Everlasting Wet Palette by Redgrass Games

A new company popped up on the scene recently, Redgrass Games, based in France. They started developing a new wet palette. One they were promising to be a more high tech version than many of the homemade wet palettes used by painters around the world.

At first, they were trying to create a sponge that you could put your paints directly on for use and then clean off at the end of your painting session. I imagine it felt a lot like an ink pad and it sounded like a really cool idea! I would be all for it if it means I can ditch using paper. Especially for travel! It would be one less thing to pack. And these days, when I try new products, I scrutinize them and how easy they would be to travel with and whether or not I would recommend the product to my students. 

Unfortunately, the special sponge they were trying to develop hasn't worked out but they still wanted to launch a Kickstarter for a palette. So they scrapped their original idea and used chamois and paper instead; much like a traditional homemade wet palette. 

When they asked if I would review it, I was more than happy to. I was excited at the idea of a new wet palette that would be marketed towards miniature painters and likely made available in game stores. As a teacher who has a lot of new or beginner level students in classes, the most common scenario is that people are exposed to miniature painting through their game store. They get what the shops recommend which is usually GW paint, Army Painter brushes and primer and a whole slew of other low quality products. However, most game stores don't carry palettes of any type and it is sort of taken for granted by those more experienced about what should be used or where to find things. And if the game store does carry a palette, it is gonna be the hunk of junk that is the P3 palette. In Australia, the P3 palette is sold for upwards of AUD$50 fo something smaller than a VHS container that uses packing foam and tissue paper. 

Additionally, in Australia, Masterson's only just picked up distribution in the country at the last half of 2017 through National Art Materials. That means Aussies have either had to buy the Masterson's from the US or Europe, buy the P3 palette and be frustrated by it, or create a homemade one using kitchen sponge sheet and a food storage container. The idea of a new wet palette, that is a quality product, being carried in game stores at this far flung part of the painting world got me excited! Finally, I would be able to give my students a shopping list for class and they could support their Local Game Store at the same time! 

With all of this optimism, I cracked open the palette! The one I was sent is just a 3D print prototype. The finished product will be a bit different including an airtight seal (which means it is meant to be water tight as well). It is around the size of an A5 sheet of paper (5.8inch x 8.3inch - or - 148mm x 210mm).

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The sponge supplied was a white chamois type material. Chamois is a lightweight, synthetic material that is super absorbent (holds a lot of water) and is meant to be mold resistent. I used to use a chamois towel when I was a competitve swimmer and the things lasted forever! 

The paper felt like a cross between tissue paper and baking paper. It was thinner than baking paper and not as slick. This is the part that interested me as this is the part that is different to homemade palettes. Let the experiment begin! 

Everlasting Wet Palette Experiment - Australia

Notes before we begin: 

  • This test took place in Goulburn, NSW from Friday September 15th to Sunday September 17th, 2017. 
  • Time of year is early spring with evening temps below 0C and day time temps between 13C and 18C; It is still cold here.
  • Environmental factors affect the way prodcuts such as wet palettes and paint behave. 
  • Medium Body and Heavy Body Acrylics were used, not Fluid Body Acrylics (most game range paints are Fluid). 
     

No instructions were provided on how to use it so I treated it the same way I would my homemade palette. I put water in the tray and let the chamois soak up the water. I kept the water line at the line of the chamois as well. Then I placed the paper in it. It started to curl, which is normal when using baking paper, so I flipped it over to wet the other side. The logic here is that if one side gets wet then only one side relaxes in the water which causes the curling. Wetting both sides means the paper will fully relax and lay flat. Then I added 3 dollops of Heavy Body Artist Acrylic. Something to note: Heavy Body Acrylics take a lot more water to become dilute or runny than Game Manufacturer paints which are Fluid Body Acrylics. 

As soon as I put the dollops of paint on, the color started to run. This is not good . . . Fairly certain something went wrong, I still continued to try to mix colors. I was okay with getting a less than perfect result because if it is this easy for me to misuse the palette, how is a newbie going to fare? I wasn't too worried and I sent photos to Redgrass to get some info from them on where I went wrong. 

Sure enough, the mess above, was due to User Error. They advised to not wet both sides of the paper and that it would likely curl just at the edges but to flatten it with my fingers. Apparently, there was too much water in the palette. Awesome sauce! I ditched this paper, rinsed the chamois and then tipped out all excess water then layed new paper on the sponge then repeated the experiment. Using my Medium Body Acrylics (Jo Sonja) and my Heavy Body Acrylics (Schminke), I put new dollops of paint on the palette. I then mixed up a skintone. This way, I could see how a mix fares on the paper as well as just the pure dollops of paint straight of the tube. 

I used some of the color for a couple of hours but noticed a lot of water was coming through the paper still and it was affecting the consistency of my paint. This made me a little apprehensive. If over the course of a couple hours I was already having this issue, how was the paint going to hold up overnight or even several days later? Knowing I wasn't going to paint this weekend, it was an optimal time to see how this thing works passively. 

I closed up the palette on Friday night at 11pm. I then opened it up on Saturday morning at 11am. So it had 12 hours to sit closed up. Why is this important? Well, when using a wet palette, you should close it up between sessions to keep the evaporative process in the container. By containing this process, the water trying to escape through evaporation ends up recondensing in the wet palette which is what keeps paint hydrated when using baking paper. Baking paper doesn't actually let moisture through the paper. It keeps moisture around the paint. 

With the paper supplied with the Everlasting Wet Palette letting moisture through plus also containing the evaporative process by closing the container, too much water is introduced into the paint. This is a particular problem for painters like myself or my husband, who use the same paper and paint for days at a time. Mark even uses the same baking paper sheet and paint for a month or more in his homemade palette - no problem. 
 

I then left the palette open the rest of the day Saturday and checked it again at 9pm on Sunday. Even left open, more moisture was let through the paper and into the paint. Not the worst result. In fact, this could possibly be a good thing in the summer time. 

Then I removed the paper from the sponge and saw another problem - the yellow had seeped through the paper and into the chamois. Which means that you cannot leave your paint in this palette for days or weeks at a time as it will end up coloring the chamois underneath. 

Yellow seeped through on the sponge after 70 hours in the palette. 

Yellow seeped through on the sponge after 70 hours in the palette. 

Conclusion

The conclusion of this 3 day experiment is there are pros and cons to this palette. 

Pros: 
I like the slim profile of the container for travel. 
The chamois is a nice alternative to sponge and is mold resistent. 
They will be providing a grey sponge in their kit which means you have a neutral palette color to mix your colors. This will allow you more accuracy when mixing. 
It is marketed for miniature painters and it is much better quality than the P3 palette which is the only other one usually carried in game stores. 
New Painters may be exposed to this earlier if they are carried at Local Game Stores. 

Cons: 
The paper is too unforgiving. It allows too much water through which in turn means it will let paint through to the chamois after a few days. 
It doesn't seem to be designed for more than one session at a time as closing it up will dilute the paints further. 
The A5 size is just too small to work with regularly. 

I let Redgrass know of the technical difficulties I experienced on my end. They have claimed I am the only painter to report any issues with the product as well as stating that I didn't use their product with the correct paints by using my Heavy Body Artist Acrylics. That said, I am not sure of the process the other painters have used who have tested this product so I cannot comment on their results. I can only comment on mine. 

I asked them what time of year the other painters reviewed their product but they didn't respond. They just said the other testers were in the Northern Hemisphere.

Why did I ask this? The way wet palettes work in the summer time, when it is hard to keep indoor temperatures cool for painting, will differ from the way they behave in the winter time. If everyone else who has tested it is in the Northern Hemisphere and has tested it within the last 3 months it has been summer time. For me, I am currently at the tail end of winter/beginning of spring. Our temps at night are still dropping below 0C (below 32F) and have been between 12C (54F) and 18C (65F) in the day time. In other words, it is cold outside which means inside the studio is cold and we have to kick the heater on to get to 18C inside the house. Therefore, extra moisture coming through the paper and into my paint isn't a good thing right now. However, it may be better in the summer time when that extra moisture is needed. 

Personally, I do not feel this is an improvement on what people can make at home. Had there been a massive improvement in design and function, I may feel differently. However, they have taken a classic design and packaged it all up for 25Euro for their base pledge on their Kickstarter. The pledge level includes the A5 palette, 2 chamois cut to size and 100 sheets of paper cut to size. Is it convenient to purchase all together? Sure. Is it cost effective? No so much. 

All of this said, if Redgrass games were to develop their original idea with a sponge you can put your paint directly on for use and then clean off, I would definitely be up for trying that to see how it works. That was the real innovation many seemed to be interested in when they originally announced their project. It is a shame it hasn't come to fruition. I hope they do continue to pursue the original idea. 

For now, 9 out of 10 painters approve this product. I am just that one awkward result that isn't totally sold. 

Checking Your Contrast

Now that I have been teaching for about 5 years, I would say the No. 1 topic painters struggle to get a handle on to move forward with their painting is contrast. For many it feels unnatural to create such dark shadows and such bright highlights because it isn't how we see surfaces and lighting around us on a daily basis. What is often glossed over in teaching and discussing contrast, is that with miniature painting we have to create an optical illusion with our painting. 

I know it sounds weird but hear me out. Miniatures are scaled down representations of creatures or objects we have some real world analog for. Yes, I know, there are no real mermaids but we have fish in real life and humans in real life. Therefore, a mermaid has real world analogs that we can use as reference for painting. Same goes for all fantasy creatures. In someway, everything resembles something we know or can identify with. 

Since these representations are scaled down, our lighting and colors also need to scale in order for our brains to be able to read the piece correctly. Try looking at an unprimed model from a distance and you will see that without paint or any sort of contrast on the model, it becomes difficult to discern exactly what you are looking at. This is the case for models that aren't painted with the appropriate level of contrast. They come off looking "flat". 

In this instance, flat means that there isn't a lot of difference in value between shades, tones and tints. This is where contrast comes in. We need to make sure that not only our highlights and shadows contrast on each surface, but that when picking our color scheme, the base colors of the surface of the model contrast with each other. That means we can't paint an entire piece in just middle values. We need to have light colors, dark colors and middle value colors. 

So, how do we check that we have contrast between the surfaces of our model before shading and highlighting? By using a camera trick! 

If you have a smart phone you can take a photo of your work. Go into the Edit mode on your phone and find your Saturation Setting. Click it and completely desaturate your photo. By doing this we remove the hue and only observe the value (relative lightness or darkness). 

In the photos above, we can see how this trick is used. The first photo shows a side by side of the model with just thin basecoats on and the airbrush primer job. The second photo is the first photo completely desaturated on my Samsung Phone. The third photo is the final paint job and the last photo is a desaturated version of the final paint job. 

In the second photo we can see that all of my basecoats are about the same value. Once the color is removed from the photo, Danerys looks completely grey. There is no difference in the value of the colors used in the basecoat. You can also see that just looking at the thumbnail of the image it is really hard to see details of the sculpt. This allowed me to see how I needed to proceed with the paint job to create more contrast between surfaces and within each surface. 

With the final paint job and increasing the contrast, we an finally see all of the details of the sculpt and accentuate certain aspects of it to make it stand out. 

There is a reason why I have specified how to desaturate your photo. You don't want to use a Filter on your phone. Nearly every phone has a Grayscale Filter but it alters the photo as opposed to only removing the color so you can accurately see the value of the color. Make sure you are following the correct procedure when trying this trick. 

Here are some more images of models with a good level of contrast to them. 
 

Pricing Your Work

Many artists across the world and spanning many different fields undervalue their own work. Which means clients also undervalue the work of the artist. This is what has given birth to the "Starving Artist" stereotype. 

I have heard of too many people who charge less than $5 per hour for their work. Many seem to charge under $3 per hour. They don't even realize they are doing it until they break down the number of hours spent, material costs plus factoring in a little bit of extra for overtime - as we nearly all work more hours than we quote. 

Here is my general rule for minimum pricing: Charge your country's minimum wage. 

For example in Australia, 1 hour of work is $15. The minimum wage here is $15 per hour. This is the entry level wage that doesn't factor in cost of materials or any sort of skill level. 

In the US, it is $7.25 per hour. Which is still too low in my book. Artists should be charging at least $10 per hour at the BARE MINIMUM. 

Is there any reason, why you, a skilled artist, offering a service that not everyone can perform, should get paid less than what your country values as minimum wage pay? 

This doesn't matter if you are offering Tabletop quality commissions or display quality models. You need to AT LEAST be making the minimum wage rate in the country which you reside. If you are particularly skilled, then you can ask for more. Up your price. Don't be afraid to ask for what you are worth. 
 

Create Your Own Wet Palette (Oz & NZ edition)

I have previously written a blog, Wet vs Dry Palettes: What Are They and When To Use Them , after getting many questions, both in class and online. However, there are still questions on how to make your wet palette and how to keep it from drying out. This is crucial for Aussies or anyone living in a warmer and drier climate. 

The reason this is labelled the Oz and NZ edition (Australia and New Zealand) is because all of the items I will be showing in this blog are easily found at most grocery stores in both countries. You can find equivalents in your home country pretty easily just by looking at your options available.

 

Supplies

1 LARGE Sistema Container
1 Roll of Multix Baking Paper (Oz)/Mono Baking Paper (NZ)
2 European Cloth Sponges/Compressed Cellulose Sponge Sheet
 

The reason I stipulate that you need a LARGE wet palette is because, inevitably, when I don't stipulate, people find the smallest container in the shop and then get frustrated when the sponge and paper dry out quickly or when they run out of room after mixing three colors. Find a big palette. I promise you, you will use the space. The larger wet palettes also hold more water which means your sponge will stay wet longer. 

In order to construct your palette, you need to take the Sistema container and flip it upside down so the lid is the bottom of the palette. This is where your sponge will sit. The reason we want to use a container like the Sistema is so that we can use the bottom of the container as the wet palette lid. This means that when you are not using your palette, you can put the lid on it, close it up and your paint will stay wet for days, weeks even. 

This is a 3.5L Sistema. This is the smallest I would suggest using for a wet palette. I use a 7L one. 

Depending on the size of your Sistema you may need to cut and arrange your sponges to fit. You will need to wet the sponge first then measure and cut as the sponge will expand when it gets wet. A few notes on sponges quickly, I recommend using ONLY Compressed Cellulose Sponge Sheet in your wet palette. This is after watching other people's palette constructions and how they perform. So far, the way I put my palette together seems to stay wet the longest out of any configuration. 

The sponge sheet lays low in the palette tray. That means that the water stays soaked in the sponge. If you get a larger cellulose sponge that actually rises above the top line of the Sistema Lid, your sponge will dry out faster as it has more air exposure and the faster your sponge dries, the faster your paper dries which means the faster your paint dries. I see people getting frustrated as their palettes start drying out within an hour of using it. My palette configuration stays wet for days, even in the hot Australian Summer heat. 

You will also see people suggesting to use paper towels layered up instead of a sponge. It will work but it does dry out faster. And the paper towel will eventually disintegrate or get moldy. I tried this method once upon a time and it definitely isn't the best. It also increases waste by having to change the towels frequently. 

I have also seen palettes that use packing foam, not a sponge. The packing foam doesn't actually hold water, it just sits in the water. So it does nothing for keeping your paper wet. You need a sponge as it soaks up the water which means the water is up against your baking paper which keeps the paint wet. 

 

This is two sponges, one full sponge and the second is cut up to fit as much space in the palette as possible. Use a sponge that lays flat within the dimensions of the tray instead of sitting above the top edge of the lid. 

Once you have your sponge fitted in your Sistema Lid, you need to add more water. The line of the water should be at the top line of the sponge. You should see a sheet of water sitting on top of the sponge but your parchment shouldn't float around when you place it on your palette. 

The sponge is saturated with water and I can see a thin sheet of water over the sponge. However, the entire plane isn't flooded. 

Then you need to add your baking paper. I actually cut mine just a little smaller than the lid as it will relax and expand as it gets wet. I belive it is important to cut the paper so it fits instead of leaving any edges that dangle over. Again, this has to do with keeping the palette wet longer. I don't have issues with my paper drying out or edges curling at all as all of my parchment lays flat against a wet sponge. Keeping all of the materials flush against each other, helps to trap the water which means you have less evaporation, which keeps your whole palette wet longer. 

Once I cut it, I lay it down on the sponge and smooth it with my fingers. Then I flip it over and do the same on the other side. This way, both sides of the paper get saturated with water which allows the paper to expand, relax and keep more moisture closer to your paint. 

Then you just add your paint, about 1cm away from the edge of the paper. I lay my paint out so it is around the edges of the palette which leaves the middle as my mixing area. 

 

Ta Da! We have a Wet Palette that is ready to use. But wait, how will I keep it clean, you ask? 

Well, firstly, I recommend rinsing the sponge out after every project and changing the paper every project. That will go a long way. That said, Mark and I add just a tiny spritz of Ammonia Free Windex to our palettes. The Windex acts as a detergent which keeps mold at bay but not away forever. It will also make your palette smell nice and fresh. 

When you notice your sponge is starting to go grey then it is probably time to throw it out and find a new one. Keeping a dirty palette increases your chances of getting sick. In order to take care of yourself, you need to take care of your tools. 

One Last Tidbit . . .

Something that is NEVER discussed but I've been playing with lately is the color of your sponge. If you use a sponge that is not white, it will affect the tones you are mixing. This is called Color Relativity. Any time you have multiple colors in proximity to each other, they bounce off one another and it affects the way we perceive all the colors combined in a composition. This is what we mean when we say a color scheme harmonizes. When all of the colors work well together and don't clash, it is because once they all reflect off each other, they look like a cohesive scheme and it produces harmony. 

This is something we always think about when we are painting the model and trying to choose a color scheme but we rarely, if ever, think about how the color in our palette will affect our overall tone of painting. 

The easy break down is this: 
Using a yellow sponge will mean your colors will likely shift slightly towards yellow in overall tone. 
Using a pink sponge will mean your colors will likely shift more towards red. 
Using a blue sponge will get provide a cooler color scheme overall. 
And so on and so forth. 

So, if you want a true representation of your color, find a white sponge. I also paint swatches in my white paper sketchbook to check what I'm seeing is accurate for the tone I want. Currently, I'm switching around my sponges depending on what I want my overall color scheme to be. I'm currently painting a ranger set in the forest which is a very green ambient color, so using the green sponge means I need to mix a slight amount of green in all of my colors to have them appear correct against the green sponge. That means I will have a slightly green tone to my colors suggesting green is present in the environment. 

I hope this has provided some insight as well as some food for thought. If you guys have any questions feel free to message me. 

Happy Friday from Oz

The Gap

When I was a kid, I was encouraged to be artistic. To draw or color. To experience and experiment with my environment. To create with abandon and never look back. To engage with objects and colors with no rules. My teachers praised my work and submitted my work in National Competitions in Washington DC (my home) and I placed in all of them. I was told to enroll in the AP art classes in High School. I was encouraged by other artists I knew growing up. I was told art was a noble pursuit. 

Yet, there was a secret. A secret no one told me when I was a child because to be creative in your youth is to experience childhood. We should sing, dance, paint, sculpt, whenever we can. But . . . 


As I got older, expectations were set out for me. People said, "Art school is impractical. You'll never make any money. You'll be a starving artist!" People said, "You should put your art away. It isn't okay to pursue any more. You need to focus on sports for a financial scholarship and take classes that will get you into Ivy league schools." People said, "You are talented. But not talented ENOUGH to be an artist". 

In the next breath I was told to follow my dreams, as long as that dream isn't art. Art is a dirty word.  

I tried the "practical" route. I went to University and got a Bachelor's in "something not art". I then went and got a Master's Degree in "anything but art". I graduated and got a job in "not the art field". Guess what? I was fucking miserable! 

I lost my job in the 2008 Financial Crash in the US and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I just didn't really see it at the time. I lost my job. I cashed out my little savings to live off of while I tried to find ANYTHING else. I ran out of money. I nearly lost my house, my car and almost defaulted on my student loans. It was still the best thing that ever happened to me. 

I got to see what I was made of. I had to be creative to find a solution. I had adult responsibilities. I had bills to pay and a dog to feed. Life was bleak. What I did have was a steady stream of part time commissions as a budding miniature painter. It was the only income source I had. I made that shit WORK! 

I started finishing commissions ahead of schedule. Then I painted nearly everything I had in my stash and started to ebay pieces off. Usually for a pittance of about $25. It was frustrating but it quickly snowballed into me doing commission work regularly and even some freelance work for Reaper Miniatures from whom I lived 2 miles down the road. I was seeing success. ACTUALLY SEEING IT. And yet, I hated my work. It was okay. It wasn't great. I looked up to Marike Reimer, Jen Haley, Anne Forester and many others who were already the Greats of the early 2000s. I wanted to be one of them but struggled to get there. I had so many ideas and didn't have the skills to reach those goals. I thought I'd never get there. 

I experienced bouts of depression followed by manic periods of creation and seeing improvement. Then I'd plateau and hit a slump again. I got frustrated. I got down on myself. I listened to the haters. But I never gave up despite feeling pretty frustrated at times. 

This is called "The Gap". Where you want to be an artist or a writer. You want to create beautiful works of art. You want to do a number of things but your skills just aren't up to snuff. You hate you work. And you have a hard time overcoming that disappointment in your own lack of skills. You compare your work to that of others. You think they must be born with some crazy amount of innate talent. 

Those of us Making This Shit Work in the art world have all been there. Yet, we do our fans and our admirers a disservice. We never talk about our struggles. We don't want to be seen as weak. We don't want to discuss the difficulties we may have faced or our frustrations we may still experience. We make everything look easy because we've painted eyes thousands of times and can whip them out in 5 seconds. We know how to paint textures now after struggling to get nothing but smooth surfaces on an entire piece and realizing it looks weird. We have been through all of the hurdles the Up&Comers are experiencing but we don't discuss it. 

Well, Let's talk about it! 

I started painting when I was 21. After many years of denying myself ANY creative outlet. I didn't even draw in the margins of my notes any more. I had completely given it up because "it wasn't practical" and I was told "you can't make money arting". And yes, this includes my parents. They were pretty staunchly against their child becoming a professional artist. However, my dad was incredibly proud of my accomplishments before he passed. He realized he did me a disservice by trying to make me follow HIS path, instead of letting me follow my own. My mom seems to be pretty impressed with what I have forged on my own too. The fact that I paint for collectors, I teach students regularly and I've traveled the world to engage in artistic endeavors shows I am now successful. So, despite their warnings time and again, they have seen that everything turned out okay. 

After about 5 years away from art all together, I started dating a guy who was into Dungeons and Dragons. I was introduced to the world of Roleplaying Games and Miniatures. He taught me how to clean mold lines, prime my miniatures black ALWAYS because it makes Drybrushing WAY easier. Then you pick at most 4 colors, drybrush it all on and bam! You got painted minis baby! 

My first miniatures ever. 

I have struggled to learn over the last 12 years of my life. I've pestered other artists and was probably pretty annoying at times. I took classes when I could at Conventions. I went in search of the Silver Bullet that would make my work look gorgeous with minimal effort. I asked for recipes to help. And I've learned the secret. Yes, that's right! There's a secret! It's a pretty good one too. It's the one thing those of us who know it never share, right? If we did, then everyone would know it by now!

Sit down. Buckle up. I'm about to tell you. 

Are you ready? 

Like really ready? 

For sure ready? 

Okay, here it is. 

Yup. That's it. The secret is PRACTICE! And OFTEN! You wouldn't expect to have a hot body after a single 5 hour session in the gym and never have to go again. Seems pretty obvious. In fact, you'll probably just cripple yourself if you did that. Well, art is pretty much the same. You need to practice in short bursts frequently over the course of the week. You will start to see improvement more rapidly in your skill, how quickly you can knock out a sketch, your color choices will be more natural, you will be get better. 

Here's what it looks like when you spend 12 years practicing and learning from others: 

I want YOU, the reader, to know, that I too struggled to get where I am today. And my journey is not over. There is always more to learn. And yes, even I get a little discouraged sometimes when I see the amazing work coming from others. But you know what? That means you have someone you can go to with questions. You have people you can learn from. You have new and exciting aspects of your craft or art to discover and it will be amazing! 

I struggled to learn on my own. I definitely wouldn't be where I am today with the help of Jeremie Bonamant Teboul, Roman Lappat, Matt DiPietro, Ron Kruzie, Marike Reimer and the many others who've given me advice and encouragement over the years. However, if I hadn't practiced what I learned from them, I wouldn't have advanced.

The best advice I could give to anyone would be: 
There is no silver bullet. You won't be able to create stunning masterpieces overnight. It will take time and take practice, frequent practice. And that is okay. Your journey is your own. Compare your current work with your previous work. Never compare your work to that of others. Take the compliments to heart and shrug off the haters. Your journey is your own. It is personal. It is private yet on public display. We bare our souls to the world constantly. Keeping that in mind, we should all be kind to each other and we should encourage one. Your journey is your own.  

The End.