Of Lead Lines, Flooding, Resin and – Art (Maybe)

Today a selection of topics. Two of them are provocative (me and my big mouth). So let’s start where the seas are calm.

1. Lead Lines

Our previous post on stained glass silhouettes provoked the question, Where are the lead lines?

Which is a good question because with all that gorgeous flooding, the lead lines are hard to see.

Take this initial sketch for the stained glass ravens:

Initial sketch for stained glass ravens

Initial sketch for stained glass ravens

Here’s the finished glass:

Stained glass ravens

Stained glass ravens

For which the cut lines are as follows:

Lead lines for stained glass ravens

Cut lines for the stained glass ravens

It can get confusing (in a nice way) because we used a lot of streaky glass, and this gave us the potential for a lot of variation within any single piece of glass. Like here with the panel of curlews – which is about as wide as your computer screen in real life:

Stained glass curlews

Stained glass curlews

So here’s the cut line:

Curlew lead line

Lead line for stained glass curlews

That’s the thing about stained glass silhouettes: bold design, good glass plus careful silhouetting – it’s a winning combination.

Which brings us to the next topic.

2. Flooding

A colleague writes:

I’ve been working my way through the silhouette examples in Part 1, and I’ve learned a lot about glass painting.

But I have a persistent problem. Within the body of the flooded areas I can readily achieve the “millpond” stillness you refer to. And when it’s fired, the body of the flood comes out smooth, uniformly opaque and without any cracks/blisters.

My problem is where the wet flood washes up against dry paint i.e. the trace lines, or perhaps another piece of flooding that is already dry.

The paint is non-uniform in these places, and when it fires a crack often opens up along the boundary between the flood and the dry paint.

Let’s tackle the two problems – trace lines, and another piece of flooding that’s already dry – in turn.

Trace lines

Now you know we focus on technique. The reason is, this gives us something quantifiable to talk about with you. It also gives you something measurable and reproducible to copy if you wish to.

But … but … but! The big “but” is, there are usually many ways of doing things. And sometimes the way you do things in order to learn will not always be the best way for you to do them when you’re an expert.

So the first thing I want to say here is, when you flood, it isn’t written in blood that you must have trace lines within which you flood.

Far from it.

Right now in the studio we’re painting lots of dragon-infested columns to decorate the tycoon’s stained glass panels. The dragons are flooded – they’re silhouettes. But we haven’t traced and strengthened them first. They’re going in directly. The reason is, they’re small – each one about the length of one finger – and they’d become too fussy if we traced them first. Without tracing, they’re more immediate and lively.

I’ll post a photo as soon as I can and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

The point always is: learn the techniques, adjust them as needed, do what works best.

And in the case of silhouettes, there’s no law which says you can’t flood a shape directly using nothing but the design beneath the glass to guide you.

But … when you do trace first, two quick points:

  1. It is good technique to conceal the trace lines beneath the flooding,
  2. … which means the trace lines mustn’t be too thick – just a gentle boundary, not a 12-foot high, rabbit-proof fence.

Then, with good flooding, your silhouette won’t blister or crack where it covers your trace line.

Another piece of flooding that’s already dry

The fact is, you can’t avoid a seam if you flood wet paint against another piece of flooding that’s already dry.

And this is where you can maybe think differently about how you flood.

Let me explain.

Say you want to flood a design like this:

Stained glass silhouette tile

Stained glass silhouette tile

When someone’s learning, of course they’ll start at the top, then work their way around, until they return to where they started:

When you're learning, this is how to do it first

When you’re learning, this is how to do it first

But once you’ve got the hang of flooding, you’ll see it’s perfectly possible to work around both sides at once, a little at a time, until both sides meet up with one another at the bottom:

Flooding is actually a very quick technique, so this is how you'd do it once you knew how

Flooding is actually a very quick technique, so this is how you’ll do it once you know how

It’s the same whatever design you paint: don’t leave anything to chance:

Figure out how you’re going to approach it before you start.

That way, if it does wrong, you know what to change.

And if it goes right, it’ll be the best you can do. Which is exactly what we want for you.

3. Resin

Nice and peaceful so far. Now it’s time to take the gloves off.

Another colleague writes about some lovely 19th century stained glass windows that some idiot “restored” about 15 years ago:

It looks like somebody used normal enamel paint and other stuff to try and imitate the picture pieces.

Then they covered the complete window with some kind of clear resin about 1-2mm thick. The lead is not covered – only each and every piece of glass.

But with the sun and weather, the resin started peeling a few years back. It curls along the edges, then drops to the floor.

The problem is that the resin takes with it the top layer of the glass and the paint …

You won’t be surprised to hear that there are very limited funds to cover the cost of the urgent work that’s needed.

Now maybe there’s a solvent which can lift the remaining resin without also corroding the paint beneath … I don’t know.

What I do know is, it’s a tough world, and I want our studio to survive so that we can continue doing really good work.

Which means, if we were approached to do this work, we’d either do it as an act of charity or we’d walk away.

Most likely we’d walk away, because we work very hard for our living, and therefore we must limit the amount of free work we do because otherwise we’d go bust. Very quickly.

Every week we get at least three calls, asking us to drive 100 miles – petrol costs a lot in the UK – and give a free quote or survey, or tender for a project against a couple of undercutting, talentless, unqualified incompetents …

And so often we hear the weasel words, “We want it done well but we just don’t have the money: can you help?”

Now, we’ve learned when to help, and when not to. Someone might think we’re hard-hearted. I reckon we’re just being professional.

No ticket, no laundry.

Which means – exactly – we do have time to give to you, to help you paint stained glass as best you can. (It’s because we don’t spend time on other things, like driving 100 miles to tender against a couple of undercutting, talentless, unqualified incompetents … – you get the idea?)

But what do you think about this question?

I don’t mean about how to remove the resin (but if you’ve tips or suggestions, please send them in).

I mean about how to judge when to “put yourself out” to help? When is something a lost cause, say because you would get lost if you held out your hand to help? It’s a tough one …

4. Art (maybe)

In another secret place (only for newsletter subsribers), I recently insisted (as I do – I have a big mouth!) that glass painting is a craft, not an art.

And one colleague said they reckoned it was an art.

And I know what they mean.

All the same …

Here’s my first point. If it’s an art, doesn’t that mean we’re  “artists”? But surely that’s for posterity to judge. (Anyway as I always say, I’m just a copier, I’m very happy doing that. Just put a design in front of me to trace and shade – heaven!).

Next point: we’re not comfortable with value-laden words like “artist” because we reckon (and I’d be interested to know your view) such words can tend to be manipulative.

Our own view is that good, honest work speaks for itself and doesn’t need fancy marketing (or piffle and puff). Which is why we call ourselves “designers, painters and restorers of glass”. Yes, we do it to the best of our ability. That’s because the thing about our clients is, they want the best job that can be done – whether it’s art or not is neither here nor there.

In the same way you’d have no time for someone who styled themselves a “master electrician”, we don’t quite see how stained glass painters need to say that what they do is “art”.

But what do you think? How do you see yourself? How do you describe yourself to other people?

Lastly, modern art … conceptualism, post-modernism, artist’s statements which tell people what to think about the think they’re meant to be looking at (but aren’t, because instead they’re reading a piece of self-indulgent waffle) …

If that’s art, we don’t want to be a part of it:

We don’t want to be a drop of pure white milk in a basinful of sewage.

These three points lead us, on balance, to say glass painting is a craft, rather than an art.

But words and ideas are sometimes slippery things. This is certainly something to talk about if it makes us do better work.

So how do you see it?


Stephen ByrneP.S. I have seen this with my own eyes: at the “passing out” exhibition of one of London’s better Art Colleges, a prize-winning exhibit – a shirt, on a coat-hanger, with a loosely knotted tie.

Plus – sorry, I almost forgot to mention it – an artist’s statement.

My fourth point therefore is: the young have been corrupted. They have been denied the joys of a four-year (or whatever) apprenticeship – true, on admittedly low (monetary) pay, but with magnificent reward to their soul and character. The cult of immediacy elevates “art” above “craft”.

Which is why I reckon the word “craft” still retains a real sense of devotion and hard work.

C’mon, guys, it’s not just because I’m 52 – I do have a point here!

27 thoughts on “Of Lead Lines, Flooding, Resin and – Art (Maybe)

  1. Interesting that you eschew the word ‘art’ – and I would agree that much of what masquerades as art is empty. But I’d also argue that the word ‘craft’ has come in for a bit of a battering these days. Going round a ‘craft fair’ one often only sees cheaply-made tat. When William Morris and his chums embraced ‘Arts and Crafts’ they were talking about beautiful objects skilfully made from quality materials, so presumably both words still had positive resonance a hundred or more years ago. The fact is that hand-made quality objects are and always will be expensive, but if you can afford them they give so much more pleasure than things that are mass-produced, and they will probably last – including, I am sure, your beautiful windows…

  2. I think you are right Stephen. Glass painting is a craft because you perhaps don’t need to be an artist to do it. I think the artist is more likely to be the one who creates the design in the first place. Perhaps then, if you are someone who creates from start to finish, you have more likelihood of being thought of as an artist. But, as you say, calling ourselves crafters, surely offers the idea that we are hard grafters!

  3. The ‘art’ and ‘craft’ siutation is really interesting. For myself, I have found that the lovely people who are kind enough to trust me to make their panels for them do appear to like the idea that I might be an ‘artist’, sometimes, so I don’t demur. I do have ‘stained glass artist’ among my Google words. But definitely I think of myself as a crafts person, and, because what we all do takes such care and attention to detail, perhaps that is one way to differentiate between art (perhaps more serendipitous) and the careful, step-by-step, planned work of creating glass panels. Now, back to my studio to repaint, yet again, the beak of a kingfisher that keeps misbehaving – unlike the rest of its body which I am rather pleased with!

  4. Ah, Art vs. Craft. A question nearly as basic and obtuse as “what is the meaning of life?” and for which there is no definitive answer. In college, in a Philosophy of Art class to be specific, none of us could narrow that down enough to come away with a clear definition of what each was and/or wasn’t. It would be so exquisitely wonderful to have a term that genuinely defines a person who designs and creates from start to finish. I have been an “artist” all of my life, quite literally, but even with that label I take issue with its connotations and shortcomings. “Craftsman” (or “craftsperson”) is equally a misnomer. I disparage neither, as all too often they overlap. Natural ability, insight, and intuition are requisite for both. Skills can be learned. “Artisan” has been greatly abused over the past few years, and has its own peculiar connotations and shortcomings. Someone should conduct a meaningful, scholarly survey of thoughts and suggestions to come up with a term that is broad enough to encompass all the necessities. Participation in a formal apprenticeship would have to be a requirement, too, to be able to call oneself by that TBA term, in all fairness. It would certainly lessen the numbers of “unqualified incompetents” (but probably never do away with all of them).

    • Hi Terry,

      David and I will say more to you and all the other people who choose to share their views here.

      For now, I just want to suggest there is a huge difference between a philosopher of art (on the one hand) and a glass painter (on the other),

      So a question that might be basic and obtuse in the philosopher’s mouth is completely different when the glass painter (or whatever kind of practitioner he/she is) talks about it.

      Yes, we might express ourselves inelegantly and even inconsistently.

      But at least we know what we’re talking about. (There aren’t many philosophers you can say that about.)

      I want to make this point because, really, David and I are very interested in hearing what you, our fellow glass painters, think and feel about what you to – how you talk about it to clients, family, friends etc.


      P.S. Another example: I have met a lot of philosophers of mathematics who are innumerate – they cannot even add up simple numbers in their head. And so, I suspect, it also is with philosophers of art … they might talk about beauty, but have they ever painted just one beautiful stroke?

      • WHAT an interesting topic! The comments already received from other readers, which I have read, seem to echo my own sentiments that the concept of “art” has degenerated to such a degree, that applying the word to any creative process should immediately sound warning bells in the minds of the sane! The daubs which pass for paintings these days, are but a small example. Sculpture is another. You can’t seriously expect me to go into raptures about a block of wood with a few dents chopped out of it, simply because it is called “Woman”, or some such claptrap.
        I firmly believe that the “art” to which we are subjected these days and for which exorbitant sums are extracted from foolish people, is the result of good PR! I’ve noticed the same thing happening in the music industry. The current wave of badly dressed (or badly un-dressed) boys and girls who scream, whine, gabble and groan their way onto a CD, are there because of their excellent PR officers. They can’t sing! C’mon! We ALL know they can’t. Yet one is bombarded with how wonderful they are and how popular they are and if one does not own their latest album, one is really not part of the IN crowd. Which is another PR gambit. Who decides who the IN crowd is? Many people fall for it, but many more do not.

        So, yes. I would be prouder to be known as a “craftsman”, rather than an “artist”. “Craftsman” has nuances of years of practice, getting it wrong and then getting it right. Painstaking effort, practice, practice, practice. These days, ANYBODY can be an artist, provided you have a good PR company behind you. However, you can never claim to be a craftsman, unless you’ve done your time in the trenches!

  5. My, oh my…what a can of worms has been opened!? art/vs. craft

    Certainly glass painting in terms of application is ‘craft’ and hopefully, ‘fine craft’ . We all have had our share of craft ‘crap’.
    But to discount that the fine craft of glass painting is not also ‘art’ may be a tad degenerative.
    To be sure, those “artists” whose vision requires them to stitch together dried citrus peels and fill them with dog poo …and call it art seem to be on the same level as the folks who create craft crap. Add to that the inflated jargon of “gallerese” and the honored title of “artist” begins to shine with more tarnish than glint.

    It seems to me that the intrinsic value of the definition of ‘artist’ must be based on a personal vernacular.

  6. A couple of my favorite quotes about art are, “When everything becomes art, art becomes nothing” and, “A laborer works with his hands, a craftsman works with his hands and his head, and an artist works with his hands, his head and his heart”. I was always a little ambivalent about referring to myself as an artist- despite a fine arts degree in Printmaking from the University of Iowa School of Art & Art History- but when I see so much drek being produced by those claiming to be artists, I feel a little vindicated by occasionally saying that “yes, you may refer to me as an artist if you wish, even though I hesitate to apply the label to myself.” There are some really wonderful artists working and creating, some famous, some obscure, and I know I fall short of their achievements, yet I strive to be as creative as whatever divine spirit may have endowed me with the artistic impulse will allow.

  7. Hi Stephan,
    I was amused about the resin coated painted glass. It never ceases to amaze me what some people get away with. We recently had a pair of windows in for repair – it turned into a complete rebuild. They had been “restored” some four years ago.

    The frames had been replaced but in pine. Needless to say they were rotten. We had new oak frames made.
    As for the glass – oh dear! All the #*&^? had done was forced ordinary white putty into the gaps where some of the original had disintegrated and given it (and the old and deteriorating lead) a coat of stove polish!

    The polish had come off the putty and the white was plainly visible. Awful!

    They have now been completely rebuilt with new lead and lovely black putty.

    You raise a very interesting point about “art” and “craft”. My mother and I regard ourselves as both artists and craftsmen but refer to what we do as art rather than craft. Here in Australia “craft” is more often associated with macrame and other housewifely pastimes!

  8. I first have to admit that I have used resin to fix a badly broken window and I even wrote an illustrated article about the technique at http://www.betterstainedglass.com/Newsletter/Archives/010-6-03-Mar-severedamage/severedamage.htm
    The technique worked well and has survived very nicely for nearly ten years. It was done as a last resort as a way to preserve the glass for a few more years rather than toss it aside. When the resign gives up the ghost, the piece will have survived longer than it would have.

    As to the art vs. craft debate, I remember complaining to Jeanne one day that I just wasn’t that great of an artist and she reminded me that years ago, I decided that I was a craftsman, so I was off the hook. I have an opinion about the debate. I think that how and where you sell your work determines whether it is art or craft. When I build a window that goes into a cabinet or series of windows, they are works of craftsmanship. If I take the same design and sell it in a gallery, it is art. Same techniques are used, same talent, and same materials but the first is craftsmanship and the second is art.

    • David,

      Thanks for the link. It’s good to appreciate how an intervention can come to seem unreasonable, yet it may well have been the best anyone could do at the time.


  9. What a flurry of words this has stirred up. I have thought about some of the other comments, and only two things really kept coming up in my mind. One was that “art” tends to make some type of commentary, be it social, political, religious, personal, whatever. It may not be controversial. It may only be a snapshot of attitudes of the time that person lives in. The other thing was that those objects/items that people have come to denote and value as “art” tend also to have been created by those taking pride in pursuing a high level of technical skill (i.e., craftsmanship) to accomplish their vision. That being said, there is an enormous blended area between “art” and “craft”, regardless of medium, and the majority of competent people reside therein.
    “Performance” pieces and “shock value” pieces are transitory statements. While I can appreciate the intent, I cannot in all good conscience elevate them to anything more than that. An idea is all well and good, but what one does with it, to give it intelligible life and purpose, is something different altogether.

  10. Don’t mince your words then Stephen, ha, ha!

    Yes, I know exactly what you mean about the art & shirts on a coat-hanger – I remember having a very amusing day at Tate Modern, & yes there was a neatly laid out collection of bricks on the floor with some extremely fanciful statement from the artist. I reckon he/she thought ‘OMG! I have to put something in the Tate Modern, Hmm! wonder if the builders will miss those bricks!

    Remember all the fuss about the unmade bed that Tracy (whatever her name is, Urmin or something) exhibited? Before all the fuss was made I went to that exhibition & could not believe what I was seeing, a dirty bed, with used underwear on the floor etc etc. Was that ART??????? But she is now famous & I gather she has so much work she has to employ people to do everything for her. Sometimes it’s all about the shock factor to get you noticed, but where do you go from there? I mean would you get a commission to create another similar bed in someones baronial hall!!

    OK I am off to make up a stained glass piece encapsulating chopped up chicken innards & hang a pair of dirty old socks off it!! See if I can become a millionaire!! Oh! I forgot I didn’t go to That ART College! Lol!!

    Interesting tip about the flooding & trace lines, thanks.

    See you soon!

  11. Oh dear. Is It Art?

    Now that’s not a little box of dynamite to find yourself sitting on at all then is it gentlemen? The problem with the word “art” (as I see it) is that art has come to mean so many different things to so many different people. The use of the word has evolved from its original understanding as time has passed, and that is how it should be. If evolution hadn’t taken place we would still be cutting glass with a hot poker, although some people’s efforts do look as if they may well still be trying to.

    Although the title “artist” seems to have been hijacked to mean anyone that produces any old load of tat, the value of that tat is still ultimately in the eye of the beholder, and the customer. By courtesy of such folks as Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst it’s become O.K. to take any “found objects” or somebody else’s work you like, shove it in a gallery with a huge price ticket and your name on it and you can instantly call it art. All you really need there is the cheek of the devil and a thick skin. Heaven knows, they all have more cash than I will ever see!
    In their cases, the true artistry they possess is having elevated “marketing” to an art form of its own.

    Then you have people like Mark Kostabi who have turned “art” into a factory production-line process. People who “direct” others in the production of things of skill and beauty yet put their own name on those works for the world to see. Even Louis Comfort Tiffany, William Morris and Edward Burne Jones did that so the idea is certainly not a new one.

    Is the artist the creator of the work or is the executor of the work the artist? I doubt if Tiffany even knew which end of a glass cutter to use from all I have read about him but again, a fine painter and another marketing genius.

    One of the most important children’s stories I think people should re-read regularly, especially in this day and age, is Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Or, if you can’t bring yourself to read it then take a look at Galton and Simpsons masterpiece “The Rebel” with Tony Hancock and George Sanders. When people start taking somebody else’s word for it that something is so, you have lost the plot. Make your own mind up, you either like it or you hate it, just like Marmite! Don’t just go with the herd.

    They used to say “you can’t polish a turd” but even those fine gentlemen at Mythbusters have proven that, with sufficient skill, ingenuity and determination, actually you can. Whether you would want it set in a pendant afterwards is up to the individual. A case of “Piero Manzoni meets popular television” I think.

    I produce “glass art” because other people have said that I do. I don’t have any delusions of being up there with DaVinci and Turner but I like the idea sufficiently enough to have the words “glass art” on my business cards.

    And it sells!

  12. It boils down to hard cash. You can charge more for art than you can craft. They had this debate on a TV show recently called “Show me the Monet” between an illustrator and art critic. Illustrations don’t fetch the money that so called art does ,despite the painstaking and beautiful work done to create the piece. It shouldn’t come down to semantics ,but thats the reality.

  13. I consider most of what I do decorative art. The windows change the way light enters the room. At the same time, they serve a functional job as a design element to provide privacy or frame a view. Sometimes there’s more of “me” in it and a piece crosses a line to become more than functional or pretty. Same techniques, but more personal creativity.
    Pet peeve: when someone calls me an arTISTE with a French accent.
    Other than that annoyance, what I am called is inconsequential.

  14. Dear Stephen
    I wish you well
    I have run into this problem when submiting to ‘art galleries’
    ‘We don’t accept craft we only accept art’.

  15. Your newsletters and website is very helpful. I am so thrilled to have found it. I’m new at this still and wondered about flooding in enamels or blendable paints and if they work the same.
    As for artist or craftsman, the proof is in the puddin’. I do have problems with the oohin’ and aahin’s over a shirt and a tie or unmade bed. If some art/craft whatever looks insane, it’s probably echoing insane things in our culture or society, governments, etc. Some goofy artist statement just goes along with the insanity.
    True artists/craftsmen must never allow themselves to get caught up in the crowds. True artists/craftsmen create for aesthetics and posterity. As for the art/craft, the proof is in the puddin.’ That’s what will remain.

  16. Hi there guys,
    well I reckon and this is only my two pennys worth (including vat) that any art that needs to be explained…is not art! and if you can get it out of your closet (unless it is a beautifully stitched and embellished article of clothing as in the World of Wearable Art Awards that we have here) it is defiantly not art lol, and I have read, and I think it is true.. and I know this maybe a bit out there for some …
    “The real beauty of true art is when you can feel and see the formless through the form”
    Eckhart Tolle ( formless = sacred, stillness, Divine )
    so be it on canvas or in glass that the beauty shines through then I think it is Art, and that a great painter is a great craftsman because he knows how to get the beauty of the form to shine through the humble medium of paint.

  17. Hi, Stephen. Although our business here is not “art”, we also have to decide on occasion not to take on a customer. Since we’re computer geeks, we call that “not having enough bandwidth”. You’re doing the right thing, in other words!

    As to art vs craft, it’s almost used as a class-warfare type of thing to force people into convenient boxes, mostly to denigrate the “craftsmen”. But it shouldn’t be that way. To my mind, pure art would be something created wholly new from the imagination; and yet, even the artist must use craft to make it happen. Can they be truly separated? Further, reversing that, let’s say you are tracing and matting and flooding…..are any two exactly the same? No, because the artist in you is making tweaks all along the way. You just *know* where and when, right? That’s the imagination at work, and therefore art.

  18. Do you have an archive section with past newsletters? I would like to know if you ever discussed “traditional” solder lines. Any tips for making nice rounded smooth solder lines?


    • Hi Cherie,

      The simple answer is No we haven’t covered soldering, though maybe we’ll do so in the future: thank you for the show of interest.

      As for the archive: in the second column, you’ll see a list of key articles. Just click on one that takes your fancy …

      Also, every article has just one “category”, and in the third column you can see a list of these categories. Click on a category, and you’ll get a list of articles …

      All the best,

      • Actually when I clicked on that subject, about the tricks etc. of soldering I was told it was in the newsletter and was for subscribers only and since I am a subscriber I thought I could access it but I only received the message it was in the newsletter. I did not know if there was a special area to access archive items in the newsletter hence the e-mail!! Sorry this is completely off the subject being discussed but did not know if there is a special area to write and ask unrelated questions. Thanks Cherie

  19. Wow, did that make my heart sing when you said you were not an artist. I go around protesting all the time that I am not an artist but a tool wielder. I have learned watercolor painting, a little oil, stained glass and now I am into glass fusion and yearn for glass painting. I am fighting several horrifying diseases but I am determined to live a great life right up to the end. Getting the tips and hints from you is only adding to my joy. Thank you so much! R.

    • Hello Rebecca,

      Your thoughts, words, actions and outlook are amazing. Perfectly amazing. For our part, we are here to talk and share ideas with you whenever you have questions.

      Your fellow tool wielder,

  20. Dear Stephen,

    Thank you for these valuable techniques. Oh, what an inspiration you glass painters are! I thought about several comments you have made over time about “art” versus “craft.” I read this with an open mind because I value your expertise and years of experience very highly. And your last paragraphs, the P.S. and 4th comment, both shed a new light on it all! Who’d have thought it: a coat on a hanger and a loose tie …. a “passing out” exhibition needing an artist statement? …. a sign of the times for sure … how sad.

    Kind regards,

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