Toolbox: Drawing with Gouache and a Nib

A while back I took a calligraphy class from Tara Bliven, and it opened up a whole new world of drawing tools. Not only did I get to try out new tools and techniques, it was the first time a pen and nib really worked for me. (Sometime I’ll give my whole “It’s tough being a lefty” rant.) As a lefty I need to use a special Oblique Pen Point Holder to write left to right– but with a little practice I learned to use a plain pen and nib to draw with gouache.

All the dark blue lines on this piece were done with a pointed pen, the rest is watercolor.

What’s so great about drawing with gouache?

• You can draw any color you can mix, for cheap. Instead of buying half a million different markers, buy a primary set of gouache and mix the colors you love.
• Gouache colors are opaque, which means you can do light lines on a dark background.
• Skinny paintbrushes are a pain. Although some people *ahem, Rachel* seem to be able to make magic with a brush, I have no luck doing fine lines with a paintbrush. A pen works much better.
• Gouache mixes wonderfully with your watercolor projects (#diycraftchallenge)
• The quality of line you get with a pointed pen is awesome.
• You look like a total bada** when you’re using a pointed pen. Trust me.


For this piece, I put down a dark blue background in watercolor, then used gouache to add the white words and flourishes.

There is a little learning curve when you’re working with a pen and ink, and practice makes perfect. I like to do little doodles on scrap paper to practice my lines, play with color, and generally mess around.


• Gouache– like this Winsor & Newton set.
• A pen holder– like this one from Speedball
• A pointed pen nib– I used a Nikko G pen for this project, but Tara also recommends the Brause EF 66 which is better if you’re not as heavy handed as I am.
• A dropper of distilled water.
• A couple of ratty paintbrushes for “ink” application, mixing, and cleaning.
• The rest of your usual painting tools– a paint tray or plate, a jar of water, paper towels, paper, pencil, etc.

To start, I put a drop little bit of gouache into my paint tray…

and add a couple of drops of distilled water. I add just a little bit of water to start, because it’s easier to add more water to make the consistency I want.

I mix my water with my paint until it’s consistent (using a cheap kids paintbrush). I like to play with different degrees of “wateriness,” more water means that the “ink” will be thinner and less opaque. Typically I used a mixture that’s about 3 parts paint, 1 part water.

To apply the paint/ink to the pen, I saturate a paintbrush, and slowly slide it against the backside (concave side) of the nib. The ink will cling to the nib and seem to fill it partially. When it seems full (this part takes some practice) I will gently point and shake the pen downward towards the tray to get any extra blobs of ink out before I start drawing. In some cases (like today), I will actually drop the extra bits of paint onto my paper, for fun.

Then it’s time to draw. I place the nib gently again the paper, concave side down, at an angle. Then I slowly pull the nib along, rather than pushing like a lefty with a ballpoint. (If you’re having trouble, check out one of the amazing tutorial videos on youtube- like this one.)

Unlike a normal pen or marker, a nib like this will need to be refilled rather frequently (using the brush method above.) I try to keep an eye on how much ink/paint I have in my nib so that I don’t run out in the middle of a line. When you’re using the nib, you’ll notice that the tip is made up of two pointed pieces. When there is enough ink, it looks like one point on the end, but when they start separating, I probably need more ink.

Periodically, I stop to rinse and scrub my pen. I dip it in my jar of water, and use a clean brush to scrub any dried bits of ink/paint off of it. Then I dry it gently with a rag or paper towel, reink, and go back to work.

For this doodle, I had both white gouache and blue gouache in my paint tray, and I went between the two when I was reinking.

Can you see why I like drawing with gouache? The possibilities!


I was inspired to pull out my gouache today by the April DIY Challenge: Watercolor. We’d love to see what the theme inspires in you, so pull out your favorite medium and tools and share with us!

TOOLBOX: Saddle Stapler Review

You may or may not have heard of a saddle stapler– but let me tell you, I love this sucker. I mainly use it for binding small booklets, but it’s handy for any project that you need to staple further “in” than the 1-inch you get with a regular stapler. Plus they are heavy-duty, sturdy, and have lovely lines. (I’m not sure why I’m quite so fond of a piece of metal.)

My journals and booklets typical have about 10 sheets of text weight paper, and a 100# weight cover. I use a bone-folder to fold the inside sheets in half (with the grain) 3-4 sheets at a time for a crisp fold throughout. I like to score my covers before I fold them (also with the grain) to make sure that I have a nice smooth spine.

When I’m ready to bind, I’ll slip one side of the paper into the curved opening of the stapler, and the spine with lay smoothly along the stapling edge.

My stapler is a little picky about where it staples, so I usually have to hold the paper down with a finger on either side of the spine. Then I staple, trim, and voila…

Journals! (You might notice I used the corner rounder on these, as well.)

IMG_7161Although my saddle stapler isn’t very old, they have discontinued the model. You may be able to find this exact model online (it’s a Swingline 615 Saddle Stapler) you can buy the very similar Stanley Bostitch Booklet Stapler at Amazon*. Both use standard staples found just about anywhere, so you don’t need to stockpile anything.


The one feature that appears to be missing on the Stanley version is the measurement guide, a little piece of metal that can be adjusted to line up the staple location if you’re doing multiple books. I typically make a mark where my staples should go or eyeball it, so I seldom use the guide anyways.

If you love journals, or staplers, this is a must-have. If you’re in a pinch, and local, I might even let you use mine.

*Support Adventures-in-Making by shopping from our Amazon store. We’ve selected a few things that we love, and think you will too. If you purchase through us, you pay no more for those items, but we get a small portion of the sales to further the adventures.

SHOW + TELL : Paper to Petals Book

Since we’re still a little ways off from real flowers, I’ve been finding myself thinking more and more about the paper version. I thought I would share this beautiful book with you.

Paper to Petals is an amazing collection of vibrant paper flowers that’s sure to impress even the most weather weary. It’s quite hefty, and packed full of tons of beautiful inspiration.

But, it’s not just a coffee table book. The back has tutorials for all of the flowers, and details about tools, materials, and methods– all so beautifully laid out that they are almost as compelling as the flowers themselves.

I’m not much for following tutorials, but the details are extremely useful for learning new methods of working with paper. 

I also sometimes use this book as inspiration for my illustrations. I love the graphic nature of the flower shapes they build.

All in all, this is a wonderful book- full of inspiration, instruction, and eye candy. You can pick it up at your local bookstore, or on Amazon (Paper to Petal: 75 Whimsical Paper Flowers to Craft by Hand)

TOOLBOX: Shredding (or Fringe) Scissors are too much fun.

My Christmas list is getting kinda boring. Well, not boring to me, but maybe to anyone who wants to get me something other than a book (on making stuff) or a tool (to make stuff with.)

This year I got a big ole pair of Shredding Scissors.

Also called “Fringe Scissors” in the crafting/scrapbooking community, these suckers are basically 5 pairs of scissors bolted together. Practically, they can be used to shred documents (without using an electric shredder). Less practically you can (and will) turn anything…

into confetti.

I got them for the ability to fringe paper quickly and consistently for my crafty projects. (Example coming soon.)

Things to love

• It’s pretty easy to get a consistent fringe by eye.
• Turns colorful trash paper into a craft supply!
• Gives you more control than a paper shredder. Plus it’s smaller, quieter and easier to store. (I’ll be using these to shred paper for paper making.)
• They seem pretty heavy duty, and the blades line up almost perfectly.
• The sense of power you get from using 5 sets of scissor blades at once. Also, Edward Scissorhands themed imagination trips.


Things to Hate

• They do seem to get plugged up pretty easily. Most of the pieces can be pushed out by closing the scissors all the way, but a few will have to be pulled out with your little fingers.
• Cutting with 5 sets of scissor blades takes as much force as cutting with five pairs of scissors. My hands got tired pretty quickly. They are also pretty heavy to hold in your delicate artist hands for a long period of time.

All in all, they are a hit! I love having another multifunctional compact tool to use, and I’ve already got another tutorial headed your way.

TOOLBOX: Dremel Micro Review for Glass Etching


I have a secret. I’ve been hoarding glass bottles… and jars. Sure, I’ve been drinking out of a set of 6 jars, but what no one knows is I have a whole box of them in my closet.

Shoot. Now you know.

The big plan was to use etching cream to mask and etch them into glass masterpieces– but something always stopped me. It may have been that the first time I pulled out the etching cream, Safety Husband insisted on reading the ingredients and warnings. He then set out a strict list of suggestions for using the DANGEROUS stuff I got from the craft store. I followed the suggestions once, but lived in fear of getting out the cream ever again. “Wear gloves. You don’t want it eating through your skin… to your bones.

We live in a world of excess caution, over here.

Safety Husband recommended safety goggles and a respirator- talked down to spectacles and a dust mask.

For Dremel Etching, Safety Husband recommended safety goggles and a respirator- accepted spectacles and a dust mask.

The box of glass lived to taunt me. Sitting in there, instead of going to the recycling bin where it belonged; until I got the bright idea of looking for alternate etching options. There are a lot of great, videos, but the one from Dremel sold me. It was time to replace our old rotary tool, so after some shopping I decided on the…
Dremel Micro, which is cordless.
•I bought two diamond bits, but I’ve only got around to playing with the one that looked most useful, the Dremel Diamond Wheel Point Bit.
** UPDATED 12/14 – I’ve since started using two different diamond bits with more success. 7105 Diamond Ball Pointand 7103 5/64-Inch Diamond Wheel Point


I tried several different ways of getting my initial artwork laid out, including drawing the design on with a Sharpie, as well as using masks that we had made with the intention of using the etching cream.

Tara Bliven drew and cut out this beautiful mask for me.

Tara Bliven drew and cut out this beautiful mask for me.

We drew and cut these masks out of contact paper, but you could also use masking tape. They are a great way to start out, because the mask will help you learn to control the tool. If you jog out of the lines, the mask material will shred before you mark the glass, giving you one chance to screw up without consequences.

The mask is definitely the most time consuming and tedious way to go. I’ve moved on to freehand patterns, and occasionally use paper templates that taped to the other side of the glass. (More on that later.)



•Higher Speeds (controlled with a button on this model) work much better for etching glass. I usually use the second to highest speed. The highest works even better, but the sound is skull-splitting, so I only use it when absolutely necessary.
•Using the bit I’ve listed above, you will mainly be making thinnish lines, so plan on going over your artwork a couple of times. It works best to hold the bit as close to parallel with the surface of the piece.
•Make a jig for round items. I took a couple of wood scraps and made a kind of rail for the glasses to lay in. (See in the photos above.) Make sure it’s small enough to move around, as you will want to be able to approach your piece for all angles. After my experiments, I sprayed the whole jig black so I could see my work more easily.
•Wear Protective Gear… or you’ll get in trouble. I found a dust mask and glasses worked for me, but it might be good to start out with even more coverage. Remember that your glass could shatter at any time.
•Start with thick glass pieces, and don’t grind too much in one place. This is not a tool for drilling, so you’re more likely to shatter your pieces than cut cleanly through.
•Start with trash pieces you’re not afraid to throw away. There’s definitely a learning curve.
•Hand-wash any pieces, to make sure you’re not shocking the thinned glass with hot water.
•Work outside. You’ll be generating a ton of dust. While I haven’t had any sharp pieces (yet) it’s nice to let nature get rid of the dust.
•This is a no-distraction project. Don’t plan on watching TV while you work with power tools.

Things to Love

•It’s lightweight. Initially I was planning to use a flex shaft like they use in the video, but the cable is not very flexible, and I decided the lack of cord would be a benefit.
•It compact and easy to transport (although it does not come with a carrying case.)
•The battery lasts longer than I do. I haven’t had to stop what I was doing to recharge.
•I haven’t hurt myself (yet). This is always remarkable.

Things to Hate

•The “Lock” button sticks out just above the power button, and I have hit it accidentally a couple of times while the Dremel is running. It makes a terrible sound to tell me I’m killing it to death.
•It’s still a little clumsy. Even though the end is tapered so you can hold on to it, it’s more like trying to write legibly with a Squiggle Pen than an actual writing implement.
•It is quite tricky to get make a curve. A lot of this has to do with skill, and the kind of bit I’ve been using.
•The sound, especially at higher speeds. It makes a high keening when you’re using it on the glass. The birds have been complaining about this as well. It’s just life in the etching game.

Things to Try

•More bits. I tried scratching the glass with non-diamond bits with little result, but now that I’m hooked on the etchin’, I’m going to try everything. (If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear from you.)
•More freehand designs.
•On flat surfaces, like plates, trays, etc. On mirrors.
•Make a set of matching glasses, with patterned numbers, using paper templates. That’s pretty specific, huh? I guess a DIY is in the works… but until then, have fun!


DIY: Tiny Marker Stamps

I was invited to join the local gallery at an Art Outside event this summer, and put together a mini-version of my paper flower class for kiddos who were attending. I brought a bunch of pre-dyed flower petals so that they could form a little flower on a bobby-pin, to use anywhere.

I thought it would be fun to let them hide some bugs in their buds, so I carved a few mini-stamps of beetles, spiders, and bees to stamp amongst the petals. In order to make the tiny stamps easier to use, I came up with a way of sticking them in the end of Crayola Broad Line Markers. I thought I’d share!

First I cut out a circle to fit the end of the marker by coloring the cap of the marker with a Sharpie
then immediately stamped it onto a piece of Speedy Carve Rubber Stamp Block.

I cut the tiny circle out with a craft knife and then

drew a tiny spider to carve out.

Then I pushed and shoved and slowly worked the pieces of rubber into the end of the marker. It’s good to have a tight fit so it won’t work itself out as you use it.

I used Speedball Linoleum Cutter to carve the extra pieces out of the rubber. Because the stamp is so small, it’s important to work slowly on small sections. Actually, the marker makes it a lot easier to carve, and kept my other hand away from the sharp tools.

I tested the stamp repeatedly, by using the marker it was attached to to color the stamp. I ran the marker over the design, stamped, and used that information to remove more of the rubber. The more stamps I made, the simpler they got. It is really difficult to keep a lot of detail on such a small surface.

Finally I had a sweet little bug stamp to add to the flowers. Bwahahaha.

I have all sorts of stamps I want to make using this method. Some of them might even be un-creepy!

If you’d like to try this project yourself, check out the supplies at the Adventures in Making Amazon Store . If you buy through our store you’ll pay the usual Amazon price, but we’ll get a small percentage to help us power our creative adventures. You’re great!

TOOLBOX: Art Journal Supply Kit

TOOLBOX: Art Journal Supply Kit #artjournal #collage #supplies
Art journaling has been a part of my creative process since high school. It’s the one thing I always come back to when I’m feeling lost or overwhelmed by life and is the one place where I can create intuitively, without a specific purpose or judgement. Just the act of doodling on a page or making a collage in my journal calms my nerves and helps me to reconnect with my true self.

Whenever I get the ‘itch’ to journal, I get out my art journal supply kit (which I often carry with me in my bag or purse) and get started.

TOOLBOX: Art Journal Supply Kit

My Art Journal Supply Kit Includes:

• Pens and markers
• Colored pencils and sharpener
• Glitter glue and gel pens
My travel watercolor set
• A small pair of scissors
• Glue stick
• Mechanical pencil and eraser
• Large zipper pouch (mine is handmade by Slide Sideways, now known as Year Round Co.)

I love to experiment and have fun when working in my art journal so I like using supplies I wouldn’t normally use when making art. I love adding a touch of glitter or using a white gel pen to doodle over a dark watercolor wash.

TOOLBOX: Art Journal Supply Kit #artjournal #collage #supplies
TOOLBOX: Art Journal Supply Kit #artjournal #collage #supplies

My Favorite Collage Materials:

• Vintage National Geographic magazines
• Vintage postcards and other ephemera
• Vintage books
• Pressed leaves and flowers
• Any other bits I find and collect

TOOLBOX: Art Journal Supply Kit #artjournal #collage #supplies

You may have noticed that I use a old book as my art journal medium. There’s something about drawing inside the pages of a book that feels so satisfying. There are no blank white pages staring at me saying “this better be good” and I love choosing an old book with a title and cover that speaks to me.

TOOLBOX: Art Journal Supply Kit #artjournal #collage #supplies
TOOLBOX: Art Journal Supply Kit #artjournal #collage #supplies

Do you art journal? What are some of your favorite supplies or techniques?

TOOLBOX: Alison’s Essential Drawing Supplies

TOOLBOX: Alison's Essential Supplies #drawing #tools

My favorite supplies have changed a lot over the years. Right now I have a loose-leaf system that works great for me, and along with my travel kit, it’s incredibly portable. (Portable tools mean you’ll get more done, more places!)

Since I have a tendency to do things a little differently, I thought I’d share a little about my process and supplies; then let you decide if you think I’m crazy- or a crazy genius.

I’ve included links to many of the supplies, in case you’d like to try them yourself*.

Paper and Stuff

TOOLBOX: Alison's Essential Supplies #drawing #tools

I like to work on 8.5 x 11 inch loose-leaf pages because I can carry them around easily. From time-to-time I’ll cut pages down so I can have an even more portable set- but I keep the same selection of papers.

A. Papers

I use Smooth White Cardstock  for early sketches and drawing. Cardstock handles a lot of erasing a redrawing.
When I can’t erase any more, I’ll do additional edits on  cheap tracing paper.

I use higher quality Canson Marker Paper for final drawings, and for inking. I tried a bunch of different papers, and this was the best with my Uni-ball pens. It doesn’t bleed too much, and dries quickly enough that I’m less likely to drag my left hand through wet ink.

Graph Paper and Miscellaneous Guide Sheets  I’ve found it’s handy to keep guide sheets that I can use with tracing paper. I usually have sheets of graph paper, script slant guides, and other handy shapes I use a lot.

B. Clipboard

I love this low profile aluminum clipboard. It’s lightweight and means I can draw anywhere.

C. Project Filing

I keep each project I’m working on in a clear page protector. When I’m done, I can discard the pieces of my process I no longer need, and retire the whole protector to a binder or other file for safekeeping.


Tool Kit

TOOLBOX: Alison's Essential Supplies #drawing #tools

I do as much work at the store as I do in my studio, so I’ve come up with a very extensive travel kit to carry. (I like to be prepared for everything.)

A. Pencils

I love using Woodless Graphite Pencils  for shading, thick lines, and because they are awesome. I use BIC Mechanical Pencils  a lot in my early sketching phases. Blackwing Pencils are my newest obsession. The erasers are especially useful, and replaceable! I prefer the harder “Pearl Pencils”.

B. Pencil Sharpener

This small metal pencil sharpener is essential if you want to use anything other than a mechanical pencil.

C. Erasers

I use a Mars Plastic Eraser for heavy duty changes and a narrow eraser for getting into tight spots

D. White Pencil

I often us a white Prismacolor Pencil to correct mistakes that can’t be erased, I also like to be able to draw on surfaces that aren’t white. (See the pictures of my work table.)

E. Ruler

This 6″ Ruler was one of the best things I added to my kit. You can’t eye-ball every line.

F. Compass

For years I used a cheap school compass, and when I upgraded to this guy, suddenly my life got so much better. Perfect for making curves, and circles.

G. Inking Pens

Uni-ball Pens are my preferred pen for inking on marker paper.

H. Scissors

A tiny pair of scissors like this comes in handy often.

I. Permanent Marker

I love the twin tipped Sharpie Markers. Sometimes I want to go nuts and make a permanent drawing impact (ie. leave my tag somewhere.) I don’t usually do that, but a permanent marker is great to have on hand.

J. X-acto Knife

I think everyone should have a quality X-acto Knife. I use this one from Martha Stewart Crafts because the lid stays on well, which is important in a tool that travels around with me. I also like to keep a few extra blades on hand; this box set does just that, and has a place to store the old blades.

K. Glue

It’s important to keep glue around for when you want to add something to your drawings. A glue stick works well, and leaves less mess in your bag. I also carry around a small roll of scotch tape.

L. Miscellaneous Tools

You probably need a Bone folder. I also try to keep something that will poke, but isn’t sharp, like this embossing tool, or a small wooden skewer. Think of other miscellaneous tools you might need – a needle and thread?

M. Pencil Bag

A gorgeous pencil bag will inspire your work. Check out this lovely one from Slide Sideways (now Year End Co.)

Well, now you’ve seen what I’ve been working with lately. It’s not your usual collection of art supplies, but life is all about trying unusual things!

*Support Adventures-in-Making by shopping from our Amazon store. We’ve selected a few things that we love, and think you will too. If you purchase through us, you pay no more for those items, but we get a small portion of the sales to further the adventures. Check out the whole store at

TOOLBOX: Lacis Cord Maker Review + Video Demo

TOOLBOX: Lacis Cord Maker #tool #equipment #braid

This nifty braiding machine is something I picked up a few years ago for Camp Smartypants. I was getting really sick of hand-braiding for my greeting cards (each card included a braid around the fold of the card back in the day). When I reached the point where I was selling hundreds of cards, the braiding got to be pretty daunting. After doing a bit of research, I found this battery powered cord maker on Amazon. It works great and definitely sped up my production process. I’ve since discontinued the braids with the cards (since I’m now selling over 1000 every year), but I still use the cord maker to make my Peace Bracelets.

Here are a few examples of what the cord maker can do. I typically stick to using three different colors of embroidery floss, but the Lacis Cord Maker can twist/braid up to 4 strands. You could also use yarn or even ribbon to make your cords.

TOOLBOX: Lacis Cord Maker #tool #equipment #braid

To Love

• The Lacis Cord Maker is powered by two AA batteries, making it portable and easy to keep running.

• It makes consistent twisted braids quickly and easily.

To Hate

• I’ve found that sometimes I have trouble getting the two settings to work. I have to play with the button or give the whole thing a good shake to get it to run (you’ll see this happen in the little video demo I made below).

• The noise. It makes a loud noise when you use it, making it a bit distracting if you are making braids in a public place or trying to watch a movie.

Here’s my video demo, so you can see exactly how it works:

All in all, I would definitely recommend the Lacis Cord Maker to anyone interested in making twisted braids for their craft projects!

TOOLBOX: Lacis Cord Maker #tool #equipment #braid

TOOLBOX: Rachel’s Favorite Drawing Supplies

TOOLBOX: My Favorite Drawing Supplies #art #materials #drawing
After a recent trip to my local art supply store to stock up on supplies, I realized how much I love getting new pens, tubes of watercolor paint, and finding the perfect paper. Even as a kid growing up, I always looked forward to a new school year and fresh new pencils and notebooks. Since I’ve taken up illustration and making art for Camp Smartypants, I’ve found some favorite tools I use again and again. I’m always on the look out for new materials to try out, but I rely on these essentials for most of my drawing.

For Sketching + Drawing

TOOLBOX: My Favorite Drawing Supplies #art #materials #drawing

1. Spiral Bound Sketchbook

I prefer the spiral binding for my sketchbooks because my pages are able to lay flat at as draw and it’s easy to curl up on the couch with. You just have to be careful not to crush or bend a metal spiral, or you’ll be annoyed while working in it.

2. Crayola Light-Up Tracing Pad

The perfect tracing pad you carry in your bag along with your sketchbook. Read more about how great this thing is in this post.

3. Mechanical Pencil

Mechanical pencils are my go-to sketching tool. I prefer these over a normal pencil because I don’t have to worry about sharpening, and I can get a consistent line weight as I use it. I don’t worry about using anything fancy, any mechanical pencil will do the trick.

4. Blackwing Pencils

I picked up a sampler set of Blackwing Pencils after taking a lettering class from Mary Kate McDevitt on Skillshare. I learned a lot about the drawing process from taking her course and now use a blackwing to draw over my sketches, making for a nice clean drawing.

5. Metal Pencil Sharpener

A good pencil sharpener is an essential tool. I use a Mobius & Ruppert Brass Pencil Sharpener. It’s something I picked up in college and have used ever since.

6. Staedtler Eraser

The Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser works great.

For Inking

TOOLBOX: My Favorite Drawing Supplies #art #materials #drawing

1. Translucent Marker Paper

Another material I picked up in art school, this marker paper is great for ink drawings. You can achieve the smoothest lines with little bleed from your pen.

2. Ink Pens

I use Copic Multiliner pens. It’s one of many good brands (Fiber-Castell is another good one) and comes in variety of sizes. 0.3 and 0.5 are the two sizes I use most often.

For Watercolor

TOOLBOX: My Favorite Drawing Supplies #art #materials #drawing

1. Arches Watercolor Paper

A high quality watercolor paper. I use hot-press for watercolor and ink, and cold-press for watercoloring only. The difference is cold-press paper has a nice texture while hot-press paper is smooth.

2. Shmincke Watercolors

I first learned of Shmincke watercolors from Geninne Zlatkis. They were a big investment, but totally worth it. The pigment is bright, saturated and beautiful.

3. Paint Brushes

I use fairly cheap paint brushes. The brand shown are Princeton Snap and Loew-Cornell.

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