Adobe Illustrator: Give the Pen Tool a Day Off | Hayden Aube | Skillshare

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Adobe Illustrator: Give the Pen Tool a Day Off

teacher avatar Hayden Aube, Illustrator & Designer

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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

    • 1.



    • 2.



    • 3.

      Live Shapes & Corners


    • 4.



    • 5.

      Warp, Distort & Transform


    • 6.



    • 7.

      Bonus: Project Demo


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About This Class

The Pen Tool is one of the most powerful components to any vector editing software—and Adobe Illustrator is no exception. Sometimes however, its use can be quite time-consuming. That's where this class comes in.

There are countless ways to create shapes and paths in Adobe Illustrator that have nothing to do with the pen tool. Oftentimes the solutions are quicker, easier and look better than if you actually did it by hand.

Enroll today and learn how the majority of my illustrations, despite containing shapes ranging from the geometric to organic, are built with little to no use of the pen tool!

Meet Your Teacher

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Hayden Aube

Illustrator & Designer


Hayden here and I am an illustrator, designer and most importantly to you, teacher!

I am constantly hunting for the actions that will have me producing my best work possible--I assure you it's no easy feat. That's why my primary goal in all of these classes isn't to give you just any information, but only the information that's going to make the biggest difference in your work. Think of it as optimizing your artistic development ;)

So if you're looking to level up your skills in design and illustration, consider checking out my classes. I've gone to great lengths to keep them short and to the point so you can get the information quickly and jump to creating.

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1. Introduction: Hello, my name is Hayden Aube and I'm an illustrator and graphic designer, and I create vector art. If you're like me, you use Adobe Illustrator a lot, you will know that the number one tool is the Pen tool, and I completely agree with that. However, as time has gone on, I've learned a lot of little tips and tricks and ways of creating complex and geometric organic shapes that involve me never using the Pen tool. Oftentimes, these are faster, easier to make, and end up looking a lot nicer than if I were to try to actually, manually plot up the points with the Pen tool. In this class, I'm going to walk you through the specific techniques that I use to create illustrations like this, with having to use little to no use of the Pen tool. The techniques I'm going to show you can be done in any version of Illustrator with the exception of one technique which you need Adobe CC 4. Now if you don't have the Adobe CC, that's fine because that's just one of the many techniques that I'm going to go over and there's still a lot to get. So if you want to speed up your process and learn to make them really nice looking shapes, as well as really start to master Adobe Illustrator, then this is the class for you. In terms of skill level, anyone is welcome. So come join the class and give your Pen tool a much needed day off. 2. Pathfinder: First off, we're going to focus on the Pathfinder tool, which is one of my favorite and probably most used tools. I can't think of a project that I do that doesn't use the Pathfinder. What we're going to do is we're going to focus on all the different options that you have. You can see the Pathfinder window right here, if you don't have it open, you could always go to Window, Pathfinder or press Command, Shift, F9. The Pathfinder is divided into Shape Modes on the first row and Pathfinders on the second row. I'm actually going to start with the Pathfinders right here. What I'm going to do is I'm going to go through these one at a time and show you what happens when you use that option, Pathfinder, with these two overlapping squares. A Pathfinder is really as simple as it sounds, it's a way of creating or finding new paths by taking existing paths or shapes, in this case, these two squares, and subtracting them, combining them, dividing them, pretty much having to interact with one another to, as I said, find your new paths. Starting off, we're going to go with Divide here, what I'm going to do is just select the two of these and on the Pathfinders, I will click Divide. Now visually, it looks the same or what to Divide does is it divides all the intersecting shapes into individual ones. Whereas before it would have been just one square sitting on top of another, now it's going to ungroup it. You'll see that I have been left with this shape here, this shape here, and the intersecting piece in the middle. Next step is Trim, which just like Divide function is exactly how it sounds. It will trim one shape from another. In this case, it subtracts the top shape from the behind shape. Let's do that, Ungroup it, and there you are. Merge is going to give us the same effect. However, it actually functions differently. If I just clicked it there, you can see it looks the same, but that's just because of this specific scenario. Now, if I were to create, let's say I had three squares like this and two had the same color. I'm actually just going to duplicate this. We have this combination of squares here. If I apply Trim to this one, the result we're going to get like this. If I Merge these, raise on different, so let me Ungroup this. What has happened here with Merge is because of the two dark blue squares have the same appearance, they are both that dark blue, it actually just united them into a single shape. That's the subtle difference between those two. Moving on, we have Crop which works, I guess similar to Divide and then it really works for that intersecting shape between these two shapes. In this case it creates just that small square where they intersected, but what's also important to notice is that it does leave a path at least for the top shape or what's left of it. This is important to note because there's a shape mode called intersect that does a very similar thing except it doesn't give you this extra shape in front. Outline is one that I've never used. I can see how it can be handy, but I just never really think to use it. What it does is it separates everything out into, sorry, to the wrong one. It separates everything out into individual paths like this. By the way, this is just the path preview. If you go to View. Sorry, because I'm in right now. There's GPU Preview. Pressing Command Y will put you in between the normal preview and the path or outlined preview. It's quite helpful when you have a lot going on. You can also do it here under View and it's topped it. Anyway, as you can see with outline, it has extracted all these separate paths from those two intersecting shapes. Again, something I don't really use, but I'm sure you can use it somewhere. It wouldn't be here otherwise. Finally, we have Minus Back, which is super straightforward, the object in the back, it's minus from the front. No surprises there. Next up we have Shape Modes. Shape Modes are very similar to the Pathfinders and actually by definition, they are Pathfinders themselves. They give you the option to create compound shapes and you can see that in the parentheses here when you just mouse over, it says option-click to create a compound shape. Now if you've ever worked with compound paths, compound shapes are essentially the same thing. It's a way of having a single visible shape, but it's actually made up of multiple live and editable shapes. The best way to show it is to actually go ahead and make one. I'm just going to hold down Unite here, hold option and click Unite. You'll see right here I had one shape, it seems. If I double-click into it, you can see that it's actually these two shapes I can move around, click out of it and they're one shape. You can see that it acts as one shape, but it's actually two compound shapes. Now, when you don't hold option, you get just a single shape. With Unite, just like that and now it becomes one shape. I can't move those two squares around, this is just one single thing. For Minus Front, we do went through Minus Back, it's the same thing. It will subtract the front from the back. There we go. Intersect, like I mentioned before, it's very similar to Divide, and more similar to Crop in that it just gives me this middle piece. Like I said before, the difference between Intersect and Crop, is Crop will leave you with this extra box here. It's the resulting shape. Finally, under Shape Modes we have Exclude. Exclude is more like Divide, but you do not get the center shape. Divide, split up everything, so we have these two top pieces, we have the middle piece, Exclude, we do not. We get everything except for the Intersecting piece. If it seems a little complicated at first, don't worry. This is something that with practice, you're going to get the hang of and probably quite quickly, because you'll find that a lot of these do very similar things and you actually only need to stick to a few of them. I've gotten comfortable with Unite, Minus Front, and Intersect and because of that I rarely use anything else. Give it a go, put some time into it because it is a really great tool and you'll find that you pick it up quite quickly. Before we move on, I just want to show you a quick example of how this can be used and for that I got this ax here that I made as part of my fantasy weapon class. I'm going to create ellipse as well as two smaller ones, and I'm going to take the smaller ones and subtract it from the larger one. To do that, I'm going to use Minus Front. I just select all of them press Minus Front and then I get this blade shape. From here, it's really easy to duplicate it, mirror it on the other side, and then I can even go as far as creating this centerpiece, which is really just a circle on top of a square. Get something like that and then I use Unite on it to get a single shape. Put that in the middle. There's really rough and quick how I would have made that piece of the ax. Like you can see, no use of the Pen tool. If you try to do it with the Pen tool, it probably wouldn't be as nice and geometric. 3. Live Shapes & Corners: The next step we're going to look at live shapes and corners. And this technique is only available in the CC releases of illustrator, the most recent ones. But even if you are on an older version, I would still recommend that you watch this video just to really get a sense of what is possible. Because even if you don't have it right now, someday you will. Live shapes in my opinion are the main reason that I'll never go back to see CS6. They provides so much control, a lot of speed and they really save me multiple trips to the pen tool. Live shapes are exactly what they sound like. They are shapes that are interactive, adjustable and can easily be changed on the fly. To best explain live shapes, I can demonstrate one of the rectangle tool. If I just drew out a shape like this, you'll see the circular widget here on each corner. And if you've used CC so far, you would have seen these and I'm sure you know that pulling them in, it's going to round the corners of the shape and pulling them back out is going to make them just sharper again. This is something that you could have done in previous versions of illustrator such as CS6 and earlier. But you would have had to go to effect stylize round corners. And here you could have put in a manual value, like 80 pixels. And around all the corners by 80 pixels. That could be done. But what makes this so great now is that you couldn't really do it in individual corner before. If you wanted to round just one corner, it was [inaudible] really strange work around and it wasn't too fun. But now you can just use the direct selection tool. This white arrow here and you can just click on any of the corner and run that individually. Select that alone gives you tons more freedom. But what we could also do with live shapes is if you open up the transform window, you get some extra rectangle properties here. This once again, you can change the corner radius by a specific amount. You can do it make one corner more than another. And you can also change the actual type of corner. You have rounded corners, you have inverted round, they look like that. And then you have the chamfered corners as well like this. Just in these options, you have a lot of freedom to play around with this rectangle. You can also use the ellipse tool and get once and another set of properties. In addition to things just like the size, you can create little wedge shapes to take out of this circle. If you just grabbed this little widget right here, you can actually drag this out and create this kind of pie graph looking pieces. And you can manually put in the values of those angles if you really liked to do that here. I wanted the pie to start at 20 degrees on the circle and end at a 140 degrees. It would give me the exact shape. And what's also quite handy is that I could duplicate it and use this in pie button to create the reverse, which can be quite helpful. Where I find this feature to be particularly useful is that it's not through just the ellipse tool, the polygon tool, the rectangle tool that you get these live corner options. But pretty much any shape that you create, whether it's with the pen tool or the pathfinder tool or something else, can have these live effects. Which in result you can create a lot of complex but still smooth looking forms. A very quick example would be that if I wanted to make a nice looking peanut shape, I find it's a shape that I like to make a lot. I'll take two ellipses and just unite them like this. And then rather than go through the trouble of taking the pen tool and trying to carve out this side right here. I'll just use the direct selection tool and just around out these corners. And guess what else like that. That's something that once upon a time I went to super hard, but it took a lot more time than I've just put into it now. And these are the kind of things are quite handy to know. I think a great example of this being used is in this piece that I've done here. You can look at these decaying ruins right here. And it looks very detailed, but it looks quite smooth and this really all it was, was a bunch of shapes that I united and then start to go in with the live corners and round out. So far I just show you really quickly. Maybe how I would do a top piece like this is I would just create a bunch of rectangles like this maybe. And once again, it's a very quick demonstration. But maybe just create something like that. And then I would unite them. And then I would go through with the direct selection tool and just round these out and get it to a point that I quite like it. Again, this is something that is so time-saving. And it really does end up looking a lot better than if you tried to get the pen tool and manually draw out these curves, you'd probably have to use the grid or something like that to really plan and to get it look perfect. But even just quickly like that, you can see that I've made a shape that's similar to these ruins. Again, quick time-saving and I didn't even have to touch the pen tool. 4. Strokes: Next up, I'd like to look at Outline Stroke, which again is probably something that you've used before and it is pretty straightforward. But there are a lot of other things you can do with it that are really worth knowing. Just to quickly go over outlining a stroke is as simple as creating a stroke to look like a shape that you want to have. Because I'm not using the pen tool, I'm going to just create a stroke by just subtracting this rectangle from this ellipse and then deleting that. This is my stroke. Let's say I want it to have rounded caps, I want it to be about 10 points. Let's say I want this as a shape. All will just go up to object, path, outline stroke. Then simply enough it becomes a shape. In essence, that's the really simple form of outline stroke. Once you realize that you can outline any stroke that you can create, you can really start to get creative with the actual strokes that you make. Again, if I'm going to just create a stroke here, that will do. Let's do some other things to this. Let's look at stroke profiles. You can get some really interesting looking shapes like this. Maybe I'm trying to make some triangular thing. Actually, let's give some bend to this so we can better imagine it. Very easily you can see this starts to become maybe like a tail shape, is something I can make with this. I don't know, maybe I'm making like a slug or something like that. This is quite helpful. From here, you can even use some of these brush definitions. Something like this. Maybe we want to pump it up to 10 pixels. The look is not spoke, but we can use this. We could simply just as before, go to path, outline stroke and you get this as a shape. Another tool that's really helpful with the stroke tool and therefore with outline stroke is the width tool. I'm swinging the width tool by pressing Shift and W, where you can find it right here on the toolbar. This really is a way for you to manually tweak this stroke at different points to recreate it into the shape that you want. Where's master, there we go, ten. Basically, I could just try and make like maybe I'm doing a vase or something like that. I can just build this out to give me this ornate-looking shape that if I wanted to make this with the pen tool, once again, it wouldn't be terribly difficult, but this is just so much smoother and so much easier to make. Again, there's been a path outline stroke. Once again, we can look at a practical example. I have this little beetle here that I made. Already, you can see where I've probably used this technique, and that was with these insect legs and these antenna. I want to try and recreate that. I'm going to cheat here and use the pen tool. That's just to demonstrate here. If I made a curve like this, for instance, I'm going to make that actually with a red, so it's easier to see if it's a 10 pixels, round it. If I want a shape like this, I could just start to really play around with the width tool, so I can see that it tucks in a little bit in here and then it comes back out a bit there, tucks in again, and it comes out again, and in and out. Very quickly again. Then I would just path outline stroke. See how very quickly, I can make this shape. Quite complex, but super simple. 5. Warp, Distort & Transform: Finally I want to run through a few quick but very good to know techniques. The first one of those is one that probably most of you know, but it's still worth mentioning, and that's offset path. Offset Path allows you to take a shape or a path. You can either expand it or contract it by a specific amount of pixels. Which is really helpful if you ever tried to create a copy of a shape that rests inside of it or just outside of it, maybe scaling it normally just doesn't work. So a good example of that would be, I can create that peanut shape again, because I like that peanut shape. Let's say that I had this shape here and I wanted a smaller version of it in the center of it. What I could do is duplicate it, and try and scale it down so it sits in the middle. But very quickly we can see that it is not doing exactly what I want. I want this buffer between the red and the green shape to be exactly the same and that's not happening. This is where offset path comes in handy. You just select the shape, you go to object, path, offset path, and then here you would put in that value you want to offset it by. If I'm making it smaller, I'm using a negative amount. So here I have negative 10. I put on the preview. We can already see that it is pretty much creating that shape that I want. There it is. Likewise, I can go path, offset path, and maybe do it as positive 20 or just 20. We're going to see that it's going to create a shape outside. That is a nice, quick but very useful technique. You can see a good use of Offset Path here with this crest that I made. It was part of our Aaron Draplin's course here on skillshare. All I did for getting these vines, or rather these stems and the banner to match the shape of the shield that I made was offset path. So I would have gone to object, path, offset path, 20 pixels or so. Then from here I could use these new shapes to create flips or this, and then multiply this, command J to Join, enter it again, so right there is the start of that banner, and then I would have had these leaves here on the sides. You can see really quickly how offset path is quite useful. Once again, it makes better results than if you actually tried to draw out that specific spacing by hand. Lastly, I just want to go over a couple of things that you can find under effect, and specifically under warp, and under distort and transform, just by looking here, you can see that there are a lot of options. I'm not going to go through all of them. But I'm just going to show you a couple of the ones I really like, and encourage you to experiment with these, because once you get to know them, you can find really quick ways to make shapes that you want to make. First up, I'm going to show you how I created this hill pattern in the background of this piece, and that was using zig zag. To create that, what I would have done is created just a box like this, just make that red, [inaudible]. I would have gone up to effect, distort and transform, zig zag, from here you can actually apply zig zag path to the different size or your shape, or if it's just a path that you have. I'll just preview it. You have a lot of freedom to create how dynamically you want it zig zag. Do you want it smooth or sharp? How much on each line segment do you want that to happen? This isn't really helpful for things like hills in this case, but also I find a lot of liquids, waves in the ocean or something like that, it's a really quick solution. I'm trying to make this hill pattern. I'm going to put the ridges at seven, I'm going to bring this size down to somewhere around 20. Great. So what's great about zig zag and a lot of these other effects is that they are live just like the shapes were. If I go into appearance, which you can find under, window appearance, shift, f6 , you'll see here that I can turn on and off the zig zag, and I can even go into it and continue to play around with it. So if I decide that I actually want the size to be way bigger, I can go back and change that. But when I'm happy with it, typically I will expand the shape which stops it from being alive and gives me those actual paths, which I just like to have. So to do that, I go to object, expand appearance, now you can see that I have the actual paths here, from here all I would really need to do is get rid of the bits that are hanging off of the canvas, to do that, I'm going to create another shape on top of this one, and use Intersect in the pathfinder tool, and there you go. Another one that I quite like is pucker and bloat, I'm actually going to create a ellipse here to show you how that works, I go to effect, then I go to distort and transform, and then I go pucker and bloat, you can see here in the preview that putting the slider this way starts to make these diamond shapes, which can be quite cool if I'm creating stars or something. Whereas bloat works, it pulls in the reverse points, and gives you these clover or petal shapes, with that these are actually quite helpful if I'm making flowers or something. So maybe I can make a shape like this, and then I can duplicate it on top of itself, and then I can rotate it, and already I have a nice interesting looking flower shape, just like that. Moving along, I'm going to show you how to use the arc tool, which is one of the warp options that you have. If you go to effect and warp, you get all sorts of different effects here that can be used in different situations. I'm not going to show you them all. I'm just going to show you two. The first one is arc, and that is actually how I created this little pickle here that looks like he's running away. So what I would have done for him is I would have created a ellipse, something like this, and then rather than drawing out this shape here, I really would have just used arc. So just like that you can see it bends it in the direction that I want. Unless I did it horizontal here, which would make it go up and down different shapes, for this I would use vertical. I would make them arranged to the side like that, you can see it's quite good to make a banana as well. Sometimes you can use distortion. I usually don't, it depends. But actually here it helps to make that shape, something like that. So these are things that you play around with. You get familiar with them. Once again, you can create these shapes that normally you would have to draw, but in this case you don't. So next up, I'm just going to show you the fish option, because it's another one that I like. I probably don't use it too much, but I do like how it looks. So if I create just maybe a rectangle like this, go to effect, warp, fish, you can see in the little icon here, just as you can with all of them, the effect that each of these gives, I get rid of distortion, it makes shapes, maybe if you're making a trophy or something like that, you can get a cool design by playing around with this, or maybe another vase, that's just another one of the many different ones here. So I encourage you to check those out, play around with them. It really is as simple as the more of these you get to know, the more often you're going to try to make a shape in your work, and remember that, I can actually just use this tool and save a lot of time rather than drawing it out with a pen tool. 6. Challenge: Now that you have a few tricks up your sleeve, we're going to put them to the test. To do that, I have created a challenge which is your class project and it really is as simple as creating a design or illustration without using the pen tool at all. I've actually done this and I've attached it as a bonus video at the end of this class. If you're ready just to go head on it, by all means go ahead, don't let me stop you. But if you would like to see how I go through it, I'll talk you through my process, then that's there for you as well. I just want to also say that obviously removing the pen tool from your workflow, is a bad idea. It's a really great and powerful tool and you should be very comfortable with it. But it's through doing these kind of challenges where you restrict yourself, that you can get the true benefits of what we've learned in the class. So that down the road when you're doing a real project, you will be like,"Oh, I need to make this sort of shape." Oh wait, I can use the work tool for this or I can use the Pathfinder tool for this. You'll become much more resourceful when you give yourself these sorts of constraints. I just want to conclude by thanking you for taking your time to take the class. It's a lot of fun for me to put these videos together. But it's even greater when I see you guys get value from it. If you have any questions, any tips for improving the class or any future class ideas, I would really like to hear those. If you did like the class, I would encourage you to check out some of my other ones, as well as leave a review on this class because that's a great way for more people to see it. So thanks again. I hope you'll learn a lot and I look forward to seeing what you come up with. 7. Bonus: Project Demo: Jumping straight into this, I'm using the polygon tool to create a triangle, and I'm actually going to slice that in half with the pathfinder tool after I make this curve here. I'm using a reflect tool just to reflect the side, then rather than draw out a new shape, I'm actually just using that triangle reversed below to create that bottom part of the pen shape, then once again here I am changing the curve, reflecting it over and getting the shape that am looking for. This could have been done with the pen tool, but for the purpose of the assignment, I was just using simple shapes. Now am kind of creating the shape that I am going to use to subtract ultimately from that pen tool. You'll notice me using the reflect tool a lot, and it's something that also helps to save time. I'm going to include it in the notes here on Skillshare just on this video, and if you want to see more of it, I do a lot of it and I go through it and much more thorough in my class on vector weapons. Here I'm once again making just a white sheet for now, that's going to be what I subtract from the swimming trunks. In terms of colors right now, I've already set my palette, but I'm not too concerned about what is what right now, I'm just using what gives me a good sense of the shapes, and then we'll go back at the end and really set the proper colors. This is just preference. Here I'm creating the stripes of the swimming trunks, and I want them evenly spaced out, that's how I'm doing it this way. Then I use the intersect to get them to lock onto that same shape of swimming trunks. Here I'm making the loops for the swimming trunks. So I started with an ellipse, and then I just tweak the curves of it, and I'll will eventually use outlines stroke on it. There I am making reflect again, I like to keep a guide right in the center of my piece, if it is symmetrical and I use that guide to constantly reflect pieces to the left and right. To make these legs here, [inaudible] united two rectangles, and here I am tweaking with the rounded corners to get the feet looking the way I want them to. To do the same thing at the sandals. You can really see here how everything just start as such a basic shape. It's all rectangles, ellipses, and I just unite them and subtract them in different ways and then apply different corner options to them to get exactly what I want. Right there I'm using the curve of that top-left piece of the body to create the arm. Now I could have just used the pen before, it would've been a really quick. Again, I'm just trying to stick to the exercise, be resourceful, outside I didn't like that curve too much, so I'm just tweaking it some. You'll notice I do quite a lot of re-purposing, if I need to, like right now I need to create this other arm, and rather than creating it from scratch, I realized that I could just duplicate the other arm, and then tweak it to how I want it in size of a wave here. Here I'm using the pathfinder tricks just to get these little motion curves that I wanted for this arm. In the end though, I decided that I actually didn't want these, so you'll see that I ditch them shortly. I was playing a bit with the width tool there just to give them a little bit of variation in the width of the stroke. As you can see there, I got rid of them. You're going to see the one time I use the pen tool and that was the create, just one little dot. I'm sorry, I cheated. Please forgive me. Yeah, the mouth is just half an ellipse. So there, I just did a very important trick which was, I wanted to start combining some of these shapes and outline some of the strokes, but I didn't want to lose the work that I had, so I took everything, copied it, and then press command three, which hides it so that I have a backup, and then I paste it in front, to now I have a new layer that I can expand and outline and everything, but I know that I still have all the paths from before, if I ever need to go back to them. Here you can see that I'm starting to play with the colors a bit more. I know I want him to be standing on the beach, so I've made the background yellow and that's giving me the other colors. Here I'm trying to create those handles of this beach ball by just creating different shapes, and then intersecting them with that ellipse there for the ball. Here I just thought I was a bit too sharp, so I round it off. Again, why it's nice to have live corners? Those are a couple of times of playing with this idea of having a shape behind this face. In the end, I decided not to use if [inaudible] is playing with. That's one of the beauties of illustrators, you can change colors in an instant, remove shapes and add shapes whenever you want, it's not like an oil painting. Here's the finished piece, you'll notice that there is a lot of texture applied to it and I know that's something I didn't go over, and ask because I have an entire class devoted to it. If you want to know how I do that, you can go check that out, but aside from that, what's really important to note here is that everything I did was using the pathfinder tool, live corners, outline strokes, and just different techniques that had nothing to do with the pen tool and everything to do with what we did in this class, because of those techniques, creating this illustration was easier, faster, and get the whole thing only took about half an hour. It actually looks nicer than, if I tried to draw out all these curves with the pen tool alone. Give it a go yourself and get any questions about what I did here or what I did at any other part in the class. Just let me know and discussion and I'll be sure to get back to you. Once again, thanks for taking the class, I hope you had a great time and I hope you now have some valuable tools that you can use in your next piece. Take care.