An Interview with Artist Mark Jacobucci

TreeHouse recently had the opportunity to chat with artist Mark Jacobucci regarding all of the details that go into creating his paintings. Be sure to keep reading after our interview to view some of Mark’s artwork and watch his painting demonstration video from the Festival of Arts. To see more of his work and upcoming exhibits, visit his website at:


Mark Jacobucci

Mark Jacobucci

TreeHouse: How do you decide what particular landscape or scene you want to paint? Is it simply a matter of appreciation and how its beauty speaks to you or are there other factors involved in your decision?

Mark Jacobucci: It’s simply an emotional connection with a scene encountered during my day and it could be for any number of reasons. I think it is usually the composition and light quality, strong directional lines, contrasting shadows and light, and colors that I am attracted to and feel have development potential.


TH: We understand that one of the first things you do after deciding to paint a particular place is to take photographs of the scene. Take us through the steps of your painting process; where do you go from there? How long does any one individual piece take you to complete?

MJ: I could be driving to and from work, or on a walk or run, at the beach, or on vacation. I take pictures with the intention to look at them later to see if any of them have potential. When reviewing, I might crop the shot to improve the composition, but I rarely do anything else to it.

I used to use printed photos and these were terrible. No contrast or depth, too limiting, not very inspiring. Then I used slides viewed through a viewer or a loupe. But it’s hard on the eyes to continually alternate viewing through a loupe and refocusing on the canvas. And there was wait time involved in making photos or slides. Now, painting directly from the iPhone or iPad, inspiration to painting is instantaneous, and the color and contrast is great.

Completion takes a few hours or several weeks. The time it takes depends on the complexity of the scene and how realistic I want to be. Usually I start out with an intention one way or another and let the style evolve during the first compositional strokes. Part of the Plein-aire style involves “rapidity” because outside you are always racing against the changing light. In the studio I don’t have to race against the light, but I paint as if I did.


TH: You paint in what is known as the “plein-air, alla prima style” within your studio.  Can you tell our readers a bit about that style of painting and why you choose to create predominantly within your studio rather than outdoors or at the scene where your subjects appear?

MJ: Plein-aire is basically “on location” and alla prima means “all at once,” wet-on- wet painting. They are related, but not the same. I am attracted to it because of limited available painting time. I like to work quickly and finish quickly. If I spend too much time on one painting I tend to get bored with it and it becomes work and less play and relaxation. I like mixing the colors right on the canvas, using lots of paint, and painting quickly and spontaneously, allowing happy accidents and unfinished areas to remain in the completed piece. The objective is that the resulting painting looks fresh, spontaneous, exciting, and interesting to look at over and over.

Although I sometimes do Plein-aire, I prefer to work in the studio for a few reasons: first, I am too lazy to pack up all my stuff and get out in the field. It’s a lot do work to go through all that preparation and travel time, which cuts into the actual painting time. Also, I can work much larger in the studio than in the field. When the kids were younger, I could spend a lot of weekend time painting and still be home to do things like go for a bike ride or to the beach. I threw a plastic sheet over the palette and off we went. Then later in the day or evening I could just walk back into the garage and pick up where I left off.

It’s all about limited available painting time and keeping my life simple. I only have weekends to paint, and I really like to exercise (running, walking, and surfing), so I don’t do a lot of other time-consuming things.


TH: You prominently use oils in your work, but have recently started to experiment with acrylics as well. Do you prefer one over the other for specific pieces? Can you explain to us the difference in the way you use them?

MJ: I like both. In high school I used acrylics, in college, oils. When traveling I use acrylics. In 1980 I did a whole series of paintings during a road trip to the west coast using acrylics on canvas. I had one set of stretchers and several precut canvas sheets. I stapled a new canvas on it and used the same stretchers for every session. When the painting was finished it was already completely dry, so I took it off and rolled it up and put it in the back of the car.

Although since 1999 most of my work has been in oils, last year I started using acrylics again – the fast drying time forces me to paint rapidly and more spontaneously. Acrylics are safer to use, with less toxicity and easy clean up. As for technique, my objective is to make the character and quality of the acrylic look just like it’s oil. It’s harder to mix the colors on the painting itself, but if you work fast enough it can be done satisfactorily. The paint typically flattens out on the surface instead of maintaining the dimensional quality of the brush strokes. This takes some getting used to. There are all kinds of extenders and fillers you can buy to make the paint remain dimensional and I have experimented with some of these, but typically do not use them because I’m not yet familiar with how to use them in the best way.

The brand of acrylics I use is buttery like oils and it has much better colors and color stability than what used to be the case. Unlike oils, some acrylic colors shift hue and value a little as they dry. I love the rapid drying, and the permanent quality and stability of the plastic once it dries. There’s another quality to acrylics, which is that besides drying quickly the paint surface flattens out. If a painting has not worked out I can paint a new one right over it. The new one can be oils or acrylic. You can’t really do the same thing with an oil painting unless it’s still wet and you can cleanly scrape and wipe the old one away. And you can’t paint a new acrylic painting over old oil, but you can do oil over acrylic.

All that said, I am planning that my next piece may be oil.


TH: You have attended painting workshops in California and New Mexico, which sounds like a great way for artists to both share and further advance their skills. Have you found that to be true in your experience? And do you find that workshops are beneficial for continuous inspiration and creativity once the sessions are completed and you’re back at home?

MJ: I think it’s a great way to get started, hone your skills, or learn alternate techniques. It’s short, not a major commitment. How long the inspiration lasts depends on how much you get out of it. But on balance, workshops are great. You always learn something new and see another point of view.


TH: You’ve been involved in Laguna Beach’s infamous Festival of Arts for many years now. What do you think it is about the festival that contributes to its long-standing success?

MJ: I’ve been lucky to have been in the FOA for 13 of the past 14 years, and I am happy to say that I will be in next year also. The FOA is unique and successful because of its close association with the Pageant of the Masters. Including the other two festivals, Sawdust, and Art Affair, I think all three art festivals combine their success synergistically by supporting one another. The FOA and Pageant, with their nightly audience of over two thousand viewers every single day during the summer, is wonderful. Being a juried show has its ins and outs and we’ve almost all been “in or out “from time to time. That said, jurying keeps you serious about making the best art you can.


TH: There is much discussed belief within the creative writing world that in order to hone your skill you must write every day. Do you think the same rule applies to other art forms? How often do you work on your paintings?

MJ: I don’t think there are any set rules like “paint every day” or put in “10,000 hours,” but I have learned from a very wise person that if you “practice with purpose” you will achieve good results. The most important thing is to paint when you want to paint and don’t paint when you don’t. That way it stays fun.

I used to be more obsessive about making sure I was always working on a piece or always finishing a piece during a weekend session. But now I am a little more relaxed about it. I tend to paint very quickly, so when I am in the zone I can produce a lot of work in a relatively short time. I’m not trying to prove anything, and it’s important to me that making art remains pleasant and inspiring and diverting.


TH: You mention in your bio that your career as a landscape architect influences your art due to how much they have in common: “one is landscaping with paint on canvas, the other is painting with landscape on the land.”  That is a beautiful sentiment – do you feel that there are other careers you could have gone into that might have influenced your art in the same way?

MJ: In art I actually started with sculpture, which I studied in college. Sculpture was about objects in space. The first time I ever heard of landscape architecture was when a grad student at Harvard’s GSD asked me about placing sculpture in a garden. What he was doing was learning about the space around objects. I found that this was a growing design profession rooted in the real world that encompassed aspects of design, ecology, geology, horticulture, and psychology, and that it worked in scales as large as regions and as small as backyard gardens. Not only that, but you could make a living at it! Imagine how great that sounded to a former art major. That meeting led to graduate school and a professional degree in Landscape Architecture.

I didn’t start painting seriously until 15 years later, while practicing at SWA in Laguna Beach. Also, I took another detour professionally and worked as a program manager for a science company. Since about 2000 I’ve been back to landscape architecture and painting consistently. It’s a neat kind of symmetry in that both endeavors are land based and follow fundamental precepts of design.

Of course painting doesn’t need to be about the landscape, so I imagine if I had gone into a non-design related professional field or stayed in program management, my art work would have taken a much different path. I love all kinds of art and I feel pretty comfortable doing my brand of contemporary impressionism. Maybe if I had been doing something else professionally I would have been a more conceptual artist. In any case, I believe that the need to do art was inside me and that sooner or later it was going to assert itself one way or another. I am excited to be learning something new about art all the time.

If asked, my advice would be if you have a little talent and it gives you some satisfaction, figure out a way to do the art. Do it because you want to do it. But don’t take it too seriously – after all it’s not rocket science.


Watch Mark’s painting demo at the Festival of Arts on YouTube or Vimeo.



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Mark Jacobucci

Mark Jacobucci

Mark Jacobucci has drawn since he could hold a pencil. He studied painting in high school on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and attended Brandeis University for a BA and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, earning an MLA. Early influences include the painters Paul Georges, Paul Brown, and sculptor Peter Grippe, all known in the New York art scene. After receiving his Master’s Degree in Landscape Architecture in 1984, Mark came to California in 1985 to work in the profession at an internationally acclaimed design firm in Laguna Beach.

He continued to sketch and draw illustratives for his design projects, then renewed his passion for art by attending life drawing sessions at the Laguna College of Art. Mark also attended painting workshops in Laguna Beach, California and the Fechin Institute in Taos, New Mexico.

Mark’s paintings are primarily landscapes: beaches and coastlines, roads, alleys, and agrarian scenes. Some pieces depict areas that have since been developed or are slated for development. These he considers historical documents. Using strong contrast, vibrant colors, and loose, spontaneous brushwork, Mark paints in the plein-air, alla prima style most often in the studio. His style has a contemporary flair which differentiates his landscapes from plein-air artists of the past who may have painted similar scenes.

He grew up on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and has resided in Laguna Beach and Laguna Niguel, California since 1985. To learn more, visit his website at:

An Interview with Writer and Blogger Linda Leinen

Linda Leinen

Linda Leinen

TreeHouse bloggers recently had the opportunity to interview Linda Leinen about her writings, the readers of her successful blog The Task At Hand, and the fascinating life she’s led.

TreeHouse: Your work life seems to have taken a few turns throughout the years. You started out as a medical social worker at The University of Texas’s Department of Surgery and are now varnishing the woodwork of sailing vessels. That seems like a big change in careers. Was it as large a stretch as it sounds?

Linda Leinen: I suppose it would have been, except for the fact that, during the years between social work and wood work, I did a good bit more stretching, in a variety of ways.

For example, after moving to Liberia, I discovered fairly quickly that living and working in an environment where needs are great and resources are limited demands creativity and the development of problem-solving skills. Sometimes I solved problems and sometimes, as when a teacher was needed at a nearby school, I was judged to be the solution to a problem. In that case, I ended up teaching, and enjoyed every bit of it.

Of course I learned as much — or more — than my students, primarily because I also had to learn how to teach. Later, I transferred those skills to a variety of contexts, including work as a sailing instructor.

It would be easy to say that sailing was the reason for my taking up brightwork (the formal term for varnishing boats), but of course it was more complicated than that. Still, there’s no question that my time in Liberia, my work as a pastor and my time on the water all nurtured both my confidence and my willingness to take on risks: prerequisites for any entrepreneur.


TH: You spend a lot of time near water, open-ocean sailing and varnishing boats on the Texas Gulf Coast. What is it that draws you to the water? Do you feel the combination of sea and air helps you creatively?

LL: I didn’t begin sailing until 1987. Until that time, my only experience with boats was a trip or two in a fishing boat on a Minnesota lake during family vacations, some canoeing, and trips to barrier islands on various Texas ferries. When a friend invited me to come along for a sail on her 40th birthday, I was entranced by the experience. The next week, I started sailing lessons.

I’m far less fond of lakes than I am of open water, perhaps because I love to travel and I equate sailing with travel. I love the sense of possibility, of freedom, that comes with stepping on board a boat and loosening the lines –  I even love not knowing what challenges will arise along the way.

As for any relationship between the sea and creativity, I’m not sure that water is the critical element. Rather, the combination of an outdoor life, manual labor, solitude, and freedom is what I find pleasing. If someone offered me equivalent work on the prairie or in the mountains, I’d happily go, particularly if I could work and think during the day, and write at night.


TH: Is The Task At Hand your first blog? What initially made you want to start blogging?

LL: I didn’t set out to blog. When I joined Weather Underground in 2005, my primary interest lay in tracking hurricanes. Somewhat later, I decided to use my space in their blog section as a practice page for learning to post photos, untangling the mysteries of HTML, and so on.

My first entry was a recipe for pecan pie. My second entry, more substantial, was about a trip to the Texas Hill Country. People seemed to enjoy it, and I began to receive compliments on my writing. A friend suggested I needed to begin a “real blog,” both to gain some flexibility and to increase readership. Six months later, I began The Task at Hand on WordPress, and I’ve maintained a more-or-less weekly posting schedule since 2008.

From the beginning, I said that I intended to use WordPress’s blogging platform in order to learn to write. Blessed with a mysterious but absolute conviction that the way to learn how to write is to write, I disregarded much of the wisdom being bandied about at the time: particularly that blogging success required daily posting, short pieces of fewer than three hundred words, and plenty of polls, memes, and quizzes. So far, I’ve been pleased with the result.


TH: Who are your readers? Do they comment/interact with you often?

LL: I love that you ask the question that way. When it comes to readers, the “who” is much more important to me than the “how many.” Certainly I take pleasure in seeing my readership increase, and in watching page views increase when I publish something new. But it’s far more pleasurable to know so many of the people behind the numbers.

They certainly are a varied lot. I’ve had a reader as young as thirteen, and one well into his nineties. They’re scattered around the world, of course, and have a variety of interests. Many do comment, and I respond personally to everyone. My view is that each post isn’t an end in itself, but the beginning of a conversation and it’s that conversation I hope to nourish. The interaction with (and among) readers helps to make blogs unique, and the sense of shared history can be marvelous.


TH: Where do you see your blog headed?

LL: Honestly? I can’t say. While The Task at Hand has led to the publication of essays and articles in the “real world” and the anthologizing of some of my poetry, I don’t see moving away from my blog to other forms of publication as either necessary or desirable.

I have a draft file crammed with essays and stories that I’m looking forward to working with and publishing on my blog. Some people say that writing isn’t “real” unless it brings home a paycheck, but I haven’t been able to convince myself of that particular truth. So, for the time being, I’ll keep writing, and those who enjoy what I have to say can keep reading.


TH: Do you have any bloggers or writers that you turn to for inspiration? Favorite sites you read regularly? 

LL: Now and then, I’ll skim the selection of writing quotations on Goodreads. Usually, I start on a random page near the middle, since there are roughly six thousand quotations. Gems like this, from Chekov, could take a lifetime to unpack: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

I tend not to read how-to-write blogs, although I cherish sites like “Brain Pickings” and “The Paris Review” for their musings on creativity and their ability to open unfamiliar worlds. Certain photographers, artists and musicians are must-reads because they provide commentary about their process along with their work.

As for writers, the list is smaller, stable, and always dependable: Flannery O’Connor, Annie Dillard, William Faulkner, T.S. Eliot, Lawrence Durrell. And, yes — Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson, those guilty pleasures of the literary life.

My first post at “The Task at Hand” was titled, “Dazed and Confused.” Near the end, I wrote, “The question no longer is: do you want to write?  For good or for ill, read or unread, poorly scribed or passionately sung, I will write.”

Years later, I read this, from the estimable Mr. Thompson: “As things stand now, I am going to be a writer. I’m not sure that I’m going to be a good one or even a self-supporting one, but until the dark thumb of fate presses me to the dust and says ‘you are nothing’, I will be a writer.”

There’s a lot I never understood about Hunter S. Thompson, but that, I understand.


About Linda Leinen:

Sharing stories, trading secrets, weaving new realities with threads pulled from discarded memories or long-forgotten dreams – those are the tasks I’ve set myself, here on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Living a quiet life, a hidden life — anchored to my dock like a barnacle to a piling — I varnish boats for a living. My dock provides both things Virginia Woolf recommended for a woman who writes: money, from the labor, and a room of my own — space and solitude for thought, remembrance, and creative reflection on the truths and mysteries of life.

Years of life and experience lie behind me. A child of the American Midwest and the only child of striving parents, I was expected to attend college, but I rejected teaching in favor of a degree in medical social work. It was a good occupation, leading first to Houston’s Texas Medical Center, then on to Phebe Hospital in Bong County, Liberia, where I served under the auspices of the Lutheran Church in America.

As so often happens in countries like Liberia, changing needs dictated a change in responsibilities, and my initial involvement in maternal-child health clinics was exchanged for oversight of the hospital chaplaincy. Then, in a delicious bit of irony, I was asked to begin classroom teaching in an inter-denominational seminary not far from the hospital, while supervising students in a clinical setting.

I enjoyed it tremendously: so much so that I decided against a Master’s degree in social work, choosing instead to pursue theology. For a variety of reasons, I settled on Berkeley, California for my schooling, and spent four years studying at the Graduate Theological Union and Pacific Lutheran Seminary. Offered a chance to continue on toward a PhD, I chose instead to serve Lutheran congregations in Texas for the next decade, before a series of mostly serendipitous events and inexplicable impulses led me to strike out on my own, beginning the business that still brings me delight.

Today, as I write, images and words tumble along the edge of memory’s winds like so many scudding clouds. Living and working in West Africa, studying in Berkeley, open-ocean sailing and the joys of teaching have all shaped my life and influenced my convictions.

With a sense of yet one more sea-change arriving, I remember the words of Georgia O’Keeffe, quoted in Joan Didion’s White Album. O’Keeffe says, “Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant… It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.”

A Cup of Coffee and a Sense of Place by Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill

A really great local coffee shop is a place where you can find out what’s happening around town over your cup of coffee. But in Edmonton, Alberta, Edmontonians can now get a flavor of their hometown on their cup of coffee: local coffee shops are dispensing coffee sleeves with very short stories by six local authors…

Read the rest at: A cup of coffee and a sense of place | Philanthropy Daily.

Breaking the Rules by Denise Stephenson

IsolationReaders are always assuming I’m a germaphobe. Because my first novel, Isolation, revolves around the dangers of bacterial infection and the possibility that simply touching your own face can cause death, it seems like a no brainer. But it’s not the case. I laugh and try not to divulge that my hand-washing habits have not increased one iota as a result of my research and writing. I’m not the person squirting hand-sanitizer every time I shake someone’s hand. My intellect rationalizes that I want a healthy immune system which means building up resistance over time and killing all of the germs I come in contact with would counteract the build-up of such stealth forces. While true, I think it’s much more the case that habits learned early are habits for life. It’s not that my household growing up wasn’t clean, nor that my mother didn’t teach me good hygiene, she did. It’s probably that I was a bit lazy. Or perhaps, though I think of myself as “the good girl,” it may be that I was a rule-breaker from the start.

I’m writing today because I found myself pulling a “Trevor.” He’s the antagonist in my novel. He can’t stand rule-breakers. There’s a moment in Isolation when he is sitting aboard an airplane. A passenger next to him continues to text beyond the announcements to cease and desist. He tries to get the perpetrator to stop, but when she won’t, he rings his call button. Just now, the guy next to me was talking on his cell, even as the flight attendants demonstrated, yet again, the way to attach a seat belt. I’d heard my seat-mate tell the person on the other end that he wouldn’t hang up until forced. When the flight attendant walked by, I pointed at the cell phone. The attendant tapped his shoulder, waited for him to end the call, then continued to ensure seat backs and tray tables were in their full upright and locked positions. I thought, “OMG, I’ve become Trevor!”

Trevor is not a character I associate with. It’s not so much that he’s a rule-follower (evidently I share some of that sensibility), it’s more that he’s an unquestioning one. Most dystopian characters are, unquestioning that is. But some rise beyond the simple routines of daily life and demonstrate that being a lemming can get you perks if you do it very, very well. That’s Trevor. He’s Winston in 1984, at the beginning, before Winston buys the journal and begins his covert note-taking. Trevor would never covertly record his world, nor do anything else outside the purview of authority. Trevor’s ability to follow the rules, to follow the government, to report all infractions, is finely honed. He is hired by Homeland Security for his prowess. He is promoted for his vigilance and adaptability. Rules change more and more frequently as bacterial contagion grows out of control in Isolation and Trevor keeps up, even if the populace at large can’t possibly. Trevor enforces rules; he prides himself on being a good citizen.

And since citizenry comes from the following of a government, he is in fact, a very good citizen. But a good person? Doubtful many would say so. Even when his high school principal agrees to provide a recommendation, which he does with some trepidation, realizing, educated man that he is, that Trevor will be so good at the job of enforcing rules that others don’t stand a chance, even as the principal imagines Trevor is a danger, he doesn’t allow that to prevent the recommendation, even the principal doesn’t question authority. The principal demonstrates perfectly that even those in high positions demonstrate that for a dystopia to work, lemming-like behavior is required.
The question is: does following rules make you good or bad?

Or is it that simple? Clearly, it’s not. At least not in the mind of this dystopian. Following rules is what we’ve taught our children. It’s the legacy of an industrial society whose assembly lines and educational systems matured together. Now a service economy, rule-following is still a primary value for our masses. But it doesn’t build a strong democracy, one that thinks deeply, let alone questions or makes individuated decisions. It’s not that I want anarchy, don’t leap to the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s more that I value a thinking populace. I’m not sure our purpose if we’re not thinking. Without thought, we’re resource users like any animal. The unquestioned life is common enough, but is that what we seek? Is it our best hope? Does it make of the world a better place?

I think not. I spend my working life encouraging college students to learn to think for themselves, to be critical thinkers as we call it today. That means I teach them to question. Or I try. It’s not easy when they’ve spent 20 years or more following rules. It’s not surprising they don’t question. Not only education, but their parents have taught them not to. After those early years of asking “why, why why” and being told to go play or worse, being physically or metaphorically slapped down for exhibiting curiosity, most American children stop wondering, stop asking.

Again, don’t go to extremes. Not everything needs to be questioned, not even all authority. After all, some things just need doing. In the midst of a fire there’s rarely a reason to stop and ask if it should be put out. (Though ask a resource management specialist about the need for fire in the life cycle of forests, and you’ll see that even there, we might have wanted to question occasionally.) But when I’m told that genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are safe, I might want to question the details about what those modifications are, whether they prolong shelf-life or whether they insert toxins into my corn. When I’m told that using 99% bacterial killing hand-sanitizers will keep me safe, I might want to question whether or not regular soap and hot water will do an adequate job most of the time and specifically when it won’t. When I’m told to trust the government that it’s not colluding with Monsanto in the patenting of life so that seeds are no longer reusable by farmers, I might question what it means to patent life, or why farmers can’t reuse seeds, or who profits–always a good question. (Follow the money.)

These are only some of the questions I ask with some frequency and questions tucked into the folds of Isolation. They are premises from our current lives that I question, but mostly the characters in the novel don’t. These are far from the only questions available to thinking people. I’m drawn to questions of food and health. Others may be drawn to questions of growing financial inequalities, or questions of globalization, or questions of climate change. There are smaller questions of course, and they too are valuable: Should I be afraid of swimming alone without a lifeguard present? Will video games or cell phones cause increased arthritis in hands in the future? Is WiFi dangerous at a subatomic level?

It matters not to me what we question. It matters that we question. And that we research and talk and write and explore. It matters that we see ourselves as agents of change, that we not only believe we make a difference, but that we do. Questions leads to action. Not inevitably perhaps, but often. It’s hard to know things could be better, more truthful, more interesting and not work to make that happen.

I don’t want the plane to crash because cell phone signals
interfere with navigation, so I will point to the guy with the phone. But I’ll also wonder if there’s any scientific cause for concern or if it’s just habit I’m accustomed to? Can it interfere? What would happen? Others asked such questions because we can now leave our small devices powered up during take-off, but we couldn’t for years.

Somebody asked the question, did the research, reported out, and got procedures changed. And I’m happier because of it. I like being able to read on my iPad during take-off rather than having to carry a physical book along with my iPad. Speaking of which, time for landing. Not that I’m going to power down. Thankfully, for now, that question has been answered!

This guest blog post is courtesy of author Denise Stephenson. Check out her blog: Follow her on Facebook: Visit her author site:  Follow her on Twitter:

The Little Sister by Adreyo Sen

The Little Sister by Adreyo Sen


Adreyo Sen resides in Kolkata, India. He is pursuing his MFA degree at Stony Brook, Southampton. His work has been published in Danse Macabre and Kritya, among others.