Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Afternoon coffee guests - with Bex Smith of Ampersand Commodities

It's that time of the week again that I have a lovely guest over for a coffee chat about their creative business - and I grill them with a Q&A and then treat them to a digestive biscuit.

Today's coffee guest is none other than Cheltenham's very own reigning queen of craft, Bex Smith! <-- Owner of 'By The Yard', Cheltenham's independent makers' emporium, and creative knitter, knotter, stringer and threader at Ampersand Commodities creative jewellery brand.

Phew! This is one busy lady - >

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Browse Ampersand Commodities necklaces on Etsy

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1. When was the Ampersand Commodities brand born?

Ampersand Commodities was born about 2 months ago now. Me and my best pal used to run a partnership called StuffedNonsense but we decided to disband it after we both got other more important commitments. I opened By The Yard and El (my business partner) had a baby. I knew that I still wanted to continue making things and decided now was the perfect opportunity to bring Ampersand Commodities to life. Now, two months down the line I sell four current jewelry ranges from my etsy shop (and other stockists around the UK, including my own bircks and mortar shop By The Yard): Knitted&Knotted, Warp&Weft, Stitched&Strung and Found&Wound.

2. What made you take the leap from 9 to 5 to self employment?

It really was a now or never moment really. I was offered the great opportunity to open up a bricks and mortar shop (my ultimate ambition!) and I could only do that by taking the full time plunge. The good thing about running By The Yard is that I can work on Ampersand Commodities during shop hours! At the end of the day: there's no point having dreams unless you're going to try and achieve them.

3. What one piece of advice would you give anyone who's sitting at their office job feeling like a drone who wants to make a go of working for themselves?

DO IT! You don't have to jump all the way in a become full time self employed. With websites like Etsy, not on the high street etc etc its now easier than ever to do stuff on the side of the 9-5. If you don't try it you'll never know if it would have worked. Have confidence in yourself and take the plunge.  Be prepared to learn quickly. I've been in the handmade scene for almost 8 years now and every day is a learning curve. Develop a tough skin, not everyone will appreciate or understand what you're trying to do. Don't waste time getting upset about.

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4. What has been your favourite project that you've worked on with By the Yard or Ampersand Commodities so far?

I'm currently helping to organize (and host!) this years etsy party for the Gloucestershire area, I'm really enjoying it! Its lead me to discover lots and lots of local talent. I was also lucky enough to get accepted to sell at last years Renegade London with Ampersand Commodities. It was the biggest craft fair I've ever done AND it was with my own work (as opposed to StuffedNonsense partnership).

5. How old were you when you first started making stuff and what was the first thing you made?

Oh my days...I think I came out making things! When I was little I would always be making something. I can remember getting rewards for good school reports in the form of crafty bits (paints etc etc) I can remember being taught how to use a sewing machine sat on my Nan's knee whilst making a bridesmaid dress for me for my aunties wedding. In one shape or another I've always been making things...whether it was growing veg with my Gramps or drawing pictures at the dinning table.

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Browse Knitted&Knotted necklaces on Etsy

6. Who is your inspiration (who do you think is totally cool)?

I'm a prolific people watcher so i'm always inspired by people i see out and about. I'm really inspired by people that make things with their own hands! So running By The Yard is a daily dose of inspiration for me. I love the work of Karen Barbe her needlework is just dreamy and i'm also partial to an odd instagram stalk of people like Little Green Shed, Davina Drummond and Ariel Alasko....and a load more!

7.  Do you have any favourite blogs or websites you regularly read?

I do love a good browse of Print and Pattern, the Design Files and Decor8.


Thank you Bex for giving us an insight into your creative process - ! Now you can have your biscuit.

I sure do love Bex's colourful knits and stitches, don't you?!  Her shop is amazing too, have you been? If you're in the area you must seek her out at By The Yard Cheltenham!  Or if you fancy some crafty action yourself don't forget to pop along to the ETSY Craft Party on 6th June --->> buy your tickets here!!

Follow her on Twitter // Shop at her ETSY store


Friday, 23 May 2014

Studio thoughts and songs

 photo mystudiodesk_zps2b57a60a.jpg When you're a freelancer, self-employed or own your own business, you often forget about Bank Holidays and stuff. Mainly because you no longer have set working hours, or days, everything gets fuzzed together, work and life; your work becomes your life in many ways.

And the main reason why Bank Holidays are weird when you're a freelancer is that you don't get paid any different if you do any work on it. We don't give ourselves a day off or get double-pay for example.

Sometimes I can be working late into the evening - at the moment it's quite nice to be working at my desk at dusk as the sun sets later in the evening.  This was my desk last night - a glimpse of the wall in my studio where I stick up things I like and find from other artists and illustrators, and little mementos from my travels (including the odd post it note to remind me to hoover!)

This week has flown by, but I've enjoyed listening to lots of new songs to keep me company while sketching away at my desk; The new Coldplay Album, Ghost Stories of course, but also this song from a great up and coming band, El Born with a track called Kangaroo (video and song below.)

(Animated by Indie Venture "Right Side Up" Story by Ian Keteku http://sombrethoughts.com/)

One half of the El Born duo is Si Connelly, a fellow Cheltenham'er who just so happens to be the most talented singer/songwriter to come out of this little town (like me, he survived this town!).

In my early twenties I met Si gigging at a local acoustic night where I had taken my acoustic guitar to sing a few songs (when I was in my early twenties I did think I could be a rockstar... like I think everybody gets in their early twenties! Thankfully I realised rockstardom was not meant to be ;)

So anyway, my terrible singing aside, I met Si and was instantly captivated by his songwriting skills, passion for music, and incredible voice - he just had that 'something' - a bit of musical magic perhaps - and above all he was a really nice, down to earth and humble guy who helped me to set up my mic and guitar for my 'set'.

I'm proud to see that, 14 years later (thankfully I stopped singing) but Si kept on, and he's now producing the most amazing tracks with another incredibly talented musician Hils Granger, and together they make up the band El Born. They've even had a hat dip from Coldplay themselves.

El Born are coming to Cheltenham on 30th May playing at Subtone - and you must come!!!! For more info click here for ticket information.

And buy the song here before it hits the big-time!


Thursday, 22 May 2014

London in two days

I love London, it's huge and there's always something to do.

A few things I enjoyed doing in London on a recent two day trip...
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// Hopping on and off Tubes; popping out in a new area each time, the little independent shops, cafes, sights and touristy attractions.  

// Popping over to see the Queen at Buckingham Palace - I'd never been and must say it's HUGE! 

// Munching on lovely food, burgers, big brunches, breakfasts and enjoying the taste of some awesome coffee.

// Browsing in some of my favourite shops, Antropologie, Liberty, Paperchase, Lululemon Athletica, Zara Homeware, the big Topshop and many more!

And I definitely got a work out running up and down the many many many Tube station staircases!

London really enlivens the senses in more ways than one, and it's such a diverse place - anything goes!

What do you love doing in London? Can you recommend your favourite eateries?


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

New Twitter profile template

When Twitter launched their new profile design earlier this year, I thought - Yikes!

I don't like change, so stuck with the old one for as long as possible. Sure, Twitter kept asking me if I wanted to 'turn on' the new version, but I resisted, imagining that stars might collide and the earth might be turned upside-down if I pressed 'Ok.'  

But after seeing some other Tweeter's pages, which looked pretty cool, I forced myself to be brave and take the plunge.

But alas, I first needed to re-design and upload the different sized header images - argh! - which are different to the old Twitter profile sizes. Doomph.

So this, ladies and gents, is why I figured it out and I thought I would share it with you and help you out so you can come and join me in new Twitter land! Below are the easy steps and a free Twitter image template that you can use as a starting point.

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The secret of the new profile design below....
first of all, I opened a blank Photoshop file
> File > New > Blank File

Then, type in the name you want to call the file, then in the dimensions I tapped in width = 1500 Pixels and height = 500 pixels. Then in the next box 'Resolution' make sure the setting is at 300dpi (sometimes it defaults to 72dpi, but making sure it's 300dpi will make your image nice and clear and not pixilated).

The new 'BIG' header image is 1500 x 500 pixels BUT, it will almost always crop about 50 pixels from the top and bottom when you upload - this is to take into consideration different screen sizes and the mobile site version (confused? yep, they don't make it simple, do they!) So basically to cut a long story short, just make sure you don't put anything important right at the top or bottom and just stick to the general centre of the image and you should be fine.

(If you're on a BIG monitor and increase your screen size, Twitter will probably show 'all' of your image - but not many people view Twitter on a mahussive monitor.)

Equally, avoid putting anything important on the bottom left of the image - because this is where your 'profile' picture sits so it just blocks anything that's there.

So, back to Photoshop, you should now have a BIG WHITE SPACE. Now what to do with it?

Well, you can just drag and drop a photo from your album that you like, or add some text, or drop in your company logo etc etc.  I dropped in my logo and a few images from my sketchbook from recent projects. I wanted to make it look 'Sketchbooky' so I put a filter over the images (but you don't have to do this).

Just play around dropping in various images until you find something you like (You click >File > Place and select an image if you can't drag and drop from your laptop.)

Once you're happy with the image click Save, and drop down the file format and select JPG and hit Ok.  Et voila, you're done.

Now, for the smaller 'square' profile picture, you need to follow the same steps but set up a New Blank File and make sure you start with the dimensions as 400 pixels by 400 pixels. Both files are designed separately and uploaded in Twitter settings, separately.

Yeah, you DID IT!  Now go and upload that bad boy and let me know when you have so I can have a look!

Let me know if you have any questions or need any help!


Must see Sydney

Following on in my travel postcards series, today we're stopping off in Sydney on Angie B Airways!

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Sydney is undoubtedly one of my favourite cities in the world. What's so great about Sydney? Surrounded by water, beautiful scenic harbour, heaps of beaches and coves, amazing food, coffee and the city shopping is bananas.

Also, the beauty of all New South Wales is all around you within driving distance. 

Head up to the northern beaches to an area called Avalon to escape the hustle and bustle of the city beaches, or hop on the ferry for a 20 minute beautiful journey through Sydney harbour waters to Manly, a trendy area where the surf break is off the scale.

The thing that will always make me laugh about Sydney is hopping on the Manly ferry at rush hour after work and seeing city workers in their suits holding onto their surfboards eager for an after work surf. Now, that's the life, right?!

This print is part of my new travel series and will be available to buy online soon.


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Tuesday, 20 May 2014

New York

It's up to you, New York, Neeeewww YoooOoooork!
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Who else loves NYC?

(NYC has Shake Shack, after all.)

Where's your favourite neighbourhood in New York?

Monday, 19 May 2014

Coldplay - ghost stories

Way back in between 1999 and 2000 I bought a small EP 'The Blue Room' CD by an unknown band called Coldplay.

14 years or so later, today Coldplay release their 6th studio album and have not only sold quite a few g'zillion albums since, but are one of the biggest bands in the world.

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So, as you can imagine, today I am very excited to get their new album, Ghost Stories.

I'm also excited to watch the Coldplay TV Special tonight on SkyArts where the band have pre-recorded a special concert of their new material.

I feel like I've grown up with Chris, Johnny, Will and Guy - each of their albums and songs pinpoint a moment in my life, and when I hear that song it takes me right back there.

Here's the new track listing - but remember when the album ends, stick around for the hidden track.



Friday, 16 May 2014

Illustration friday

Can you believe it's Friday already?

And, gee wiz, get a load of the sunshine that's popped in for the coming weekend!

Spring has definitely sprung! it's a balmy 23 degrees out there currently.

What have I  been up to this week?  Well, I'm glad you asked, because I sometimes forget too, so here's a quick recap!

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1// Greetings card design 2// The Cheltenham Coffee Map (available soon to buy!)  3// logo design process 4// Illustration for Tigerprint.

I also had the pleasure of meeting some great local creative business owners this week - check out my interview with Floss and Mischief's trendy needleworker, Genevieve, in my new 'Afternoon Coffee Chats' feature > here.

Have a good weekend! See you bright and early on Monday morning.


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Afternoon coffee guests

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I've got this new little segment I've started for the blog called 'afternoon coffee guests' - where I'll be having a guest over to introduce to you all, answer some questions and to have a bit of coffee and fun while we're at it!

Sound good, doesn't it! Well, check this out, this afternoon's coffee guest is a really rather stylish cross-stitcher Genevieve from the awesome makery of Floss & Mischief.

Come and join us for some creative chatter, tips and advice!

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Genevieve Brading (owner, maker and chief stitcher at Floss & Mischief) has made needlework trendy again with her modern designs, colours and unique style.

1. How old were you when you first started cross-stitching and what was the first thing you made?

I’m guessing I was about 6 years old. I was always dabbling with crafts growing-up and was given a cross-stitch kit for kids. It was of a big ladybird and used massive plastic canvas and chunky wool. Maybe my love of cross-stitch critters started way before 2011, because I stitched it all diligently.

2. When was the Floss and Mischief brand born?

It was late 2011 and I’d been arguing with my boyfriend about taxidermy – he wanted to fill the house with very on-trend stuffed and mounted insects, but I put my foot down as it’s just too creepy. As a peace offering I designed and stitched some cross-stitch beetles for him.  Today, my needlework business still rocks the taxidermy trend, and we’ve also got exciting new stitching products in the pipeline. In case you’re wondering, I still argue with my boyfriend about taxidermy.
Check out more taxidermy cross-stitching on the website: http://www.flossandmischief.com/

3. What made you take the leap from 9 to 5 to self employment?

It felt like the right time to do it. I was designing my own patterns, I wanted to be my own boss, we were house-hunting in the countryside and I knew I’d have to quit my London job when we relocated. It was the kick up the backside I needed to try (scary) self-employment. I’ve never looked back.

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4. What one piece of advice would you give anyone who's sitting at their office job feeling like a drone who wants to make a go of working for themselves?

Stop thinking about it and just start doing it, if only on the side. You don’t need all the answers (no-one has them all); learn as you go. But the sooner you get going, the sooner you’ll grow your own venture and escape the office job. I wish I’d done it sooner.

5. What has been your favourite project that you've worked on with Floss and Mischief so far?

Flip, I’ve worked on some amazing projects and couldn’t narrow it down. If anything, I’m most excited about what’s to come! I’m bursting with ideas and new products to try, which make me want to do a happy dance. I’m especially pleased with my new Thread Art collection, as I’ve always been fascinated by old black and white photos and finally found an excuse to use them in my work. It’s a joy to combine two things you love, like old photos and embroidery, and to call it work.

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Thread Art link

6. Who's your inspiration (who do you think is totally cool)?

I think Tina Roth Eisenberg, aka swissmiss, is dynamite. I love her attitude, her energy, how she sees a gap and does something about it: like inspiring you over breakfast (CreativeMornings), helping you to prioritise workloads (TeuxDeux app), providing co-working space (Studiomates) and raising the bar for temporary tattoos (Tattly). Have a gander at her talk on “taking your personal projects seriously” at http://www.swiss-miss.com/about/hi-i-am-tina (second video on the page)

7. Do you have any favourite blogs or websites you regularly read?

In terms of stitching blogs, I like how &Stitches make embroidery accessible and Mr X Stitch for showcasing stitchers who push the boundaries. I find it really useful to read about people and businesses from other industries though; I often end up being inspired and learning new stuff. For example, I’m totally in awe of Pinch of Yum and how they talk so candidly about their blog income. Are you that brave?


Woohoo! Thank you Genevieve for being on the creative hot seat this week - how groovy was that insight into the world of Floss & Mischief?! Check out the coolest cross stitching kits by clicking these here links // Shop // http://www.flossandmischief.com/ // Follow on Twitter //

They'll be more creative afternoon coffee guests next week (and if you want to join me for some creative afternoon coffee chats, send me an email and we'll see about having you over - but only if you bring the coffee;)


Monday, 12 May 2014

Boden Autumn Winter 2014 Launch

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Anyone who knows me will know how much I love colourful clothes and stripey tops - and nobody does colours and stripes as awesomely as Boden.

I was lucky enough to pop along to the amazing launch day of their Autumn Winter 2014 range and was knocked out by how amazing all the new designs were! Wow, we are all going to look so awesome this Autumn / Winter!

The Boden team are so fantastic and talented, and just have such unique style and vision. Creative Director, Justine Tabak has been with the company almost from the start and her vision is so colourful, fun, cheeky and a big adventure for the senses.

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On the Tube on the way home I couldn't help but sketch some Boden inspired ladies with some fun patterns and stripes...

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So, a Boden Autumn and Winter will see a cheerful clash of colours, textures and patterns - pops of pink, turquoise, mushy pea colours, sky blues, and that all important Boden Yellow (mustardy colour).

The patterns at Boden are some of the most fun you'll see - they've got printed tops and shirts with birds, squirrels, London guards, hearts, spots, stripes, glitter... you name it!

You can't not wear Boden clothes and not smile. I dare you to try :)

I have so many favourite pieces from the new range, but there's some lovely snug jumpers and raglans with the cutest patterns on - and there's also the classic Breton stripes with a really trendy sparkly collar!

Three cheers for Boden! We ♡ you.

Shake Shack burgers in London

A couple of days in London are well spent, especially where Shake Shack burgers are involved.

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I had my first Shake Shack burger in New York some 3 or 4 years ago. I remember it well, and I hadn't touched a burger for about 8 years previously.

But my friend, Emma assured me that Shake Shack burgers were flipping incredible and of a much different class to the old burger we had become accustomed to in the UK.

Sure enough, one evening she dragged me to the little Shack Shack Burger cafe in Madison Square park. It looked so pretty, everybody sat outside on a spring evening, twinkling fairy lights over the tops of the tables attached to trees and a HUGE queue we had to wait in for ever. But it was sure worth the wait. And from the first bite my love affair with Shake Burgers was made.

Now, back in the UK, we didn't have Shake Shacks until recently. Last year one opened up in Covent Garden, so every once in a while, when I make the trip to London for business or pleasure, I make sure I make a stop by Shake Shack especially. I once travelled half way around london in the biggest traffic jam ever, just to get one!

So when I spent a fantastic couple of days in London last week I introduced my boyfriend, Matt to one. I don't think he believed me when I told him how good they were, but the silence as he munched his way through one said it all!

The crinkle chips are really flipping special too! (Especially dunked in some of their really nice tomato sauce.)

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Another bank holiday, another short week

What did I get up to on the Bank Holiday?

Well, mainly this...

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I decided to get up to date with magazines and newspapers - I have to say I haven't sat down with a good magazine for ages, and I really enjoyed reading this one, sat on a picnic blanket in the park, listening to the Jazz Festival. Bliss.

2 and 4 . 
Yes, I totally forgot the Jazz Festival was on! So decided to soak in all the culture and amazing scents whafting from all the food trucks dotted around the edge of the park - I wish all these food trucks and vans could stay all the time, there was some seriously amazing eats going on, and Hobbs House Bakery also did a special BBQ night! Gutted I missed it.

This was my favourite - a piano waterfall feature at the Festival!!

And, apparently Malta is quite some way from Cheltenham. Who knew?! ;)

Brunch with friends at none other than Boston Tea Party, Cheltenham. Check out that Kedgeree!

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And now it's back to work, and a busy week. As well as sketching and illustrations, I also sketch and design logos and design elements for brands, happy couples, new babies, shops, websites... well, anything and everything really!!

Here's a little peek at a simple logo and design idea for a happy couple's wedding stationery - aren't these colours great!? Some things just go well together, don't they?

What did you get up to over the Bank Hol?

Enjoy the short week folks!

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Studio songs

Today's Studio Song discovery is 'Celeste' by the magical musician Ezra Vine, hailing from New Zealand (yes, all the greatest musicians are from NZ at the moment, aren't they? I.e Lorde is also a New Zealander).

You can buy it here by following the link to iTunes or Google Play.

I love discovering new music and this is a real glimmer of gold, I bet it's going to be a huge hit in the future.


Friday, 2 May 2014

Five things to do on the Bank Holiday

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Well aren't we the lucky ones, there's another Bank Holiday weekend for us all to enjoy (or finish off those DIY jobs around the house!)

If you want to escape the list of jobs (your partner might have given you) here's five things that I fancy doing and you might too!

1 - Visit the new Winstones Ice Cream Shop on Rodborough Common - recently refurbished with a cafe too if it's a bit chilly I can have a coffee instead.

2 - Brunch at Boston Tea Party, Cheltenham with the familan.

3 - Cocktails at No.131 The Promenade (Crazy Eights).

4 - Shopping at Olive Clothing Boutique - they've got a few nice summer tops I want to check out.

5 - A walk on the Malvern Hills maybe if the weather's nice. Air's much better up there y'no!

Whatever you get up to, enjoy yourselves and let's hope it doesn't pee down.

Toodle Pip

AB x

Thursday, 1 May 2014

April in pictures

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Where the heck did April go?  I cannot believe it's May already! It can't be May already!  Eeeeek!

So, time for a little review of April, I think it's good to look back and see what worked and what didn't from the previous month and what you need to focus on and crack on with for the next.

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The good ::

- Progress at the gym - running longer (I'm doing the Race 4 Life again this year!) and cycling on the 'harder' notch without my legs feeling like jelly.

- Progress on my website - domain registered, template done - just need to scan and upload pics!

- New printer / scanner purchase - but scared to use it (I get this with anything new that I buy, I keep it in its box like a wild animal until I'm brave enough to plug it in! - does anyone else get this or is it just me?)

- Sketching, drawing and blog posting almost every day! I can't believe how many blog posts I did in April, twice as many as March. Bananas.

- I cleaned my kitchen out! (Finally!)

- Meeting new people, and making new friends who also run their own creative businesses. This is hugely important in the freelance industry that we meet and collaborate with others (as it can get a tiny bit isolating at home by yourself!)

- The opportunity to work and play with awesome brands and businesses.

The bad ::

- Too much procrastination. Get off flipping Pinterest!!

- Need to print more sample products and prototypes.

- Need to tidy desk and reorganise.

- The 'doubt-days' returning too often (one of those things every freelancer struggles with I think). *sigh*.

- Too many sugary snacks in the afternoon. I have now cut these out and actually feel loads better for it.

- Need to contact more people and go for more opportunities when they pop up - I think this is a confidence thing!

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So, the main focus for May is to get my work scanned in, and uploaded on my new website to be able to get it live and the new print shop open for business.

Seems easy enough, right?

... but before I start, I think I'll just have another coffee and a little look at Pinterest ;)

PS, all these pictures in the montages were taken from my Instagram - are you following me? Come and say Hi!