All posts by John

Art Haul

Lonely Autumn
Lonely Autumn

Recently, well in the last few months anyways, I’ve spent a lot of time using watercolours and I really quite enjoy them. I was fortunate to shop at Cass Arts at their Charing Cross location last time I was in London and they happened to be selling a Winsor & Newton 24 half pan metal sketchers box for just a little bit north of $60 Canadian. This, needless to say, was a huge bargain! Better yet, I use this set all the time, it’s my favourite and I have a few options…

Speaking of a few options, which leads me to the whole art haul thing, I wanted to find some empty half pans and there just happened to be a really good art store, Studio Six, near my dentist. As chance would have it, I was doing a dental checkup yesterday and took the opportunity to pop into the store to see if they had some colours I was looking for, along with the empty half pans. Sort of a success:

  • Winsor & Newton half-pans of Hooker’s Green and Sepia
  • Winsor & Newton 14 ml Indian Red tube (wanted a pan, they didn’t have)
  • Winsor & Newton 5 ml Quinacridone Violet (limited edition)
  • Dr. P.H. Martin’s Hydrus  Watercolour concentrate 1/2oz sets 2 & 3 (I had set 1)
  • QoR watercolour ground, cold press
  • Rubber cement pickup

The colours are pretty self-explanatory, but it was the indian red that led me on my quest to still try and get some empty half pans. So, off to SOHO Art Supplies, but no luck, though I did get:

  • Pentel Aquash small brush
  • Pentel Aquash large brush
  • Butcher’s tray

Well, since it was sort of on the way home, I decided to hit Curry’s Art Supplies, just in case…

  • Ox Gall
  • Gum Arabic
  • 2 Fluid 7×10 watercolour journals (140 lbs cold press)

Last, but not least, I hit DeSerres because it really was on the way. Still no half pans, but:

  • 16oz jar of Speedball super black india ink
  • 5 plastic droppers (handy for working with the mediums)
  • 3 Strathmore Visual Journals (140 lbs cold press)

The dangers of getting side-tracked on your quests! A couple of notes, though, on some of the more interesting items…

The Hydrus sets are really quite neat, but there seems to be a flaw with some of the colours in Set 3. A number of them have congealed a bit and so I reached out to the company and they’re shipping me a replacement set. Said by the 14th, but I suspect it’ll be a bit longer than that. Anyways, talk about responsive! I’ll buy their products again.

Update: The replacement came on the 13th, a day earlier! Full set 3 too, not just the bad colours. Have to say, I’m very impressed with the customer service there, they will get more of my business.

Raw Sienna Hydrus should be very fluid and so not be able to sit on the dropper.
Raw Sienna Hydrus should be very fluid and so not be able to sit on the dropper.

The QoR watercolour ground is supposed to allow you turn many surfaces into something you can then watercolour on. I figured that was cool enough to want to try out and the price is reasonable.

On the visual journals front, those are mostly what I paint on and I’ve discovered that I really quite like the Strathmore Visual Journals and the Fluid journals. They seem to hold a wash well, minimal buckling, and nice sturdy paper. I tried, and wanted to like, the Bee Paper Aquabee journal but, well, it’s terrible. It soaks up the water quickly, buckles at the hint of moisture, and easily bleeds through.


Learning to Draw

So, here’s the thing… I’ve always liked to draw and paint, but I suck at it. More specifically, I’ve operated under the impression that I suck at it and, to some degree, I still do. What I have learned, however, is that you can overcome that impression! In fact, what led me to think that way was a website on Fantasy drawing and art where I could see the progression of improvement by a number of artists over time. Suddenly the lightbulb went on and I realized that nobody starts as Leonardo DaVinci, they have to work at it!

Enter Betty Edwards and her wonderful book: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Betty talks about the mental blocks that we develop, especially when young, and why we give up on drawing instead of persisting through the learning curves. That changed a lot of things for me.

So, watch this space as I start learning. I’m not about to throw away the camera in favour of a brush, but I think it’s safe to say that I like visual arts and I plan to continue working on my skills in all those areas.

In the meanwhile, I’ve started working on this:

File 2016-02-15, 16 21 02

It’s probably about a third done. Lots of work still do on the petals and then I think I want to fill in the background more. Plain white is a bit boring. 🙂

How to Remove Color Cast

Automatic white balance in your modern camera can handle a lot when it comes to correcting the color of an image, but it has limitations and doesn’t always remove the color cast completely or accurately. I’ve found this especially true when dealing with Cokin neutral density filters as they’re notorious for creating a distinct color cast when stacked on each other. Now, I could splash out for more expensive filters, but if you know how to remove the color cast in the first place, then you can save quite a few bucks!


The trick has a few steps to it, but it really doesn’t take long in Photoshop. Working with a photo I took at the Grand Canyon, I’ll illustrate.


Notice that the image has a distinct blue cast in the top half of the image, less so in the bottom half. So, we want to remove the cast without effecting the image quality and detail.

Step 1: Create a group in the layers pallet and call it “Color Cast.” Select it.

Step 2: Add a blank layer in the group and name it “Highlights.” Select it.

LayersStep 3: Using the foreground color selector or the eyedropper tool, pick an area in the highlights exhibiting the cast.

Highlight SampleStep 4: Fill the highlight layer with the foreground color (Option-Delete).

Step 5: Invert the layer (Command-I).

Step 6: Set the mode of the layer to “Color” and adjust the opacity down to somewhere around 8-15%. Play with it a bit, but it’s a really light touch there and a matter of taste.

Highlight Layer FilledStep 7: Adjust the layer style to apply the correction the highlight areas. Double click on the layer to bring up the blending options and then tweak the “Underlying Layer” sliders in the “Blend If” group. To split the black slider, hold the Option or Alt key and click the triangle. Adjust to something like 25/115 or thereabouts with the two triangles. At this point, you may want to play with the opacity a bit more.

Highlight blending


Next, we’re going to do the shadow portion of the image. Basically, this is a repeat of steps 2 through 7 with some small variations as follows:

Step 8: Add a blank layer in the group and name it “Shadows.” Select it.

Step 9: Set the foreground color to a shadow area with the color cast.

Shadows Sample

Repeat Steps 4 through 6. For the last step, the adjustment is very similar to step 7, but with the highlights, like so:

Shadow blending

Resulting in:

Shadows Adjusted
Shadows Adjusted

Now, a few more tweaks to remove the haze and sharpen it up…


There you have it, color cast adjusted, though there are some addition tweaking that could be done, the sky is a bit “meh” from a detail and look perspective. I’d likely crop that out if I was to print this.

I find that you can also do this a couple of times on the same image, picking different highlight and shadow areas. That’s what I did with the dancer from the Tropicana Club in Havana, a challenging scene given that the lighting colors were very mixed.

Many thanks to Michael Woloszynowicz of Vibrant Shot for his great YouTube videos including the how-to for this technique. While you’re there, check out his fantastic sharpening techniques where he also supplies you the photoshop actions. Worth subscribing to his channel.

Olympus Air A01 – A Barrel of Fun

Olympus Air A01
Air A01 body with the kit lens attached.

The Olympus Air A01 isn’t really a new concept, Sony has a very similar option (with a few more features at a slightly higher price), but both strike me as a very real future for camera portability. The primary reason that I went with the Olympus, despite being a huge fan of Sony made sensors, is the body/lens size is smaller on the Olympus and I was going for more portable. In any event, let me state that this is not a review, just my impressions. If you want reviews, there are a number of them out there already and they’re going to have done a better job at it than I will!

In any event, impressions… So, let me start of with: I really, really, like it. Immediate good things that pop to mind are:

  • Small and light, can coat pocket it pretty readily. Pants pocket would be pushing your luck…
  • Fits the hand well. I don’t have especially large hands, so I appreciate the feel of the camera in my hand, it’s not bulky in feel.
  • Responsive and very controllable auto-focus, you basically touch your phone screen for where you want focus.
  • 10 frames a second shooting.
  • Easy to get into weird places. I’m looking forward to putting this in a tree this summer, because I can control lens zoom and focus remotely.
  • Open SDK for software developers is available. So, don’t like their app? Roll your own.
  • You can use it blind, no connected smartphone is necessary. That can give you a bit of an old-time, how did it turn out, thrill.
  • Micro 4/3 standard sensor and lens mount, opens up a good range of lens options, not just from Olympus. That was also a reason I passed on the Sony.

Some quick short-comings:

  • No flash. This is where the SDK might become useful, being able to trip a flash via some other means, perhaps over the 3.5mm jack, would make a camera like this very handy in the studio.
  • Integrated battery. It’s USB chargeable, so it’s possible to extend using the same portable power packs we often have for smartphones.
  • No Raw+JPEG mirror to the phone. You can mirror if you shoot JPEG only, though image copy to the device after is actually quite quick and easy.

All-in-all, I think the short-comings aren’t really that big of a deal. The image quality is excellent, the camera is responsive, and the creative options seem quite limitless when comparing it to the bulky beast that my D800 is. Mind you, I don’t see me giving up the D800 any time soon, but it’s nice to have a very good, high IQ, camera that I can more readily carry around with me.

My incredibly affectionate Betsy

So, where I can see this sort of camera really getting used?

Well, clearly street shooters would find it really useful, the stealthiness is pretty obvious. One of the challenges of shooting on the streets is reactions to having big cameras pointed at them. With this, you don’t even need to be looking anywhere near where they are!

Product photography under continuous lights. The lack of flash is a challenge, but putting the camera on a tripod, yes it has a tripod mount, and then controlling from a big IOS or Android tablet is pretty nice.

Wildlife stealth shooting, one of my plans, because it’s small and quiet and you can get out of the way while still controlling it. Range of wireless appears to be around 30 feet or so, but that can get you out of the general visible area.

A candle lantern on my back porch

Some quick specs:

  • Micro-SD card slot
  • 10 fps
  • 16MP Micro 4/3 Live MOS sensor
  • Shutter speeds from 4s to 1/16000s
  • Full HD 30fps video
  • Full tripod socket
  • App available for IOS and Android