Paint Expressive Human Figures in Watercolor | Bianca Rayala | Skillshare

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Paint Expressive Human Figures in Watercolor

teacher avatar Bianca Rayala, Watercolor Artist

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

14 Lessons (1h 26m)
    • 1. About The Class

    • 2. Fundamentals

    • 3. Materials

    • 4. Couple: Sketch

    • 5. Couple: First Wash- Lady

    • 6. Couple: First Wash- Man

    • 7. Couple: Painting The Wooden Terrace

    • 8. Couple: Painting the Final Details

    • 9. Sunflower Lady: Pencil Sketch

    • 10. Sunflower Lady: Painting the Hair

    • 11. Sunflower Lady: Painting the Body

    • 12. Sunflower Lady: Painting the Background

    • 13. Sunflower Lady: Final Details

    • 14. Class Project and Final Thoughts

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About This Class

Welcome to my Human Figures Watercolor Class! We will paint 2 interesting subjects- 1. Lady in Sunflower Field and 2. Couple by the Wooden Terrace.



Today we’ll discover the joy of painting Human Figures in watercolor. I really like drawing people because each image has its unique story to tell. Painting them is like capturing memories and emotions in a more intimate way.

Today I'll share some secrets on how not to be afraid to portray figures, how to easily sketch and turn simple sketches to a creative watercolor work.

We will start the class with important theories about sketching. I will share the techniques on how to easily sketch a human figure that will help you overcome your fear in drawing.  I will also teach you how to sketch the human figure based on our reference photo.

 Second, I will share the easy way to mix colors for hair and skin tones and show you a step by step process with detailed instruction on how to achieve an atmospheric human figure painting using a very limited color palette. By the end of the lesson, I aim to help you gain confidence in sketching and painting people.

This will be one interesting and exciting subject to paint and I cant wait to see you in class!

Meet Your Teacher

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Bianca Rayala

Watercolor Artist


Hi friends! I'm Bianca and I'm a watercolor artist. My purpose is to inspire people to discover and pursue their creative passion. See full profile

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1. About The Class: Hello friends. My name is Bianca Rayala. Today, we'll discover the joy of painting human figures in watercolor. I really like drawing people because each image has its unique story to tell. Painting them is like capturing memories and emotions in a more intimate way. Today, I'll share some secrets on how not to be afraid to portray figures, how to easily sketch and turn simple sketches to a creative watercolor work. We will start the class with important theories about sketching. I will share the techniques on how to easily sketch a human figure that will help you overcome your fear in drawing. I will also teach you how to sketch the human figure based on a reference photo. Second, I will share the easy way to mix colors for hair and skin tones and a step-by-step process with detailed instruction on how to achieve an atmospheric human figure painting using a very limited color palette. By the end of the lesson, I aim to help you gain confidence in sketching and painting people. This will be one interesting and exciting subject to paint and I can't wait to see you in class. 2. Fundamentals: The most important thing in drawing human figures is not to be afraid, but it is also essential to note and understand these three basic theories. First is shape or form, second is value, third is color. The shape helps us understand what the object is. For example, if I draw this image, even though this image doesn't have value, color, or details, but because of its shape, it is obvious that this is a human. Second, the value helps us view the image in three-dimensions. It helps make the image look more realistic. In watercolor, we adjust the tonal value by adjusting the water pigment ratio in our mixture. If you want a saturated mixture, which is high tonal value, we create more pigment and less water mixture. For low tonal value, we place less pigment, more water. Now, in painting human figures in watercolor, we want to make the unique characteristic of watercolor switches, color connection. As much as possible, we want colors to flow freely and we want to avoid unwanted hard edges especially on a first wash. But at the same time avoid also unnecessary color clash. For example, between the dark blond hair and light blond face. That's why it's important to understand how to control the water pigment mixture absorbed by your brush. The color basically is the least important among the three, as this one depends on a personal preference. Today, we will be studying an easy way to create skin tones and shadows using a limited palette. We need to pay high attention on shapes particularly in drawing the figure, because when we fail to properly draw the picture and move ahead to painting with colors, no matter how correct the tonal values we place, it's already impossible to fix the mistake any more. That's why for our exercise, we will focus on a figure without face and much details. We could practice value, paint flowing's, color selection, and shapes. Of course, it is helpful and advantageous to study complex human anatomy to correctly draw a human. But today, I'll show you the secret on how to draw even without undergoing that in-depth study. In sketching a person, we must observe four things. Number 1 is gesture, Number 2, proportion, Number 3, alignment, and Number 4, shapes. Gesture means observing the movement of the body, the angle of the face, or the head. For the reference photo that we'll be using today, we can see that the lady is slightly leaning on the guy while the guy gently wraps his arm around her. When we say proportion, we use one part of the body as a unit of measurement to draw the other parts proportionately. For example, if we take the lead of his head is our unit of measurement, we can see the estimate that the upper body is around three times as big as the head. For the alignment, we get the angle of the arms of the guy by using a pen to estimate the angle, we do it like this. Or we can also imagine a connecting line from the right elbow to the left elbow, to see the correct length of the arm. Lastly, we also considered the shapes created by negative spaces to validate the correctness of angles that we draw. Example of negative space is the space between the lady and the guy. Notice how close they are in the reference photo and we need to factor that when doing the sketch. These are the fundamental theories that we need to understand in sketching. 3. Materials: These are the materials that we will be using for our project. Cotton watercolor paper, it's important to use 100 percent cotton paper because it can hold much water and it doesn't quickly dry. Two kinds of round brushes with pointed tip; one is made of natural Kolinsky hair, which we'll use for initial washes, and second one is a synthetic brush, which we'll be using for details and strokes that need to have controlled amount of water you need. Watercolor paints that I'll be using are, first is yellow ocher, burnt sienna, horizon blue, amethyst genuine, Perylene Violet, and Indian red. We will be playing with these six colors to create coloring of the skin, clothes, shadows, and the entire picture. We will be needing also a clean mixing palette, two cups of clean water, tissue paper, pencil, and eraser. 4. Couple: Sketch: For our exercise, I'll be drawing on the 10 by 14 inch paper in landscape format. The figure is placed on the left side of the paper instead of being at the center for better composition. I'm leaving some space here on the left and avoid placing the couple too much on the edge. We start by deciding how big that image will be. Remember the guidelines I mentioned earlier in sketching so the figure won't be too small or too big for your sheet. We start drawing with a light strokes from top to bottom, focusing first on the contour of the figure and not on the details of each body part. The head and the hair don't have to be detailed. We just need to get the outline. You will do the same thing with the hand and the clothes. Remember also checking the alignment to get a close estimate of the angle of the arm, the shoulders, and this right arm. Then compare it to the reference photo to ensure that the proportions are correct. If you need more time to practice sketching and would like to focus more on learning the painting process first, you can simply print and trace the sketch that I provided in the reference section of this class. 5. Couple: First Wash- Lady: It's important not to rush when painting to avoid future mistakes. You may watch me first to observe the process, then watch for the second time as you paint along with me. The first wash, I will paint wet on dry and we will start from top to bottom, starting with the lady. I also wanted to show color connection by avoiding hard edges that would separate one body part to another. I would be setting up the tonal value during the first wash, and then details and shadows will be painted on the second wash. Let's start with the lady's hair. I want to portray the reflected light from the sky to the head. I create a milky mix of violet and turquoise and paint it on top. For the hair, I mix burnt sienna, yellow ocher, and a bit of Indian red. Notice the mix that I have, the mix is not too watery but not do dry. The moisture is just enough for the colors to connect as I layer them down. To create volume on the hair, I add a darker layer of Indian red on the portion of the hair. Then I make some small strokes with white gaps in between to portray of the braided hair. Notice the white gaps that I left to portray the braided hair of the lady. Now, for the small portion of the face, I mix burnt sienna and a little bit of yellow ocher. It is a simple mix we can do for skin tone. We can continue painting her shirt by playing with ocher, Indian red, and perylene violet. Notice again that kind of consistency I have on my mixture. I also try to copy the tonal value in her shirt by making the dark areas dark and saturated in color, while the light ones with a lighter wash. I just blend in the colors at this step. The details of her blouse will be painted later on. For the dark parts of the blouse, I simply add purple on my mix to get a nice dark tone. I build color connection between all the colors I use by making sure that the layer is still moist as I add colors. I will soften the edges on the guy's left arm with a clean brush so it won't leave a hard annoying edge on the guy's sleeves. 6. Couple: First Wash- Man: Now, let's paint the guy starting again from head down. I will mix horizon blue and amethyst genuine to paint the lighted portion of his hair, then connect it with his brown hair color. I put a very controlled amount of pigment on my brush, just enough to connect the brown color that I will add. I still use ocre and burnt sienna for the base color of his hair and then add amethyst genuine on the same mix to get a darker tone. I added a little bit of Payne's gray on my mix to create a darker tone for the lower part of his hair. For the skin tone, I still use yellow ocre and burnt sienna. I will slightly add a bit of perylene violet on my skin tone mix to paint the ears. To paint his white polo, I will use a diluted mix of lavender. I just paint the shadows and folds that I see on his polo. I leave the lighted part of his polo unpainted to keep the whiteness of the shirt. Try squinting your eye to see the lighted parts of the polo so that you can paint only the shadowed areas of it. Now I want to darken some areas of the polo's based on the reference. I mix lavender with a bit of neutral tint to get a darker tone. To define the shape of his polo, I painted the shirt or the shawl on his lap with a contrasting color. I used Indian red with a bit of yellow ocre and blend them together. For his hand, I still use yellow ocre, burnt sienna, and a bit of perylene violet. I added a darker tone here in between his fingers to define the shape. I'll proceed painting the hat with Indian red and a bit of amethyst genuine. Notice that I just use very small number amount of paints in this project because I want them in theme color harmony. We can create different use by mixing and matching them together. We just need to experiment and play around the colors that we have. For the upper part of the hat, I simply use perylene violet. Remember that this portion of our painting is just the first layer. We will add the details and other effects later on. 7. Couple: Painting The Wooden Terrace: Now we are done with the base wash of the couple. Let's do the first wash of the wooden terrace I use brown china a bit of horizon blue and amethyst genuine to create a muted brown color for the wood. My mix is both creamy and a bit watery. I paint around the lady and then wash the area with a lot of water to have a fitted effect. I add a bit of neutral tint on the same mix to paint the shadow behind the couple. Again, I blur out the edges of this layer using a wet brush. As I do this step, notice that I vary the colors of the wooden terrace for additional interests, rather than making it plain in color. Just make sure to darken the areas that needs to be dark and blur out the edges to show that fading effect. When the layer is still wet, you can add some strokes to show the texture and details of the wooden terrace. Using neutral tint added to my current mix, I darken this shadowed part behind the couple and also behind the hat. This is to enhance and add contrast to show the shadowed part. I also spray some water to bring a unique effect on this surface. See how the water tries to subtly push away the paints. After this step we'll let the layer completely dry and then we will proceed on adding the details or the second layer in our couple. 8. Couple: Painting the Final Details: Now that our fragment has already dried up, I will add the details and define the painting of the couple. I'll start again with the lady's hair. Let's create a dark thick mix of burnt sienna and it is genuine. Remove the excess water from your brush as we would want to create dry brush stroke when we paint the details of the hair. I don't cover the entire head fully. I just paint over the area that I wanted to be the darkest. I also change my brush into a synthetic one so that the water consistency of the brush is more controlled. I put tiny strokes to shows some strands of hair on top and also darken some parts of her braid. Next, let's add contrast, and details on her blouse. Using a buttery mix of yellow och-re and violin violet, I'll paint the stripes design on her shirt. I try to copy the direction of the blouse and maintain the continuity of the lines on the lower part of the blouse. As an accent, I paint a few dry strokes of turquoise to give a bright accent on her shirt. But be careful not to over do it so that the turquoise accent won't overpower the entire painting. After this step, we will do the same thing on the guy's hair. Using a darker and creamier mix of burnt sienna with additives genuine, I do dry strokes to define the hair. For hairs that I want to be the darkest, I add a little mixture of tint on my original mix. One thing we need to remember in doing this step is keeping line tones light so that we can put dimension on the image. I will just add a little dark strokes for the guys collar using lavender with neutral tint. I am darkening areas that are obviously the darkest in the reference photo. To better identify those areas, you can convert the reference photo in grayscale so easily see the tonal value of the image. Now since watercolor tint to fill when dry, I'm adding the shadows on the face using burnt sienna and a bit of yellow och-re. I will also add another layer on his neck, so the collars would come alive. I will go back again on some areas of the poor loaded needs highlights. Now, let's proceed on painting the details of the terries. Since the terries is dry already, we can add some texture on the wood by doing dry brush strokes, like this one. To achieve this, you need to remove excess water from your brush and get a creamy mix of pigment. I suggest trying it first on a separate paper so you can understand the behavior of your brush. I still observe which parts need to be dark and which part needs to be light, and also with the minimal amount of texture. I don't want to over do this step as it would take away the focus from our main characters. Now, I am darkening the gaps in between woods using a dark brown mix. For our last step, let's define a little bit the hat, and let's add shadow underneath. I do this step by darkening a little bit the base color using violin violet, since the color faded when it dried. As I add shadow underneath, I also use my finger to blend in the colors. For the hats design, I still use a creamy and semi-dry mix. We don't have to put too much details on this, as this is not the main focal point, but rather just a support in our main characters. Now our painting is done. 9. Sunflower Lady: Pencil Sketch: Now that we have already practiced painting the couple, let me share with you another painting exercise with very interesting painting approach. Apart from the principles and techniques that I shared earlier, on this next project, I will be sharing with you how to enjoy the transparency and fluidity of watercolor. We will experience the sense of freedom as you move your brush and make those fearless splashes. I will paint this beautiful lady on a sunflower field here at my watercolor journal, made of 100 percent cotton. One thing I love about painting human figures is that it makes me capture special memories in a more intimate way. It's fun to keep a journal with different memories painted in it. By the way, I still provided the template of the pencil sketch at the reference section, so you can easily print and trace the drawing, then proceed on painting. But if you want to practice sketching, let me share with you some guidelines before you get started. Again, before we begin, we first have to identify the size and position of the subject. I wanted the girl to occupy the entire space, so I need to draw her a little bigger. Next, I want to position her here at the right side part of the paper since I plan to make a nice watercolor splash effect on her hair to give that sense of strong wind blowing through her hair. After identifying the home position, we draw the outline first of the lady from top to bottom. Don't forget to use a pen to measure the angles of her arms and back. You also have to check the proportion of her head, upper and lower body, and the vertical and horizontal alignment of major points like her right elbow. Notice also that I did not draw in detail her hair, as I will let the movement of watercolor to create a beautiful effect on it. I also did not draw in detail the sunflower field at the background, as this is not my main subject. I just selected some dominant leaves and stems around the area, loosely drew them around, and again, let the water and pigment do the work later on. When you're done sketching, I suggest also to try to look at your sketch using your phone camera, or face your work to a mirror, so you can do a self-check. That way, you can see if there's something wrong in the proportion of her body parts, or if there's something that needs to be adjusted. See you on our next video. 10. Sunflower Lady: Painting the Hair: Let's start with our first wash. To give you an overview, I will paint in one layer the lady's hair, and during this step I will be creating splashes using my round brush loaded with lots of water and pigment to create that effect. Let's start with painting the lighter part of her hair, using a mix of turquoise and a bit of purple. Now I want you to observe the consistency of my mix. It is not too watery, but rather creamy. Here I'm painting the lighter part of her hair with this color mix. Next, I create the color mix of her dark hair by mixing branchena, and a bit of turquoise, to make it thicker, and lastly, amethyst genuine. I remove the excess water from my brush, and then I start painting from the top part of her head. I do the same thing on the lower part of the hair. I still use the same color mix that I did a while ago. I carefully blend the brown and blue color together, so there won't be a hard edge. The most important thing in painting the hair is to take note of the tonal values that you see in your reference photo. By doing this, this will make the painting gain volume and help us avoid making the picture look flat. I create a darker mix by adding more purple for areas with darkest tonal value. Now, since the light is coming from the left, the right side part of her hair is in shadow. Thus it is darker. I also want to emphasize that in order for you to paint the hair in one layer, you need to paint with a creamy mixture and remove the excess water from your brush. Using a clean, damp brush I blend the colors together to have that smooth transition. I go back and paint over the parts that needs to be dark using my semi-dry brush. I will paint the small one on her hair with a mix of yellow ocher and branchena, and notice that I am leaving a small white gap in between. Now as I paint her long, flowy hair, I change my brush into a big sable brush and create a watery mix of yellow ocher and branchena. I load my brush with lots of water and pigment to be able to achieve the splashing effect. When you do your splashes, it has to be systematic. The direction of your hand as you swish your brush will determine the direction of the splatter. You have to do this step without fear and hesitation and just enjoy watching how watercolors freely flows on your paper. I repeatedly load my brush with lots of water and pigment and then create fearless splatters but still thinking in mind the direction of the hair that I want to achieve. Now since this layer is still wet, and there is a part of paint on my paper, when I paint this dark area of her hair, I need to leave a small gap so that the colors won't lead and flow towards the puddle. This next step that I'm doing is to build the dimension of her hair by darkening this right-side part. I create a very thick mix of dark brown pigment and paint over the wet layer. It's important to create a thick mix rather than a watery mix so that the dark pigment would stand out. While waiting for this fragment to dry a little bit, I use my dark natural hair brush to seep the paint further in. This is a better way of removing the excess water on your paper, then wiping it off with tissue. I carefully remove the puddles one by one using my brush while waiting for the hair fragment to be semi-dry. I notice some paint flowing on the top part of her hair, that's why I lift the color up using my clean, damp brush. Now that this layer is semi-dry, I'm creating again a thick brown mix using branchena and amethyst genuine to paint the dark brown portion of her hair. Notice that I do this step while the base layer of her hair is semi-wet, so that there will be no hard edges when I add layers. The light and dark tones would just blend in smoothly. To make the mix extra darker, I simply add a little bit of neutral paint. For the last step I will scratch some parts on her hair using my fingernail to create extra texture. 11. Sunflower Lady: Painting the Body: Before I begin painting the body, I'd like to scratch this part of the hair to enhance its look. Now, let's create our color mix for the skin. By looking at the image, the lady has a dark complexion so I will combine burnt sienna, a little bit of yellow ocher, and maybe Perylene Violet to create a similar skin tone. Sometimes, color mixing really take some time because you need to find the correct balance between the colors being used. It is also helpful to create an enough amount of mix to cover all the skin parts in your subject to avoid having an equal skin tone in your painting so I start painting from her shoulder down to her back. I skipped painting her blouse and continued on her lower back first. I softly lift the color on the left side of her back as I try to follow the tonal value that I see under reference photo. Next, I will paint the right arm gently. I removed the excess water on my brush so that when I apply the paint, there is no paint paddle that will be transferred on the paper. I try to create this light tone on her arm by simply lifting the color up using my clean, damp brush, then I create the same dark skin tone mix to paint the dark parts of her arm. Again, to create that dark skin tone, you just adjust the amount of Perylene Violet and Amethyst Genuine in your color mix. I add layers while the base layer is still semi-wet and then I will use a clean brush to soften the edge or smoothen the transition of tones. Again, just a simple tip, if you want to darken the skin tone, just add some more Amethyst Genuine or a purple color to your mix. I'm building up the shadow portion of her arm by adding dark layer and then using a clean, damp brush to soften the transition in tones. Now, I'm mixing yellow ocher and maybe I'd like to add a bit of cadmium orange to paint her top. I also feel like adding a bit of burnt sienna to get a darker and thicker mix. My mixture is very saturated and creamy. I carefully paint over her top. Lifting the pigment on your paper using a clean, damp brush is also an easy way to create a light tone on your painting. Don't forget to paint that left arm and always make sure that the color of your skin tone is consistent. Using turquoise and Amethyst Genuine, I paint her shorts with the buttery mix on top and then I will softly fade it out with water at the bottom part. I add a bit of indigo to my mix to paint some details on her jeans. Now, let's continue painting her right hand using the same color mix; burnt sienna, yellow ocher, and Perylene Violet. I painted a small portion and then spread out that pigment to cover the entire hand. I wanted to add some texture on her yellow top, so using a synthetic brush and making sure that the layer is already dry, I will do some faded dry brush strokes with purple to portray a subtle design. Make sure that your brush has not much paint on it so it would not be too dark and overpowering. After doing the dry brushstrokes, fade it out by dabbing it with your finger. You don't have to cover the entire top with this dry brush strokes, but rather, just place some strokes on certain areas. 12. Sunflower Lady: Painting the Background: We're halfway through and now we'll be painting the background. I want a very loose background as I don't want to steal the attention from the lady, plus I want to maintain that loose feel on my sketch. As we paint the background, I will not be painting too many greens on the left so the focus would mainly stay on the lady's flowing hair. I'm using olive green with a bit of indigo to paint this leaf on shadow here on the left side of the girl. Notice that my stroke is very loose. I did not even strictly follow my sketch. I also draw a darker mix on some areas of the leaf too. I sprayed some water using a spray bottle, so the pigment would flow and now I'm blending in the dark green leaf to the lady's jeans, so they look connected. Next, I'm painting this another leaf, which is partly covering her right arm. I still use olive green as my base color and then I add a bit of yellow ocher. This leaf is lighter in tone since it is lighted by the sun. Then again, using some loose strokes and splatters, I will create some more impression of leaves all over the place. To create a more controlled splatters, you can simply tap your brush and make sure that it is fully loaded with watery mixture, so you can achieve that splattering effect. You can also try spattering water, small bits of water to your work for a different texture. Now I'm creating a watery mix of yellow ocher with orange, which I will use to create this impressions of sunflowers at the background. My mix is very watery and transparent as compared to the green mix I used for the leaves. I also place the yellow splatters mostly on the right, and just a few on the left. For the sunflower that the lady is holding, I really don't want to fully define it. What I'll do is just paint some hints of stem, the core of the flower, and its loose petals. You can also apply the scratching technique here on the leaf's veins. As you paint the background, just remember to keep them loose with less details since we want the lady to stand out. 13. Sunflower Lady: Final Details: Let's finish our painting by adding details and shadows that are very important to make your painting come alive. This will allow your figure to have depth and dimension. Using a synthetic brush, I create a dark brown mix. Still using burnt sienna, yellow ocher, and Amethyst Genuine. Since I'm going to create the shadows of the lady, my mix should be a little darker than the current skin tone. I also added a little bit of Perylene Violet, and I will start with the shadow on her right shoulder. Next will be on her spine area. These are very small details, but very important ones that you should not disregard. I will also enhance the shadow on this part of her back and later on, on her left elbow. I soften the edge to blend the colors together. I will enhance the shadow on this part of her back and also later on, on her left elbow. Don't forget to soften the edges so that the colors will blend in well. I just add some dark spots here on the spine area but I keep it soft as much as possible. Next, I'll add this dark shadow on her right arm. Basically, I'm just comparing my work with the reference photo and finding those spots with dark shadow so I can apply it on my painting. Tiny strokes such as this gives huge difference on our work. We have to carefully look at our reference photo and identify those shadowed areas because having them would make the painting dimensional. Let's enhance the color of our hand by adding some pigment on her knuckles. You don't have to be very detailed with the fingers. I just paint thin, dark strokes to show an impression of fingers holding the stem. For this flower that she's holding, using a green color mix that I have on my palette, I paint a broken stroke for the stem and try to fade out the color using my finger. Lastly, I just add some highlights on the core of the sunflower using burnt sienna to somehow define the shape. Now for our last step, I'll add the details on your jeans using turquoise and indigo. I try not to draw everything completely. I paint shapes in broken lines with a dry brush and then dab with my finger to fade it out. Be careful not to overdo the design and learn to step back to check if your painting is done. Here's our lady in sunflower field and I hope you enjoyed our class. 14. Class Project and Final Thoughts: We're now done with our lesson. I hope I was able to help you overcome your fear of drawing and painting figures. Don't be afraid to make mistakes and keep on practicing. I'm excited to see not just your work, but also the many precious memories that you'll soon capture with water colors. I also want to congratulate you for making it this far. I know you're ready to paint your own work. Refer to the downloadable files on the Reference section to view a reference photo, the pencil sketch, and the final painting for your guide. Just repeat the same process that we did in the videos. Feel free to go back and rewatch the portion of the videos that you want to review. Thank you so much again for joining my class, and I hope to see you on my other classes. Bye.