Introduction: Drawing a Black Cat Using Vectors

Picture of Drawing a Black Cat Using Vectors
Using vectors to draw may seem a little overwhelming if you're new to the method but with a little bit of practice you can create amazing artwork. If you find it difficult to draw smooth lines using a mouse, and you don't have a graphics tablet, working with vectors may be just the thing you need to discover your hidden artist! 

Many people like to use vectors for line art because it lets you draw (immaculately!) clean lines which can be edited with ease. I've got a foot in each camp when it comes to digital art. When I want to paint, I use programs like GIMP, Photoshop and Sketchbook. If I need clean lines and precise shapes I reach for Inkscape every time! Drawing with vectors is nothing like drawing with a pencil.

The following Instructable focuses mainly on the first cat in the image above, the one with the orange background. It's built up using very basic shapes and a little bit of colouring in. You can get a similar result in pixel based programs such as GIMP and Photoshop, or, if you'd prefer to follow along using the more traditional pen and paper you can do that too- they're all drawn using very simple shapes! 

This is definitely a beginner's guide to drawing with vectors and using Inkscape. It assumes you have no previous knowledge. If you're familiar with the tools already- please use the list below to skip through the steps.
  1. Introducing Inkscape- Draw Freely!
  2. Introducing Inkscape- Document Settings
  3. Introducing Inkscape- Setting Up The Document
  4. Too Long; Didn't Read? aka- The Blank Canvas
  5. Creating The Body
  6. Creating the Back Legs
  7. Creating the Head
  8. Creating the Ears
  9. Creating the Back Feet
  10. Creating the Outer Front Legs
  11. Creating the Front Paws
  12. Creating the Tail
  13. Creating the Nose
  14. Creating the Eyes
  15. Fleshing Out the Tail
  16. Filling It All In
  17. Bringing Back Some Edges
  18. Colouring The Eyes
  19. Creating The Fence
  20. The Gradient Background
  21. The Full Moon
  22. The Stars are Shining
  23. The Finishing Touches
  24. The Finished Black Cat
  25. Quick Cat- Tail Up
  26. Quick Cat- Rooftop
  27. Quick Cat- Pouncing
Easter has bunnies, Christmas has reindeer's and Halloween is ruled by the black cat!
This is my second Instructable, and an entry for the Halloween Paint & Draw competition for 2012. I hope you enjoy it!

Step 1: Introducing Inkscape- Draw Freely!

Picture of Introducing Inkscape- Draw Freely!

If you would like to follow along *exactly* you will need to download an install a program called Inkscape. 

Download link to Inkscape: http://inkscape.org/

About Inkscape

An Open Source vector graphics editor, with capabilities similar to Illustrator, CorelDraw, or Xara X, using the W3C standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format.

Inkscape supports many advanced SVG features (markers, clones, alpha blending, etc.) and great care is taken in designing a streamlined interface. It is very easy to edit nodes, perform complex path operations, trace bitmaps and much more. We also aim to maintain a thriving user and developer community by using open, community-oriented development.

Step 2: Introducing Inkscape- Setting Up the Document

Picture of Introducing Inkscape- Setting Up the Document

Once you've downloaded and installed Inkscape, the next thing you need to do is set up the document and configure some tools to match the example in the Instructable. This should only take a couple of minutes when you know what to look for.

When you first open Inkscape, the size and shape of the document will be Inkscape's default document size (I think it's A4?), not a square like I've used in this tutorial.  You can change the size of the document by going to File > Document Properties > Page tab
About halfway down, under "Custom Size", you can change width and height of the document.  I chose to create a document that was 600 x 600 pixels.  If you need to change the units from some other measurement (mm, cm...) to pixels, you can do that by using the drop-down menu.  When you've done that, close the window and Inkscape will have updated the canvas for you.

Next, you will need to create an object of some sort in order to modify the fill and stroke settings.  So for practice, select the "Create Circles, Ellipses, Arcs" tool (F5), and drag out the shape of an ellipse.  Once you have the shape on your page, you can then open the options to modify the fill and stroke settings. From the menus at the top select Object > Fill and Stroke.  You can also bring up the fill and stroke options by pressing control+shift+F on your keyboard. 

For the start of this tutorial, as we begin to lay out the basic shapes, you will want to set the fill option (first tab) to no paint, the stroke paint (second tab) to be a flat colour of pure black (000000ff), and the stroke style (third tab) to be set to a width of 2.000 pixels.

If you would like these fill and stroke styles to be the defaults when you next open the program you can go to File > Inkscape Preferences and select "Pen" from the left-hand menu.  There should be a big grey button that says "Take From Selection".  Click the button, and if it has been successful the fill and stroke options displayed above the button should read:

fill: none
stroke: (a block of the colour black), 2.

When that's done you can close the preferences window and Inkscape will remember this as your default fill and stroke style.  You can now go ahead and select the ellipse you made earlier (using F1 or the spacebar to bring up the transform/move tool) and after you've selected it you can delete it (using the delete key- easy peasy!).

Step 3: Introducing Inkscape- the Tools

Picture of Introducing Inkscape- the Tools

I'm going to run through the tools here to give you an idea of where to find them and what they do. I've included the details of what tools to use in the step-by-step example in the following pages- but it helps to know where the tools are before you use them! 

Image 1: Zoom Tool (Navigation)

To zoom in or out of the document, select the "Zoom" tool which is the fourth icon down in the left hand tools menu.  You can also access it by pressing F3 on your keyboard or by using the upper menu: view > zoom >... and choosing the appropriate action.

The most helpful keyboard shortcut to remember for navigation is the "5" key.  The "5" key will centre and resize the image to fill the window.  It comes in very useful for when you get a bit lost!
You can navigate around the page using the scroll bars to the right and below the canvas, and people using a three button mouse can use their middle mouse button to pan around the canvas as well.

(I almost forgot to add this section about navigation but then I thought... "I had a helluva time trying to figure it out when I first started so I should probably make it easier for the readers!" )

Image Two: Draw Bezier Curve Tool

The "Draw Bezier Curve and Lines" tool in Inkscape will be the most frequently used tool throughout this Instructable.  It's also known as the "path" tool in GIMP or the "pen" tool in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. It might seem like a challenging tool to master if you're new to working with vectors and curves- but the only way to learn how to use it is to dive in the deep end and have a go!  The "Draw Bezier Curves" tool is the 11th icon down in the left-hand tools menu.  It looks like a fine tip pen. You can also access it by pressing Shift+F6 on your keyboard.

Image Three: Select and Transform Objects Tool

We'll be using the "Select and Transform Objects" tool to move things around when we need to. It is the first icon in the left-hand tools menu.  You can access it at any time by pressing the spacebar.  You can also access it by pressing F1 on your keyboard.  When you select any icon in the left-hand menu, the menu bar at the top changes to reflect some of what each tool can do.  I've highlighted in red some of the sub-menus which we will be using during this tutorial.  If at any time you want to know what any of these tools in the submenu are, simply hover your cursor over the icon and it will bring up their title which should give you an idea of what they do.

Image Four: Edit Paths by Nodes Tool

We will be using the "Edit Paths by Nodes" tool which is the second icon down in the left-hand tools menu.  You can also access it by pressing F2 on your keyboard.  With this tool selected, the menu bar at the top has changed from what was displayed when the previous tool was selected.  The icons highlighted in red for this tool control the characteristics of the nodes which make up the various shapes and lines of our drawing.  You can choose to make the nodes (or the points/dots) sharp, smooth or symmetric.  When creating a free-form shapes with the curve tool you will often want to go back and change characteristic of the point at which you begin and end to make it a smooth transition when closing the shape. I promise that will make more sense once you get going!

Image Five: Create Circle, Ellipses, Arcs Tool

We'll be using the "Create Circles, Ellipses, Arcs" tool which is the seventh icon down in the left-hand tools menu.  You can also access this tool by pressing F5 on your keyboard.  With this tool selected, the menu bar at the top displays the options for the start and end points of an arc.  We will be changing these parameters to make the pie segment shape for the cats head.  To revert back to a complete circle you can click on the last icon in the top menu bar to reset the circle back to the default closed shape.

Image Six: Create Stars and Polygons Tool

For a bit of fun will be creating some stars for the night sky using the "Create Stars and Polygons" tool which is the eighth icon down in the left-hand tools menu.  You can access this tool by pressing the asterix key (*) on your keyboard.  With this tool selected, the menu bar at the top displays a choice between creating polygons and creating stars.  With the star tool selected you can change the number of corners/points that your star has, as well as the spoke ratio.  I like a traditional five pointed star and I've set my spoke ratio to 0.300.  You can also change how rounded or randomised the points are created- but I left them at default for this tutorial.

Create Rectangles and Squares Tool

We will briefly use the "Create Rectangles and Squares" tool which is the fourth icon down in the left-hand tools menu. You can access this tool pressing F4 on your keyboard.  This tool will only be used once to create a box for the gradient background.  I haven't included a screenshot of this simply because we won't be using it often.

Step 4: Too Long; Didn't Read? Aka- the Blank Canvas

Picture of Too Long; Didn't Read? Aka- the Blank Canvas

If the previous steps sound like WAAAAAAAAAYYYYYY too much to remember, don't worry! I've super-imposed a "Cheat Sheet" on the following steps. You can find it in the lower left-hand corner of the images for easy reference.

Now that you're familar with where the tools are and what most of them do, and you've set up the document and tweaked the fill and stroke settings- it's time to start drawing with vectors!

Step 5: Creating the Body

Picture of Creating the Body

The simplest shape we can make using the Bezier curve tool consists of a minimum of three points.  A beginning, middle and end.  My darling mother-in-law came up with a great example when I tried to explain how to create a closed shape to her. "It's like when you draw a triangle, it's not really a triangle until it has three points".  While that should make it easier to understand, it's not quitehow bezier curves work, but close enough!

So with that in mind we are going to create our first closed shape which will hopefully teach you a little bit about how the "Draw Bezier Curves" tool works.

Activate the "Draw Bezier Curves" tool by either clicking on the icon in the left hand tools menu or by pressing shift+F6 on your keyboard.  Position your cursor about halfway across the page and a third of the way down and click once with your left mouse button to start drawing the shape.  Bring your cursor down to just above the bottom of the page in line with the first point you just created and this time instead of clicking once, you will need to hold down your left mouse button as you click and drag to draw out the nodes handles.  When the curve looks long enough, you can release the left mouse button.  To close the shape move your cursor back up to the first point you created and click once.  You should now have a closed shape that look something like a teardrop.

This is one of the simplest shapes you can create. 

A single click of the left mouse button creates a sharp node, clicking and draggingwhile holding down your left mouse button creates a smooth node.

Step 6: Creating the Back Legs

Picture of Creating the Back Legs

Next, we are going to create the hind legs.  

Using the "Draw Bezier Curves"  tool, your starting point will be in around about the same place as the smooth node at the bottom of the cats body.  Click once to start the shape, move up and out to the left, then click and drag to create your first smooth node.  Move your cursor towards the centre of the body and down below the point you just made, then click and drag to create the second smooth node.  Move your cursor up and out to the right to approximately the same position as the point to the far left, then click and drag to create another smooth node.  To close the shape click on the node you first created.

The beginning/end node will be sharp not smooth.  We can fix that by activating the "Edit Paths by Nodes" tool, selecting that single node, and choosing "make selected node symmetric" from the submenu up the top.

If you need to fine tune the shape you can do so using the "Edit Paths by Nodes" tool.  With this tool selected you can either drag out the shapes using the blue handles connected to each node, or you can click and drag on any of the outlines.  I prefer using the handles because I find I have more control doing that way. 

You can change how the node behaves in any free-form shape by selecting the node and changing it from smooth, to sharp or symmetric, using the submenu at the top, depending on the shape you're trying to create.

Step 7: Creating the Head

Picture of Creating the Head

Activate the "Create Circles, Ellipses, and Arcs"  tool by clicking on the icon in the left hand tools menu or by pressing F5 on your keyboard. 

In the submenu up the top, change the start angle to 210.000 and the end angle to 330.000.  Position your cursor just below the tip of the teardrop shape you created in the first step.  Hold down the control+shift keys to keep the aspect ratio 1:1 from the centre, then click and drag to create the pie segment we will use for the head.

If the shape needs to be repositioned activate the "Select and Transform Objects"  tool.  Select the shape you just created and move it into position by using either your mouse or the arrow keys on your keyboard.

An interesting tip about the "Select and Transform Objects" tool- clicking the object once allows you to move it up/down or left/right, clicking on it again brings up the controls that allows you to rotate it.  You can switch between these two options with every subsequent click.

Step 8: Creating the Ears

Picture of Creating the Ears

With the "Draw Bezier Curves" tools selected, start your shape in the centre of the head in line with the outer corners of the pie segment and the tip of the teardrop.  Move up and over to the left and click once to create the tip of the left ear.  Move your cursor to just inside the head up above the first point you made an click and drag to create a smooth node.  Move up and over to the right and click once in roughly the same position as the tip of the ear on the left.  Then close the shape by clicking once on the first node you created.

Activate the "Edit Paths by Nodes" tool and select the first node, then from the submenu up the top, choose make selected node symmetric.

Step 9: Creating the Back Feet

Picture of Creating the Back Feet

With the "Draw Bezier Curves" tool activated, move your cursor to the bottom of the teardrop and place your first node. 
Move to the left and down slightly then click and drag to create the position of the first back paw. 
Move up and over to the right, to the centre of the body, then click and drag to create the top of the back paws. 
Move down and over to the right in approximately the same position as the left back paw, then click and drag to create the position of the second back paw.  Close the shape by clicking on the first node. 

Activate the "Edit Paths by Nodes" tool, select the beginning/end node and from the submenu up the top, click make selected node symmetric.

If you need to fine tune the curves you can do that now with the "Edit Paths by Nodes" tool.

Step 10: Creating the Outer Front Legs

Picture of Creating the Outer Front Legs

From what we've been through in the previous steps you should have a good idea of how to create the shape that you see above. 

Remembering that with the "Draw Bezier Curves" tool you can create sharp corners with a single clicks and smooth corners when you click and drag, you should be able to draw the shapes similar to the ones above.  If you're not happy with a shape and would like to edit it, activate the "Edit Paths by Nodes" tool and modify each node individually until you think it looks right.

Step 11: Creating the Front Paws and Inside Legs

Picture of Creating the Front Paws and Inside Legs

This step is composed of two shapes, a teardrop for the inside of the front legs and the crescent for the front paws.  Both were created using the "Draw Bezier Curves" tool.  We drew a teardrop in step one to make the main body of our cat, and we drew a crescent in step four to create the ears.  Using the image above as a guide you should have be able to create the shapes above.

Step 12: Creating the Tail

Picture of Creating the Tail

With the "Draw Bezier Curves" tool selected- start the tail at the point when a hind legs meet the main body. 

Click and drag to create the wavy nodes until you are happy with the shape of the cats tail. Because we won't be closing the shape like we've done with the previous pieces, so you will need to press the "enter" key to finish drawing the line.

Step 13: Creating the Nose

Picture of Creating the Nose

Activate the "Create Circles, Ellipses, and Arcs" tool, and in the submenu at the top, click on the last icon to reset the tool back to the default parameters (closed).  If you don't reset it you will end up drawing another pie segment like we used to make the head. 

Hold down the control+shift keys to keep the aspect ratio 1:1 and centred, and drag out a small circle which will become the nose/mouth shape.

Step 14: Creating the Eyes

Picture of Creating the Eyes

With the "Draw Bezier Curves" tool selected, draw in some big cats eyes.  If you would like them to be a mirror copy, select the first eye using the "Select and Transform Objects" tool, press control+d to duplicate the object, and from the submenu up the top choose flip selected objects horizontally (keyboard shortcut: H). You can then move the duplicate into position on the opposite side using either the arrow keys on your keyboard or with your mouse.

You can then create the pupils in exactly the same manner.

Congratulations on making it this far! You should now have something that looks like a basic line-art cat!

Step 15: Fleshing Out the Tail

Picture of Fleshing Out the Tail

Press the spacebar or F1 to bring up the "Select and Transform Objects" tool and select the cats tail. 

In the fill and stroke settings to the far right, in the last tab titled "stroke style" change the width of the stroke from 2 pixels to 10 pixels.

Step 16: Filling It All In

Picture of Filling It All In

Activate the "Select and Transform Objects" tool, then click and drag across the entire canvas to select every shape you have made so far.  Holding down the shift key, click once on the tail to deselect it. 

In the fill and stroke settings to the right, in the first tab titled "fill", select "flat colour" and change the colour to black.

Step 17: Bringing Back Some Edges

Picture of Bringing Back Some Edges

With the last selection still active, hold down the shift key again and deselect the head (pie segment) and the pupils.

In the fill and stroke settings to the right, in the second tab titled Stroke Paint, change the stroke colour from black to a dark grey.

You may need to change the order that the shapes are stacked in order to get the best effect from the stroke style (the shapes stack/layer in the order in which you create them).  To change the ordering, select the shape you want to move up or down in the stack and press PageUp to move it up in the stack by one place, PageDown to move it down in the stack by one place, End to lower it to the very bottom of the stack and Home to raise it to the very top.

I think I moved the position of the ears, nose and tail down in the stack to get the effect you see here.

Step 18: Colouring the Eyes

Picture of Colouring the Eyes

Select the eyes and in the fill and stroke settings to the right- change the fill colour to a nice "nuclear waste" green. My RGBA code for what I used is 98ff02ff.

Step 19: Creating the Fence

Picture of Creating the Fence

You should be a natural by now-  a little fence should be easy to make!  I chose to make one fence post using the "Draw Bezier Curves" tool - then I duplicated it a few times (control+d) and moved them into positions using my keyboard so that they were in a pretty, neat little row.

Step 20: The Gradient Background

Picture of The Gradient Background

Activate the "Create Rectangles and Squares" tool and drag a big box over the top of your canvas. 

It will sit on top of everything you've created until you move it down on the stack.  Select the object (F1) and move it all the way to the bottom by pressing the "End" key.  With this object selected move over to the fill and stroke settings and change the fill type to a radial gradient.

You can change the beginning and end colours of the gradient by clicking edit to bring up the gradient editor. 
The first colour in the drop-down menu will be the starting colour of the gradient- I chose a warm golden yellow. 
The second colour in the drop-down menu will be the end colour of the gradient- I chose a pumpkin orange.
You can change the position and angles of the gradient by using the blue handles which come up when you are editing the gradient.

Step 21: The Full Moon

Picture of The Full Moon

Using the "Create Circles, Ellipses, and Arcs" tool. Hold down Control+Shift and drag out a big circle for the full moon. Select the object (F1) and move it to the bottom of the stack by pressing the End key- then move it up in the stack by one place by hitting the PageUp key so that it sits above the orange background.

Change the fill to a radial gradient.  Bring up the gradient editor and choose a light yellow for the starting colour and a paler yellow for the end colour.

Step 22: The Stars Are Shining!

Picture of The Stars Are Shining!

One of the funnest tools to use in Inkscape is the "Create Stars and Polygons" tool.  In the submenu up the top make sure the star tool is selected, set your corners to 5 and the spoke ratio to 0.300 and then click and drag to create a star. 

You can change the fill and stroke settings to anything you like but I am going to reuse the light yellow gradient we made for the moon which you can find in the drop down menu for radial gradients.  To add a bit more depth you might like to duplicate the star and under the fill and stroke options you have the option to blur the edges.  You can set the percentage quite high if you like, mine is up at around 40-50% for a nice glow around the edges.  You can do the same to the moon if you wish.

To save a bit of time I selected both the original star and the duplicate that we blurred- and grouped them together by pressing control+g. I then duplicated this grouped object (control+d) and repositioned them all across the canvas, using the "Select and Transform Objects" tool to scale them up and down and to rotate them around.

Step 23: The Finishing Touches

Picture of The Finishing Touches

I like images to be "balanced" (I also like to line up cutlery, evenly space my pens and pencils and neatly stack magazines...), so to counterbalance the tail we drew on the right, I created some bats for the left-hand side of the image with the "Draw Bezier Curves" tool.  I only made one bat and then I duplicated it a few times and resized/rotated them to fill in the "naked" space.

Step 24: The Finished Black Cat

Picture of The Finished Black Cat

Congratulations on making it to the end! If you've been following along using Inkscape you should now have an image that looks very similar to the one above. Yay!

I'm not going to make anyone sit through another step-by-step tutorial but I have included a few extra examples in the following steps of what can be achieved when you use vectors to draw (I got carried away when I was brainstorming this Instructable and then I couldn't decide which cat I liked most- so I've added the rejects to the end!).

For anyone who finds using a mouse cumbersome for artwork, familiarizing yourself with the tools in Inkscape can help you to draw almost anything, even complex shapes, with just a little bit of practice. 

Step 25: Quick Cat- Tail Up

Picture of Quick Cat- Tail Up

Using the same tools and shapes we ran through earlier, I created a few more black cats.

I've included the step-by-step shape breakdown as images so you can see the shapes which go in to making each image.

Step 26: Quick Cat- Rooftop

Picture of Quick Cat- Rooftop

It's really not that difficult once you get going, and simple shapes can be combined for some lovely effects.

Step 27:

Picture of

The tree to the right was created using the "Draw Bezier Curves" tool using a combination of smooth and sharp points. It's probably the most challenging shape to recreate out of the three "Quick Cats" because it has more nodes than the other shapes, but it's all good practice so have a go!

This was written as an entry in the Halloween Paint & Draw competition for 2012 but I hope it will be of use all year round for people who would are searching for an introduction to Inkscape and vector art!

Comments

mxx (author)2015-09-27

Very informative and thorough!

DaveNJ (author)2013-10-25

This is one of the best tutorials on Inkscape I have seen. Great job and thanks!

azharz (author)2012-10-12

I also make a vector kitty with inkscape with help of this tutorial but without background:

MissThrifty (author)azharz2012-10-12

I can see the preview image as a pair of glowing green eyes with some outlines for the legs which is a funky style variation on its own. It sort of looks like a black cat in the middle of the street on a moonless night. 

BUT if I click on the image I see the full picture, which is great! I like the shape of your tail more than my own. They're not identical, nor should they be, maybe they're brother and sister- or close cousins. Hehe!

Thanks for sharing your outcome here, I hope you enjoyed following along! 

azharz (author)MissThrifty2012-10-12

Thank You! MissThrifty

JimiRo (author)2012-10-11

Wonderful stuff! I create vector based art for a livin' (graphic artist/Tshirt screenprinter) using CorelDraw. I'm a perfectionist and vectors are so fun and easy to manipulate, no back and forth from the eraser to the paintbrush, etc.

Something else to ponder-You can use vector programs to create your own fonts or clip art! You can assign vector images to keystrokes, I used a program called Fontographer. It was a free download, but I can't remember from where I got it. It was more than 10 years ago.

MissThrifty (author)JimiRo2012-10-11

Working with vectors has some very cool upsides- and being able to modify a design without needing to erase your previous hard work is definitely one of them! 

I taught myself how to use Inkscape because I wanted to use it to draft and edit my own sewing patterns and for that it still blows me away. I can tweak and change any line or point sooooo easily! And then I can print out a fresh, crisp, clean, brand new copy without the ugly erased/smudged lines or sticky taped add-ons. 

I've never been great with fonts, but then again I've never tried making my own with vectors so I'll have a look for fontographer. :)

Cheers!

azharz (author)2012-10-11

Astonishing!

MissThrifty (author)azharz2012-10-11

Thanks! :)

amandaghassaei (author)2012-10-10

wow great documentation! the style of these is awesome, how long do they take you to draw? can you achieve similar results in software other than inkscape?

I spent about two hours "brainstorming" the black cats and their backgrounds. The initial shapes didn't take very long to make but I did spend some time after the basics were down tweaking the poses. That's one of the benefits of working with vectors- you can go back and change things very easily, nothing is set in stone. (Documenting it, however, took almost two days- lol!)

You should be able to get an almost identical outcome using Illustrator and CorelDraw because both of them are vector based programs with very similar tools. You can achieve a "close enough" result with Photoshop using the shape tool set to "shape layer" which will create an editable vector path. Photoshop has a "paths" palette buried beneath the layers and channels palette. You'd need to create a layer style with similar properties for the shapes you draw... it starts to get a bit clunky after that with workarounds.

The bulk of this Instructable is made up using pretty basic shapes so you can also sketch it out with pen and paper if you wanted to. You could sketch the basics, ink the outlines then colour it all in with whatever medium you like. Obviously it won't be identical to the one above but hand drawn pictures have their own charm! :)

Thanks for the comment!

About This Instructable

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Bio: Dressmaker, doodler, gamer girl, book devourer and lover of all things vintage, especially my Gran! Primary weapons of choice: gaffer tape and a sewing machine!
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