Browsing Tag


Maker Resources

How to Take the Leap from Maker to Entrepreneur

October 15, 2014

Emilie Shapiro | UncommonGoods

Where do I sell my work? Is retail or wholesale better? How do I make work that will sell?

These are the questions I hear all of the time as a jewelry instructor. My students at Liloveve Jewelry School, 92Y, and Brooklyn Museum range from making their first piece to running successful businesses, but all have one thing in common–the need to create something tangible that didn’t exist before.

During my time as the production manager at Pamela Love Jewelry and Allforthemountain, I learned how the jewelry industry works inside and out from handmade one-of-a-kind pieces, small scale in-house production and outsourcing work with United States based factories. Through the years of designing my own collection which is sold at over 50 boutiques Worldwide, I’ve found what works for me.

Emerald Mosaic Ring | UncommonGoods

Where will I Sell My Work?

  • Directly from your studio. The Holidays are a great time of year to have a sample sale in person and/or online to get rid of some inventory to make room for new work.
  • Have a jewelry (or other item) party! Ask a friend or family member to host you and your work at their home or office. Bring snacks and wine and gift your host a piece for having the party.
  • Online – Etsy, bigcartel, your own Squarespace, site and so many more! There are tons of ways to make an inexpensive online presence or website that someone can shop from.
  • Retail Shows – Retailing is selling your goods directly to the public from a fixed location or online. Check out local craft shows in your area. The Holidays are great because people are looking for gifts. Be sure to ask the what the median price point is and what other vendors will be there to make sure you’re a good fit. Also, make sure to have a sign and a cohesive display for your work. Good lighting is a must, especially for jewelry, so make sure to ask about electricity. Don’t forget your business cards or postcards and packaging. (Some of these Trade Show Tips go for retail shows as well.)
  • Wholesale – Wholesaling is selling your goods in large quantities to be resold by other retailers. Set a minimum price or piece order to make it worth your time and so a retailer has a good selection of your work represented. Check out local stores you think your work would fit in with. Who else do they sell and for what prices? Would your work look good next to them? Walk in wearing your work (or pictures of your objects), be very friendly and ask who is the buyer and get in touch. Don’t waste your time or buyers time if it’s not a good fit or price point.


How Can I Streamline My Production?

  • Focus on efficiency of creativity while you’re producing. Perfect your first piece (your model) on design and craftsmanship and then break down each step. Work in an assembly line fashion instead of making one piece start to finish, even if you’re by yourself. You work faster while your body gets in the rhythm.
  • Buy in bulk when possible. Stock up on supplies and materials like chains and findings. Go in with other artists to get the best prices possible.


  • Develop a clear track for your orders from the second you receive it from when it ships out your door. I use a production schedule which I find really helpful. This helps me keep track of the items I have to make for stores and clients, what I have in stock, and what I have to make.

Production Schedule

  • Think about what you’re great at, and what someone else can do for you. As an artist you want to follow your heart on how you make something, but as a business owner you need to use your brain on the most cost effective way. Try to find the balance and make your work efficiently without lowering your quality.

Jewelry Assembly

What are the Best Tips for Success?

  • Make your own decisions; you’re the boss! Whether you’re hiring an employee, deciding whether a new store is a good (or bad) fit, telling the owner of a store they can’t change your designs (this happens to me once a week – you are the designer), there are tons of big and day-to-day decisions with running a craft business.
  • Find a middle ground. As an artist, you will have the tendency to make decisions based on feelings and intuition. As a successful businessperson, you will need to make decisions based on rational calculation. I like to find a happy medium between the two.
  • When you need help, ask for it. Use the resources of friends, family, and local businesses around you. No one can do everything! Know when to delegate.
  • Be thoroughly professional.
  • Accept nothing less than the highest standards of your work. Never cut corners to make a deadline; your work will suffer and people will notice. Customers buy handmade for good quality products. The goodwill of your customers if your most valuable possession! Don’t jeopardize it by delivering late or shipping work that’s not high quality.
  • Never stop learning!
Maker Stories

A Perfect Design for Your Knitting Nest

September 15, 2014

Aaron A. Harrison | UncommonGoods

The son of an architect father and artist mother, Aaron A. Harrison quickly gravitated towards all things creative. LEGO towers gave way to kindergarten art contest wins, which eventually gave way to an MFA in ceramics and sculpture. Knowing he wanted to play with clay forever, Aaron decided to turn his passion into a career once he started raising a family.

While working in production at a ceramic slip casting company that specializes in bird feeders, birdhouses, and nightlights, Aaron began to shift his focus from artist to designer. “It was here that I learned how to run a production studio,” says Aaron, “making products from clay was preeminent to making clay art.” Working with all the bird-friendly pieces at the studio also fostered an appreciation for the bird form, inspiring Aaron to incorporate the winged creatures into his own designs once he started his own studio in 2009.

Birdie Yarn Bowls | UncommonGoods
Birdie Yarn Bowl | UncommonGoods

On his process, Aaron says, “creativity as a designer follows the need to solve a problem.” In the case of one of his most popular designs, this problem was the unrolling of yarn. After two separate friends asked him if he made yarn bowls, he researched the concept, made some prototypes, literally put a bird on it, and the Birdie Yarn Bowl came to be. Each yarn bowl begins as a ball of clay that is then thrown by hand on the potter’s wheel. Once the bowl firms up, the bird is added, then the hook and holes. After an initial firing and glazing, each bird is painted by hand, then fired one more time to seal it all in.

Painting the Birdie Bowl | UncommonGoods

Aaron works out of his 500 square foot basement, painting each individual bird himself and packing each completed yarn bowl for shipping. “It’s not uncommon to find my children wrapped in bubble wrap or making packing peanut soup for their dolls,” says Aaron of his at-home operation. For inspiration while he works, Aaron keeps drawings from his children around, as well as a LEGO calendar (“my second favorite pastime after ceramics”), and an architectural drawing of an observatory from his father.

Aaron's Studio
Packing the bowls

With all this inspiration by his side, it’s no wonder Aaron’s work has been featured in Knit Simple, Vogue Knitting, and Knit Scene. Though he’s “still waiting for Oprah or Martha Stewart to place their orders,” Aaron gets immense satisfaction from the feedback of others, telling him that his piece inspired them to be more creative. Both this and the opportunity to work from home are the ultimate pay-off. “Sitting at the wheel three to four hours a day, working long into the night to finish an order, and the physical strain of manipulating the clay can take its toll,” says Aaron, “but I am working for myself and I can see my children grow up. In the end, it’s a tremendous blessing and extremely satisfying.”

Buy the Birdie Yarn Bowl | UncommonGoods

Maker Stories

Good Intentions: Alena Hennessy’s Affirmations in Art

August 12, 2014

Alena Hennessy | UncommonGoods

Words and art are two extremely powerful forces. Both can make us recall certain memories, impact our emotions, and even influence our decisions. That’s why Alena Hennessy only found it natural to combine these two important elements to create vibrant drawings, paintings, and mixed-media pieces featuring positive mantras, which she calls “intentions.”

One of these inspirational affirmations, “Don’t Quit Your Daydream,” is exceptionally fitting, because she never has. She’s been doing what she loves, creating art full time, for nearly 10 years.

Don't Quit Your Daydream | UncommonGoods

“For many years now I have viewed art-making as a kind of therapy or healing, one that brings us to quieter and more meditative states of being,” said Alena, who explained that writing positive intentions into her art is a way to capture those words and keep them as daily reminders.

“Writing intentions (or mantras) into my art feels beautifully affirming and became a natural part of my creative process,” she said. “I believe that words hold a certain power and when I am making art, the words or script that I place into my art sets an affirming tone for my life. I [also] think script is rather beautiful and artful in itself.”

Although Alena spends hours working in her Asheville, NC studio, art is just one of the therapeutic practices she embraces. Drawn to “the healing arts and natural forms of well-being,” Alena is also a certified flower essence practitioner, herbalist, and Reiki master.

Cultivating Your Creative Life by Alena Hennessy

She said that synthesizing the visual and healing arts in her work “seems inevitable and more reflective of my innate passions.” This comes through not only in her dynamic illustrations, but also in her many other creative endeavors. As an author, she encourages others to experiment with art and use it as a means for self-awareness and personal wellness. She also spreads inspiration through her blog, and facilitates several e-courses.

Alena Hennessy

While Alena always has many projects in the works, she makes sure to take her own advice and puts herself first, before business. However, in making her own wellness a priority, she finds that she is also better able to produce her art. “I become inspired by making sure I have enough rest and self-care of my body, mind, and spirit,” she said. “I find that the more I am in balance, the better my creative output.”

Just as Alena finds inspiration in nurturing her mind, body, and spirit, the cycle of creativity continues through the artistic process and on to those that bring her work home. The quotes and mantras working in harmony with Alena’s visual art encourage the new owner, and all that see the piece, to live each day to the fullest in a positive light.

Maker Stories

Pre-Columbian Craft Shines in Dipped Lace Jewelry Designs

August 7, 2014

We’re always on the hunt for stunning, handmade jewelry pieces to add to our assortment. We look for quality designs with uncommon looks, pieces made from unexpected materials, and collections that fill us with awe. Tulianna Garcés and Alejandra Noguera-Garcés’s Dipped Lace Jewelry more than meets those criteria, and we’re thrilled to welcome this line of carefully crafted necklaces, earrings, and bracelets into our assortment.

Dipped Lace Jewelry

While gold-plated textiles certainly aren’t the norm in modern jewelry, Tulianna and Alejandra’s designs are actually based on a traditional technique thousands of years old.

The mother-daughter team is inspired by pre-Columbian jewelry pieces, such as those that are now on permanent exhibit at the Gold Museum, in Bogotá, Colombia. They work closely with skilled artisans to create new designs that celebrate an age-old tradition, but incorporate a contemporary twist.

Lace Jewelry Designs |UncommonGoods

Tulianna and Alejandra emigrated from Colombia to the United States in 1985, but the Vermont-based design duo travel several times a year to train and collaborate with Colombian artisans who have been affected by the civil war that has plagued the region for more than fifty years.

“A large part of [our] mission is to encourage these artisans to maintain their cultural traditions while also being able to support their families,” says Tulianna. More than 85% of these artisans are women heading households in low-income and displaced communities. Tulianna explains, “We not only share a language, our cooperation is [also] fueled by the mutual desire for a better, more peaceful Colombia.”


Crafting the luminous, detailed pieces is very time consuming. Each piece takes several days from start to finish, and every single piece is made entirely by hand. First, the heart of the jewelry—vintage-inspired lace—is sewn into shape. Next, the lace creation is coated in wax to harden the fabric and seal the shape. This beautiful bit of sculptural art is then ready for the next stage, where it’s dipped in recycled metals.

Creating Lace Bracelets | UncommonGoods

Copper provides a firm base-coat before each piece is covered in either 24 karat gold or sterling silver. The pieces are dipped over and over, until they’re completely finished with radiant, recycled precious metals. In an update to the traditional pre-Columbian process for creating gilded wares, the metal is secured through electroplating.


During electroplating the pieces are submerged in salt water, and then given a blast of electricity, which helps prevent the metal from losing its golden (or silvery) glow over time. Once dry, the jewelry is brushed by hand to make sure every hole is free of excess metal buildup and that every delicate detail is perfect. Finally, a protective lacquer is hand-painted onto every piece.

Dipped Lace Jewelry Collection | UncommonGoods

This precision and attention to detail comes through in each design, from the welcoming shape of the Dipped Lace Heart Necklace, to the Precious Lace Bangle’s classic eyelets, to the show-stopping beauty of the Ruffled Gold Dipped Lace Statement Necklace. Visit this exciting new collection to see all of Tulianna and Alejandra’s handcrafted dipped lace jewelry designs!

Buy Lace Jewelry Now | UncommonGoods


Adopt a Unicorn–Elwood the Rainbow Unicorn Mug!

August 4, 2014

Meet Elwood. Magical unicorn. Party animal. Coffee buddy for life.

Elwood the Rainbow Unicorn Mug | UncommonGoods

Elwood’s fairy tale begins in an Effort, Pennsylvania ceramics studio. It may not be an enchanted forest, but it is a charming place, bursting with creativity and inspiration. It’s where JoAnn Stratakos develops original designs, like everyone’s favorite Rainbow Unicorn, by letting the clay guide her imagination.

Continue Reading…

Maker Stories

Eric’s Hallucinogenic Design Wins Art Contest!

July 18, 2014

Eric Tonzola | Art Contest Winner | UncommonGoods

It’s no secret that Eric Tonzola, our latest Art Contest winner, creates some prettytrippy designs. While observing his futuristic artwork, I feel like I’m jumping into a fantasy world where unicorns probably exist, the world wide web (fortunately) does not, and the sweet moments that we usually don’t notice are slowed down and captured. Here at UncommonGoods we want to add artwork into our assortment that will not only sit pretty in your new renovated bathroom, but will help paint a specific atmosphere that tinkers with your creative imagination. In this case, the atmosphere that Eric exudes is euphoria and reverie — a theme I wouldn’t mind welcoming into my home. Meet Eric Tonzola and find out about his “hallucinogenic” techniques, where he finds inspiration when it’s lost, and what his biggest vice is when it comes to focusing on his artwork.
Hallucinogenic Landscape | Art Contest Winner | UncommonGoodsWhat’s an Uncommon fact about your hometown?
I live in Lancaster City, PA and although it is a small town and small city it is chockfull of incredible artist and musicians. Lancaster is such a beautiful place and there is always some new small business opening up and new artists popping up all the time. The music scene has been blowing up and has really been putting its self on the creative map. Our fresh produce, indoor market has been rated one of 10 in the world. It’s a very amazing town and uncommon in its own way.

How did you come up with your Hallucinogenic Landscape design for our Art Contest?
Whenever I start working on one of my digital pieces I usually start off by thinking of a out of worldly landscape. An ocean on a moon of a far off world or a thick foggy forest from another dimension. Something along those lines but for the piece I entered for the contest my concept was based on a serene mountain pass that looks almost heavenly. A futuristic landscape with radiant colors that takes you to a place that you could only dream of.

Tell us about your journey into becoming an artist.
Ever since I was young I always loved to draw. I would get into trouble a lot in school and church when I was young because I would sit and draw on everything. So I guess it was just natural that I would start to create more and more as I grew up. After high school I went to college to become a graphic artist. While in college I fell in love with illustrating and designing. Ever since then I have been fine tuning my different styles and techniques.

Eric Tonzola | Art Contest Winner | UncommonGoods

Other than being an artist, is there anything else that you do?
Oh, Yes, Totally. I do love music… a lot. I play guitar (not the best) but it is something I really enjoy. The best is when I can get together with friends and jam. My younger brother is a really great drummer and I think him and I may start playing more together which is exciting. I also do have a full time job as a graphic designer. Working for a home décor company never seemed like something I would enjoy, considering the style of my personal work, but I have grown to love it. I create stuff your mom or aunt might have in hanging on her wall.

What different techniques do you use when creating your designs?
Over the years my different styles have really developed right down the middle. Creating designs digitally and illustrating things by hand. When creating illustrations or paintings I use mostly inks. I love using ink. It has such a richness to it and I feel like its very versatile. At times I also  like to use acrylics and honestly when painting, depending on the mood, I will use any material at my disposal. So I guess that half is mix media. My digital work I use mostly Photoshop and it is a combinations of over layering and blending a multitude of different images together to create the final design.

Eric Tonzola | Art Contest Winner | UncommonGoods

Are there any major projects, collaborations, or ideas you’re working on now?
I honestly don’t have a lot of projects going on right now. Some ideas I have are brewing but nothing has solidified yet, but keep your eyes peeled.

What was the toughest lesson you learned while being an artist?
Not to beat yourself up too much when you have a block.  Being an artist is exciting but its also almost a privilege, I feel. I have come into this world with abilities and talents that not everyone has and although exciting it can also be stressful. Whenever I am in a block I try to just enjoy everything else in life. If I try to force new ideas or new work it usually ends up worse and more frustrating. When I step away and just enjoy every moment of life, the next thing you know I find myself six hours into an illustration, a whole new concept for a project, and planning on shows and what to do. It comes naturally.

Where do you picture yourself 5 years from now?
5 years older. Haha. No, I’m not too sure. I have a lot of ideas of what I want to do with my art but the skys the limit so I just need to pursue everything that comes my way and hopefully in 5 years I will just be that much more successfully and develop my work even further.

Hallucinogenic Waterfall | UncommonGoodsAre there any particular graphic designers or bloggers you look up to when it comes to your area of design?
Recently there is no one person I specifically look too. I see a lot of amazing work out there and pull a little from everything I see that grabs me. One blog site I love to check out is Very cool, eclectic work comes through there.

Eric Tonzola | Art Contest Winner | UncommonGoods
Where do you go or what do you do when your inspiration is completely lost?
I like to go hiking and just be outside. I will sometimes walk to the park and just lay in the grass on a hill and look up at the sky and try to clear my mind. Maybe go see a movie but, like I had said earlier, when I am uninspired I try to just enjoy life and it comes to me naturally.

Do you have any secret vices that causes immense procrastination? How do you monitor this vice?
Well, honestly just laziness, sometimes. Well, maybe not laziness, but when you work all day as a designer (which I do love and I design everyday) it gets hard to get yourself to sit down and keep working. Some of my work can take hours and I don’t always have the time. So I guess its more or less just keeping organized and focused on my work that can be difficult. I also spend a lot of time just hanging out with my friends. Love them to death, but they can be a distraction. Although, I wouldn’t change that for anything..

What advice can you offer anyone who is submitting their work into our next design challenge?
Just have confidence in your work. Never hurts to try, and try, and try again.

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Barry Rosenthal

June 6, 2014

Barry Rosenthal | UncommonGoods
When our team learned that renowned photographer Barry Rosenthal calls our building, The Brooklyn Army Terminal, home to his studio we couldn’t wait to work with him on a project. Once that project–Pop Top Six Pack Glasses–was ready for our customers’ eyes, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone all about the set. Learning more about Barry’s work and the creative process that lead to the finished product got me, and the blog team, even more excited about having such a talented artist as a neighbor. Knowing that we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out his studio space, our own photographer, Emily, and I made the (very) short journey across the BAT atrium to see where Barry assembles his collections of found artifacts and other objects to create captivating photos.

Join us in exploring a new corner of our building by stepping into Barry Rosenthal’s studio, taking a look at some of his unique work, and finding out what goes on behind the scenes when the camera isn’t clicking.

Barry Rosenthal Art | UnommonGoods

Continue Reading…


Creative Design to the Rescue! (Of Homeless Cats)

March 7, 2014


My cat Eddie thinking about cats who lack a nice warm bed like his

If you love cats–as we do–it’s painful to think of them having to brave the elements on their own during a freezing northern winter, especially this year. But here in New York City, tens if not hundreds of thousands of cats have no shelter. So, if you also love creative design, and believe in its potential as a force for good–as we do–it’s nice to learn about Architects for Animals’ “Giving Shelter,” a yearly funds-and awareness-raising initiative founded by animal lover Leslie Farrell.


“CatHaus” by Francis Cauffman Architects was voted the favorite of the 2014 attendees

Since 2010, every year, Farrell, Director of Client Development at architecture firm Francis Cauffman, has convinced a handful of top-notch architectural design firms to design, build and donate innovative outdoor winter shelters for homeless cats. Their creations are put on public display as a one-night benefit event for the Mayor’s Alliance for NewYork City’s Animals. Attendees vote for their favorite, then all the shelters are donated to caregivers who work with needy animals.


“Cat Hive” by Incorporated Architecture & Design


by Carlton Architecture PC


“Time Machine for Kittens,” by Two One Two Design


“Hairball,” by M Moser Associates

The creative designs of these shelters help the cause architecturally (they generate good ideas for future shelters) and in other ways, too, as Michael Phillips, Community Outreach Coordinator of the New York City Feral Cat Initiative, a program of the Mayor’s Alliance, points out. “The media coverage with pictures of the flashy shelters is an eye-catcher that many people examine with interest, whereas they will skip over an article about the plight of cats abandoned to the streets through no fault of their own.”


Homeless cat in Brooklyn (rescued and adopted a few days after this photo was taken)

Nobody knows how many homeless cats there are in NYC, but estimates range from tens of thousands up to a million. Most of them are scared of us, so they keep out of sight, which makes counting them difficult. While people often think of cats as natural loners, they actually tend to form colonies near food sources such as garbage bins near apartment buildings. Some feral moms could very well be teaching their kittens to scrounge your leftovers as you sleep. (I’ve witnessed this, a sight both adorable and sad.)


African Wild Cat at the Johannesburg Zoo, South Africa. Photo: Sonelle

These felines are all trying to survive in what, for them, is an unnatural habitat. It’s not just that it’s so urban and industrial, but also that they’re not native to this part of the world. All of the world’s domestic cats are descended from a type of wildcat that lives in the deserts of the Near East. These cats are not designed to live in the NYC climate; those pretty fur coats are not enough protection during the winter, no matter how thick they get.

They need our help, especially as it’s humans’ fault that they’re out there in the first place. This population is made up of of strays, who are lost or abandoned tame pet cats (some of whom have regressed to a not-so-tame state), and ferals, the essentially wild (that is, not socialized to humans) offspring and descendants of non-neutered strays and pets who were allowed to roam. They have neither a consistent and healthy food source, nor shelter from the elements, nor protection from urban dangers such as cars, rat and other poisons, and cruel humans.


New York Feral Cat Initiative logo

Fortunately, there are many (though never enough) animal-lovers all over NYC who work hard to rescue tame, adoptable cats and kittens, and feed and protect the ferals. The New York City Feral Cat Initiative is a coalition of more than 150 animal rescue groups and shelters whose joint mission is “to raise awareness about the thousands of… community cats living outdoors throughout NYC’s five boroughs, to offer solutions to prevent the number of homeless cats from increasing, and to successfully manage existing colonies.”


Standard outdoor cat winter shelter design by Ashot Karamian

Building shelters that enable these critters to avoid freezing misery or death during inclement weather is part of the last part, managing colonies. (To read about solutions to prevent increases in the number of homeless cats, start here.) Of course, it’s not really necessary to build shelters that are more than just functional. As far as we know, cats aren’t offended by a styrofoam-and-duct-tape aesthetic. Phillips described the minimal structural guidelines as follows: “No heavier than two people can lift easily. Inner space should be no higher than 16 inches to retain the body heat of the cats with room for straw bedding.Waterproof. Constructed with weatherproof construction materials.” He added, “Water is the most destructive force. Snow does not normally damage shelters or enter shelters in comparison to driving rain or flooding.”


Rubbermaid container cat shelter by by Ashot Karamian (photo by Ashot Karmanian used with permission)

“You could use a basic Rubbermaid container for a cat shelter, which is quite common and perfectly fine because it works,” says architect Sofia Zimmerman, who, along with her husband and business partner, Adam, has participated in Architects for Animals: Giving Shelter three years in a row. “But as designers,”she continues, “we love the idea of someone walking down the street and coming across something that is artful, unusual, or even beautiful. Cat shelters are often found in alleyways, parking lots, and other places where finding something delightful is rare. But here’s a chance to do something nice looking–for the cats, their caregivers, and the people that might catch a glimpse.”


by Zimmerman Workshop Architecture + Design

“This third one, that we did this year, is perhaps the simplest, but in many ways our favorite. It was all about upcycling. We re-used a cardboard box and sealed it with duct tape. Inside, we lined it with styrofoam that came as packaging material for a lamp. And then we had to add another layer of insulation. This was the chance to do something delightful! We collected nine pairs of old jeans, cut them into long strips, and created a very very long braid. We wrapped it around and around the box, using as inspiration braided rag rugs–the ones you see in storybooks all the time with cats curled up on them!”

She adds that “During that process, we actually learned about the environmental impact associated with creating a pair of jeans….don’t get us started!”


“Fiberglass Pod,” by Elham Valipay and Haleh Atabaki, co-founders of MishMish, an example of a structure built with camouflage in mind

Different situations may call for specific architectural strategies. Phillips describes varying and “colony needs,” such as “camouflage; difficult specific dimensions to fit an exact spot; or fitting in visually with the design of a building nearby to please a particular property owner willing but not thrilled to have shelters placed on his property.”

If you want to help feral cats where you live, Phillips says, “Offering of your time to assist a local caretaker in your neighborhood is the best way to contribute to the long-term welfare of a community cat colony. The more widespread the support in a neighborhood the more likely the cats will accepted. Volunteering to feed the colony one or more days a week is a great help, when so often only one or two people shoulder the care for an entire colony.“

Or, if you’re crafty and love the idea of experimenting with small-scale architectural design that will actually be used, here’s your chance to do it, fur real! (sorry…)


Above three photos: “Feral Vernacular” by deSoto studio architecture + design

All photos copyright Marisa Bowe, unless otherwise indicated.

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