Snippets from a bead artist.

6.20.2013

Encouragement ~ We All Need Some


Do you have times when you just really doubt your art, or your ability to create it?  I do.  I have times when I look at things I've made in a space of time (say, three weeks or so) and each and every piece has at least one thing that makes me say "Huh.  That sucks."  Which of course, leads to me wondering if *I* suck as an artist.   When I go through one of these times, it generally depresses me and leads me to a kind of creative desperation, wherein I MUST  MAKE SOMETHING THAT DOESN'T SUCK.  And that puts enough pressure on my poor tired brain to make sure that whatever I may come up with, will inevitably...suck.



 UFOs

Another UFO

 Awhile back, during a non-sucky time, I noticed a lot of beaders out there having their own doubts and desperations.  These folks were all different skill levels and on different artistic paths, some beginners, some quite advanced and successful, although they all had beads in common as their media of choice.  A lot of what I heard made me sad, because it boiled down to wonderful people who didn't feel they could move onward and upward with their art because they were afraid to TRY.   They were afraid to start working on a creative idea of their own because there would be no clear path, and they might fail.  Or they 'could NEVER be as good as' so-and-so.  Or bead soup and/or freeform was intimidating and just too random (which I completely understand because me and orange? um no).  Or they were afraid of having too many UFO projects, and a box full of random bits, which would make them feel like they had put in tons of effort with no result, as well as having a now full box of usable beads that would have to be ripped apart in order to be recycled.  I am perhaps odd here, as all of my UFOs go in the same box as the RipIts; I never know if I'm actually going to go back and finish it, or just salvage parts from it.


UFO/RipIt/Salvage Box

After hearing about all of the doubts that were floating around in Beadland, I decided I really wanted to see how other artists dealt with these issues and ask some questions, with the hope that I would be able to put not only my own doubts in perspective, but perhaps share with others who might feel the same way.  It's taken me a long while to get this written, as I have been going through some family stuff that has kept me really off balance, but this morning (taking into consideration that I am now going through yet another *I suck* time) I was finally able to concentrate enough to sit and write.  I looked to a few of my favorite artists for their thoughts last month and they were all stunningly generous with me, allowing me to write my blog post and include both their words and some of their amazing art.  Sherry Hutchinson Serafini, Marcia DeCoster, Heidi Kummli, and Diane Hyde all spent some of their very valuable time on this and sent me thoughtful responses.

This is what I asked each of the artists:  I am wondering if you feel like you had more false starts and/or self doubts in the beginning when you started out, vs now, or if it feels like it has been consistent throughout?  Have you had any recent cases where you just scrapped an idea after you started, or did you push through to finish the piece and decide you didn’t really care for it?  Do you still have some of the self doubt issues while working or before starting?  How do you handle them, and what would you say to someone else who was having them?  And, as far as false starts/RipIts go, did you feel that you learned something from each, or that they were pretty much wasted time? Is there something you say to yourself when you get to a certain point of dislike in a project that helps you to keep pushing ahead?  And... if you have a UFO or RipIt Box, how big is it?  


Diane said,  "Every piece you create is an opportunity to learn, but even so, I always have to remind myself of that. I have an ongoing love hate relationship with everything I make. It almost becomes a formula; I have a brainstorm, I sketch it out in specific detail with side notes, arrows, and little diagrams, gather all the beads and components, and finally start it. Somewhere along the way my thoughts take over in a never ending dialogue with my inner creative, happy muse. I become indecisive about individual beads, color positioning, fringe placement…..it goes on and on. The piece starts to morph in a direction I never saw coming, and all of a sudden I’m a little disappointed in the whole piece and wonder what the heck went wrong here? In my early years of beading I would abandon these false starts, stuff them in a drawer or baggie, and move on, but over the years I’ve learned to keep plodding on with these projects. Somehow if I give them more time they sometimes get better towards the end, and occasionally I actually like the final results. But on the darker side I usually see the parts that could have been done differently, or a little better, a different pearl here, etc. As an artist it’s just part of the process to look at your own work with an overly critical eye. You just can’t listen to all of it all of the time. The funny part is the few times I have created a major piece for a competition I am totally ok with (no total loathing) it either doesn’t make the cut, or doesn’t place in the final judging. It’s like a divine comedy - you throw yourself into a creation for weeks, months, a year….and it’s rejected by the very people you wanted to impress. On the other end of the spectrum the pieces I am not completely happy with or am ambivalent about seem to get chosen. From that I have learned when I am at odds with a piece it’s a good sign. Go figure. All I can say is just keep going no matter what! Love it. Hate it...it’s all going to make you a better beader. Perhaps I'll even go visit my graveyard of unfinished projects and see what's there."


The Gatekeeper, by Diane Hyde

 Heidi said, "As far as false starts more now than when I began 30 years ago I think it's about the same. I don't ever scrap a false start I push through.  When designing my jewelry line I often come up with a better way to make something thus the first piece isn't as good as it could be but I finish it and sell it anyway.  By playing with different approaches on designing my line I can make it more efficient to make and better quality.  If I am designing a larger piece I have an idea in my head of what I want but as I get into making it things usually change as I work on the piece, something doesn't look as good as I thought or fit just right.  I have made a few larger pieces that don't quite come out as nicely as I though but I always finish them.  It always surprises me that these are usually the ones that sell first, lol, maybe I should screw up more often.  If you're going to put so much time into something you should a least finish it.  I don't have much self doubt when starting apiece but rather excitement and the challenge of how to make it happen.  Always follow your heart and lay the components out a head of time so you can see how they will look together, by doing this you can exchange things where needed.  My mistakes are my biggest teachers, I always learn from them; I never think of them as wasted time.  As I said I never give up on a project especially if I have a lot of time in it just push though because someone else will love it.  I don't really have any ditch projects I suppose I do have a few things that I didn't put too much time in and for those I trim them and set them aside and will incorporate them into something else."


Free Bird by Heidi Kummli

Marcia said, "Actually I think I may have had less false starts [in the beginning], but less good work. I wasn’t as discerning about color, or the engineering of a design and would often plow ahead and then be disappointed in the result. I think because I teach beadwork for a living, the teachability of a piece needs to be a significant factor in most of my current design work. Sometimes a piece feels too simple to have enough of what I like to call ‘teachable moments’. If I can teach you in fifteen minutes and then just say ‘Now do that for the next ten hours’ I don’t think it serves the student very well. So sometimes I will start out a design and realize it is not going to serve it’s teachable purpose and I’ll move on. Pushing through to completion is the harder answer though because there is always (or almost always) that point of doubt, or that consideration for multiple directions of how a design might evolve and we hope to choose wisely. However sometimes the outcome of the design decision doesn’t become evident in its failure or brilliance until we’ve invested many hours.  I think it’s a common theme. Certainly with the building of fundamental skills over time it is easier to realize your vision in beads, but there are still times I don’t know the best way to approach the design and then the self doubt can take over. I’m quite sure a more competent beader, or a more artistic beader would have the answer. Through the community of beaders that are now connected on the internet, I’ve come to realize there is a certain fallacy to this. I think no matter where we are in our design journey we can be dwarfed by those we perceive to be better then us, although I think the majority share the same struggle. We look at someone else’s finished piece and think that they somehow got there effortlessly, when they likely went through many of our same issues along the way. To another artist experiencing design insecurity I would say we each have our own path to follow. When you are in the mode of self doubt try to stay present in your own work and not be influenced by what you perceive someone else’s process to be. 

"Rip apart? Surely you jest? You do know that I am the girl who doesn’t even put beads away at the end of a project, I add them to a vase, so ripping apart, that never happens. But I do have a bowl of false starts that I save. I don’t think I always take away the lesson immediately, but I do often revisit the bowl to see if some snippet of beadwork might serve me now by taking it in a different direction, so in that way the false starts do continue to add value. Pushing ahead is often driven by a deadline, although having said that, I try to make sure that what I end up with is a project that I am going to feel really good about teaching or sharing. I want there to be teachable moments, I want the engineering to work so that it is comfortable to wear and functions well and I want colors that work beautifully together. As a piece develops if any of those things is out of synch I will start again."


Bollywood Cuff by Marcia DeCoster

Sherry said, "No, because I didn’t have any expectations. I was just doing what I like to do and people were encouraging me to exhibit.  I was asked to teach, and yes was terrified at the prospect because I wasn’t quite sure how to convey exactly what I was doing.  I push thru in most cases.  I do feel it’s the journey not the destination.  Not every journey is a rewarding experience, although almost always a learning one.  If a piece really isn’t fun for me though, I just don’t do it.  I don’t like wasting time or being bored.  I pretty much just nose dive in without serious thought.  I just enjoy the process.  To someone else I would tell them to just follow their inner voice and create what pleases them.  If they find the piece is irritating and not working out, walk away from it.  Put it away.  I’ve put away pieces for up to a year and came back to find that I was ready to work once again.  Usually it is something learned if I think about it.  Seriously....I don’t dwell on my art.  It is what it is, some pieces are not as good as others, but they each tell me something.  Whether it be a color combo or a construction issue.  If I really don’t like a project, I simply don’t finish it. Why waste a second of time on something that makes you nuts.  UFO’s are usually beaded or painted pieces that I’ve worked on when playing with different techniques.  Not a large project.  So my box is a big one as there are days where I just want to mess around with different approaches.  We have all had moments of self doubt, but dwelling and fretting over it isn’t a good thing.  I believe in ‘just doing it.'  If I had to pinpoint a moment when the boredom sets in it would be towards the end of a project.  Not out of dislike, but being anxious to start a new one.  Bead embroidery takes foreeeever......so by the time I get to the closure, I’m all ready thinking of the second, third and fourth piece!"


Sedona Sunrise by Sherry Serafini

And since all of the lovely ladies above took the time to answer my questions, I thought it only fair to sit and write down my own answers, too...  

I think I've been consistently off balance, with doubts all the way through to where I am now, although I get them much more heavily when I am stressed in other areas of my life.  Yes, recently I've had a really hard time with several projects and ideas, and although I pushed myself to finish one project (my triangle necklace pictured below) I have several more staring morosely at me from my Pile O Things.  The triangle necklace is done itself, but the planned tutorial is on hold until I can figure out how to reproduce my bezel, and there are several things about it I still don't care for, design-wise.  I have self doubts continuously while I start and work on my pieces.  If I were talking to someone else who was doubting, I would probably tell them to sit quietly for a moment and try to think of what it is they really want to convey with their piece.  A season?  A feeling?  A piece of architecture?  A living thing, human, animal or vegetable?  And then to just set to work with the beads, and see where it went.  In other words, to let your heart and talent guide you, even when your brain isn't agreeing with you.  If someone is afraid of starting, I always say the same thing - don't ever be afraid to play.  Just PLAY with those beads, and let go of the caring of what happens - it's ok if it's ugly, it's ok if it doesn't turn out perfect, it's ok if you missed stitches or broke a bead.  Do little exercises if you think it will help; make a swatch of work all in one stitch, and then make another swatch in a different stitch.  (I make rope swatches, which I can finish later or not, or make one long rope while switching stitches and beads and so on; many of them look like deranged snakes...)  Make something ugly ON PURPOSE.  Then look at it and decide what you would do to make it beautiful, and make a second one, using your 'beautiful' ideas.  Or, ask some of the beady people around you to help you brainstorm; the other day I did just that on Facebook, asking my friends what they would do if they had some of my flower components to work with, and one of the ideas that came up is something I am now exploring as a possibility for finishing that project.  I feel that each and every stitch has taught me something, whether I liked my result or hated it, and that each one was worth it if only for the lessons learned.  


I would like to thank each of you wonderful ladies so much for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and process with me, and allowing me to further share it with all of Beadland.  Each of you touched on something that rang very true for me; Diane's 'divine comedy' remarks, because yes it DOES feel that way; Heidi's 'mistakes are my biggest teachers' comment, because I feel just the same way (even when I'm frustrated); Marcia's 'we look at someone else’s finished piece and think that they somehow got there effortlessly' because I have done this time and again, even though I should know better; and Sherry's 'just doing it' because I think I need to do that much more, rather than the fretting and fussing I indulge in.  And in asking these questions, and reading through the answers, and writing this post, I feel so much LESS alone and doubtful.  It happens - but not JUST to me.  It happens and the incredibly talented, awesome artists who answered these questions went through some of the same feelings and LOOK what they are creating!!  The doubts and false starts may keep prodding and showing up, but I won't give up - and I hope you won't, either, if you're having any of your own doubts right now.  Now, off to see if there's anything I can do with this....

Flower Component by Me...



43 comments:

  1. Great post Nancy!

    It's so interesting to read about other artists approach to a problem most, if not all, of us have! I may have told you this, but I often absolutely hate a (especially is large and time consuming/problematic) piece either 3/4 of the way through or at the end. I've found that my best practice is to set it aside for a day or 2 - after some time away from each other (ha, ha) I generally like it again.

    I'm also in the non-ripping group. I HATE ripping most of all. I know myself well enough to know that I will eventually get back to the piece. In fact, the last 2 two weeks have been spent working on UFOs (not solely, obviously); and as I've been going back to the pieces I've been quite happy with them (and wondering why I stopped!)

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    1. Thank you, Valerie!! I'm so glad you have a way of dealing with your false starts! It sounds like yours aren't truly false - which is also excellent. I have to really take a long time, if I ever end up going back... I think mostly they just sit in the box, lol. :)

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  2. Oh Nancy! I truly would have paid money to attend a seminar to hear those awesome comments from all of the greats. And it does help someone like me, starting on my journey, and seeing your fabulous creations, to know that there are hiccups along the way, and that the important thing is to just keep going. I too, was caught by key phrases in each of their stories. I'm thrilled you asked them, and that they replied so candidly.
    Because, in the end, I just can't imagine my life without beads, now that I've discovered the joy and wonder of creating things with them. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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    1. What a lovely comment, Shirley! I am so glad if this was useful for you, and that makes it worthwhile in and of itself. I can't live without those beads, either - so I know just where you're coming from!! :D

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  3. What a terrific post, Nancy! I'm sure all creative spirits "hit the wall" at times. But it's what happens next that's most important: One can reel backwards, shake her head, regroup and start again, which can be painful, but it's worse to just nurse those hurts and quit. It's lovely to have the validation of that important lesson about learning from mistakes. We've heard it all our lives, but it's true. Thank you for sharing such meaningful insights!

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    1. Thank you, Callie -for taking the time to visit and read, and for leaving me such a wonderful comment!! I keep having to tell myself over and over that the mistakes are worth it... I wonder if I'll ever really learn that one...

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  4. Awesome blog Lady!!! I agree with Shirley...this subject could be a whole seminar that we all should attend and how wonderful it would be to hear all these lovely ladies talk about there work...you included!!! Thank you for all your thoughts and inspirations!!

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    1. Thank you, lady bird!!!! You always make me feel very loved xxxxxxxx

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  5. Thank you for a wonderful, inspiring article!

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  6. Thanks, Nancy. This is a great blog post with wonderful "real-life" inspirational people and ideas. Very helpful.

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    1. Thank you, Sally, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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  7. Case and point, the Bollywood cuff bezel came out of the odd bits bowl. It wasn't working for it's intended purpose, but a few rows of peyote on top of a raw elliptical base was the perfect setting for the Swarovski navette it captures!

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    1. Perfect!!!! :D Thanks so very much for commenting, and for being a part of the post, Marcia!! I can't wait to see your new Bollywood in different colors....

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  8. Fascinating read! I saw a little of me in everyone's comments so that is comforting! Thanks for doing this Nancy!

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    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Linda!! xxxx

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  9. Wonderful blog Nancy! I will follow you!

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  10. Fascinating insights and truly comforting to know we all have doubts to a degree. Thank you for gathering together such wise words

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    1. Thanks so much, I'm glad if it was useful at all. :)

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  11. Good post, Nancy. It just shows that creating beautiful things has it's trials and it's terrors, whatever your discipline. They say that stage fright for actors and performers is a good thing, because it ensures that they try harder to do a good performers. Maybe this is the beaders version of it, and is just part of the process? I particularly like Heidis comment that each mistake teaches her something.

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    1. Me too, Celia - I think she's very wise all around, actually. ;) It's very heartening to me that I am not all alone with the doubts, even when I really feel like it.

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  12. I think all creative people struggle with this.... and have that over critical eye, when it comes to our own work. As a beginning bead weaver, it helps to know that even the experienced beaders have these moments too. Thank you for taking the time & effort to put it out there for us to learn from and see, that we are NOT alone....

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    1. Thank you very much!! I'm so glad you came by to read and comment!!

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  13. Really interesting. I loved the insights from your various illustrious beady pals as well as the idea of deliberately making something ugly. Thank you. Xxxx

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  14. Thank you for a wonderful post, Nancy! I think it's important that we remember to find joy in the process, not just the product...that way those unfinished pieces still serve a purpose.

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    1. Thank you CD!! Sorry for the very late reply - I appreciate your comment very much; I was just thinking this morning that the process should always take first place, and reminding myself to stop worrying about the outcome so much, and just be happy weaving. :)

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  15. You are as inspirational as you are talented... We all have those *I suck* days, but even so, the beads keep calling to us! Thanks for this post Nancy, I'm bookmarking it! :)

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    1. Thank you!! You're so sweet.... sorry for the very late reply!!

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  16. A great read Nancy! Very thought provoking and a relief to know we all have these thoughts. I loved your 'Make something ugly ON PURPOSE.'

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    1. Will you try it, do you think? Making something ugly on purpose is HARD, lol!!!! ;)

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  17. What a great post, I want to keep it pinned somewhere near the bead table to give me a boost when I need it! I hope you break through the creativity cocoon soon, and let those butterflies emerge as gorgeous pieces <3

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    1. Thank you, Catherine! I'm sorry I am so late replying, life has been crazy. I think the cocoon has split, finally!!!!

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  18. Nancy, thank you for your creative insight to create a blog where we can share & discuss creative or not-creative issues. As a new beader, input such as Heidi~Sherry~Marcia becomes invaluable when it comes to my own decisiveness. I am at the "trial and error" stage and unfortunately I am one who doesn't give up on a piece.I have tried to just leave pieces alone but they haunt my very core until I give in. Being tormented doesn't sit well with me so I have learned that when I reach an ugly stage I simply put it down and walk away for a bit. I evaluate what I am not liking about the piece~color,construction etc. and with a very deep breath I begin it's transformation which usually means being ripped out. This process pushes me to my creative boundaries~thinking outside the box. I am usually happy in the end with the final results. Mind you, my projects are not nearly as complicated or exquisite as yours however I feel I experience that self-doubt questioning my artistic ability. I think as Artist, we all share this experience.
    Thanks Again for this special place to share!! LLM

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment!! I realize my reply is ridiculously late, but I wanted to thank you for the time you took to share your process with me. I'm so glad you stopped in, and I'm glad you usually find happiness in the end result!

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  19. As I knitter, I have a lot of UFOs. A time will come, though, when I go through those and rip out, throw out, or give away. If you were the type of person who MADE yourself finish each project--yuck! We need to congratulate ourselves for recognizing that the project isn't working, figure out why it didn't work, and move on.

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    1. You're so right!! Sometimes it takes me longer than others to find that point... ;)

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  20. Thank you for the encouragement--coming from a novice chain mailler who watches amazing work on her forum, this is needed!

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    1. Thank you! I'm so glad if it helped at all!! (Sorry for very late response, I DO appreciate that you left a comment, life has just been nuts...)

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  21. What an amazing post this is! I do think that the internet has opened up an amazing world of dialogue that I didn't know was out there - at least for me. Sometimes beading can feel a little lonely, but I have discovered such wonderful people and have so enjoyed just talking through projects. I have a few friends that I will snap a quick pic of a project and say "hmmm, what do you think? I'm a little stuck on this ... what would you do?" and they in return do the same. Not to say that I don't have UFOs ... who doesn't? My box is pretty close to the size of your's. But I do rip out if it has been sitting long enough on my bead table. When I hit a wall, I put it down. Sometimes just over night. Sometimes a few days. Sometimes weeks.

    The interesting part of this post is that I thought that I hit walls, or had UFOs because I am still such a novice at this bead thing. So it is great encouragement to hear from some of the best bead artists among us address this issue. And yes, I consider you in that group - clearly.

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    1. What a lovely thing to say, thank you so much. I am so glad you also find the community friendly and supportive. I was VERY lonely before I found everyone online, and things have been so much better in a lot ways, now that I can communicate more with other beady people!! I, too, have friends that take a look and tell me what I could do differently or better when I'm stuck. Thank you for stopping in and for your wonderful comments. :D

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  22. Nancy this is one of the best posts I have read in a really long time. Thanx for taking the time to address issues we all have. It is wonderful to hear the responses from so many super talented bead artists. I live in a rural area and feel quite alone at times. I joined a beading group in the cities and I am so glad that I did. Bouncing ideas off the other beaders helps me work through stuff that I am stuck on. The internet also helps with this. Sometime I just go cruising on unrelated sites (often science based pics) and use them to kickstart a design. I have a few boards that I bead on and when I get stuck I set that board aside and start on the next piece. I set the ufo board where I will see it several times a day and I often come up with a way to work around the problem I am having. If not it goes to the ufo box and I move on. I like designing way better than reworking stuff so things that need fixing tend to get putt off for a long time. I will put your site on my desktop and be checking back often.

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Thanks so much for leaving me a comment, it means a lot to me! Please don't be upset if I don't have time to respond personally to each comment - but be sure that I read each and every one of them! :)