Artist’s Cove 5: Phoebe Williams

The Girl off Kanagawa
The Girl off Kanagawa, Courtesy of Phoebe Williams

By Chris

One of the great joys in writing Artist’s Cove articles is discovering the subjects. I’ve had talented people recommended to me, and I have stumbled upon them on my own. Phoebe fits into the latter category. Browsing one evening, I happened across her work, and was instantly hooked.

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White Moon, Courtesy of Phoebe Williams

My introduction to her digital art was a piece called White Moon. An effort from her latest series, White Moon features a woman seated against a stark red background with a white crescent moon looming overhead. The series to which this it belongs features both this woman (named Kami) and her more spirited counterpart (named Akami) in various forms of expression. The two represent a yin-yang effect, and are used to portray the relationships we have with ourselves, as well a variety of external themes.

“Some of the themes I hope to explore in more detail are loneliness/isolation, mental health, gender and sexuality,” she mentions in my interview with her.

“I would like to mention that the complexity of thought behind each piece varies. Tea? arose because I had finished making a teapot in the studio that afternoon; Kami’s hair is simply acting as a medium of action. In contrast, Spectre was built upon the foundation of many different thoughts all layered upon one another. The finished piece itself is simple in composition and execution, but the jagged black moon, the ensnaring hair and the cut of the clothes are all subtle elements that symbolised distinct thoughts as I was drawing. These elements and others will recur and change in later pieces. For instance, notice the merging white and black moons in Ennui.”

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Ennui, Courtesy of Phoebe Williams

While she has impressive technical skills at her disposal, her current series opts to focus on a style that provides her with the most creative freedom.

“For me, yes, there is more creative freedom when I focus less on technical execution. I have always enjoyed rendering faces and bodies in a style that is as close to realistic as possible — it is a way to challenge myself, to push for more detail every time. However, that drive for realism has tended to tip negatively into art that I want to use to convey concepts and thoughts. I used to fret over the execution, and would sometimes change elements of the paintings for the worse, creatively, to ensure a better aesthetic finish. With this series I have tried to blow caution to the wind and just produce the work, and whilst drawing I am trying not to care if I mess up some elements of each piece.”

Phoebe undergoes constant experimentation to find the balance between technical execution and the freedom that gives life to Kami and Akami.

Perusing her gallery, one can see this turning point in her style. The piece Kanagawa Dreamin’ is a testament to both her technical prowess and the influence of Japanese culture in her work.

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Kanagawa Dreamin’, Courtesy of Phoebe Williams

“[Kanagawa Dreamin’] marks a definite tipping point in my work. This piece features the first appearance of Kami, the character with round red cheeks. She has been the main subject of most of my art since. Her physical appearance does vary according to my mood, as does the style I choose to draw in, but the red cheeks (symbolising the Japanese flag), the long black hair, and the red-black-white colour scheme are the distinctive features of this line of work.”

Phoebe sites ukiyo-e artist Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa as the creative seed of this piece. She had been thinking of Hokusai’s work while dreaming of life in Japan. Taking this seed of inspiration and growing it into something entirely her own, Phoebe created a piece with which she has been immensely satisfied.

“Kami’s hair acts as a medium through which I can express thoughts or actions, and in this piece her hair gives rise to Hokusai’s waves, as I was thinking of his work whilst drawing. Kami gazes longingly toward Mount Fuji, hoping to one day make its soil her home. However there is some bitterness in her expression, which is enforced by the boat being swept up mercilessly by the waves. This is a reflection of some of the struggles I have had with the Japanese language and certain elements of the culture.”

Stumbling upon Mark Crilley’s YouTube channel, Phoebe was first exposed to manga, and she subsequently took an interest in Japanese culture.

“A domino-effect was triggered. I went to university after finishing school to study Japanese Language and East Asian Studies, aiming to move to Japan once I graduated. I left university prematurely due to unforeseen circumstances, but I still aim to live and work in Japan at some point in the future. Japanese culture is now such an important part of my every-day life that it naturally flows into my art, ceramics and writing.”

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Tea?, Courtesy of Phoebe Williams

Digital art is not the only medium though which Phoebe expresses herself. An aspiring writer, she is on her third novel, and closely guards the details of her hitherto unpublished works. She does, however, reflect on her early days in this storytelling medium.

“I wrote my first novel when I was fourteen, and I stuffed it with too much of my ludicrous imagination – it’s jumbled and confused. It still needs heavy editing, but even so I won’t publish it. I learnt a lot about pace and large-scale plot structure from the first novel.”

“The second novel was much more refined in plot and ideas — much simpler and cleaner. I was seventeen when I finished the first draft, and I was happy with it. It’s still magical, but focuses much more on the human elements of the main characters, and on their bond. I hope to publish it one day, after further editing. It contains a lot of what I adore in life — art, ceramics and music — and despite being a relatively typical love story the ending is quite dark and much more true-to-life than any other aspect of the story.”

Though the specifics of her ongoing project are kept from even those closest to her, she did reveal some of its details with me.

“I am around three-quarters of the way through the first draft of my third novel. Again, the world the story is set in is saturated with magic, and the main characters each have a special power. There is nothing original about magic anymore – it seems someone else has thought of all the ideas before, in some shape or form – but I enjoy using it as a tool to add another dimension to my characters. I focus a lot more heavily on the interplay of human relationships now, and after making some close LGBT friends I’ve started to include issues they deal with in my writing, as well as in my art.”

On top of her growing digital portfolio and novels, Phoebe has also developed a passion for ceramics. At seventeen, her mother enrolled in a series of ceramics classes. Soon after, her mother stopped attending, and Phoebe took her place. She quickly fell in love with the medium, particularly with the primal feel of working with clay and the satisfaction of working in a three dimensions.

“I have an incredible teacher who I am so lucky to have met, and I will be forever thankful to him for introducing me to an art form that is now such an important part of my life.”

As for the future, Phoebe has hopes of studying ceramics at an undergraduate level. Her current series of digital art is also going strong, with Kami and Akami continuing to explore their relationship, piece by piece.

Phoebe’s DeviantArt Page

Artist’s Cove 4: Kristen Lee

IMG_5656By Chris

An inanimate robot rests against a crumbling wall. Beside it lies a stack of discarded televisions. The scene takes place underwater, with the rippled sunlight cast over the room. Creatures from both land and sea explore the nooks and crannies of this incredibly detailed environment. This is Melancholic Mix, one of many worlds to be born out of Kristen Lee’s talent and imagination.

Often these worlds are created to the tune of atmospheric music like Kubbi, Anamanaguchi, and a variety of video game soundtracks. Her playlist washes out the day-to-day noises that threatens to pick at her attention. This liberation allows her to immerse herself in her oftentimes haunting pieces.

My introduction to Kristen’s work was not Ghost Junk Sickness, but the aforementioned Melancholic Mix. An immediate head turner in the gallery, I found myself lost in the colour, texture and atmosphere of the piece. What’s interesting about many of Kristen’s works is the emphasis she places on the background.

“For pieces like “Melancholic Mix” or “Desert Marauder” which I’ve created back in 2013, my main focus is usually the clutter, objects, and  the excessive amount of small detail in backgrounds. I’ve always wanted to maintain a narrative with objects that don’t sit in the focus, and tend to centre a lot of it on the idea of ‘things being left behind’. [Melancholic Mix] depicts a scene of an obvious abandonment of what was once livable, being purged from what we might think roams that particular part of some world, if you would. I wanted those objects to tell what is and was happening there, and with that, it usually leads to a new telling of a story or something the audience could perhaps create to themselves. Hence a melancholy of what used to be, which could possibly a sad realization, to what could be, somewhat of a hopeful thought.”

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Melancholic Mix, Courtesy of Kristen Lee

“I feel as if I can put more emphasis on them, but an emphasis that allows imperfection. Perhaps by focusing on these types of objects/ background material, I’m able to create something not exactly fitting. In Melancholic Mix, you’ll notice the addition of televisions piled up in a corner. What type of room would have electronics stuffed in a corner? What kind of building was this? Who used to live here? I feel as if I’m able to insert open ended questions for the audience.”

Fittingly for this audience, Kristen’s affinity for role-playing games like Final Fantasy 7 influences her work. Aside from the fan art that can be found on her Deviant Art page, the settings of this landmark game have followed her throughout the years.

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Courtesy of Kristen Lee

“I suppose the aesthetic from that game is something I wish to achieve in some works, with the grungy, torn apart state of Midgar, balanced with the serene and otherworldly Forgotten City, I think that stuff just really sticks with me.”

Within her storytelling, Kristen values representation deeply. The world of Ghost Junk Sickness, with its myriad characters, testifies to this value.

“It’s something that so many people are fighting to broaden in the industries of games, movies, comics, etc. I’ve known that I’ve always wanted to have representation of different races, cultures, sexualities in our stories because it’s realistic, and to be very frank, people who write fiction of any kind and lump our world’s cultural and societal norms in, aren’t really good at writing. Why would we have a story based in some other dimensional realm, with aliens and creatures that couldn’t exist in ours, just to keep in the societal norms that we have on earth? That seems almost lazy! And not to say that we can only represent different people in fiction only, there are so many different stories to tell and show that should indeed be about the vast amounts of different people, because again, it’s much more realistic.

I think a key in writing as far as diversity in representation goes is to meet people! There are so many people in our story we’ve based off of people we’ve met through person or vicariously, it opens your eyes to see just how vast and expansive creating a world really is. It becomes more natural writing characters, creating worlds, and your cast and story isn’t restricted. Read journals, autobiographies, short stories, articles of people from around the world, and not in your immediate living space! I couldn’t imagine writing a story that came from just my perspective, because to me, it’s something for everybody, so I’d like to write it the same way.”

As an up-and coming artist, exposure plays a crucial role in building her career. Attending conventions, making connections within the world of art and promoting projects is a towering feat in itself. This road is made all the more daunting by the pitfalls of free work. Kristen warns of the dangers inherit in accepting exposure as payment for work.

“Many people know how much an artist needs it [exposure], and they themselves feel entitled to get free work so they can pay in ‘exposure’, which is something every young artist needs to be aware of! Your time is very, very precious as an artist, and feigned hopes for exposure aren’t going to pay the bills, so keeping yourself in charge of any freelance work you do is important. Make sure you know what’s coming out of a project before you commit, and always ask yourself if these projects are worth your time. It’s a bit of a Catch 22 at times, and I often find myself daunted with what to do to further myself in the field, which makes it important to reach out for some advice from your fellow artists!”

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Courtesy of Kristen Lee

Kristen herself has looked to peers and instructors for direction in her career. Be they over the internet, from conventions or people she has met over the course of her college education, Kristen never forgot the importance peers in her own professional development.

“With my line of work, creating contacts is of course a huge part of the process, so naturally I’ve met many people in my field through various outlets, one of them of course being the internet and conventions. Although many of these connections often fluctuate with how long you stay in contact due to your odd schedules, the time spent together is something I cannot stress any more than being very very valuable! When we had tabled at TCAF, we were with so many amazing people- and even though our time together was short, there was still so much I’ve taken from each of them to improve myself as an artist. With the way they conduct themselves as a business, to how they got there in the first place, I think it’s important to look up to people that don’t necessarily have a constant presence in your life, but enough to create a map of your own steps in which you’ll get where you want to be.”

In Kristen’s journey, Ghost Junk Sickness is a strong first step towards her dream of a sustainable career in comic writing and illustration.

“It’s my passion to tell stories and have a community to share them with, to create pieces that make discussion, and most importantly, have some diversity in that field!”

For now, we have her ongoing collaboration with her sister Laura Lee, as well as a growing catalog of impressive solo work, and the hope of covering her future endeavors.

Artist’s Cove 3: Laura Lee

Laura LeeBy Chris

If you have read the second edition of Artist’s Cove, you are already familiar with the collaborative work of artists Laura and Kristen Lee. In this month’s edition, we have the pleasure of getting better acquainted with Laura Lee.

Laura has for years been building worlds and delighting patrons with her drawings. For those looking for a fusion of progressive ideas and manga influence in their art, Laura’s style is an ideal subject for your attention.

Growing up, Laura often found herself drawing what was on the television screen. From cartoons like Sailor Moon, Escaflowne and Invader Zim to games Like Megaman, Kirby and Legend of Zelda, she would be there to sketch a growing roster of inspirations (a habit that had earned her teasing from her siblings).

“Later on I started to discover the games and cartoons that really resonated with me and helped me find direction with what I wanted in my style, which were Earthbound, Silent Hill 2, LoZ Majora’s Mask, Cowboy Bebop, Kuuchuu Buranko and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. “

As her craft evolved, her affinity for expressing herself through comics in particular remained.

“Comics have been a constant thing that has never wavered from my vision. Ever. The way I went about them and the type of stories I wanted to draw have changed rapidly but the core of it is still to express at least one of those in a comic format.”

For her, drawing was a coping method. It was how she expressed ideas, affections and infatuations. In times of fear, she would draw what had been haunting her, examining the subject matter along the way.

Courtesy of Laura Lee
Courtesy of Laura Lee

Having such a lucid form of expression can result in many a confrontation with your own mental limitations. So, what happens when the subject of your work pushes you out of your comfort zone? For Laura, this was a matter of deconstructing why subject matter had such a negative effect.

“These studies make me closer to whatever it is that I’m drawing because while I draw, I analyze and talk through the whole thing (in my head). Drawing/painting can be a very intense process for me because there’s never a time where I’m not creating a dialogue in my mind.”

With this approach, she is able to confront and push her boundaries as an artist. Where she typically draws a creative line is not at the intensity of the subject matter, but rather its authenticity to her. To create a work of art, she must first believe in it.

An example of this principle in action is her straying from the western idealized superhero comic (a genre that she respects, but feels is saturated). Laura has instead placed herself firmly within growing web comic industry, as evidenced by her dedication to Ghost Junk Sickness, in order to create works that are more true to her style.

“This is why I choose web comics and indulge in the growing industry because there’s so much that all these up and coming artist have to show that publishing companies wouldn’t give the time of day. People are being more progressive in one comic than the old staple publishing companies have ever attempted. In my art I try to challenge as much as I can and be as progressive as I can. I absolutely refuse to draw anything that I don’t believe in.”

An exception to this standard is made for her commission work. Pleasing her clients requires her to adopt an appreciation for the potential of the requested material, and she has used the chance to draw even unfamiliar characters as an opportunity to better understand and appreciate her patrons as individuals.

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Shadi, courtesy of Laura Lee

As the years progressed, she found that artistic direction was a constant challenge. From deciding whether or not to take a more cartoonish approach to her style, to transitioning her already successful comic style into painting without slipping too far into realism, each step in her development brings with it more questions. When asked about possible future projects, she mentioned her interest in incorporating mixed media, a style that will no doubt present a fresh new series of adjustments to her creative process.

“I’m very fickle with a lot of things, especially with my art, butI feel I have sculpted something that seems suitable for the time being. I had to create something that was versatile and flexible while still staying true to every part of myself. Colour and shapes are very important to me in terms of design, so I had to figure out the right shade of everything for me to be satisfied with the work. With every painting I do I’m chipping away at what I really want to achieve, getting a little closer bit by bit.”

DJ Tekla, courtesy of Laura Lee
DJ Tekla, courtesy of Laura Lee

One such example of her creative process is the character DJ Tekla (pictured right). Designed originally as one half of a romantic couple (the other being a mopey mermaid), this story is currently still in embryo, and may see Tekla take a more central and independent role if it were to be brought to life.

But lest you think Laura’s portfolio exists solely within panels, works like the recently gallery featured Gender is a Pleasure stand as a testament to her versatility. A three-piece painting, Gender is a Pleasure puts the issue of being transgender/non-binary into a more positive light than that in which it has been cast by the media. Though Laura felt it better to leave an in-depth elucidation of this issue to transgender and non-binary people, she was inspired to at least use her skills to contribute to the dialogue in a positive way.

“I read this really insightful blog post that someone made about the trans experience highlighting that choosing transition was not always about pain and suffering but rather more of feeling happier and pleasure when associated with their gender of choice. We’re shown that trans/non-binary people must be suffering so much until they can transition so we constantly associate their lives with pain, and I think that’s wrong. After being enlightened, I just felt compelled enough to paint something for it because I may not have the experience myself, but at least having some artistic skill I can create something to bring more attention to the matter. Plus there’s not enough art featuring people of different genders, so I wanted to give it some representation.”

9aysRADWith the Ghost Junk Sickness universe building, as well as her experimentation with other media, we can only guess at what future projects Laura will undertake. For now, we have a sci-fi universe as well as a growing library of commissions and paintings to keep us interested.

Laura’s Tumblr

Artist’s Cove 2: Ghost Junk Sickness (Interview with Kristen Lee and Laura Lee)

By Chris

Courtesy of Kristen and Laura Lee
Courtesy of Kristen and Laura Lee

For those looking for a sci-fi tale replete with guns, space ships and heavy metal bounty hunters, I present Ghost Junk Sickness. Created by Kristen and Laura Lee (Fine Arts graduates and sisters operating out of Kingston, Ontatio) GJS is a project that marries their mutual affinity for space-based sci-fi adventures, as you will see in the following interview.

GJS follows the duo of Trigger Elliot, a struggling bounty hunter, and his partner, Vahn. At the time of publishing, we have gotten acquainted with the majority of the main cast, and Vahn’s curious nature is coming to light. We are clued in to the mounting tensions between the two military powers vying for dominion over a catastrophe-scarred world called June7. A bounty hunter killer named “The Ghost” is set to cross paths with Trigger and Vahn.

As the story is still in its early phase, I would strongly urge that you take a detour to their website and catch up. It’s well worth the read, and has found its way into a regular slot in my weekly media viewing cycle. You can find page 1 of this series here.

It was my pleasure to interview the web comic’s creators and gain some insight into the process of bringing GJS to life.

Note: At various points in this interview, individuals will be identified as “they” rather than him/her. This is because the character is either not gendered or has not had their gender identified.

Approaches to storytelling vary among creators. Some construct entire worlds before putting the plot into motion, whereas others build their worlds as they go. As Ghost Junk Sickness has two creative minds behind it, both working on the comic equally, how do you two decide on the direction of the story and the lore of the universe?

Kristen: A big part of it was aesthetics and common interests. We both decided that we liked space/scifi themes, occult elements and bounty hunting-themed manga. So, from there we just collaborated and would agree on what kind of themes would work and suit the story as a whole. Typically, we would derive a concept from something we liked and work it enough so it becomes separate from the original line of thought and totally our own. We did a lot of research into different things, though I think that’s a given.

Laura: Basically, we would have key points down, and there would be specific visions of characters or scenes that we wanted to see come into play. We would map them out and then just problem solve and work on how we would get there, although sometimes the scenes would turn out completely different from how we thought they would. It still worked out for the better. We’re always very conscious of what we want to portray and represent, so these key points were crucial to finish 100% in context. In our way of preparing a story, we have it all done completely down to each individual page because we always had a tendency to run into plot holes and issues if we didn’t finalize it. We’ve basically written the whole story twice now with the amount of revisions, and let me tell you, it was definitely beneficial.

Have you maintained the original overall course of the plot, or have your revisions seen the characters meet wildly different fates than the ones for which they were originally slated?

Both: Absolutely! The core of the plot still maintained the essential parts of it, but huge arcs have been rewritten to be told in a different way entirely. Settings completely change, characters’ involvements are reconsidered and character deaths were taken out entirely for a better possibility. There are still parts in the comic that we might want to rewrite if we feel they don’t leave enough impact. The series is going to be 10 books long, so we definitely have the time.

Speaking of characters, General Fiachra has quite the posse behind her. From a design point of view, what were the influences behind Fiachra’s Elite?

Fiachra and her Eliite -Courtesy of Kristen and Laura Lee
Fiachra and her Eliite, Courtesy of Kristen and Laura Lee

Laura: I designed pretty well most of the characters. As for how my process goes, I have a certain vibe that I want to present for whatever role, and I work from there. For Raine’s elite, in particular, there are different elements and images that I would take from and just stem a character from it.

I know I wanted a stoic/loyal character (Shadi) and then a more ruthless and erratic character (Beetle). And of course, I wanted one that was closest to Raine herself, since two wasn’t enough, which more or less became a fusion of Beetle and Shadi’s archetypes (Cicero).

Design-wise, I wanted them all to look different from each other. I wanted them all to clash, but work at the same time, so they would just look like this diverse group that somehow got along.

Shadi’s inspiration was actually from Zam Wesell from Star Wars, mainly because I liked what the helmet looked like with the face cover, which set the standard that everyone would wear these helmets. Everything else just fell into place,

I like beetle horns and I like sharp eyes and ridiculously long eye-lashes, which then created a whole race that exists in the GJS universe. For Beetle, she’s actually inspired by someone I know. Sometimes, I like a person’s personality so much that I make them into a character, but change enough so that they’re not recognizable. Other than that, the only thing I can think of is Beetle’s mask, which is influenced by Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Cicero was a product of wanting more Bolobogans (Boggmouth’s race) as characters, and from there, his personality was inspired by Wrex from the Mass Effect series. When I say inspired/influenced, I mean it in a way where the vaguest image is taken and just completely morphed into something new. Once we see these characters interact more and show more about themselves I’d say it’s hard to see where the inspiration comes from. Even Cicero whom I even imagine with Wrex’ voice is a completely different character than Wrex himself, unless Wrex suited himself to be Shepard’s personal lap dog and did pretty well anything for them ahaha!

Raine herself is actually a pretty old character who was inspired by Haruko Haruhara from FLCL. She and her outfit are pretty bizarre for a military General, but what I wanted to show with her and her elite was that she did as pleased, presented herself as she wanted and surrounded herself with people who thought on a similar level. This is shown in their liberties on their own uniforms and their blatant disrespect towards anyone who isn’t within Fiachra’s forces.

Is there any one character for whom either of you has a special affection?

Boggmouth, Courtesy of Kristen and Laura Lee
Boggmouth,
Courtesy of Kristen and Laura Lee

Kristen: Vahn, because they’re one of the earliest characters that I’ve ever made. Vahn has been a work in progress character that I never really figured out; they’re actually a 15 year old character that we spent all this time just trying to pin down. I’m just really happy that we’ve finally found a place for them and they’ve turned out to represent something way bigger than we thought they would.

Laura: I have extreme favouritism towards “The Ghost”. While writing, we did as much as we could to make sure each character was given the amount of attention that they need, but my favourite parts are when The Ghost finally makes more of a presence in the story. They’re a very important character to me, and I can’t wait to show more about them as the story progresses! Other than that one Boggmouth is another character for whom I have a great deal of affection. Not only is she another crucial character in the story, but she’s also my favourite character from a design standpoint!

Quick follow-up with regards to Boggmouth: if she was around in our world today, what would her top three heavy metal bands be?

Laura: GOOD QUESTION. Boggmouth’s top 3 would be Iron Maiden, Rob Zombie and Black Sabbath!

Trigger and Vahn, Courtesy of Kristen and Laura Lee
Trigger and Vahn, Courtesy of Kristen and Laura Lee

How easy is it to work with a sibling dynamic? Does the familiarity make it easier to get on the same page, or is there a fair bit of creative compromise?

Kristen: Well, the thing is, it’s extremely easy because we get along pretty well. It took us a while to establish our roles (Laura as the one that draws and myself as the one who inks the pages) but once we got past that part, everything became a lot easier. The advantage of us being siblings is that when we did have issues or arguments over the comic, we would eventually be able to work it out, as opposed to just being friends and cutting ties if the fight was bad enough. We see each other every single day, so it’s kind of hard to work and carry on with our day without at least saying something to each other.

Laura: We’ve had major advantages over other pairs because we practically grew up with a lot of the characters that we have in our story. Familiarity is a huge bonus because we’re always on the same wavelength. We never had to worry really about explaining ourselves in depth and trying to make each other understand a concept because it was always there anyway. When we talk about arguments we’re referring to instances where revisions had to be made and the other wasn’t willing to backpedal and redo something. In the end, though, it was always just to make our story better and better because, let me tell you, it would have been a completely different story if we went with our first or second draft.

You can connect with GJS via Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.