am trying to not get too mad at myself when I feel overwhelmed by the business aspects of etsy and crafting but it is definitely the most challenging aspect of my life since I got my LLC. Still- we humans have to be kind to ourselves and remember we do the best that we can at any given moment. Embroidery isn't life or death, so when I find myself getting seriously stressed out I force myself to step back, breathe, and reassess what is so overwhelming.

5. Do you have any favorite blogs, artists, or Instagram accounts that you’d like to share?

 Even though instagram seriously stresses me out, I can't help but admit it is magical in how it has connected me to a community of totally awesome artists & especially embroidery artists. My favorite art account to follow is probably @alia_pop for amazing punchy color stories and painted graphics that are ridiculously dreamy. I also have been a huge fan of Fred Stonehouse's work since having babysat for a family that had a couple of his pieces. His handle is @fstoney1960 and he is constantly posting new work- so cool and weird and inspiring in terms of how prolific he is not to mention brainy and technically skilled. I've been really into contemporary artist Jonas Wood's work which is  really stylized paintings of houseplants, interiors as well as portraits. I love his style, I've only seen a couple of his works in person but I would really love a chance to see more, his work has been a huge inspiration to me this past year.

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All images are courtesy of the artist.

Craft With Conscience: Jenny Kiker

Sarah Benning

Jenny Kiker // Living Pattern, Florida, USA

After graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design with an Illustration major / painting minor, she started her first job with Carter's/Osh-Gosh kids clothing as a technical/creative artist in Atlanta. After 4 years, she gave in to wanderlust and moved to San Diego and found her place with Free People in visual display/creative merchandising. She was able to work with URBN Inc. where she learned the value of compelling creativity in a brand. Constant soul searching started to eat away at her and she jumped. Jenny has grown Living Pattern as a way to connect herself and her audience to the still delicateness of nature and to themselves. For her, it is a learning process that changes day by day. 

Find more of Jenny's work by checking out her Instagram and livingpattern.net.

Jenny Kiker, Living Pattern Studio

Jenny Kiker, Living Pattern Studio

1.  The internet is an ever growing fixture in many artist’s lives and businesses, could you talk about the role the internet plays in your artistic and professional life?

The internet is a vessel to share my work and process. It's allowed me to make friends with some of the most interesting people that I never would have otherwise. I love the radical openness that exists online. It's an amazing sharing economy of ideas, information and things that accelerates the evolution of my work. How else could I have such immediate access to so much subject matter and so many people to share the results with. It's been the ultimate catalyst.

2.  Where do you find inspiration for your work?  Do you work from life or from images and in what ways has the internet and/or social media impacted your design process?

My inspiration comes from every medium I can find. I keep a collection of plants and I love them very much. I always consider drawing from life the best but there is not substitute for a Google image search to find new species and even compositions. I've also collected beautiful plant encyclopedias and botanical almanacs that I use to explore a genus as a whole or helps me with species identification. I also encourage followers to use #livingpattern to tag plant photos or whatever else they interpret it to mean. This brings a whole new dimension to my work as it creates a feedback loop with my audience to inform my future direction.

3.  Sites like Pinterest and Instagram are popular places for artists’ to share their own work. They also act as public visual archives, often leading to creative work by others that walks the line between ‘inspiration’ and ‘infringement.’ Have you encountered copies of your work online and does it affect you?  If so, what are your strategies for dealing with it?

Yes, I absolutely encountered that to all degrees. A company in Chile makes a living on ripping off art. A customer of mine at a South American craft fair sent me a picture of my Monstera and Lacy Tree hanging their a booth and I recognized several other artists work upon further investigation. Other artists made slightly less blatant copies of my work and called it their own but what affected me the most was when the pieces were in concert with other elements of my brand voice, such as photography, desk styling and wording.

I believe in the saying "a good artist copies, a great artist steals," but steal from everyone in your work. I took inspiration from Christopher Marley and nineteenth century botanical illustration but it's the blend of these things that makes it unique and my own. A strategy to deal with it recently has been a focus on intricacy and detail. My two new blooming cactus prints are an example of that but there is some really complex work on the docket.

On the bright side of this, my work has inspired lots of weekend projects and fun experiments for people. I love to get tagged by people showing me renderings of my monstera, ferns, etc. If I can be the reason that someone get a little more use out of their paintbrushes, it's my privilege to share!

4.  Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or creative business people?

My advice would be to be extremely critical of what you put in front of people. Be particular on how you want things to look and it something feels off, keep pushing to get it to where you want it. A simple photograph takes me hours to get, which leads me into another piece of advice: learn photography. If you're a doing food, art, music, events, craftwork, products or anything, compelling images are key.

5.  Do you have any favorite blogs, artists, or Instagram accounts that you’d like to share?

Absolutely. Design Sponge has always been the godmother of cutting edge aesthetic to me. A Beautiful Mess, The Junglow and Dabito are other accounts my thumb is always inclined to double tap, as well. My retailers have some amazing account too. Rare Device, Room6deepcove, Shop Miroja, Fern Shop Cincinnati and Botanic and Luxe are just a few. House Plant Journal is a great source of plant knowledge and time-lapsed plant photography. Michelle Morin and I shared the bond having our art plagiarized by the company I mention above - her work is amazing. I love the jewelry of Alexis Russell Jewelry and Bearand the Adelaide and the recipes of Minimalist Baker. If there is one artist you should check out tho, its Baotpham.

Living Pattern Studio
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Craft With Conscience: The Crafter's Box

Sarah Benning

The Crafter’s Box delivers hands-on workshops in collaboration with experienced artists to makers all over the world. The Crafter's Box pairs monthly online workshops with a thoughtfully sourced box of tools & materials shipped to makers so they can learn more about and dive right into crafting techniques such as block printing, embroidery, weaving, leather working and ceramics. 

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Craft With Conscience: Bodil Jane

Sarah Benning

Bodil Jane is an illustrator from Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She graduated with honors from Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam, specializing in illustration (2014). Bodil Jane loves to illustrate food, recipes, animals, fashion, interiors, plants, packaging and maps. All of her illustrations include hand made elements and digital techniques.

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Craft With Conscience: Brannon Addison

Sarah Benning

Brannon Addison an artist that specializes in hand embroidery. While pursuing a career in education and nonprofit communications, she turned to drawing and painting as a creative outlet, which resulted in the launch of a stationery line in 2011. Following an ankle injury in 2014, she taught herself how to embroider and fell in love with needlework. Brannon releases monthly collections of her framed embroidery and has extended her work into pillows, pins, and clothing as well.

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