Acuity Installation, part 2, It’s Done!

That moment when Bob installed the last pieces on the first sphere was very sweet. With one down and one to go we left the first sphere to the expertise of Alfredo and Bob and went to sample some of Wisconsin’s  famous fried cheese curds…

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bob puts the last few pieces into the top…

 

 

I don’t have any pictures of those cheese curds for you. They were gone that fast! Hard work, anticipation and satisfaction coupled with deliciousness make for big appetites and they were gone in a blink.

 

 

The spheres are endlessly fascinating as they transform. One of the things that draws artists towards working with this kind of project is the way they seem to grow and transform organically into their final shapes as they are assembled.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
looking through one open panel into the other side and seeing the sphere from the inside out

 

 

Even after the months spent making the thousands of glass horns and steel pins and washers and clips, and testing and re-testing the fits – it just doesn’t stop being beautiful as it passes through the stages towards completion.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Each time you look down at the piece it is different and beautiful.

After that the process seemed to flow like water. The employees at Acuity came by on their lunch breaks to remark on the work and the progress and we really relaxed into the rhythm of the work.

 

 

 

one-down-second-on-the-way
With one sphere completed we begin to make real progress on the second

 

 

 

 

As we worked on the second sphere it was hard to keep from looking over as Alfredo and Bob of Hennes worked to hoist and then secure the first sphere into it’s final mount about 25′ above.

 

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bob of Hennes making the switch from temporary to permanent mounts. Nerve-wracking!

 

 

 

 

 

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Alfredo of Hennes keeps a watchful eye

 

its coming for you....
Just playing with amazing backlight and some tilt shift …

After 6 days in Sheboygan we finally installed the last pieces on the last sphere. Alfredo and Bob from Hennes were standing by to hoist and secure the sphere and we were rushing to pack our tools into one little crate to ship home and pack ourselves off to the airport.

Flag at Acuity Insurance
rather grand isn’t it?
Read about this gigantic flag at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acuity_Insurance

Ben Salzmann, President and CEO of Acuity Insurance company came and filled our pockets with Acuity goodies for the plane ride home. I’m wearing that sweatshirt as I type this! And Kurt Lodl took us into the hardhat area to see the progress on the campus’ next expansion. So, thank you to Ben Salzmann, who started this whole big idea, and Sheri Murphy, Vice President of Services and Administration, who administered through all the process (thank you) and Kurt Lodl and all the rest of the Acuity team who were so kind and welcoming. We look forward to working with you all again soon!

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
One of the original Blue Spheres

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3 of the original 7 sisters by Belle Mead Hot Glass for Acuity Insurance company
This gif of the spheres was originally captured on the app Fyuse. Look for #bellemeadhotglass on Fyuse and post your images back to us

Check out #bellemeadhotglass on your social media of choice. The above video is a 3D photograph when viewed on the free app FYUSE. They don’t sponsor us or anything, we just love to share images of this stuff in 3 dimensions. If you have a great picture of something from Belle Mead Hot Glass post it to us on Instagram, Fyuse, Facebook, Houzz and hashtag it #bellemeadhotglass or email it to us here at the website. It would mean alot to us if you did.

New Sealife Installation…it grows…

The Sealife series of chandeliers and sculptures began in 2014 and has been a constant source of interest and discovery for the team at Belle Mead Hot Glass. Because we are evoking a maritime landscape each time there is tremendous variation between the installations.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

The first Sealife piece was composed of many different very deep greens with accents in tones of blue and pink and. It had a very deep sea feel to it. Very large and hanging very high this first chandelier has very large sculptural forms meant to be seen form a distance.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

 

Later on, we began to add complimentary pieces throughout the home and began to add smaller and more highly detailed pieces to each chandelier in order to set a scene at eye level.

 

 

 

 

One of the fascinating things about this series is the way the end reflects the ocean as it exists in the imagination of the client. Deep sea underwater greens and bright sun drenched tropical pastels are equally “ocean” and it is an endless process of discovery to explore what visuals “sealife” brings to mind to each new client. Bob and the staff here work with the clients to develop their palette for the installation and then we start to bring it to life.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

Recently we installed a new sealife chandelier on the intercoastal waterway in Florida. The clients were building their dream home and of course, wanted to include the flora and fauna of the ocean that most spoke to them. Sometimes Art is a very public statement of an idea and sometimes it is more personal. The Sealife series has led to some very personal art as clients have come to us with their favorite memories of nature and holidays and asked us to incorporate them into the chandelier.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

Here on the Beaches of New Jersey we often have Sand Dollars, for this chandelier we had a special request for Sea Biscuits. Now we
have some knowledge of a very famous horse by that name and we’ve heard songs and stories about eating “hardtack” but Sea Biscuits as an aquatic creature? This lead to a little online research which then led to enormous amounts of time online watching videos that ranged from youtube clips of seashell finds to a binge of classic Cousteau watching. Sea Biscuits are puffy Sand Dollars and they are both Sea Urchins! And that is part of whats is so entrancing about this series…it’s not just the little details, it’s the bigger picture and the little details blending in and out and leading you to think of things you never did before.

 

 

 

 

In case you’re wondering more about Sea Biscuits…

the creature…

http://echinoblog.blogspot.com/2012/03/sand-dollars-are-sea-urchins-please.html

 

and the very sturdy snack…

http://ageofex.marinersmuseum.org/downloads/biscuit_recipe.pdf

 

The Day We Got The Call, Part Two

After all the design particulars were sorted out and the size and shape and general arrangement of the red, yellow and orange pieces were chosen, we were ready to move forward. Now it would be my job to figure out how to make everything work. My biggest issue would be weight. Each 15 foot sphere had to be less than 5,000 lbs. I made a plan for each sphere to have an internal metal structure that would be 9 foot in diameter.  Individual glass pieces would attach to the outer surface  and vary between 24″ and 36″ in length.  The final sphere would be 9 feet of internal metal framework and then 3 feet on each side of blown glass pieces.  This would give me the final dimensions of 15 feet.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

The internal sphere would be built like a geodesic dome, with twenty individual triangular, curved panels that would bolt together onsite to create the sphere.   The sphere design had come to us through the work of a local engineer named Olaf Pederson.  The engineering was worth every penny, instead of attempting a design and hoping it would work, Olaf ran the numbers and proved it. And, as it turned out the design would have withstood an increase in weights by a factor of eight before there was any deflection. Through much trial and error we had determined that each individual panel would hold 100 individual pieces of glass of varying lengths and widths.  This would create the fullness on the surface that we were looking for.  So each panel was fitted with 100 pins of steel welded in place to hold the glass in position.  Again I did the math: 20 Panels x 100 pieces of glass = 2,000 pieces of glass per sphere. Up until this point all of the larger pieces of glass I had made had each weighed upwards of 5 pounds.  The metal spheres were weighing in at 800 lbs. That weight plus 2000 pieces of glass weighing 5 lbs each would have left me with a total weight of 10,800 lbs per sphere! This was more than twice as heavy as the limit set by the engineers for the building.  Even if I thinned the glass mounted to each sphere by 50% -it would still be too heavy.  This was so depressing; I had gotten the job of a lifetime and I couldn’t figure out how to pull it off.

 

After losing a couple of nights sleep from worry I finally slept a solid eight hours from sheer exhaustion.  Waking up I finally felt refreshed and rested and I determined to see what I could do to get the weight of the glass down.  Slowly but surely, over the next week or so and after a few hundred pieces of glass I began to make 3 foot long pieces of glass that weighed less than 2 pounds! We kept practicing and they began to look better and better until we had a form I found really pleasing.  Now the 2,000 glass pieces and the metal frame came in at a svelte 4,800 lbs! It was truly a great day for me and once again- no sleep! But, this time it was just that I was too excited.

The next day, I began another set of calculations… We needed a total of 6,000 pieces of glass for all three spheres.  We would have to cut and weld 15,000 individual pieces of metal for each of the three spheres. Each piece of glass was going to need to be firmly attached to the sphere.  I did not like the idea of tying each piece off to the sphere with wire.  And, although I felt considerable pressure of time, I believed it would be best to take a moment and come up with an elegant solution.  While we moved other areas of the project forward I kept trying new ideas Thomas Edison style. After many prototypes of wire and forms I finally found an elegant solution.  I made a little clip that reminds me of a grasshoppers leg.  With a loop at each end of an L shape spring that will hold the glass at one end and the sphere at the other while tensioning the glass up into the sphere. Adding a neoprene washer and a protective polyethylene sleeve to each metal pin we greatly reduced any stress on the glass. And with each piece of glass firmly in place on its own designated pin we ensured that the glass at the bottom of the sphere would not bear the weight of the glass at the top of the sphere.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

Next we began to puzzle out the different diameters and lengths of glass.  It was important to me that at any angle a person would see the glass and not through to the metal sphere.  Through trial and error we adjusted a pattern of placing the glass. Because of its shape each of the curved triangular panels has pins that are closer together at the edges and further way as you near the center of the panel. Adjusting the fit using different diameters and lengths of glass we created a layout. Once that was done it was simple work to replicate it over the other panels, creating the uniform appearance I was determined to achieve.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster,Hillsborough NJ 08844

One of the things that helped Acuity in their decision to hire me, an unknown, for this project, was my willingness to do a full scale mock-up sphere for their approval.  With all of the above questions settled I started to work on that first sphere.  This after all, would be when the project was really secured.

The Day We Got The Call

Although I didn’t know it at the time, our lives would never be the same….Part One

We got the call sometime in the fall of 2003, I remember it was very warm, perhaps it was still September? I was just coming in from a run after a day’s work in the hotshop.  As I walked up the driveway Sheila met me outside and said she’d received a call from someone named Ben Salzmann.  He his wife and had been shopping in downtown Madison she had noticed one of the chandeliers in a local gallery.  Knowing that her husband was looking for art for his new corporate headquarters, and liking the look of my chandelier she suggested it. Ben contacted us   and explaining he was looking for art for the new headquarters he was building in Sheboygan, WI for his company Acuity, he asked for some information on our company.

Seven Sisters of Acuity Belle Mead Hot Glass Robert Kuster
Seven Sisters of Acuity Belle Mead Hot Glass Robert Kuster

Calls of this nature were fairly typical at the time. There are often many enquiries before it’s decided that a project is the right fit for all parties; and I learned early on not to count my chickens before they were hatched. About a week later Ben called back and said he received the info we sent him and asked if we could propose some ideas for the space if he sent us some 3Dimensionsal renderings. If my memory serves the main part of the building was about 150′ long by about 70′ wide and 65′ high at the peak. The ends of the hall were gigantic glass walls facing East and West allowing the room to flood with morning and evening light.

019 (3)

Ben said that he wanted two or three sculptures about 8′ to 10′ feet long by whatever width would work for the space. Although this certainly did have my attention, there still no chickens to count. We worked quickly to produce three sets of renderings which fundamentally were enlargements of smaller works I had done. The first rendering was 3 long tapered chandeliers done in a multi-colored fashion, the second rendering was a somewhat ovoid shape in tones of blue and green and the third was three spheres of varying sizes in a blend of red, yellow and orange. The third rendering was a hit. Ben told us he loved the third rendering with the red, yellow and orange evoking the fiery sun in the windows. The only problem, he felt, was the sizes were all wrong. He wasn’t sure what it was about the sizes that he didn’t like but he said he would like to think about it for a few days.

Over the next two weeks I didn’t get much sleep. I paced around wondering what it was exactly that Ben didn’t like about the spheres. Also, how would I tackle a job that, if I landed it would be so much bigger than anything I had ever done before. When the phone finally did ring the answer shocked me. They were too small! That’s right.  The spheres were too small; Ben wanted them bigger, and instead of 6′ to 8′ he wanted them 10′ to 11′. Internally, my response was no way. I couldn’t get my head around the 6′ to 8′ size, how was I possibly going to make them bigger? But, after I thought about it for a couple of days and with some encouragement from family and employees, I figured “I can do this”.

Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844
Belle Mead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster, Hillsborough NJ 08844

Funnily enough, that wasn’t the end of it. Just a couple of days later Ben called back again and upped the ante to no less than 15 feet in diameter and all the same size. My response was exactly the same as before. There’s no way can I pull this off, I though, not to mention the fact that the engineer for the building said the load limit was 15,000 lbs for all three spheres.  And now again, on paper there was no way this was going to work… (Part Two Next Week)

Big Tree, Old Tree, Dead Tree, New Tree

Trees don’t live forever, but a little while longer would be nice.

It’s always saddened me to see a tree die, whatever the reason. Trees give us shade, replenish our oxygen and they are home to countless creatures. They give us endless cycles of alternating beauty in the spring and fall. So, when the end is near I have always had a difficult time letting go, this applies especially to the big ones. I have personally tapped the maple trees on my properties for over 25 years. I know the trees I live with and have watched their lives over time.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster Hillsborough NJ 08844

Hurricane Sandy was especially hard on the trees here. I think I lost at least 20 mature trees during the storm and afterwards from storm damage. After the storm I had the large trees that were left standing trimmed and pruned.  Those that couldn’t make it were trimmed and left standing in place.  In some cases I had the bark removed.  Seeing the beautiful grain, the whorls and burls of the trees growth is an amazing peek into its life cycle and endlessly fascinating.

Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass, Robert Kuster Hillsborough NJ 08844

After the Trimming

Over the last 26 years as a glassblower I’ve handled many large projects. Often, after completion we would find our self with a group of extra pieces which wind up taking up space and collecting dust in our studio. These are the spares we create to be ready for whatever might happen in transport and installation. So when it came time to make decisions about what to do with all the extras we weren’t “stumped” for long. Put it in the trees!

 

Bellemead Hot Glass Robert Kuster Hillsborough NJ 08844
Bellemead Hot Glass Robert Kuster Hillsborough NJ 08844

 

I remembered years ago an old friend of mine (Dave Bush) started hanging empty blue wine bottles from tree limbs. Or more accurately, he would slide the open end over a branch and create a beautiful blue bottle tree sculpture to glisten in the sun. With those charming bottle trees in mind and using what is at hand we now simply go through our supply of extras and decorate those beautiful old trees; adding a few extra years to what would ordinarily have been the end.

Naples

An Amazing Home In Naples Florida

Recently we received a call from a long-time customer of ours from New Jersey.  He dropped in to visit and ask about one of his chandeliers. We spoke initially about changing the profile of the foyer piece in his Naples, Florida home.   This opportunity seemed ideal to do an LED lighting upgrade so that got added in as well.  And then, as we talked over his growing art collection it seemed obvious that this was a perfect time to do a subtle shift in the colors of the piece to add some depth and echo back the colors of other work of mine he has hanging throughout the house. After sorting out exactly where to go with the modifications and after finally getting everything scheduled we headed down to Naples.

Red yellow & orange foyer chandelier Robert Kuster
Red yellow & orange foyer chandelier Robert Kuster

Bill has added nine chandeliers and one sconce from Belle Mead Hot Glass to this residence over the years.  As an artist it is great seeing how each one integrates into the space he chooses for it.  Using color, size and profile as well as the selection of individual shapes that comprise the chandeliers he has created a thematic flow throughout his home and yet each chandelier looks unique and harmonious in its space.  With our team we worked on two of them, adding to them, adjusting the overall shape and upgrading the lighting.

Bills Gold apricot & clear office chandelier
Bills Gold apricot & clear office chandelier

Naples is a beautiful town with gorgeous views of the water and lush tropical foliage. We spent a few days looking around the town of Naples and admiring the galleries and public installations there while visiting with customers who have moved there over the years and stopping in the local galleries. The light and views combined with the art and community for a very inspiring environment.  Our customers graciously took us on a little meet and greet tour and wined and dined us spectacularly. Soon we began talking about bringing the glass collection outside and a conversation about sculpture in the garden began.

Newly reconfigured red yell & orange Chandelier By Robert Kuster
Newly reconfigured red yell & orange Chandelier By Robert Kuster

The homes on the waterfront in Naples have two different faces; one face they show to the street and one to the water.  The challenge would be to bring the themes of the glass inside the home outside into each space while maintaining the different aesthetics that characterize the bright and open water views and the lush and private front yards.  We had some great discussions over potential inspirations as we walked around the town admiring the public art and while sitting at the amazing local restaurants and watching the sky change in the evenings.  And we came away from this trip with a friendly challenge to produce the perfect pieces for the front and back.

72" x 32" Grape chandelier
72″ x 32″ Grape chandelier
Guest room chandelier By Robert Kuster
Guest room chandelier By Robert Kuster
Guest room chandelier By Robert Kuster
Guest room chandelier By Robert Kuster
Stairwell chandelier Robert Kuster
Stairwell chandelier Robert Kuster
Bills Gold apricot & clear office chandelier
Bills Gold apricot & clear office chandelier

Chandeliers in the home

Below are just a couple of examples of some of the unique chandeliers we’ve produced for homeowners all over the world.

Someone recently asked me how many chandeliers I’ve made, and I realized that I just didn’t know. Although I believe it’s at least three or four thousand, it would be a lot of work to go back over all those old orders and make a count.  The chandeliers we create for peoples homes are always special because we are, in a sense, being invited into their home. Each space, and each  customer is unique. There’s a special satisfaction that comes from working through the challenges of each persons vision and creating a work of art that’s not only beautiful on it’s own but also in harmony with the home and the taste of those who live there.

Because we build all of the parts for the chandeliers right here at Belle Mead Hot Glass we have the freedom to experiment with shape and color and material until we capture just the right idea.  We have built wall sconces in narrow spaces where it seemed like nothing could give the perfect feel and could possibly fit. We have evoked gondolas and fire and flowers in sizes from under two feet to an illuminated “bonfire” sculpture that was every bit as big as a real bonfire.

Variety is the Key

When we first started making chandeliers, we started with three basic parts which complemented each another rather well. The pod a rounded oblong shape with a twisted tail about 16″ to 18″ long, the horn a long twisting narrow shape about 20″ to 22″ long and the gourd which is pear shaped and about 4″ to 5″ in diameter by about 6″ in length. when these three shapes are all put together in somewhat equal proportions they produce a chandelier that has depth and almost comes to life as you move around it. If you have only one color which many clients have  chosen to go with its an amazing piece. If you add multiple colors you get an explosion of color that’s sure to amaze all that see it.

The next logical step

The next logical step was to add accents. A short list includes flowers like tulips, roses ,irises,lillies, and poppies. In an earlier blog we mentioned the addition of sea-life, such as shells, starfish and seahorses. Making chandeliers according to a theme is a great way to showcase a customers love for the things that inspire them. We always welcome a challenge and if a request is something we haven’t done before all the better we love to try new things.

 

One interesting thing that we do here is upgrading, maintaining and retrofitting work from the past. It’s a service we are happy to provide and gives us an occasional tour through past years projects.  Some recent projects in this vein have included splitting a chandelier into two sconces in order to transition it from the entry of a family home to the dining room of a home the couple had recently purchased for retirement. This winter we re-lit a chandelier, switching from halogen to LED for a homeowner seeking to “go green”. And last week we completed a “nuts and bolts” cleaning of a chandelier in a home that had been flooded.  We truly want to create personalized pieces for individuals.

It always comes back to trust. Our customers trust that they are going to get a work of art that will live with them for many years to come. Whether a new construction project, a remodel or and upgrade for an existing work, our chandeliers bring a special kind of joy no matter where they live.

LAX Embassy Suites

Three Sculptures

We were contacted a few months ago by the owner of Embassy Suites LAX  to produce a unique set of glass sculptures. Normally, there wouldn’t be a lot to think about, but they wanted it somewhat earthquake-proof. We had never had any experience with earthquakes, but we had a lot of experience with hurricanes.

Hurricane Sandy, in October of 2012.

Superstorm Sandy did over 68 billion in damages to our area. The funny thing was, at the time we had about 20 glass sculptures hanging outside our studio a couple of miles away. Virtually nothing broke, and I always wondered why. For the past ten years or so, we had been putting glass chandeliers and sculptures outside, and hardly anything ever breaks. They’ve survived many winters and many storms.

I’ve concluded the reason why is the way the glass is attached to the tree, metal frame or armature by a single metal clip which allows the individual pieces to move somewhat freely. There can be as many as 500 pieces of glass. This was the key to selling the sculptures to the people at LAX Embassy Suites. All I had to do was focus on anchoring the steel poles to the concrete floor. We achieved this with a central 3″ diameter column and added three diagonal legs, which gave the structure a 4′ diameter footprint, which is incredibly stable. This was anchored with 1″ x 6″ bolts. The only problem was that the floor was laced with compression rods. These are used to keep the concrete slab in compression and keep it from cracking. So, we had someone come in to do an ultrasound in the areas we would be working in. The rest was business as usual.

 Starting With a Photo

We were sent a couple of photos and given the three locations where they wanted to see the sculptures. The below photos show the original photo, the proposed rendering and the mock-up.

After final approval

After the final approval of the glass plates and color balance, we began the production of the full job, which took about 1 month. Once all the glass pieces had been made and finished we began the process of packaging and building the three crates (48″ x 48″ x 72″). Sometimes I think packing and crating everything takes longer than making the glass, or at least it feels that way. To ship a large project from the East to the West Coast can be a big deal. If anything arrives broken, it can cause big problems. I am absolutely responsible for everything. It doesn’t matter if you have insurance or not, the client doesn’t want to hear the job can’t be completed and ready for the building’s opening in ten days, for instance.

As we were finishing the glass we started designing and engineering the poles and armatures from which the glass hangs. This step is every bit as important as the glass production. The finished height for two of the pieces was 28 feet and the third was about 35 feet, which means we have to make the structures solid enough to permanently hold everything together, but it has to be made modular, so we can ship it. When it’s put together onsite (since it’s this beautiful glass) everyone wants to see. The mounting structure needs to be nearly invisible, though. This balance of function and minimization of the hanging structure is my favorite part of the job because solving those problems are generally the most challenging, and rewarding.

If I had to pick another favorite aspect of my work it would be the collaboration between the client and myself. I always feel a special honor when we are chosen to do a project, because there has to be a trust. The client is going to get what they paid for. My job is to see that they get that, and much more. If there is sleep to be lost, I want it to be mine and not my client’s.

After everything arrived in California we put ourselves on a plane and went to L.A.. This trip was a little extra special, because, in addition to Scott Staats and Kelly Moyers, (without whom nothing would ever get done,) I had the honor of having my beautiful daughter Caroline with us. She proved to be a huge help and I was grateful to have gotten to spend the extra time with her.

In The End

In the end, everything went off without a hitch. Everyone was pleased with our work and because of great communication between the owners, their staff, and us, everything went just as expected. Someday, I’ll write a post about the  communication exchange on one of our larger jobs to show the effort involved in the production of a job of this type and size.