Wednesday, June 22, 2016

On Use, Admiration, and Admitting to Wanting a Pretty Bike



As you can see, I have been taking this weight-savings thing quite seriously - to the point that I've now removed all but the most essential parts from my roadbike. Can't you tell that my new wheels are practically light as air?

Okay, I tell a lie. But I am in the process of stripping my bike. As I'll soon be sending the frameset off to get painted. Note that I write painted, not re-painted. My roadbike's titanium frame is nekked as the day it was born, which is the way I wanted it when I ordered my bike over 4 years ago. Or so I thought.

"I still don't get why you didn't get your own bike sprayed," says my husband as he catches me, staring at his sparkly, gorgeous, green and blue paintjob, with mouth slack and eyes full of longing. Again.

"Oh, you know. It was unnecessary. My bike is titanium. They don't need paint, that's the whole point."

He is silent, but in a searching-for-the-right-words-while-suppressing-a-laugh sort of way. I can tell what he's thinking: "Since when has something being 'unnecessary' stopped you?!" Instead, he says diplomatically, "Oh come on. Get the thing painted. You like pretty bikes, it's okay!"

Urban Cycle Path Seven

I do like pretty bikes; that much is obvious enough!  And people who know me find it a little strange that the one I ride most is not my idea of "pretty." Don't get me wrong: I admire the workmanship. And I appreciate the aesthetic. But that ain't the same thing as actually finding it beautiful. It's not gushy-squealy love.

But in a way, I think that gushy-squealy love was a thing I tried to avoid with my roadbike. Being enamoured of a bicycle's aesthetics had let me down in the past; it had proved counterproductive to finding something with the ride quality, performance, and degree of comfort that actually suited me. Thanks to a month-long rental in 2011, I already knew that a Seven would have the magic mix of those ingredients. And as I rode the bare, industrial-looking demo-bike in awe of its speed and comfort, an association between its look and feel formed and perhaps created a false dichotomy: "aesthetics vs function." So, when it came time to spec my own bike, following a twisted sort of logic, I worried perhaps that making it pretty would jinx the ride experience. Safer to keep it plain!


There are benefits to not being obsessed with a bicycle's looks. When I think of my roadbike, I do not picture the machine itself. It is as if the bike is invisible. What I picture are scenes like the one above. I picture the beautiful places it has taken me to, the magical experiences it has given me.

There are other things I've enjoyed about the plain and minimal matte-gray frame. For example, the fact that it matches everything. I could get any colour bartape I wanted, and it would look fantastic. The purple I chose (and have kept the entire time) was a wild infusion of colour that looked unexpected and chic, like a pair of brightly coloured shoes with an impeccable all-gray ensemble.

But am I an impeccable gray ensemble kind of girl? Not really. I am Edwardian florals. Paisley. Filigree. Clashing Donegal tweeds. All of it crumpled and wrinkled and worn till it's threadbare, of course.

There are cyclists I know - vintage enthusiasts, mainly, but also admirers of modern handmade bikes - who make a sharp distinction between the bicycles they love and the bicycles they ride in an everyday context. The latter is usually a machine toward which they feel no attachment and no affection. Similarly, among fountain pen enthusiasts there is a concept of "user pens" - that is, those pens deemed unremarkable enough for daily writing. I do not want to head in that direction. I want to use what I love, and to love what I use.


In our four and a half years together, my roadbike has given me some 20,000 miles of joy, comfort and general cycling pleasure. The fact that I did not fawn over its looks took my focus away from the bicycle as an object and directed it more keenly toward the cycling experience itself. At the time when I got the bike, I believe that I needed that. Now? I'd like to think that I am less confused about what I want. And more capable of a balanced approach.

In short, I'd like for my roadbike to be pretty and I am going to have it painted. Nothing crazy. Nothing overly fancy. No trendy themes that might make me cringe a few years down the road. But it'll be one of my favourite colours. It will have that candy-wrapper sheen that I love. And the rear triangle will be left bare titanium, because the way Seven's signature curved stays and the dropouts are done is my favourite part of the frame construction; I enjoy remembering watching them being welded.

Will the bicycle be any better once it is painted? Not at all (and just think of the extra weight!). But that really isn't the point. The relationship between use and admiration is an interesting one. And an ongoing one. And one that we must each figure out for ourselves. Me? I am still in the process. And I am enjoying the current stage of it very much.


53 comments:

  1. I'm sure you'll love the bike more painted, but oh! I am strongly a fan of materials that are what they are, all the way through. Solid wood, solid stone, solid metal - these are materials that can be dinged, nicked, scratched, and they will be the same (more or less) all the way through. That is rare to find in bikes (though I guess your Brompton satisfies that niche.)

    Every time the painted wood trim in my home gets dinged, showing the color underneath, I am reminded of this. This is purely an aesthetic preference of mine, to where if I can have a thing that is not covered in a thin layer of another material (veneer, paint, etc.), that's what I will choose. But I do hope you enjoy the new color!

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    1. Oh I know to paint Ti especially is sacrilege! But I'm looking forward to it : ) The rear triangle, and the dropouts in particular, will still allow me to gaze at the material. I think I will also enjoy the cooer/textural interplay of the painted and unpainted bits.

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  2. Your bike looks great with the natural titanium color. Also the brown handle bar tape looks great. That said, I can understand why you want to paint it. Painted bikes can look great too. I didn't expect I would like it, but some pastel painted bikes look great. There are some examples on Vanilla Bicycles.

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    1. FYI the "brown tape" is what Brooks leather violet tape looks like after 4.5 years!

      Vanilla excels at this lovely matte, milky aesthetic, and that's a look I tried to go for with the sage-green powdercoat on my DIY bike. In the end, though, I think I prefer metallics.

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  3. I made the decision to go with a semi-custom frame. The primary consideration was the ability to really dial-in fit and component choices, but what cinched the deal was the ability to pick any colour I want. I love love my pretty bike.

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  4. Your husband is wrong. You don't just paint titanium because there is no need to. You don't paint it because it's the most beautiful of all colors. It's not just grey. It's greyish with hints of brown and purple. And as you noticed, it matches everything.

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    1. It was I who said it was unnecessary.

      The Ti's finish is truly unique, which is one reason I appreciate it. It has a matte, velvety quality, that at the same time reflects/absorbs the colours around it a noticeable way. To me, the nicest-looking Ti frames are those where splashes of colour are introduced while swathes are still kept unpainted.

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  5. Jacques Barzun, in From Dawn to Decadence, stated that a bicycle is one of civilizations "perfect forms" (the other being the book), and I have agreed with that ever since I read it. A pretty bike is so enjoyable to just examine and look at. The downside of a pretty bike is that you worry about it, or at least I do. I even worry about stranger's pretty bikes. I often ride to the train station, take the bike on the train (where some careless person will just crash and push his bike into mine to make more room), and then ride to work in San Francisco with the bike often parked in vulnerable locations out in the weather. I just cannot take one of my pretty bikes on these trips. So I got a Chinese-made Fuji "hybrid". I look like a dork when I see my reflection in a store window. It is not a "perfect form". But it is still fun to ride on the commute. And when I get home I will always spend a minute or two experiencing gushy squealy love looking at one of my vintage bikes and thinking of our next ride. So, my thoughts on this matter: You should make that bike pretty, very pretty, but short of obsession, ride it a lot, and wash and detail it once in awhile.

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    1. Wash and detail!... Yikes, I probably *will* have to do that once in a while once the bike is painted.

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  6. "I want to use what I love, and to love what I use."

    Bravo.

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  7. Never one to be content with a bike unless it was marked by both beauty and performance so I really relate to this post. Paint is so important and while I think my ti bike is beautiful unpainted and receives admiring remarks for its beauty, my last bike from the same manufacturer was in steel and painted an elusive evergreen metallic just so that I love. I do feel a more intimate connection with this painted bike probably because of the paint and certain classic touches like RH chainrings and so on. Keats had it right. Let's face it, bikes and their beguiling charms will always be a mystery to most of us and that's a good thing! Thanks as always for sharing. Jim Duncan

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    1. That is interesting to know Jim, and glad you're enjoying the "elusive evergreen metallic" : )

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  8. She's entered her pupae stage...

    Looking forward to the great unveiling! Does anything special have to be done to the Ti surface to prepare it for a finish?

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    1. That's a good question. I have watched them get painted, but not the prep. I'll inquire.

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  9. I like naked. I didn't have my custom bike painted and kept it with lacquered stainless steel, so not quite totally naked but still a raw steel finish. Unlike some colours, I think that goes with anything.

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  10. Shame! That bike is gorgeous in the metal. Why would you want to ruin it with nasty toxic Painty stuff which will chip and crack and fade and...ugh
    The good thing is when you get fed up with whatever cheesy colour you get put on it, you can always get it blasted off and it will look beautiful again!

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    1. The nastiest and most toxic ingredient in the paint is the titanium dioxide. Producing that stuff requires environmental harm. Go too far in that line of thinking and you get to chase your tail down a rabbit hole.

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  11. I have a titanium Seven with similar mileage. No paint, just decals. If i was ordering again I would go with sandblasted logos and no decals as the odd mark in the decals is the only thing that gives the age of the bike away. Other than that it still looks like new. Brave decision to opt for paint but it will give you that new bike feel once again and the opportunity to personalise your bike further. It will truly be one of a kind then. Are you having the frame sent back to Boston for painting or getting it done locally? I think actually looking at my frame getting painted would be a similar feeling to being a spectator again back in the maternity ward all those years ago!!

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    1. Because my decals are done in a special font (more delicate than Seven's standard font), they peel off a little too easily. The frame itself though has barely a couple of scuffs on it, and even those I could have buffed out myself had I wanted to. Amazing durability. And aside from the occasional wash, it's required no maintenance. (Gosh, I am almost starting to talk myself out of this paint thing!) I considered doing it locally, but ultimately I think it needs to go back to Seven.

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  12. Anodized titanium. Ever see it? You don't have to do the Leni Fried froufrou unless you want it, nice colors available.

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    1. Have I ever!
      {see: Firefly Bicycles - a True Story}

      Love the anodized Ti look of course. But not sure it is "me."
      Had to look up Leni Fried, and ...wow...

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  13. Speaking of: Why Seven and not Firefly, or Indyfab?

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    1. Speaking generally? No reason. They all make great bikes. Firefly is considerably more expensive than the other two, I believe, and has a longer wait list. IF is not in Boston anymore (assuming you are asking about Boston builders). On the other hand, Geekhouse has started making Ti frames as well now, so there is yet another option. There are probably others on the scene too now, I bet.

      Speaking personally? If you read how I came upon Seven, it began as nothing more than geographic luck/ coincidence. Then once I tried the bikes I fell in love. I also got to know people at Seven, as many of them happened to live near to where I lived at the time. So while a number of makers offer equally fantastic bikes, Seven will always have a sense of personal connection for me. That, and I prefer the look of their rear triangles to that of the other Ti makers' rear triangles : )

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  14. There seems to be the notion that ti frames should be kept in their natural color. And they're better that way. But this doesn't apply to steel or aluminum bikes. Paint them to however you like it. Reminds me of Delightful Cycles 'your bike should only be the one like it in the world.'Looking forward to your painted bike.

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  15. How long was the wait when you ordered your bike (assuming you had to wait)? I would love a review of Seven's custom process, including a comparison to other builders you are familiar with. Thanks!

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    1. I did have to wait. From the time we finalised the specs, I think it took just over a month. Their turnaround is typically 4-8 weeks, and they always have the up-to-date lead times in their website footer (currently quoted: 5 weeks for unpainted; 7 weeks for painted). I believe that's some of the quickest times you will get for custom work.

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  16. An interesting "dilemma".

    When I got my Enigma, it frankly never occurred to me that it could be painted. I knew several people with titanium-framed bikes from several builders (Planet X, Lynsky, Van Nicholas, Sabbath and Enigma) and they were all au natural. No one said they could be painted and I never thought to ask.

    A year later I found myself on tour with another woman on a lovely glossy black bike that kept catching my eye. Turned out to be a Burls, with the subtlest of subtle logo. The penny dropped. Ti could be painted.

    This year a good friend in our cycling club is having a custom Enigma Etape built and she knew from the beginning exactly what colours she wanted! Discussing the whole concept of painted ti really opened my eyes. But the big conclusion I drew from it was, thank God I didn't know when I ordered mine! Choosing a colour would have introduced a whole new complication to the decision-making process. I already felt that getting a custom frame built was a huge risk: What if I get it all wrong? Admittedly I was concerned with fit and the ride and hardly gave a thought to aesthetics. I am generally speaking not at all indecisive but the risk of being unhappy with the *colour*... oh God, I would never ordered the bloomin' bike! (And I'm in awe of Rachel for being so sure!)

    Three years later, when I give a thought to the aesthetics of my Enigma, it's all about the tubing angles. It'll never look exactly right to my eyes, but it's all exactly right for my body. The frame has quite a few scuffs and hey, yes, I could buff them out, but they don't concern me.

    The funny thing is, I am planning another custom frame and this time I know without a shadow of a doubt EXACTLY what colour it MUST be.

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    1. Wow, Burls even makes Ti forks! And their pricing is very reasonable.

      I have to say I do not regret *not* getting my frame painted from the start, and one reason is exactly the indecision element you mention. Now that I've lived with the bike for some time, I have a good idea what sort of paint scheme will suit it, so the decision is a lot easier.

      What is the new frame? : )

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    2. The pricing is "reasonable" because Justin Burl outsources ti frames to Russia.

      I have no regrets either. Reading this post made me stop and wonder, would I have it painted now? Nope. Just not bothered.

      The new frame will be steel, candied-apple red. The two staged process with gold metallic undercoat. I saw an example of Joe Comstock's work at Bespoked and was totally bowled over. Joe is in Australia but Jaco at Enigma is just about the best paint guy in the UK and I know he can do this.

      I haven't confirmed the order yet. There are issues with lugs being (or not) available in the angles I need for my fit. May end up ordering custom lugs from Darrell McCulloch (who built the Comstock-finish bike that I saw).

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  17. Oh and... I specified exactly the angles of the rear triangle, purely for aesthetic reasons! Enigma had just ended their flirtation with curved seatstays and boy was I glad! Totally understand what you love about that on your Seven.

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  18. Another idea for a future Lovely Bicycle post: a roundup of European builders who work with titanium.

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    1. There is actually a surprising number of them; it would be a long list! Most recently, a company out of Barcelona called Nua Bikes has contacted me announcing an imminent launch. Seems like there are new ones arriving on the scene all the time.

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  19. Sticking with this bike for 4+ years, considering the opportunities open to you as an industry insider, is a decent track record. You obviously know what you like, once you find it. You and Seven Cycles seem like a good match and I look forward to reading about the 622SLX collaboration.

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  20. I remember when you started the relationship with your Seven. I never thought it would stick. Boy did I call that one wrong.


    While I couldn't foresee myself choosing to paint a Ti frame, I can 100% understand your motivation to do so. I am ridiculously particular when it comes to bicycle aesthetics. Moreso than anything else in my life. I've gone to crazy lengths and unnecessary expense oftentimes to get components that look "right" for my bikes. Or have torn down bikes that I've just finished putting together because the look wasn't up to snuff for me.
    As some sort of anchor in reality, I usually have a couple of bikes in the stable that I force myself to not fret over. These are my daily "users" (to borrow your pen term), more often than not.



    Wolf.

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    1. The combination of the bike's feel and performance were so right for me (especially at the time when I first "discovered" Seven, and was having a lot of problems with pain, balance, etc.) that this really trumped everything else.

      I am very particular about some aspects of bicycle builds, and others not. there is not necessarily any rhyme or reason to it either. Sometimes a silly detail, like a water bottle cage looking "wrong", can bother me to no end. And then something far more noticeable and clumsier I'll just shrug off.

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  21. I understand the attraction to naked Ti but I have to tell you it's worn pretty thin for me. I can't think of any current Bike Trope that's become as tedious as the idea that there's something inherently awesome about a bare Ti frame. Unfortunately another reason some people don't paint Ti is it can be an exercise in futility. Even the best paint hardly want's to stay on that material, hell it's even a challenge to get powdercoat to stick well. Show me a painted Ti bike that gets ridden much and I'll show you a bike with razor nicks all over it's neck. Prepping Titanium isn't like steel or even aluminum.

    If it weren't for the glued-in seat-tube insert in my Seven Mudhoney I would have sent that bike through the powdercoat oven long ago, but 10 minutes at 400 degree's would have that composite collar sitting in the bottom of the tube. I'll eventually get up the nerve to brush-paint it with semi-gloss Rustoleum and see if I can make it look like I got it at a yardsale. THEN it'll at least be interesting and when I get tired of it I can just scrape it off with a thumbnail.

    Anyway, after all that, I'm eager to see what you're up to with your bike, I suspect "IT'S GOING TO BE AMAZING(spoken in a quavery, excited squeal)!"

    Spindizzy

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    1. You saying you can't make your own collar?

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    2. I could but at that point it's a "modified frame" and no longer warranted. I thought about it...

      Dizspinny

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    3. Current tedious bike trope - flat black carbon fiber. Flat black anything.

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  22. I remember years ago reading an article in some roadie magazine titled something like "In defense of naked bikes". About halfway through reading it I was thinking a "Naked Bike" should be the one you ride without any clothes and thinking to myself "That could be cool", however after the rise of the Big Naked Group Ride phenomenon I'm thinking THAT might be the the most tedious Bike Trope instead of the idea that Ti is too awesome to paint.

    Neither of those things is quite as wonderful in real life as in the imagination...

    Spin

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    1. Having seen naked bike rides in Boston and Vienna (Austria, not Virginia), I was actually impressed that they were not as much of a let-down, aesthetically, as I might have expected. The body paint is key though, I think.

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    2. And the festival atmosphere.

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    3. There is not enough body paint in all of Vienna to create a "Festival Atmosphere" around me and my riding buddies. It would look more like a bunch of hysterical overweight Vikings looking for a Starbucks to attack.

      Spizdinny

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  23. I recently faced the dilemma of what paint to use on my bike when I was planning my new custom gravel, n=1, bike. As a short person, all I knew is that I wanted a bike that had what I wanted, within my budget AND that it fitted my body (I'm 5'), color was the least of my considerations. I was unsuccessful and that's why I went the custom route. Boy did I have a hard time deciding on color!

    In the end I decided on a sparkly berry paint, with the rest all black. I wanted something girly but still 'chic' (and that wouldn't attract much attention).

    Also, I'm a fountain pen collector too. I use all my pens for daily writing, the cheap and the pricey, it's just more fun than having them stored away. I think I am the same with my bike :)

    Looking forward to see your painted bike!

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  24. "elusive evergreen metallic" : ) Meant to say, sagebrush metallic. Brain is first to go helped along no doubt by 3:30 a.m., risings to ride before heat:)!

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  25. I recently sold a Serotta Concours which was raw titanium that I've had since 2002. I didn't mind the rawness but never liked the decal colors which were black outlined in gold. But I never did change them. I did often admire some of the Serotta paint colors and schemes that they offered. As I recollect, they said that once painted that they couldn't be returned to raw. So there must be something in the process that changes the surface to hold paint/primer. There is also the option of polished titanium. I think it looks quite nice if not overdone. It could look good on your rear triangle depending on your chosen paint color. That said, I do like bikes in color. I really dislike the current fad of matte black carbon frames. I'm sure you "new" Seven will be look great.

    Doug

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  26. I enjoy a beautiful bicycle as much as anybody, but I also like the look of raw metal and titanium and stainless steel are just about the only popular metals that you can make a bike out of and not paint or powdercoat it.
    The aside from that there is something about buying a bike for it's lightweight properties and the effectively making it heavier.
    Aside from that, pretty much only bike nuts will immediately recognize a titanium frame as just that, so once it gets a little dirty it's about as close to a stealthy bike as you can get! So I think it IS really beautiful, just in a more austere, low key sort of way; it's just not flash and you can fully appreciate the builders hard work. - Masmojo

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  27. Will the makeover include a new drivetrain or components?

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    1. You are psychic, sort of. It will include going back to the old drivetrain. Wait a minute for the new post.

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  28. I was just noticing the fork end on your Seven and they look non-standard. Are they perhaps custom, low-trail fork ends made to your preference and specification? Is this a glimpse into a future low-trail Seven? Doug

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  29. 'Pretty' is such an interesting and loaded word. Beyond that I'll keep quiet.

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  30. Looking forward to seeing the finished product. As a magazine editor and former graphic designer, as well as a photography enthusiast, I find aesthetic is very important in all things.

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