Learn how to use the pen tool in Photoshop without killing anyone, including yourself.

Some of you may recall that I used to be heavily into digital scrapbooking and used to run my own custom digital design business. That was in my previous life, when I was busy getting published and winning contests and chasing clients across the globe, not to be mistaken for my prior previous life in which I spent my early twenties wearing questionable fashion while drinking my weight in shots. Just so you know, I don’t drink anymore, which is a good thing since I’m several bottles of vodka heavier now than I was back then.

In my current life, I’m Angelina Jolie’s stand-in during those occasions when she’s so preoccupied with adopting little humans that she can’t find the time to get busy with Brad ten nights a week.

Wait! That’s my future life.

I’m a blogger in my current life. I’m also a size 6!

Wait. That’s if I ever get a life.

Anyway, as a digital scrapbooker and custom designer, I lived, breathed, slept and ate Photoshop.

Actually, I still do.


I adore Photoshop. And I consider myself pretty good at it, as long as you don’t ask me to make it do anything intentionally. Like, on purpose. Know what I mean? But if you want someone to wreak havoc with blending modes, actions, layer masks and styles without a plan and simply wing it, I’m your man! Your woman! It! Whatever.

There’s a tool in Photoshop called the pen tool. I like to refer to it as Satan.

Satan and I don’t get along. He intimidates me and makes my eye twitch and on more than one occasion, has caused me to fling my computer out the window where it lands in our pool and sinks to the bottom and attracts vermin such as large, beefy frogs. And I’m not talking petite filet here. I’m talking porterhouse. What the hell are they feeding the frogs around here?

Beefy frogs are gross. As is Satan.

Then Jenn and Stan White, the owners of Scrappers’ Workshop came along and said “Hey, Andy. Take our Photoshop pen class and you’ll never have to worry about skimming grody frogs out of your computer laden pool again.”

And I was all “Why? Are you going to hire me a pool boy? I’d like to put in an order for buff, brunette and medium smart, please.”

And they were all “No. But we will teach you how to use the pen tool without wishing you’d disemboweled yourself instead.”

And I was all “Why don’t you just bonk me over the head with a weed whacker and be done with it already?”

And they said “Because that’s mean. Besides, we don’t own a week whacker. So, how about it? An hour with us and you’ll never look at the pen tool the same way again!”

Considering I’ve never looked at the pen tool with anything other than angry eyes filled with disgust and that my husband has had quite enough of fishing hard drives out of the deep end and drying them out with a sun lamp, I said “Sure! Count me in. Oh, and tell the pool boy he better arrive on time with cookies.”



And that’s how I found myself taking Jenn and Stan’s Pick Up Your Pen interactive class the other night. I thought I’d share my observations, in case you’re anything like me and would rather give vaginal birth to fifteen pounds of conjoined porcupine twins in breach position with no epidural than use the pen tool in Photoshop.

  • The class was conducted via interactive software called GoToMeeting. Prior to class, I had to download and install something called a Java applet. Now, whenever I am confronted with the words “download” and “install” I begin to sweat profusely. I usually require my husband to be on call whenever I download anything so that I have someone immediately available to hear me shriek OH MY GOD, I JUST BROKE SOMETHING. THE INTERNET, MAYBE? AM I GOING TO BE ARRESTED? OR DIE? I’D RATHER BE ARRESTED, TO BE HONEST, to which he will respond REMIND ME AGAIN WHY I MARRIED YOU, to which I will reply I DON’T REMEMBER. But Jenn and Stan reassured me that the download would be simple and painless and they were right. I followed their instructions, clicked a link and the thing installed effortlessly and before I knew it, I was good to go. Oh, and it had nothing to do with coffee, despite the “Java” moniker. Who names these things anyway?
  • The software did cause all of my browser windows to start wigging out and flashing at me repeatedly. Rather than run screaming from my office, I put on my big girl panties and simply closed them out, flipping each one the bird before I did so. I’m rather pleased with how mature I was about the whole thing.
  • Jenn taught my class. She’s knowledgeable, laid back, approachable and funny. Loved her voice. When I first heard heard it, I immediately thought of Ina Garten from Barefoot Contessa and I had to restrain myself from interrupting her to ask if she’d bake me a pear tart.
  • The class was interactive and took place in real time, meaning I could watch everything Jenn was doing on her computer as she was doing it and I could ask questions immediately. This was a huge plus for me as I have only a ten second window in which I can nurture thoughts before they flee my memory forever, never to be heard from again. However, the chat screen was tiny. I would have preferred it to be a little larger so that I could blather on and on since, as a mom, it’s not often I get to voice anything that doesn’t consist entirely of NO! and BECAUSE I SAID SO. With a bigger chat screen, I could have waxed philosophical until the cows came home. Then again, that’s probably why the chat screen is small to begin with. Did GoToMeeting know about me when they filed their patent?
  • Did I mention that the class is interactive? I only have speakers so I could hear everything Jenn was saying, but if I had had a headset, I could have carried on actual conversations, with words and everything. This is a completely foreign concept to me as I am married to Nate and the last conversation we had was at an altar ten years ago. In order to get Nate to talk to me now, I have to slap a blackberry costume onto my body and yell BEEP BEEP BEEP so he checks me for messages.
  • I learned how to use the pen tool to make straight lines and curved lines and swirlies and all sorts of shapes with smooth edges. Smoooooooooth. You know, without all those jagged edges that make it look as though your shape suffers from genital warts all over its body?
  • I learned how to click and drag my handles so that my curve goes where I want it to, instead of in the totally opposite direction known as FOR SHIT’S SAKE, WHERE THE HELL IS IT GOING?
  • I learned how to use the pen tool to extract a subject from a photograph and to trace over a shape in a photograph to create my own custom shape and to morph an existing custom shape without using my transform tool which, by the way, will stretch a shape to oblivion and back but make it look like something a sickly cat hacked up in the process.
  • I already knew how to stroke a path with a brush and create my own custom shapes but Jenn had a few tips and suggestions to tweak what I already knew. I’m a tweakaholic. I love to tweak anything I can get my hands on!
  • And suddenly, I remember why Nate married me.


This class is only $15.95 and it’s cohesive and comprehensive. Any problems I experienced had more to do with software issues than content and that could just be individual user experience. Not everyone is lucky enough to have their own little black cloud hovering overhead, raining on their parade. And, as an alumni of this class, I am now able to re-take this class at any time in the future, free of charge! Good for me as every couple of months, my brain springs a leak and I need a refresher course in just about everything I’ve learned since kindergarten.

Kudos to Jenn and Stan for making me play with and, dare I say, actually enjoy the pen tool!

Can’t say the same for my non-existent pool boy.



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23 thoughts on “Learn how to use the pen tool in Photoshop without killing anyone, including yourself.”

  1. Avatar

    Sorry about the pool boy. I had him all tied up in the back of the van, but he got away at a stop light. When I can catch another one, I’ll let you know. But they’re hard to find in the snow belt this time of year.

    Glad you enjoyed the class, sorry about the chat window, but you know, that might be working FOR us in certain cases 😉

    @Lorilei – we’re taking a break for the holidays to work up some new classes, but the January classes will be in the store by Dec 1 for those all-important self-gifts. You know the ones. The gifts you REALLY want but nobody’s going to buy for you. Like pool boys.

    Andi, you crack me up. You even make ME sound funny! Thanks!

  2. Avatar

    I love to read their blog, so I am sure the class would be wonderful too.

    We could take a class together and whisper in our strange accents in the back of class, and maybe even get detention – where we are FORCED to play with Photoshop some more!

    1. Avatar


      yeah this is one the the few reasons to get the big bad Photoshop over Elements. We teach our intro to digital scrapbooking and a lot of our other classes using Elements but sometimes… And the pen tool is one of them. Only available in Photoshop.

  3. Avatar

    I wonder if it is adaptable to PSP? It sounds like it’s the same pen tool and does the same things…. I have PSCS I just don’t like it as much as PSP. I might have to take the class & see if I can adapt it. I hate the pen tool unless I want to reverse text paths.

    A pool boy would be nice too, given ours is still sitting in the yard, folded but not stored and has been for almost 3 months now

    1. Avatar


      we don’t have a copy of PSP but I would imagine it’s the same (Adobe Illustrator works the same as Photoshop). We’ll offer you this – once the class is available again we’ll contact you and make sure it works before you take the class. Or feel free to contact Jenn or me at admin (at) scrappersworkshop (dot) com

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    Cool! I know a bit of PSP, but Photoshop confounds me. It’s so nice to be able to use at least the basic tools, so I’m proud of you! You’re so artistic, it’s nice to have more weapons in your creative arsenal.

  5. Avatar

    We don’t have Photoshop, though I wish we did because it sounds like a lot of fun, with the exception of the pen tool obviously!

    I could NOT stop laughing about the part where you had to restrain yourself to not ask her to bake you a pear tart…that was classic!!!

  6. Avatar

    Wow, I thought I was the only one to flip off my screen…must remember to tell hubby that’s COMPLETELY normal…LOL.
    Well, the way you feel about downloads is how I feel about Photoshop. I love the possibilities that are right at my fingertips…but am at a complete loss at everything other than crop/diffuse/red-eye-getter-outter. That’s about it. Oh, & I can rotate w/the best of them. Sheeeesh.

  7. Avatar

    OMG!!!! Where was I when you posted this?? Probably DYING over too much work, too much stress and the worst of ALL……HOMEWORK……@#it~!

    Anyhoo…i LOVE my pen tool. You know how I love my pen tool:) ahhh…lines sweet lines that I can bend, pull shape any darn way I want with a drag and a click. Glad you took the class! Now go dazzle me with some line art or some awesome complicated extractions:)

  8. Avatar

    Man, wish I had been in on this one a few weeks ago while I was ripping my hair out trying to do the yearbook covers for school… Jagged lines and I are good friends now…

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