Make This Your Year!

Several years ago, I was struggling setting goals, planning and staying focused enough to accomplish much. Remembering my professional days at the Ad Agency, I thought I’d try using a good old-fashioned planner. After trying several and finding they fell short, I developed one to fit my needs as a creative entrepreneur in today’s multi-faceted environment.

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I shared my custom planner with other creatives as a Best Practice at a Mastermind workshop led by Alyson B. Stanfield of ArtBiz Success. The response was overwhelming and as a result, the 2019 planners was the first year available. Current users are already requesting the 2020 planner. It makes me so happy to help others be successful!

I’m going to share how I use the weekly planner to help set goals and plan each month, all the while staying focused and getting shit done. Let me warn you – this is a long post! But it’s only because there’s so much to share and I hope you can take away a few tips and make 2020 all you want it to be!

Let’s get started.


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Up First – Goals

Pick Three

What would you like to achieve in 2020? Reach high! When December 31, 2020 arrives and you look back on the year, what will you be most excited about having accomplished? Would it be spending more time with family? A business goal? Don’t limit yourself, write down all your thoughts.

Now look at the list, what three resonate the most with you? Write each one into the planner.

Why are these three goals important to you? How will you feel having accomplished these goals? Explore your thoughts in response to the questions and write out the reasons these goals are important to you. Connecting to the why behind each goal is important to help strengthen the commitment. I’ve also found it motivating to read back through these thoughts, especially when feeling lost.

Expanding

What can you do each quarter to get you towards your year-end goals? Looking at each of your year-end goals, identify the steps you can take each quarter to move you closer to achieving them. If you’re having trouble getting started, brainstorm on a scrap paper or try mind mapping around each one.

What do you have planned? In each column for each quarter of the year, write in any vacation plans, workshops, seminars, events, or trips that you have. Even if they aren’t “work” related, include them! It’s important to get a clear picture of what commitments you have so you can plan around them and be fair to yourself about your time availability.

Track Growth

For some of you reading, this may not be important to you – skip ahead to the next section. Still here? Good! For most creative entrepreneurs today, having an online presence is a big part of the game. And as Alyson B. Stanfield likes to say, “You can’t grow what you don’t track.” Record the numbers for the online channels at the beginning of each month to see the growth through the year. Are the numbers good? Do you need to change things up or keep doing what you’re doing?

Refocus Each Month

At the start of each month, I like to set aside an hour to regroup and outline a plan. To help keep focused throughout the year, a planning worksheet is included at the beginning of each month.

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Sum it Up

First step – flip back to the month that just passed and write a “month in review”. Do you ever have trouble remembering what you did 2 months ago? Or get to the end of the year and base the whole year just on how the past couple of months went? I have and that’s why a month in review is so important and valuable. It can help to answer questions like “Why am I so behind? Oh yea, that happened and I lost a few weeks of work.”

Look Forward

What’s one thing you’d really like to get done this month? Keep it simple!

What three things can you do this month that move you closer to your year-end goals? This is pretty self-explanatory but a great step to keep you focused and moving forward. I jot down one step for each goal.

What other action steps do you need to take during the month? Anything left from last month that needs to be done? Double check that it really is an important task and not a “should” do. Look back at the quarterly break down and add any tasks that need to be done from there. What else do you need to work on this month?

Please do not feel like you need to write something on every line, there’s a lot of space here to brainstorm.

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The Heart of It

This is where the rubber meets the road, where all the previous work is transformed into a plan for the month. Take a little extra time at the beginning of each quarter (January, April, July, August) and assess where you are at, make any necessary adjustments.

Schedule Commitments

Working with the month’s weekly pages, schedule in any commitments you have such as Dr. appointments, meetings, and social outings. Be sure to include family commitments, dance recitals, concerts, and so on.

If you like to color code things, this is a great opportunity to do so. That’s not for me so I like to draw brackets around [commitments], blocking off the time they’ll take. This indicates and separates commitments vs time on tasks and provides a quick visual.

Outline the Plan

Now that you know what you have to do and the approximate time involved, it’s time to start outlining the plan for each week of the month.

Depending on time available around [commitments] each week and how long you think a task will take, assign action steps and tasks by writing them in the To Do section for each week. Include items from the month’s worksheet as well as the quarterly breakdown page and other tasks you think off that need to be completed. Anything not finished, add to the next week’s To Dos.

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Make Time

Block in time during the week for the important tasks like writing a blog post or painting! These may not be appointments or commitments, but they are essential to your success. It’s been proven we as humans will take as long to do a task as we have time to do it. Usually, there are exceptions, a lot of which have to do with how unpleasant the task is. Cleaning the bathroom? I get that done as quick as possible!

Block it in and protect that time!

After a few months I found a rhythm to blocking in tasks – I got a better understanding of the time steps took and this made me better at managing my time and using it productively. Remember this is a working plan, it will change, and it needs to evolve.

Write it Down

During the week I use the planner as a time keeper, writing in what I’m doing and drawing an arrow for how long it takes. I also write in important phone calls I might need to track. “When did I last call the gallery?” I can look back and see.

By doing this is I’ve gained a better idea of how long something takes to complete. For example, I’ve learned I need to block off three hours for drafting a blog post.

An added benefit is it creates a written record of how I spent my time, what I worked on, and when. An example is in a block of time designated for painting, I’ll make a couple of notes with either the location plein air painting and/or the painting worked on.

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A Few Extra Tips

Habit tracker

Moved the habit tracker to the weekly pages this year because I found I need the constant reminder and motivation each week. Posting to social media, working on the blog, keeping the website current and creating – all the weekly essential task necessary for success. And, who doesn’t love checking things off! There’s a key to the symbols on the third page, below the Social Media Growth chart.

Tracking Special Dates

As an artist, one thing I need to keep track of are entry deadlines for exhibits. When the dates are published, I write the information in the goals section of the week prior to the due date.

Keeping track of the date a painting is finished is also important. The day a painting is finished, I write the title and inventory number in the bottom gray area.

Removing Hesitations

Just like a blank canvas, clean and empty pages can elicit the same feelings of doubt or hesitation – the pages are so clean and neat...I don’t want to mess them up. For a perfectionist like me, I use Pilot’s FriXion erasable pens. Make a mistake, change my mind, just erase it and start over. It’s important to note that the ink remains erasable, so don’t go signing any checks with it. Checks? Who uses checks anymore? I think I just officially became and “old” person.

Oh, and they come in lots of different colors and you can buy ink refills – how cool is that!

Remember it’s an evolving system, and honestly some weeks I do better than others. Life happens, things change (that’s why I use the erasable pen).

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of a very long post. I hope that you’ve found a few helpful nuggets to help you make it the year you want it to be.

2020 Weekly Planner
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Que the Clothespin!

When painting a subject that flits around as much as birds, it’s almost impossible to get the right pose, in the good lighting, AND perched on a branch with interesting shapes. Not impossible, but darn close to it. Subsequently, many of my bird paintings are a compilation of several photographs and other reference sources including sketches, direct observation, and color notes. (Watch for future posts where I’ll detail these other sources and methods.)

© Nancy Murty • Seasons End • oil on linen • 10x8 in

© Nancy Murty • Seasons End • oil on linen • 10x8 in

Being greeted by the Bluebird's cheerful melody every time I stepped out the door is one of the things I miss from our old house. They were constant visitors to the yard during the warmer weather months. Every year it was a little sad as Autumn drew to a close and the Bluebirds headed south. But come spring, they’d be back serenading from the Crabapple tree and hunting for bugs in the lawn.

This was the inspiration behind Seasons End.

Que the clothespin!

One of the reference materials used for  Seasons End,  the  Bluebird was placed where clothespin is.

One of the reference materials used for Seasons End, the Bluebird was placed where clothespin is.

Since birds don’t take direction well, I often use a clothespin as a stand-in, clipping it to a spot on the branch where I’ll place a bird in a future painting.

Two main benefits are…
1. I can decipher the direction of the light by the highlights and shadows cast on the pin.
2. I know the exact measurements of the clothespin and use this to get the proportions correct between the size of the crabapples and a bird.

I carry a clothespin in my purse, several in my backpack, plein air gear, and in Sarah (my Jeep) in the hopes that I will almost always have one with me. On this particular occasion, I’d run to Staples early in the morning for a few errands and was captivated by the early sunlight on the crabapple trees in the parking lot. I snapped lots of photos with my phone and you’ll probably see them used more than once for future paintings.

I often get some strange looks from people wondering what in the heck I’m doing. Sometimes I feel a little self-conscious and wonder if people think I’m weird? By the way, don’t look up weird in a thesaurus – it’ll really make you feel like a freak.

There you have it – the how and why I travel around photographing clothespins clipped to branches. Not that weird, right?

 

Answering "What Inspires You?"

Laying in bed last night, I found myself contemplating the question I’m most often asked, “What inspires you?”

Some nights I wish I was like Paul – asleep within 10 minutes of his head hitting the pillow. I, however, tend to lay awake…pondering. The topics can vary from the day’s events to a book I’m reading, a movie, recent conversations, or even important life questions like – finding a way to be able to continue eating ice cream despite becoming lactose intolerant.

I digress, back to the question at hand, “What inspires you?”

I dread this question, I really do. It’s not the question as much as the implied weight of the expected reply. “Oh, I don’t know…nothing, everything” is usually the first thing that pops in my head. Followed by, Oh Shit, they’re serious. They really want to know what inspires me; they’re expecting something profound! I’m a jeans and t-shirt gal…what you see is what you get…I’m not profound. Isn’t the art suppose to speak for itself? It’s just a momentary panic, one that passes just as quickly as it arrived.

I believe the question is really just a way to break the ice, a way to start a conversation. At least this has come to be the way I prefer to think of it when asked “What inspires you?” Instead, I replace it with “What is it that inspires you to choose to paint what you do?” It’s much less panic inducing.

What inspires me to choose to paint what I do? I’m so glad you asked.

 

"Light. Emotion. Color. These are the three things that have the greatest influence on my choice of what to paint. And, not just what to paint – but how to paint. The source of the inspiration helps to inform other decisions, such as what to emphasize, what to edit or leave out, how to crop, what format (horizontal, vertical, or square), high key vs low key, and more."

© Nancy Murty •  Autumn Harmony  • oil on linen • 6x6 in • SOLD

© Nancy Murty • Autumn Harmony • oil on linen • 6x6 in • SOLD

Light.

The play of light and shadows across and object or landscape will often stop me in my tracks with a “oh, look at how the light is hitting _____, it’s just gorgeous.” To which my husband (if he’s with me) usually replies with a “Yea, that’s nice.” He’s such a good sport. He really is. Light can often set the mood of a painting and I find the light and shadow pattern adds an abstract quality to the composition.

The light and shadow patterns cast on the crabapples and leaves, specifically on the leaf with the two smaller crabapples in front, was the inspiration and excitement I had for this painting.

© Nancy Murty •  Passing Through  • oil on linen • 6x8 in • SOLD

© Nancy Murty • Passing Through • oil on linen • 6x8 in • SOLD

Emotion.

The anticipation of watching for the White-Throated Sparrows in the yard once the Forsythia blooms and then the joy of spotting the first one was the inspiration behind “Passing Through”. It’s hard to separate art from emotion, both for the viewer and the artist. I don’t know, can they even exist apart?

© Nancy Murty •  Apple.1  • oil on linen • 5x7 in • SOLD

© Nancy Murty • Apple.1 • oil on linen • 5x7 in • SOLD

Color.

Who can resist the seductive lure of color? It may be a color harmony that attraction my attention and other times it will be something much more subtle. The beautiful bright red of the apple surrounded by the various green leaves with all their subtle changes in hue and temperature…color gets my paint brush flying every time.

There it is, light, emotion, and color, the three things that inspire me to paint what I do. What inspires you to do what you do?

Please leave a comment below, I’d like to know where you draw your inspiration from to do what you do.

 
 

What the Heck is Bird Banding?

Have you heard me mention volunteering at the banding station and wondered what the heck that is? Well I’m putting on my bird nerd persona and happily sharing it with you. Picture a huge grin on my face as you read on cause I can’t stop smiling when I talk about my days spent with the birds.

© Nancy Murty •  Seed Breaker  • oil on linen • 9x12 in •  available

© Nancy Murty • Seed Breaker • oil on linen • 9x12 in • available

The simple answer for “why band birds?” is that by placing a band on a bird, it now has a numeric code that identifies it from all other birds, in other words it now has an individual identity.

A great example of the importance of birds having an identity is as follows. Say you routinely see a male cardinal at the feeder – is it just one bird that visits or is it four? By giving each male cardinal and identity, it can be determined that it’s actually six different birds that visit the feeder. Now this is an overly simplistic explanation but it demonstrates why it’s important in scientific research why it’s important to be able to tell birds apart.

My Experience at the Station

For eight weeks in the spring and ten weeks in the fall, one day a week I drag myself out of bed one and a half hours before sunrise. The bad thing about spring is the time to get out of bed comes earlier and earlier every week. In the fall, the alarm clock rings later and later as the days grow shorter and shorter, so every week I get to stay in bed for five or ten more minutes.

It should be noted right here; I am not a morning person and I don’t like getting up. Therefore, volunteering with the birds must be pretty darn special for me to drag myself out of a perfectly warm bed, cuddled up with the cat an hour before sunrise every week.

Bird bags hanging by the banding table. The birds are very calm in the bags.

Bird bags hanging by the banding table. The birds are very calm in the bags.

The schedule each day revolves around what time sunrise is. I arrive at the station a half hour before sunrise, 15 minutes before sunrise we head out to open 32 mist nets. These nets are made of very fine threads that are hard to see and contain a series of horizontal pockets called trammels.

Every 30 minutes the nets are checked, birds collected, placed in draw string bags, and marked with a numbered clothespin indicating the net the bird was located in.

At the station, the bags are hung from hooks located in the areas where the banders work. Net picking is my job currently, lots of walking, often in the mud, but I love it.

Left photo    - Banding table with bands and tools all set for the day.    Right photo    - Bander with a bird, taking the band off the string.

Left photo - Banding table with bands and tools all set for the day. Right photo - Bander with a bird, taking the band off the string.

The bander gently removes the bird from the bag, reads the band number to the scribe and put the band on the bird’s right leg.

Left photo    - Bander measuring the tarsus.    Right photo    - Bander looking at the wing feathers for molt limits to age the bird.

Left photo - Bander measuring the tarsus. Right photo - Bander looking at the wing feathers for molt limits to age the bird.

The bander measures the wing chord, tarsus (lower leg), and amount of fat the bird has formed. During migration, birds store the energy they will need to fly long distances in the form of fat which is located in the wishbone area and along their sides.

One important aspect of the research is to identify stop over areas where the birds can forage and replenish their fat stores for the next leg of their migration.

Next the bander identifies the sex (male or female) and determines the age of the bird by looking at the feathers for molt pattern, coloration, and/or condition. In certain species, eye color can help tell if it is a younger or mature bird.

In the fall the bander looks at the top of the skull for complete closure of the bone.

The bander finishes by weighing the bird and then releases it. The whole process is done in a matter of minutes.

The scribe’s notebook and bird code cheat sheet.

The scribe’s notebook and bird code cheat sheet.

During the banding process, all the information is recorded by the scribe. I started volunteering as a scribe and learned so much about birds sitting across from the bander. For me, the biggest thing to get use to was the four-letter code system used to identify species, a Black Capped Chickadee = BCCH. Cardinal = NOCA (Northern Cardinal).

I really look forward to my days at the station (run by the Braddock Bay Bird Observatory) and it is so invaluable to my artwork. Watch for a future post on why that is.

Have a great day.

 
 

Are You Lost at the End of the Year?

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"Time moves in one direction, memory in another." – William Gibson

Time moves so fast and yet can drag along in the same instance. Know what I mean? Seems like just last week we were ringing in the New Year and looking forward to all that would be different “this year”. Don’t know why I fall into that trap every year?

Fast forward with me for a moment. When you get to the end of the year and look back, do you have a hard time remembering what happened before November and December? I sure do! How I feel about the whole year gets based on wether the last two months were good or bad. The whole year!

It’s not age related, at least not yet. It’s because I have a hundred different things, going in a hundred different directions bouncing around in my head. Things that happened yesterday, last week, or last month - they’re in the rearview. They’re done, don’t have to keep track or think about them. So what to do?

At the end of each month, I take about 15 minutes to reflect over all that happened. What stands out? What good happened? What were some successes? What would be good to do differently next time? I then take about 15 minutes or so and write up a brief summary in the Weekly Planner. I like to use the notes page opposite the monthly calendar view. Being able to look at the month view helps to jog my memory.

When the end of the year arrives, I Iook back over these monthly summaries and have a much more complete view of the year. And you know what, it’s usually much better than I remembered. :)

Hope this helps you have a better feeling at the end of the year too.

 
 

Getting the Color Right

Nancy Murty 2018. Color Matching Original Artwork.

It goes without saying that achieving an accurate color representation of original artwork is the desire of most artists. Artists are inherently DIYers, and their efforts at color correction can lead to hours spent tweaking images, often resulting in frustration and disappointment in the printed results.

If only it were as simple as selecting the option “convert to CMYK” in a photo editing program such as Photoshop. Unfortunately, there is more to it than a mouse click. RGB images tend to darken and dull when converted to CMYK and some colors are more affected by the conversion than others.

 

Understanding the lingo.

Before we can get into understanding the challenges of color matching artwork, we first need to be sure we’re speaking the same language.

Nancy Murty 2018. Image Resolution for Artists.

DPI or PPI (dots per inch or pixels per inch) These terms are most often used in reference to the resolution of an image. Most pictures on the internet are displayed at 72 DPI while images used for color printing need to be at least 300 DPI.

 

Nancy Murty 2018. Converting images from RGB to CMYK.

RGB refers to the three primary colors (red, green, and blue) of light used to create color in TV’s, screens, monitors, digital displays, and so on. See how the combination of all three primaries of light results in white, opposite of what we are familiar with. This is why many find it difficult trying to adjust the colors of an RGB image.

Note the mixed hues cyan, magenta, and yellow are lighter in value.

 

Nancy Murty 2018. CMYK Printing.

CMYK is an abbreviation for the four primary colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) of ink used in combination to create hue in standard printing.

Notice how mixing cyan, magenta, and yellow together generates black. As artists, this is the color model most familiar to us.

See how the mixed blue, red, and green hues are darker in value.

Image curtesy of BenSimonds.com – Halftone Shader

Image curtesy of BenSimonds.com – Halftone Shader

Here you can see how printed dots of the CMKY inks visually merge creating a color image.

A trick of the trade – magenta or a combination of cyan and magenta dots are often printed along with dots of black (k) ink for a deep, rich looking color. Take a look again at the image above, specifically the upper left corner or each color plate. Dots of cyan, magenta, and black inks are included, resulting in a more dynamic black in the full-color composite image on the far right.

 

1. RGB is not CMYK.

Image curtesy of SmartLevels.com – Technical Help

Image curtesy of SmartLevels.com – Technical Help

For most artists, adjusting an image on the computer monitor (RGB) until the color looks perfect does not usually result in an accurate color print (CMYK) because the sources of the color primaries are different. The image is displayed in RGB and printed in CMYK.

Glance back at the RGB and CMYK graphics above. Note how the mixed hues in each differ in value from their source/primary colors' value, these are examples of additive and subtractive color properties. This is one of many contributing factors that adds to the difficulty of a straight conversion from RGB to CMYK or vice-versa.

A few other examples of variables to take into account when trying to color match original artwork are; having a working knowledge of the equipment, understanding the differences between screen displays and printed results, and the fact that some colors are harder to match in CMYK print, purples for instance.

Did you know that giclée fine art prints are actually printed on a high-end inkjet printer that contains 8–12 different archival inks? Photo Black, Cyan, Vivid Magenta, Yellow, Light Cyan, Vivid Light Magenta, Light Black, Matte Black, Light Light Black, Orange, Green, Violet. This helps explain why giclées are more accurate in color and also why they are more expensive.

 

2. Apples and Oranges

Screens (monitors) are not created equal and not all viewing platforms are equivalent. The same image will appear to have subtle color differences when viewed on various screens. Even the same screen will change the way it displays color over time and depending on the amount of use.

You may not be aware that professionals in the field use specialized equipment to calibrate their screen displays and output devices for accurate color every week.

 

3. Give Yourself a Hand – a Color Hand

Color callibration chart, front and back with color recipies listed.

Color callibration chart, front and back with color recipies listed.

If you really want to get serious about color accuracy – pick up a color calibration chart and include it with all high res photographs and scans of your art.

The squares of color on the chart give something for a printer to reference in adjusting an image for accuracy before printing.

In addition to including squares printed with 100% C, M, and Y ink, the chart also includes a value range from white to 100% black. In today’s digital photography age, this value range can help with corrections for white balance.

Color calibration charts vary widely in price, here is a link to an affordable option available on Amazon.

 

4. Pixels Matter

Start with the best, highest resolution photo or scan you can get. The resolution or DPI/PPI can always be reduced for various needs, such as for a website, but can NEVER be increased.

Think of each pixel as a square of color, with the color squares combining together to create a reproduction of your art. When you increase the numeric DPI/PPI of an image in Photoshop, you are basically increasing the number of times that 1 square of color is sliced up into smaller squares. However, the newly created slices will still look like the original square. You are not increasing the detail of an image by increasing the resolution. This will only result in a printed image that looks pixelated.

DO NOT CONVERT A 72 DPI IMAGE TO 300 DPI FOR PRINT!

As a general rule, images for the internet are 72 DPI and images used for print should be at least 300 DPI. That being said, I always provide the highest resolution file to a printer I can and let them change the resolution to meet their best output.

 

5. Don't Scale

I mentioned the importance of DPI or PPI in image resolution, scaling or enlarging an image also reduces the quality of the printed picture. Think about it for a minute, if you enlarge or scale up an image for print, you are only making the pixels or squares of color print larger. 

DO NOT ENLARGE AN IMAGE FOR PRINT!

The only time enlarging an image will work is if you start with a much higher resolution, 1600 dpi for example. This is one of the reasons to always have the photos of your artwork taken at the highest resolution possible. 

 

6. Make a Sacrifice

Quality, Time, or Cost, which one will you sacrifice? Well not really sacrifice, but you will need to decide which two of the three are most important to you.

The priorities will change depending on the needs of each printing situation. For instance, if you are printing 200 postcards, time and cost may be the priority. But, if it’s 50 giclée prints, quality will be the most crucial.

Going Forward:

Now that you know some of the factors that are involved in getting a good color representation of your artwork in print, let’s put the knowledge to use.

Quick and Inexpensive

  • Online printers such as Vista Print or Overnight Prints are great for quick, low-cost printing. Just keep in mind, the color may not be perfect in the final printed materials. There’s nothing wrong with using these printers. I’ve worked with them myself for printing business cards, postcards, and such – but I know that I am giving up a little bit of the color accuracy in trade for a low cost and quick turn around.

  • Looking at a digital proof online will not give an accurate representation of the color in the final printing. You should be checking for placement, spelling, and that all the information is included and correct in the layout.

High Quality

  • To get the best quality, work with a professional printer. They are worth their expertise and experience.

  • Professional printers have color experts on staff that know their systems and how to adjust an image to get the best color match in printing. Color professionals also work in a specialized environment with color balanced lighting.

  • In addition to the high-resolution photography or scan, also include the RAW digital photo file. A RAW digital photo file has minimally processed data from the camera or other sources.
    This may sound really strange, but several years ago I had trouble with professionally printed images consistently looking to warm. The TIFF photos from my DSLR camera were causing the magenta dot to print a hair larger. The printer was able to correct the issue with the RAW file I provided.   

  • Provide the original artwork for the printer to color match, I realize that this may not always be an option. Including the color calibration chart with your art in the original high res photograph or scan will also help a printer do their best color matching.

 

Whew! Who knew there were so many factors to consider.

Honestly though, this really just scratches the surface of what's involved in getting the best color reproduction of your original artwork, there is dot gain, files types, image compression, paper surfaces, and so on. 

No wonder you’ve ended up frustrated after spending all that time at the computer adjusting colors, and why it’s not as easy as selecting “convert to CMYK”.