Drawing/Sketching/Digital Painting

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edit: 04/28/11 : updated the subject line to include digital artwork as well.

I was wondering if there were some pen and/or pencil sketch artists in the house. I am trying to learn to draw, and so far it's been like a fish trying to learn to ride a bicycle. I tend to get frustrated. I've been reading the books, and the various websites on drawing, and almost all of them repeat the mantra: "anyone can learn to draw".

One of the books I have is "Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain", and in that the author explains that a brilliant attorney, for example, can excel in many areas of advanced thinking, but hand him a pencil and pad, and he'll draw like an 11 year old (stick figures, simple features, poor symmetry, etc). She explains this is because the onset of adolescence is when most people quit drawing. So essentially, we're taking up where we left off. As children, we love drawing (and coloring, painting, etc), but adolescence brings on the more analytical mind, which sees in symbols.

For those of you who draw/sketch, how did you learn? Did you take art classes? Did you read books? Did you have to practice many, many hours or did it come 'naturally' to you?

I'm a beginner, (perhaps 1 to 2 months total experience) and if I were to just sit and draw on a blank piece of paper, it would indeed resemble a simplistic kid's drawing. I can look at other drawings, and mimic what I see to a lesser degree, but I can't just draw from my mind.

I'm really curious about the specific details of how you approach a drawing. Before I go into more questions though, I'll see if there are others here interested in discussing this.

edit: Wanted to note that I'm aware of materials quality being an issue, and I do have decent stuff:

* Prismacolor premium pencils, 12 pack ranging from 6H up to 4B (not colored pencils)

* Canson sketch pad, 70#, acid-free

* good quality erasers

* other tools like geometry edges, tortillon, etc.

My first thought is don't get too wrapped up in the materials of drawing. All the stuff you listed is good to have, but don't feel limited to "drawing" paper and pencils. It's important to know paper and what makes good drawing paper how graphite will reach to different tooth paper, but don't feel like you have to use special artist materials. Just grab a piece of paper and a good 'ol fashion #2, and start putting graphite on the page. You'll figure out along the way what type of paper and pencils you prefer, just try stuff. And don't sweat the stick figures. Most figure drawings start with stick people, you just build from there.

As for how I started drawing... Well, I just kind of always have done. Back in school I always doodled in the margins of my notebooks, on folders, backpacks, whatever. I took the requisite art classes, but didn't think anything of it till 8th grade when my art teacher suggested I go to a summer art school that was an offshoot of Governor school. Did that every summer of High School. It ran the whole gamut though. Drawing, painting, sculpting, yadda yadda. These days I mostly draw in my sketchbook, just to get ideas onto paper for later projects. Though sometimes I just need to move a pencil or pen around on paper, and I just grab whatever is closest (usually a post-it note or something) and start drawing circles and lines and shading.

Kind of funny, last night I woke up at 2am because I had inspiration for how to fix a drawing I had done earlier that day. I had to go down stairs and draw for like half an hour just to fix one part of the drawing before I could go back to bed. Sometimes it just hits me like that. I gotta go and draw, otherwise I can't sleep.

I concur with Rob. Just start doing something. If you are intent on improving, try to do stuff like controlling line weight (thickness and darkness), drawing straight lines free-hand and stuff like that. I know one thing to help draw straight lines is to use more of an arm movement, almost locking the wrist. Also, if you want to keep a pencil sharp/pointed, turning it as you draw is crucial. This was something we did in architecture school while creating drawings so that our lines would be consistant (see line weight). Also, you can experiment with different pencil types, if you want. They're rated with either an "H" (harder, lighter) or a "B" (softer, darker) and a number, or HB, which is the same as a #2 pencil.

I also suggest sticking with just pencil / B&W to start as limiting youself helps develop and refine your skills.

I'm rubbish at offering advice for this sort of thing (always just drawn for fun, never had any sort of schoolin' in it post-high school) but I guess...

- don't worry too much about materials as has been mentioned above. Although a putty eraser is pretty much essential. I normally just stick with a good old HB myself.

- don't try to draw from memory, for it is a tricksy beast and not to be trusted. Always have at least a photo (preferably the real thing) in front of you.

- don't throw anything away, even if you don't think it looks very good. (For one thing, it can be a good morale boost to go back and look at something you did a year ago and compare it to how you are doing now).

- stop at regular intervals and step back from the picture to take a look at it from a distance - helps reveal where things might look a little off, or the dimensions are not quite right.

- try looking at the object you are drawing as a series of shapes and not one whole solid thing. If you're drawing from a photo, try turning it upside down and drawing it that way up instead.

I suppose i really depends on what you want to draw though.

I recommend sticking with one or two pencils and a putty eraser. Try taking a small piece of paper, fold it so you have one sharp corner and use that to smear the pencil lines you've drawn. This is the best way to learn how to draw shadows and give your images volume imo.

as for learning how, I took several classes in high school but really you learn by doing more than that. Even if your images look like crap, keep going with small variations in your technique until you find something you like a little better. It's a small incremental increase in skill and if you stop, you can lose what you've gained.

There's some good advice above, but I want to second the comment about not needing the expensive stuff. I've done some of good work with a bad Bic ball point pen in the margins of a meeting agenda.

One of the things that is most freeing to me is to NOT be using expensive materials. For me, that is just way too scary and I was too afraid to mess up. Using whatever's around to sketch helps me get around that until it really is time to do something serious and then haul out the big guns. Then I'm still a mess, but at least I've done better prep work. Going electronic helped me with that, too.

The only thing I won't skimp on is pens/pencils. But that's partly because I'm a horrible pen snob all the time. I use Staedler Mars lead holders, and then either Micron fine felt-tips or Pilot Precise V5 or V7 roller-ball pens.

Drawing well is like writing well: its foundation is critical practice. What do I mean by "critical practice"? It's practice that you subsequently break down and analyze as objectively as possible to assess what you got right and what you go wrong. With drawing, do your best with a drawing and then, when you're done, consider which specific areas need improvement and which specific areas you did well. For example, if you do a sketch of a banana, you might look at it when you're done and say that you captured the shape of the banana well enough but that your shading needs work. You can then either re-draw the banana or draw something else, but keep your shading in mind as you work and experiment with ways to improve it.

stevenmack wrote:

I'm rubbish at offering advice for this sort of thing (always just drawn for fun, never had any sort of schoolin' in it post-high school) but I guess...

Any advice is welcome!

stevenmack wrote:

I suppose i really depends on what you want to draw though.

I seem to be pulled towards drawing people, faces, eyes, hands, etc. That's what I seem to want to do, but it doesn't have to be realistic people, I also enjoy drawing comic book figures.

I started last summer, got frustrated, and quit. Now I'm at it again. I didn't mean to put too much emphasis on materials, but I did want some quality stuff, to help reduce the frustration level. e.g. good quality paper made for sketching, pencils with good material so they aren't breaking or leaving inconsistent marks.

Steven, what did you mean by a putty eraser? is it the kind that you can bunch up into a custom shape? if so, I don't have that yet. Also, on youtube, I see a lot of people drawing with mechanical pencils.

mrtomaytohead wrote:

Also, you can experiment with different pencil types, if you want. They're rated with either an "H" (harder, lighter) or a "B" (softer, darker) and a number, or HB, which is the same as a #2 pencil.

I also suggest sticking with just pencil / B&W to start as limiting youself helps develop and refine your skills.

Thanks. Yeah, my pencil set has a full range from 6H to 4B. I also have a few charcoal pencils, but they are very messy. And yes, I'll be sticking with pencil for now. I have experimented briefly with inking edges with a fine point sharpie, but I think I'll lay off that for now.

As for subjects, I've been using mostly comic book type figures from a few drawing books I have. I have the classic "How to Draw Comics The Marvel Way", and several by Jonathan Hart, like "simplified anatomy for the comic book artist". yesterday, I was drawing a heroine in flight, and seemed to be going along ok, until I got to the face. I couldn't make it look good to save my life. I'm practically yelling at myself "just look at the picture and copy it!" , hehe. I erased the face so many times it nearly wore a hole in the page. I got frustrated.

Last year, I drew a few that I was happy with, at least for being a beginner. Here's one I did of Kingpin:

IMAGE(http://i54.photobucket.com/albums/g81/ziffel66/kingpinbyjeff.jpg)

I guess I'm old school. I usually just use my fingers to smear graphite. I know you're not supposed to because it gets oils and stuff on the paper, but whatever.

stevenmack wrote:

I suppose i really depends on what you want to draw though.

That actually occurred to me after I had posted. What is it that you intend to draw? Still lifes, figures, portraits, architecture, space ships? Mechanical drawings are going to have a fairly different approach from life drawing.

Edit: Tannhausered!

Rob_Anybody wrote:

Edit: Tannhausered!

hehe, so was I, 3x. I wanted to acknowledge and thank Clockworkhouse, momgamer, and Mrwynd for their advice too. There's that new thread "I'm glad you are here". It's very appropriate for me, as it's feedback like this that's why I love GWJ. Thank you all very much for your help!

Rob_Anybody wrote:

I guess I'm old school. I usually just use my fingers to smear graphite. I know you're not supposed to because it gets oils and stuff on the paper, but whatever.

I'm exactly the same - finger smearing ftw

Jeff-66 wrote:

Steven, what did you mean by a putty eraser? is it the kind that you can bunch up into a custom shape?

Yeah that's it. Probably worth grabbing one because of the control it gets you. (E.G: best way to do highlights - such as in hair or eyes - is to erase from already shaded areas, and the putty eraser gives you a LOT more control over that).

I have that same Marvel book and - personally - I'm not very keen on it. It's very much trying to get you to draw in a very set, very particular style and is something I got frustrated with and gave up on very quickly.

I'd really recommend trying to draw from a photo reference first, or better yet get someone to sit for you.

The best advice I ever got was in a high school art class. We spent weeks simply drawing stuff that was in front of us, which is really the best way to hone your skills before you start drawing from imagination, because only in knowing how something real can be drawn as realistically as possible can you hope to draw something fantastical in an unrealistic fashion and have it still ring true. Anyway, the advice was simply this:

"Don't think. Just draw what you see." Don't try to construct what you're drawing in your mind. Don't try to figure out how it's put together. Just draw the lines in front of you.
Oh, and for trees, "Don't draw the leaves. Draw the negative space around the leaves."

It's perfect beginner advice, in my opinion. As soon as the teacher said this to us, my drawing began to greatly improve. Unfortunately, I haven't done any serious drawing in quite a while, so I'm worse now than I've ever been since I was a kid.

As far as those "Learn how to draw comics!" books. Honestly, I'd leave 'em on the shelf. Not that there isn't good information in them, there is. They'll give you a general idea of how to break up the body into shapes, how to do perspective, and that stuff. But they teach you how to draw in someone else's style. And the proportion of people in comics are pretty wacky when you get down to it. Standard textbook for all of my life drawing classes in college has been Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist. I still have my copy, and occasionally break it out to do some drawing exercises. Fair warning though. It's not a step by step. It's mostly a bunch of pictures of people in poses and some drawings of skeletal/muscular structure. I seem to remember the book Keys to Drawing and liking it a good bit. Though It's been many years since I've read it.

JUST KEEP DRAWING. Daily, all the time!

My personal preferences:

Keep a sketchbook with you at all times. something small you can carry around. I like the strathmore hardbound sketchbooks because it's really f'ing difficult to tear the pages out. You have to live with your imperfections in those books, which is a good thing because you can go back and learn from what you've drawn days or months later after you'd forgotten about it. For some like myself, it's easier to start out with the smaller sketchbook because there just isn't as much intimidating blank surface area staring back at you when you're at the earlier stages of getting the drawing gears turning again.

Sketch in pen sometimes (okay, I almost always exclusively work in pen, so this is a total personal bias). It can be good practice for having to work through the Point of No Return. I find pencil really, really intimidating because it just gives me far too many options, and I get lost in the possibilities.

If you're interested in figure drawing, I really recommend Dynamic Figure Drawing by Burne Hogarth and Anatomy for the Artist by Jeno Barcsay.

There's also another book I would recommend if I could remember the damn name and it wasn't buried under a pile of clothes and several other heavy boxes full of books. As soon as I remember the title I'll edit this to include it. bah...anyway, the summary of that particular book was unlearning what your brain knows about form to actually draw what it is in front of you.

Most people, when confronted with a face go "uh...ovalish surface, nose in the middle, mouth with two lips, eyes, ears on the side sticking out..." in their brain. As was mentioned above, that's drawing crudely from memory. Memory isn't complete, it works in little chunks all assembled haphazardly in the brain to construct a vague representation. When drawing, many people look at, say, a face in profile, and try to re-create the mind's eye representation of that thing instead of drawing the shapes in front of them. They're basically playing mr. potato head. One of the things we have to re-learn when drawing people is to stop seeing them with our mental construction of what we know a figure to be and just draw the shapes.

Will think on this more, gotta go take the nieces for a walk.

Edit: BAH, tannhauser'd. And Keys to Drawing was that book I was forgetting!

Good thread, I recently started taking an interest in learning to draw as well. It mostly came from taking in interest in 3d modeling, and eventually needing front/side/top/back views of something if I wanted to model it correctly.

And yeah, I still draw like I'm 6. Lot's of good tips in this thread though.

One of the better sites I found was this one, you've probably already seen it Jeff: http://www.learn-to-draw.com/drawing...
Best advice from it though is to stop thinking of the object you want to draw, and think of shapes and lines. Focus in on one small area and draw what you see. I think it definitely helps. Don't draw a chair, draw the shapes you see and eventually you'll get the chair.

Edit: Ultra-tannhausered! I think Amoebic's tannhauser'd comment explains it better than I did.

IMAGE(http://i36.tinypic.com/wlcghf.jpg)

I've drawn all my life, except for the last ten years. I've always been inspired by my imagination and drawn things that do not exist.

I used to be pretty hardcore, even thought about becoming a professional illustrator. This was back in my late teens, 14-18 or so. I attended an art high school and drew at least one complete, inked piece from start to finish every single day. This was in addition to whatever school work I had. I stopped drawing when I graduated from college - at work I just don't have that type of doodling time like I used to have at lectures. (Drawing helps me concentrate when learning.)

I've always drawn fantasy stuff, mostly inspired by the pen and paper roleplaying games I've been running - science fiction, horror, fantasy, historical themes, mostly portraits and action shots. Thus, all imagination, no references aside from some established motives ("Space Marine", "White Wolf vampire").

My stuff has always been inked pencil sketches. Just a couple of weeks ago I picked up the pen again and drew some sketches for the first time in, oh, over five years. As it should happen, our roleplaying has picked up again after a long hiatus, and that's inspiring me to end. Much to my surprise, the skills have not gone anywhere, although I am very rusty.

The one thing I did this time around was pick up a brush pen - kind of like an inkbrush without the mess. So I'm drawing in ink straight without a sketch. It feels very rewarding, as there's no going back once you set down a line. I'm just sketching stuff and I doubt I'll ever go back to doing actual large, "finished" pieces.

I've tried drawing on the computer with a tablet, but it's not really my thing. Too technical, although I know my way around Photoshop very well.

As for advice, just draw, draw, draw. There is no theory to really help you find your own style. Try to challenge yourself. I often think of something I don't know how to draw and try to work with it. Drawing challenges can really help you find motivation.

Ok, you guys (and gals!) are about six different kinds of awesome. I didn't know what to expect when I posted this, but it wasn't an avalanche of awesome. Thanks! I'll try and touch on some things said, but just know that I've read every word of every post and very much appreciate it all.

@mechaslinky: I love the idea of "don't think, just draw what you see". I'm going to start that today. I'll just start sketching objects around me.

@RobAnybody: Thanks for the book recommendations. I searched Half.com for the anatomy book, and found it for $6.50 and snapped it up. I went to Amazon for "Keys To Drawing" (Dodson) and noticed another book in the sidebar: "Drawing for the Absolute Beginner". I read the user reviews and decided to go with that one first. The Dodson book will be next, though. and btw, that "How to draw the Tick" comic was hilarious.

@Amoebic: I hear ya. I know what you mean about forgetting the symbolic, left-brain thinking, and trying to see shapes and lines. Also, I saw those hardbound Strathmore sketch books at Michael's the other day. They had some smaller ones, too. I'll add that to the list of things to get my next trip there, which may be this evening. I want to pick up a putty eraser, and a few other minor things.

@jlaasko: good advice. Also, I'd like to see some of your ink work sometime.

@citizen86. I think it's cool that you're another beginner. Perhaps we can encourage each other. And yes, I have that site in my bookmarks, but thanks nonetheless.

More than expensive stuff, I'd say the best you can do is to get a lot of big, cheap paper and practice--especially quick, gestral stuff, just trying to catch the shapes and shadows. You can occasionally mix it up with contour sketches and even blind contours and blind gestrals, to gain confidence in your hand.

Then you can start thinking about composition.

The real detailed stuff can and should come later, otherwise you're getting caught up in a thesaurus before learning to speak.

wordsmythe wrote:

The real detailed stuff can and should come later, otherwise you're getting caught up in a thesaurus before learning to speak.

That was a good illustration there. You live up to your name, especially since it was a word illustration. Booyah

Oh man, I was going to recommend "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way". I've taken art lessons and drawing classes from time to time since I was a kid to university, but honestly that's the book that taught me all the fundamentals. Sure, everyone I draw is eight feet tall and has a 60s haircut, but I'm pretty solid otherwise.

Also, I'll second two other points people have mentioned: forget the equipment. If it draws, you can draw with it.

And what works for me is practicing by copying, but mostly importantly, flip the original upside down. Especially starting out, you have to learn to draw what you see, not what you think you see, to reiterate what MechaSlinky and Amoebic said.

Also also, learn all those handy proportions (head is five eyes wide, eyes are halfway between top of the head and chin, nose is halfway from eyes to chin, mouth is halfway from nose to chin, etc). Mostly just because they're fun.

MechaSlinky wrote:

The best advice I ever got was in a high school art class. We spent weeks simply drawing stuff that was in front of us, which is really the best way to hone your skills before you start drawing from imagination, because only in knowing how something real can be drawn as realistically as possible can you hope to draw something fantastical in an unrealistic fashion and have it still ring true. Anyway, the advice was simply this:

"Don't think. Just draw what you see." Don't try to construct what you're drawing in your mind. Don't try to figure out how it's put together. Just draw the lines in front of you.
Oh, and for trees, "Don't draw the leaves. Draw the negative space around the leaves."

It's perfect beginner advice, in my opinion. As soon as the teacher said this to us, my drawing began to greatly improve. Unfortunately, I haven't done any serious drawing in quite a while, so I'm worse now than I've ever been since I was a kid.

I wish I could do this, but I don't think in that way. You tell me imagine John Kerry naked in a field of poppies, and that's all my mind holds the notion of Sen Kerry naked, in a field of poppies. Not the picture of him naked, nor the image of poppies or grasses or sunshine. My mind works in symbols, it makes it much easier to hold two conflicting statements in there at once.

Gravey wrote:

Oh man, I was going to recommend "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way". I've taken art lessons and drawing classes from time to time since I was a kid to university, but honestly that's the book that taught me all the fundamentals. Sure, everyone I draw is eight feet tall and has a 60s haircut, but I'm pretty solid otherwise.

If I'd recommend one book and if you're interested in comic book art, that's a great place to start. Old, but really very good. The old guys really knew their stuff.

Otherwise I'd say getting your anatomy down never hurt anybody. Hard to exaggerate proportions if you don't know what you're exaggerating! Get a good book with skeletal and muscle structure, regardless of what kinds of characters you want to draw.

Taking some croquis classes is a huge help in learning you to look for what's important in a character. I'm sure some school near you is arranging those.

There are couple of things - first - just do it all the time. And not just the "serious-I`m-sitting-down-to-draw-this-object" kinda drawing, but doodles on napkins, doodles on train, waiting bus, wherever/whenever. The thing is - your hand hasnt used to doing drawing, you most likely have too much "respect" for the process itself. Once you get the actual process of putting a line on paper down to subconcious action, you`ll feel how everything just opens up.

Second - as said before - draw from life. Even if you make a fantasy landscape, find a reference photo for that tree or river bank. Even if you make a cartoon guy in suit, google " man in suit" to get the weight and feeling of the fabric down. Our brains are lazy so they chunk the world around us into symbols and stereotypes. Apple isnt round, cloud isnt a bubbly mass (more often than not) - it`s just your brain being lazy and showing you simplyfied shapes when you draw without reference.
Trained artists see world as it is, not in simplyfied shapes and symbols.

Also avoid any "Draw like..." books until you feel confident in drawing stuff from life. All those manga/whatever art instructions will reprogram your brain in manga/whatever stereotypes/shapes and you`ll be stuck with it for years.

Taking a drawing class is the best first step. When someone begins learning a new skill, like drawing, they'll eventually run into problems and may not know the best solutions or how to apply them. Having an instructor watch you draw and then identify common mistakes or explain different methods is extremely helpful. My drawings and paintings before and after classes were like night and day.

Buying drawing books is almost a skill in itself. There are tons of useless "how to..." books out there. Don't rely on internet 5 star reviews because they are meaningless when it comes to drawing. "How to Draw Spiderman" will receive glowing reviews regardless of how useful it actually is. Always try to locate a physical copy and look inside (Amazon.com has a "look inside" feature for some books). Read a few pages. Look at the diagrams or the step by step instructions. I've walked into a book store many times just to walk out with nothing. My personal recommendations: Vilppu Drawing Manual and Life Drawing: How To Portray The Figure With Accuracy And Expression by Robert Barrett.

Also, if you'd like to draw certain characters, I suggest buying artbooks. An artbook like Mega Man: Official Complete Works will have a huge collection of images along with descriptions, sketches, proportions, words from the creators, etc. Finding a similar collection from Marvel or simply buying more comics will provide you with tons of images to draw from. Whenever one of these is released, I spring into action.

I'm only good at drawing conclusions. :/

Nosferatu wrote:
MechaSlinky wrote:

The best advice I ever got was in a high school art class. We spent weeks simply drawing stuff that was in front of us, which is really the best way to hone your skills before you start drawing from imagination, because only in knowing how something real can be drawn as realistically as possible can you hope to draw something fantastical in an unrealistic fashion and have it still ring true. Anyway, the advice was simply this:

"Don't think. Just draw what you see." Don't try to construct what you're drawing in your mind. Don't try to figure out how it's put together. Just draw the lines in front of you.
Oh, and for trees, "Don't draw the leaves. Draw the negative space around the leaves."

It's perfect beginner advice, in my opinion. As soon as the teacher said this to us, my drawing began to greatly improve. Unfortunately, I haven't done any serious drawing in quite a while, so I'm worse now than I've ever been since I was a kid.

I wish I could do this, but I don't think in that way. You tell me imagine John Kerry naked in a field of poppies, and that's all my mind holds the notion of Sen Kerry naked, in a field of poppies. Not the picture of him naked, nor the image of poppies or grasses or sunshine. My mind works in symbols, it makes it much easier to hold two conflicting statements in there at once.

The real trick is in learning to hold your mind back from jumping to a symbol. When you can get past looking at an eye as a series of concentric circles (perhaps in a football), and instead see shadows and lines, you're well on your way.

Okay, I suck at drawing. But I can go from "did you have a seizure while you did that?" to "oh, I *did* have it upside down" with one simple trick an artist friend taught me. Drawings are two dimensional. Eyes give you a three dimensional view. So, close one eye. Now you're seeing like you draw - two dimensions instead of three.

Oddly, it really works. Even when drawing from memory, it works for me.

I've been reading this with interest because I've always wanted to learn how to draw so keep the suggestions coming! I may have to buy a book or two this weekend.

Robear wrote:

Okay, I suck at drawing. But I can go from "did you have a seizure while you did that?" to "oh, I *did* have it upside down" with one simple trick an artist friend taught me. Drawings are two dimensional. Eyes give you a three dimensional view. So, close one eye. Now you're seeing like you draw - two dimensions instead of three.

Oddly, it really works. Even when drawing from memory, it works for me.

I totally forgot about that! I used to do that all the time. Really helped me to see the lines I was trying to draw. Thanks for inadvertently reminding me!

edosan wrote:

I've been reading this with interest because I've always wanted to learn how to draw so keep the suggestions coming! I may have to buy a book or two this weekend.

I hope you do. And if so, please post here and let everyone know how it goes. It would be nice to have a few fellow beginners in this venture. I get Drawing for the Absolute Beginner tomorrow from Amazon, and I'll let you know my thoughts on it.

In other news, I picked up a putty eraser last night, and as promised, it helps very much with control, and they don't make the crumbly mess that rubber erasers do. Do those of you that use these typically break them apart into smaller chunks? Mine came as one 2"x2" semi-flat square. That seems kind of big.

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