Plan for Success: Create Watercolor Paintings From Photos With Confidence | Lyndsay Newton | Skillshare

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Plan for Success: Create Watercolor Paintings From Photos With Confidence

teacher avatar Lyndsay Newton, Wildlife Artist in Watercolors and Felt

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

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Class Project


    • 3.



    • 4.



    • 5.



    • 6.



    • 7.



    • 8.



    • 9.

      Final Adjustments


    • 10.

      Plan Painting 10 Project Time!


    • 11.

      Wrap Up


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About This Class

Do you feel intimidated by the thought of starting a watercolor painting without a tutorial? Do you start a painting only to realize later you should have done something differently? Fear not! This watercolor class will provide you with a solid framework to plan your painting and confidently tackle any photo of your choice. 

Join me for a new adventure in watercolor! This class will cover the following:

  • Essential questions to ask before starting a new painting
  • Preparation of an outline
  • Paint selection
  • Creating and modifying a plan
  • Test paintings

When you know what questions to ask, you’ll better guide your artistic process in the right direction. When you know what questions are still unanswered, you can test out your ideas on practice paintings. At the end of this class, you'll put all these steps into action by painting a watercolor donkey - or any other image you'd like!

As a new artist, a lack of confidence can be a significant roadblock to your creative endeavors. If you don’t have the confidence to try something new, you may feel stuck following someone else’s guidance. By practicing the knowledge and skills you'll learn in this class, you'll be able to avoid mistakes and improve your painting even before you pick up your paintbrush. By planning your painting, you'll set yourself up for success and have the best opportunity to learn and grow as an artist.

This watercolor class is perfect for practiced beginners who are comfortable painting with a tutorial but aren’t quite confident enough to paint on their own. These lessons can be adapted to any personality, whether you're a meticulous Type-A organizer or a freewheeling Type-B character.

You’ll need a few basic watercolor supplies to take this class, including paints, brushes, and paper. I encourage you to choose a photo of your own to go through the exercises; however, you’re also welcome to use the reference photo in the Resources section (photo from Marzena7 on Pixabay).

Join me and take the next step towards painting with confidence! You'll be surprised at what you can achieve with a little guidance and practice. With the knowledge from this class, you’ll unlock your artistic potential and create beautiful watercolor paintings.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Lyndsay Newton

Wildlife Artist in Watercolors and Felt


I’m excited you’re here!



I’m Lyndsay, a wildlife and animal artist based in the state of Georgia. I’ve been passionate about animals ever since I can remember. Both as a scientist and a zookeeper, my work has been focused on conserving and caring for animals. Similarly, my art focuses on all kinds of animals.


I've wandered through various art forms, but watercolor and felting appeal to me the most. I love how watercolors flow as they will, creating patterns that I could never imagine. When it comes to felting, I love the crunch of the needle as it shapes the wool, as well as the feel of soapy wool under my hands.


I am a passionate, lifelong learner. I also love to share what I&rs... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: You love the fluidity and patterns that watercolor painting can create, but find yourself intimidated by the thought of painting without a tutorial. Have you ever started a watercolor painting? Only to realize halfway through, they should have taken a different approach. You've come to the right class. Hello, My name is Lindsay Newton, and I'm a watercolor painter specializing in animal paintings. In this class, I'll share with you the important questions you should ask before starting a watercolor painting and how you can plan for painting success. As a former Zookeeper, animals have always been a big part of my life, and I love incorporating them into my creative endeavors. My passion for watercolors stems from their translucent and flowing nature, which creates unique patterns and textures that I find lovely. In this class, you'll learn how to approach watercolor painting with greater confidence and make fewer mistakes, thereby making the entire process more enjoyable. For masking questions. To testing your ideas. I'll cover what you need to consider before creating a watercolor painting. Whether you're looking to reach beyond tutorials or simply lack confidence when starting a painting. This class is perfect for you. You'll learn techniques that you can apply to any painting, even if there isn't a tutorial to follow. If you're ready to take your watercolor painting to the next level, Let's get started. 2. Class Project: In this class, your project will be in two parts. The first is to develop a plan for your watercolor painting. And the second is to create your painting using the plan that you made. To develop your plan will cover some questions that will help you make your creative choices. The questions will revolve around white, colors, textures, and order. We'll also cover other preparations focused on your outline, paints and mixes. And finally, we'll put that together into a plan. If you still aren't sure about some of your decisions. There are a few types of practice paintings you can try before finalizing your plan. Encourage you to pick a reference photo of your own and create a completely personalized plan. I am providing a reference photo of a donkey. If you prefer to use that. This donkey has limited for textures, opportunities for color mixing, and can produce an outline as simple or as complicated as you like. If you aren't confident in your ability to create an outline, you can use my outline as is or as a basis for producing the outline you want for your painting. Whatever you make, please be sure to post it to your project in the project gallery along with the plan you followed to create your artwork. I'm excited to see your thought process and your beautiful painting. If you like. I'm happy to provide feedback to help you in your journey as an artist. With that, come join me in the next lesson where we'll cover the materials you'll need for this class. I'll see you there. 3. Supplies: Let's talk supplies. If you have supplies for watercolor painting, you should have everything you need for this class. First step, paint. I prefer to watercolors. And we'll be using Daniel Smith and M. Graham paints. You don't need to use the same brands are colors that I use, but I highly recommend professional paint. Next, you'll need some paper. I recommend that you get at least two pieces of paper that are the same type, brand and wait for your project. It's important to note that even though one piece will be used for practice, your techniques may behave differently on various types of paper. If you practice on a different brand of paper, you may end up liking a technique that doesn't work as well on the paper you intend to use for your final artwork. It's best to practice on the same type and brand of paper you plan to use for your final piece. I will be using 140 pound cold press, Winsor and Newton professional. I also like arche paper. Both are 100% cotton. If you use tubes or pans, I highly recommend using 100% cotton paper. Even though it can be pricey, it will make a huge difference in how well you can work with your paints. And it will make watercolor painting so much more enjoyable. If you use liquid watercolors, you will probably be fine with cellulose paper. I personally haven't used liquid watercolors, but I've heard from many other artists that it works better with cellulose papers like Canson XL. The last of the big three watercolors supplies is brushes. I'm a fan of squirrel brushes, so I enjoy silver brush, black velvet, which is a synthetic and natural squirrel hair blend. As well as Princeton Neptune, which is entirely synthetic squirrel. Squirrel brushes are softer but hold a lot of water. If you prefer a stiffer brush, you may prefer sable or Kolinsky sable. And there are several decently priced options for synthetic hair versions of these brushes. Whatever brush you choose, make sure it is made for watercolors. To round out the basics, you'll need a few more things, starting with cups for holding water. I prefer to so I can clean my brushes in one cup and use the other for freshwater. You'll also need a pallet for holding and mixing paints. I prefer to mix on porcelain, a pencil for drawing, an outline, and a kneaded eraser for softening the outline on your paper. A method for transferring your outline onto your paper, such as a light box or graphite paper and a rag for wiping off excess paint and water. Own reference photo. And I encourage you to do so. That'll be all that you need. However, if you are using the reference photo I'm providing, you will find that in the resources section under projects and resources on the right-hand side. I'm also providing an outline of the donkey, a list of the supplies I'm using. A picture of my final painting. An example painting plants. Feel free to use as many or as few of these resources as you like. With that, let's move on to the next lesson where we'll get started with our first planning questions. I'll see you there. Yes. 4. White: Watercolors are unique in their approach to white. For this reason, it's important to know from the beginning where you see white in your painting. Keep in mind, white. Isn't always white. Yeah, that's confusing. What I mean is that something that your brain knows is white, isn't purely white the way our eyes see it. Take a look at this soccer ball. Soccer ball is white and black. But as you can see, the only real white spot on the soccer ball is where the highlight is. The rest of the white part of the ball is actually gray, starting with a light gray near the highlight and fading to a darker gray as you move away from the light source. In this case, the only white that you need to preserve is where that highlight is. Similarly, the white and the highlight of this isn't actually white. Instead, it's a warm golden color. As an artist, I can make the choice to match the photo as accurately as possible, or to make the highlight pop by leaving it white in a painting. Instead of trying to paint a perfect color match. With this in mind, ask yourself your first question. Where do I see white in my painting? Once you know where your whites are, you have to plan them into your painting. In watercolor painting, we generally don't use white paint. Instead, we often use the white of the paper for the whites in our artwork. In this case, we must avoid getting paint on these areas either by painting with great care, by adding masking fluid to protect our white areas. However, the paper isn't the only thing we can use. Some artists will use opaque white watercolor or other options such as gouache or bleed proof ink to add white back into their painting. What you as an artist choose to use is completely personal preference. Your next question is, how will I preserve or replace these whites? Remember, you preserve whites by avoiding the areas are protecting with masking fluid. You replace the whites by adding something like opaque watercolor, gouache, or ink at the end of your painting. Next, I'm going to share with you my answers to these questions with the reference photo I've provided. If you're also using the reference photo, I encourage you to pause the lesson, answer the questions for yourself, then see how I interpreted the photo. That way, my interpretation doesn't influence yours. If you are working with a different reference photo, feel free to see how I approach these questions before you tackle them with your photo. Onto the example. Where do I see white in my painting? I see white in this donkey, in two areas. In the eyes, there are some highlights that are almost white that I will include in my whites. There is also a large white highlight on the nose. Note that there are several highlights in the I on the right. I'm going to take some artistic liberty and not worry about those. I think one small highlight will be enough. How will I preserve or replace these Whites? My preference is to preserve whites. So I will avoid painting these areas. I have to be careful with the nose as I want to preserve the highlight without forming a hard edge around the white. I'll discuss edges more in the lesson on textures. Once you've answered these questions for your project, it's time to move to the next set of questions. Colors. I'll see you in the next lesson. 5. Colors: A painting is nothing without its colors. Let's take a look at what we should know about the colors or lack thereof that we'll use in our painting. Our main killer question is similar to our first White question. A chest is weird. You're going to look for colors in your painting. As before, the colors, you know, are in your photo might be different from the colors that are in your photo. Take a look at this horse. It's a brown horse with a black mane, right? But really think about the light reflecting off of this horse. The brown at the top of the head is really more of a dark blue. The way the light reflects off of it's, for much of the main is also blue. And the lightest highlights are almost a baby blue color. While the brown to the right of the eye is a rich, earthy red. Below the eye. It looks like a hint of blue is neutralizing that red. Now ask yourself, what colors do I see? Just like we asked ourselves how we were going to get white in our painting. We need to ask ourselves how will get colors in our painting? If you see a color that matches the paint in your collection perfectly, It's not a big deal. But if not, you'll want to create colors through either mixing or layers. We'll talk more about mixing colors later. For creating colors through layers. You'll lay down one color of paint. And then after it's dry, put down another layer of a different color. You may have also heard this technique referred to as glazing. Choosing between lettering and mixing colors is a personal preference. I tend to go with glazing if I need a more subtle change in color or if I'm not looking for a specific color and I'm happy to let the paints do what they may. If I want a little more control over my colors, I lean towards mixing on the palette. Your other color question is, do I see any areas where I will want to create colors through layers? It's time for me to share my answers to these questions. If you'd like to pause the video first, now is the time to do that. What colors do I see? I see an earthy yellow, earth red, and dark brown. I also see blue highlights in the for most notably on the forehead. Gray and black, round out the colors I see. Do I see any areas where I will want to create colors through layers? I want to build up the pattern and shadows on the nose through layers. Also like to build up the earth colors in the firm by layering. With our color questions answered. It's time to move on to the next lesson, where we'll look at textures in our photo. I'll see you there. 6. Textures: It's time to think about textures. What textures do we see in our painting? And how do we want to represent them? Let's get started. Edges will be our first topic on textures. In watercolor. We can create a few different types of edges. Hard edges are the easiest to create. If you can paint a brushstroke on paper, you can make a hard edge. A hard edge where the edge of the paint is a single clearly-defined line. You create it by painting wet on dry. Soft edges are another type. One way of making a soft edge is by laying down paint wet on dry, just as you did for the hard edge. Then you come back with a damp brush and gently run the brush along the edge, you want to soften. If you've never made soft edges this way before, you may need to practice a few times to learn how damper brush should be and how damp your paint should be to get it right. When I refer to making a soft edge, I'm usually referring to this method. Another way of making a soft edge is painting wet on wet. The first step is to lay down an area of water larger than the area you want to paint. Next, you can place paint down in the wet area. The paint will flow through the water. As long as the paint doesn't reach the edge of the water, you will end up with a soft edge. Note that this way of making a soft edge doesn't leave you with a lot of control over how the edge will look. It can be a wonderful way of creating soft edges and backgrounds where you may not care exactly where the edge is. Your question about edges is, what types of edges do I want to use? And where? Be an overwhelming question if you were to answer it for every single edge. Even most type a personalities would hate to do that. Instead, look for edges that don't immediately call out to you as being hard or soft or wet on wet. Those are the edges where you need to make a choice. Think about which option makes the most sense to you, and write it down so you remember it when it's time to paint. When painting animals, we can have fur, feathers, scales, shells, and other textures to convey. However, unless you're trying to make your painting look exactly like a photo, you're not going to paint every single firm or feather. When it comes to textures, there are three questions to ask. Where am I going to represent detailed texture in my painting? How am I going to represent these textures? How will I represent textures in the other areas of the painting? If you'd like to pause the video before seeing my answers to these questions. Now is the time to do that. What types of edges do I want to use and where? For my project, I'm going to focus on where I have hard edges inside the boundaries of the donkey. I default to soft edges in this area. So I want to make a note of where I want to change that. I'm going to put a hard edge where the nose meets the rest of the face. I do see a soft edge on the right side of the nose, but I'm still going to stick with a hard edge as an artistic choice. I'm also going to put a hard edge on the area of the forehead that is reflecting blue the strongest. There's a clear, hard edge at the bottom and up by the ears. I'm going to see how it looks if I extend the hard edge around that whole area. Where am I going to represent detailed texture in my painting? I want more detailed textures inside the ears, on top of the forehead where you can see the foregoing in two different directions. And the hair on the back of the neck. How am I going to represent these textures? In the ears? I'll use the earth colors in the donkey to paint lines on the edges for, for textures. In the middle, I'll use some black paint too sparsely add some texture to the center of the ears. But I will also soften some of those lines so they aren't too stark against the White Paper. On the forehead. I'll add lines with earth yellow and dark brown and soften some of those lines as well. On the back of the neck. I'll add firm black lines without any softening. How will I represent textures in the other areas of the painting? There appear to be a lot of blended colors on the donkeys chicken neck. After putting down my first layers of paint, I'll use wet on wet to dab in the top layers so they can blend randomly to create texture. Once you've answered these four questions for your project, meet me in the next lesson where we'll tackle our final questions. I'll see you there. Yes. 7. Order: Let's wrap up our questions with a quick consideration of order. The first thing we need to think about is the order in which we will lay down our paint. As a general rule, you'll want to paint from light to dark. There are a couple of reasons for this. Because watercolors are translucent. Light colors cannot cover up darker colors. Next, some watercolors can be picked up and moved around when water is added, even after the paint has dried on the paper. If you are painting where light meets dark and your light brush slips into the dark paint, it might cause the dark pink to smear into the light. But if you paint light to dark, you won't even have the dark paint down and you won't have that issue. First question for order is, how will I paint from light to dark? As what the question on types of edges? It can be very easy to get overly detailed in your answer. Just consider the major areas of light and be sure to plan to paint those first. The second question might be the easiest one for you. It concerns backgrounds. Not every painting needs a background. Having a painting with a subject and no background, just the white of the paper can be absolutely gorgeous. On the other hand, a background can add beauty and interest to your painting. It's really a matter of personal preference. So don't feel like one choice is better than the other. You should decide before you paint whether or not you will have a background. I've heard many artists paint their subject, then decide they should add a background, and then regret it. Make that decision early. Knowing whether or not you will have a background will also give you the opportunity to paint it at the right time. In my experience, it's generally good to paint the background first. But there are always exceptions to the rule. Especially if painting the background first might conflict with painting from light to dark. Your other question about order is, if I choose to paint a background, when will I add it? Once again? It's time to pause the lesson if you'd like to answer the questions before hearing my answers. How will I paint from light to dark? I want to start with the nose, as that is the lightest part of the donkey. I also decided later in my process to not paint the railing and the picture. Instead, I'm going to imagine that the throat of the donkey is lighter than the rest of the neck. So that will also need to be early. Beyond that, I will need to lay in my earthy colors from light to dark on the floor. If I choose to paint a background, when will I add it? I will paint a background and I will plan to paint it after the nose is done. We've finished our questions, but we're not ready to paint quite yet. Come join me in the next lesson where we talk about some other preparations will make before getting started. I'll see you there. 8. Preparations: Great job. You've answered the important questions about the photo you'd like to paint. Now let's move on to some other preparations you will need to complete before you start painting. Let's consider the outline first. You'll want to make an outline of your subject on your watercolor paper. It's easier to draw the outline on regular paper first, then transfer it to your paper. When deciding what to put in your outline, you'll need to decide how much detail you, what. If you want to make any changes from the original? I'm going to discuss my outline now. You can pause the lesson if you'd like to think about your outline before hearing my choices. As I mentioned, I'm going to leave out the larger, fainter highlights in the eyes. Originally, I did include the railing, but later decided to remove it. I'm also going to add a pupil to the I. On the left. You can see a pupil in the eye and the right, but not the other. I am also going to add a bit of a curve to the mouth so that I can have a smiling donkey. Finally, I'm going to make the color pattern on the nose more simple rather than try to recreate it perfectly. Once you decide what you want, your outline, you have to make it. My drawing skills are not that great, but I still want to practice them. So I'll put a grid on my photo, then draw the image on a paper with a similar size grid. If you're really uncomfortable drawing, you can always trace the image. And if you love to draw, you can draw it freehand. Once you have a pencil outline you like, you can trace that with ink. And that way you have a darker, clear outline to follow. Then you can use a lightbox graphite paper or other method to transfer the outline to your watercolor paper. Next, onto paints. You'll need to decide what paints you want to use. The paints that you pick will need to either match the colors you see or be used as a mixed to create those colors. A little exception here. You can choose to use fantasy colors rather than matching the realistic colors you saw in lesson four. If so, you'll be matching your paints to your creative vision rather than to your photo. From less than four, I saw Earth yellow, earth red, dark brown, blue, gray, and black. To match those colors. I will use yellow, ocher, burnt sienna, sepia, and cerulean blue deep. This cerulean blue deep doesn't exactly match the blue I see in the photo. But it's still a perfect choice due to its ability to mix neutral colors with earth tones. If I add a little bit of burnt sienna, it tones down the blue to match the photo wonderfully. Add more burnt sienna. And I get a cool gray. And then a warm gray just calls for a little more burnt sienna. I also decided to try mixing cerulean blue deep with sepia if I could get a black color. And it was perfect. If you'd like to know more about mixing black and neutral colors, you can check out my class on the subject for more details. Just for fun. I'm going to mix cerulean blue deep with green apatite genuine for the background. This cerulean blue will keep the background colors consistent with the piece. And the green apatite genuine is a heavily granulating paint, which will add some texture. I'm going to mix my background colors on my paper, but I'm going to mix most of my grays and blacks on the palate. If you decide to mix your colors on the palette in advance, you'll want to test them out to see if they look like the right match. Finally, I will use the same colors where I want to layer. Make sure you are considering your colors for layering when you're choosing your paints. The best one, test your color mixes is with a bit of discard paper of the same type as you're painting. Keep in mind that if you test your colors on a bright white paper, but paint your subject on an off-white paper like that found in watercolor pads, your colors might not come out exactly as you want. If you have, oops, paintings, that is, paintings you're not happy with. You can use them for testing colors. If they're on the same brand of paper that you'll be using for your final painting. You can flip them over and paint your color mixes on them. Since the paper color will be the same, you will get a true look at how the colors will turn out on your painting. Oh my gosh. Have we made it already? It is time to put together a plan. When creating a plan, you'll want to consider the answers to the questions we've covered previously. You don't need to include every answer. Just the points where you found it difficult to make a decision. Or where do you think you'll forget what you decided? Other than that, the amount of detail is completely up to you. Type B, artists may find that they only need a few general reminders about the questions they found most important. Other questions may be more open to change as these artists progress in their painting. Type, a Artists may have a detailed plan with several lines covering each step of the painting process. While there is no right or wrong amount of detail, keep in mind that adding too many small details may make it difficult to find the most important points when you're in the thick of painting. If you're a detail oriented person, you may find it helpful to organize your plant into segments so you can review each segment before you tackle it on the paper. I am more of a type a person. So the plan I initially wrote has a lot of detail. As I go through this plan. There are some areas where I have more than one idea about how to tackle this painting. You may feel the same way, and that's fine. We're going to talk about how to handle this in the next lesson. So come join me there. 9. Final Adjustments: You've answered the questions, you've made the preparations, and you formed a plan. But you're still not quite confident. You might be unsure if the technique you want to use. We'll look the way you want it to. Or you might have two different creative choices for one question. And you aren't sure which you like better. It's time to do some test paintings. Test paintings are no pressure, mistakes. Welcome way of testing out your ideas. There are three different forms of test paintings that you can try. The first is thumbnails. By sketching a smaller version of your painting, you can try out a few different ideas very quickly. Thumbnails won't have a lot of detail in them. So they're better for broad questions. You can test out different styles of backgrounds. You want to use different techniques for adding interest or texture, or see how your colors look together if you've chosen to paint your subject in fantasy colors. Next is partial paintings. Maybe you feel confident with most of your painting, but you just wanted to get the eyes right or you aren't sure how much detail you want to add to the nose. You can draw a detailed copy of a small area of your painting and practice your ideas. If your first choice doesn't work, you can try again without using an entire paper for painting. Finally, if you have several questions where you're debating between choices, you can do a full practice painting. You can draw your outline on a smaller piece of paper, as long as it's big enough for you to get the detail you need to test your ideas. Go into this painting with the intent to make mistakes. You can even try multiple techniques in different areas of the painting. If a technique you thought was going to be fine, turns out wrong. Laugh it off. Test painting is a time to be bold. Have fun. And most importantly, be proud of your mistakes. Mistakes mean that you are brave enough to try and bold enough to be creative. When you're done with your painting. Review what went wrong and what went right. This will guide you in making any adjustments to your plan. Before you move on to your final painting. You may find that you need to change the level of detail that you want in your plan based on what you learned during your practice paintings. In my test painting, I found that having a hard edge all the way around the forehead, not a good decision. I decided to soften most of the edges but keep the hard edge at the bottom where I see it in the photo. With the ears. I decided I added too much black in the middle. But I also like the faint yellow ocher and burnt sienna at the bottom edge of the ear on the left. I decided to use that in both ears, even though I don't see it on the right. Well, I included the railing and my test painting. I decided to remove it before creating the final painting. I added these decisions to my plan and whittled it down to the parts where I needed the most reminders. With that, I was ready to tackle my final painting. And so are you. Once you've reviewed your test paintings and finalize your plan, come join me in the next lesson where we'll put our plants to work, creating our final painting. I'll see you there. 10. Plan Painting 10 Project Time!: Well done. You've put so much effort into the previous lessons in this class. You've asked the important questions. You've made your preparations and you've tested your ideas and finalized a plan. Now, it's time to grab your paints and put brush to paper. Once you're painting is done, don't forget to upload your final painting, your plans, and any test paintings you would like to share to the project gallery. I can't wait to see your amazing artwork. With that. I'll see you in the next lesson where we will wrap up our class on planning your painting. 11. Wrap Up: Congratulations. You've created a plan, painted your subject, and completed this class. You've put in so much hard work and you should be proud of yourself and your accomplishments. I sincerely appreciate each and every one of you for joining me on this artistic journey. It was my pleasure to share my knowledge and experience with you. And I hope you enjoyed this class as much as I did. As you continue on your creative path. I hope you continue to utilize what you've learned in this class. Remember to ask questions about white, colors, textures, and order. Plan your outline and your paints. Then create an initial plan. Try out your ideas with test paintings, and then finalize your plant. In the end, you can paint any subject you want with a little preparation. After you've shared your plans and painting in the project gallery, take a look at what other students in this class I've created. We all have our unique perspectives and ideas. And it's so much fun to see how others bring their artistry to life. Finally, I hope you'll take the time to leave an honest review of this class. Hearing your thoughts will help me improve and develop better classes for the benefit of you and all of my students. Thank you for joining me and I look forward to creating with you again in another Skillshare class.