All posts by chris ludke

I'm from Ephrata PA. I went to art school at York Academy of Art where I had classical training in the ways of the old masters. I live in Virginia Beach and I like to work in plein air. I find endless inspiration in nature. It's good for your health to draw and paint outside, and I think my skill is improving every year, because representing nature is always a challenge. I go to the same place at the same time of day and work on my painting for 2 or 3 hours. There's no need to rush to finish a painting. I finish them in weeks or months. I'm excited about what I'm working on. I don't use photos for reference. I draw freehand. Sometimes if the weather isn't good to paint outside, I work on figure drawing, collage, folk art or another genre of art. Here's a story from my youth about a teacher that greatly influenced me, but neither Fitzkee or I knew it at the time. The time I put a teacher to the test. Boy was he mad. I was raised to question authority. I'm a rebel against the establishment. I went to YAA mainly because they didn't require SAT scores, because I hated high school and never took the test. I was in the first class at YAA that could elect to major in fine arts. They also taught interior design, commercial art, illustration etc. Basically it was a trade school where you could earn an Associates degree. For every project we had a critique. Our teachers didn't care if they hurt a student's feelings. I was having so much fun at the time, no harsh critique made me upset. Around 1/3 of the students dropped out in the first year, though. Our teachers pushed us hard into drawing and painting in the ways of the old masters. The use of a photo for reference was strictly forbidden, since the old masters could draw without a photo. One project was to paint a still life. I didn't want to do it. I thought a still life would be boring. I was rebelling. I said, "I don't want to paint like an old master, I want to do sculpture." (when I think about those sculptures today, I can see how horrible they really were.) Fitzkee once again said no photos and I asked him why not. He said, "Because I'll know." which seemed like a lame reason to me, and I decided to find out if he would actually know. So I did my still life from a photo and he blasted my painting straight to hell in the critique. There was no point in lying about it, he really did know I cheated. This is some of the things he said. A camera is a tool for a photographer. For you it would be a crutch. A camera has 1 eye, you have 2 eyes. A camera distorts perspective and color. a photo is a little flat thing and if you work from a photo your paintings will come out flat. He said he didn't need a camera and neither do I. He went on and on, this is the basic part of it. He didn't have much hope for me ever being a very good artist. finally I said, "okokok, I won't do it no more!" One time our water color teacher, Faulkler, (not sure about the spelling) took us out to paint in plein air. I enjoyed it so much but didn't try again for another 25 years or so, since my time was tied up with the job, family, exercise etc. After the plein air class I thought I'd enjoy painting like an Impressionist. Who doesn't love the Impressionists? And I asked Fitzkee about painting wet in wet. That's what they called it back then. now it's alla prima (like something I had in an Italian restaurant.) So this is what Fitzkee said about painting wet in wet. We're teaching you how to paint like an old master, why do you want to paint like millions of artists? Fitzkee told me Monet had the same training I was getting. He told me artists like Monet, when they get commercially successful, they sell out the art world. When an artist paints the same thing hundreds of times they develop a formula. He said Monet did the art world a disservice by making it look fast and easy. He told me, "Don't even try." He said my colors would come out muddy. You can't paint detail into wet paint, so Impressionists can't paint detail. After my other experience questioning him, I said ok. I'll stick to painting like an old master. Little did I know that in the future I'd be EXCLUDED from the plein air group in Richmond because I'm not interested in painting like an Impressionist. (or maybe it's just because the group didn't like me personally, you never know in Richmond) Now I find that I like the slow pace of building up layers of glazes. Now when I see the impressionists rushing to finish a painting in one day, I think to myself that it looks like they're on an art treadmill. They worry too much about the changing light. I don't care about the changing light because I can go back tomorrow and for as many weeks or months as it takes me to finish a painting, and the light will be the same at the same time of day. Plein air doesn't mean you have to paint like an Impressionist. It doesn't mean you have to capture a moment. (remember the Kodak moment?) Plein air only means the artist is working outdoors in natural light. ok, I hope you enjoyed my story. Now you can see how I came by my attitude honestly.

painting experiments with oils in progress

There are two experiments happening here, pointillism and masking fluid on oil paint.

I can’t find much technical advice on pointillism, like did the pointillists do an underpainting? Did they mix colors or use paint straight out of the tube? Are the dots supposed to touch, overlap or should there be space between all the dots? I’m going to have to guess. I know the rules of the academy. If I knew the rules of pointillism I’d try to stick to them for the learning process. Maybe there are no rules.

There’s an app for making dots if you like to do digital paintings, but I’m not into apps and it might be better for me to just wing it so I can improve my painting skill.

In this close up you can see the masking fluid dots which are covered by ultramarine blue.

I want to save some bright orange dots to represent shiny reflections of the sky on the water. It would be easier to have bright orange dots showing ( if this works) than if I paint the orange on top of the water when I’m finished with painting the water dots because the orange is a transparent color and if I want to put orange on top of blue and gray dots I’d have to underpaint them with white like I did with my azaleas, which are a transparent pink. I need to put water colored gray dots on top of the blue and that will make a thicker layer of paint on top of the masking fluid and also take over a week to dry before I can try to take the masking fluid off the painting to show the orange dots. It might not work out or it might work. Either way, I’ll post the results.

This is a color experiment in more than one way. I under painted my paper with orange because it’s the complimentary color of blue. The sky isn’t really blue but kind of hazy when I go to Back Bay lately. And the water isn’t really blue but kind of a mixture of two different grays.

You can see the underpainting of the foliage on the opposite shore. I did it with a red gray because it’s mainly a greenish gray and the red gray would be the complimentary color.

This was a real no no at the academy, tinting the painting with an unnatural color to start. They would call this “forcing color”. It might take away any depth and the academy was into creating the illusion of depth. Modern art doesn’t care about aerial perspective which is the illusion of depth. Pointillists were modern.

I often see a landscape with a bright tint showing that isn’t there in nature. Some artists like violet or red and will tint their canvas with a bright color because the landscape around here doesn’t have any bright colors and the artist doesn’t like to paint mostly grays. You can see spots of violet or red or some color showing through between brush strokes. It’s a modern look and it does take away any aerial perspective. When I see a bright tint showing through I say to myself, “forced color is weak.” Now I’m doing it.

This is 18 x 12. Dotting the whole paper will take some time. That’s ok. Patience is my super power! hahahah

advice for creative people

geological surveys on Mars show it’s hollow and filled with oil and water / mono print

Are you an artist or writer and you’re stuck with a project or maybe just not in the mood to work on it? Don’t beat yourself up over it. It happens to all of us. The thing about creativity is, I can’t force it. I guess there are writers or visual artists that can push through a block but I’m the type to put the project down until a better time.

Mars gets wifi / mono print

It can help creativity if you simplify your life. It takes a certain mental state like alpha brain waves or something for an artist to be in the groove, in the zone. If you have a job, family to care for, responsibilities etc. that’s enough to block the right brain waves. Time spent alone can help reset your brain to be creative.

dinosaur egg found on Mars / mono print

Your art is for your enjoyment. If you’re not enjoying it you should take a break and do something else. Just because you are creative doesn’t mean you owe the world your creativity. Unless you think the world owes you. In that case maybe you do owe the world. But as for me, I don’t owe the world. I wouldn’t like to feel “driven” like some artists feel. For me that would be an unbalanced mental state. And when I think about the meaning of “driven” I can’t relate metaphorically. I’m in control of my car. I’m the driver. I leave when I’m ready to go.

first murder on Mars

It doesn’t have to be something difficult, if you’re experiencing a creative block. You can goof around and amuse yourself like I do with these mono prints. There are tons of fun projects for writers too. I’ve seen things like black out poetry and some kind of games that writers can do for fun if the novel isn’t happening today. If you’re a writer you probably know more fun writing projects than I do. I know fun paint projects.

This advice is for artists that are not professional. If the art doesn’t pay the bills, who cares if it happens on any given week. If art does pay the bills, you probably know how to push through a block. If you’re an amateur like me then you’re doing art because you love it. That’s the true meaning of amateur. It’s good for me because it’s no stress. If it was a real job it would only be a short time before I want to quit. Give me a week to make someone mad by saying something stupid or someone making me mad and I’m outta there. Taking it easy on yourself leads to longevity in your art.

a car like this knows the story of my life

1972 TR6

Last night I dreamt I saw the car. It belonged to my best friend, Dick Clayman of York PA who died in 2001. He left the car to me and I kept it for years but eventually sold it because keeping an antique car running can be too expensive.

The car was the symbol of our friendship. He was an old man, I was a young chick. He talked constantly but he was trying to impart his wisdom to me since he and his wife didn’t have any kids. They kind of adopted me. His wife was very kind. They had me over to eat every day when I was in art school. They were my neighbors. Dick drove me all around PA. MD. and VA. in the TR6. We enjoyed each others company. He was an opera singer, a tenor, and he often sang arias while we were driving around in the country with the top down. La Boheme was his favorite. He’d sing in Italian then ask me if I knew what it meant. I didn’t but he told me what the words meant. He brainwashed me on how to be an artist. He taught me more than anyone else. That’s where I got my attitude. (from a tenor)

In my dream, I was going to the mall with another friend and when I saw the car I ran back inside looking for Dick. He was in the bathroom. I called in, “Can I come in, Dick?” He said, ” Wait a minute.”.

I guess I was in the land of the dead in my dream and he didn’t want me to go in too soon.

I’m not afraid of dying. There’s a chance I could see Dick again. I might live a long time. My Mom’s 98 but she has dementia now and is being well taken care of in a luxurious old folks home. She didn’t want me to live with her and take care of her. Now I know it would have been too hard for me to do that. She needs professional care givers. Anyway, I hope I don’t live to be 98 because I won’t be able to drive. And I love driving thanks to Dick.

This is just a little snippet of my weird life. It was always weird and I thought of starting to write it down when I knew Dick but he told me not to. He said. “That path is yours alone and it might not be a good idea to write it down.” It’s for me to learn from and no one else will get the lessons from it. So this is all I’m writing.

He’s dead 20 years now. I had a lot of other friends but none like Dick.

weird things I found in my oyster

Sometimes I tell people that weird things happen to me on a pretty regular basis and that I see weird things that other people don’t see. They act like I’m making it up. Here’s proof.

I ordered 6 steamed James River oysters. They were so delicious like a real delicacy but overpriced. I doused them with hot sauce and inhaled them and wanted more but next time I’ll buy regular oysters.

Anyway, when I was looking for another morsel but there were no more morsels, I found these two baby crabs in my shells. Did you ever find a baby crab in your oysters? Just me? did you ever figure oysters would eat baby crabs? I never knew!

I’m not one who believes in omens. I’m not at all superstitious and I’m PA Dutch so I know about superstition in PA. If I did believe in omens I’d think this was a good sign. Two free crabs?! Hell yeah! I’m not eating these babies. I wonder if they are really crabs. I don’t see claws. hmmm.

Weird

azaleas / oils

Sometimes I neglect everything else in life and paint for days. Other times I do things that need to be done and neglect painting. This is one joy in my amateur status. It’s not a job.

When a subject takes up most of the space on a painting the negative spaces become an important design element. The art viewer’s eye needs to find a place to rest so it doesn’t get tired and will look longer.

Making an interesting background keeps the art viewer’s attention on the painting with more contrast and texture but it’s not as bright so it recedes.

The veins in the paint let my imagination think the painting is part of nature. It’s an illusion I like to make.

I didn’t see a plaque in the garden with the name of this variety of azaleas. Maybe I overlooked it. If it was up to me to name it I’d call it Candy Cane.

rhododendron sketch and azalea painting update

I’m waiting for my paint to dry on the azalea painting before I can finish it with the last color, pink. If I put the pink on before the other paint is dry, it might lift some white or gray and that would make the pink less bright. A couple weeks ago I bought a tube of fast drying white at Jerry’s Artarama because I knew Titanium white dries slowly. When I opened the tube it was dry in the tube! And I didn’t save the receipt. bummer.

While I wait for the paint to dry on the azaleas I decided to sketch the rhododendrons which are starting to bloom. This is Inktense pencils.

There’s a real pretty path through the rhododendrons. It’s covered with moss and has a bench and spotty sunlight. I’d like to do a painting of the path but that might be a project for next year because it could be complicated and I need to figure out a good plan for it and do sketches first.

After I did the underpainting and waited for that to dry I went over this a couple more times, background, leaves, stems, and flowers. The gray is the shadows on the azaleas. At first I had a warm gray for shadows but after looking at it for a couple days I decided to make the shadows slightly darker and cool, so I put a cool gray glaze over the warm gray. It looks like neutral gray in this photo. I’m not sure if you can see the layers of paint but you can see some veins in the paint which I like making. It gives the painting more variety of brush strokes and direction in the petals.

This azalea is past blooming but I have my sketches to go by and I’m pretty sure I can finish it at home. I think it will work out with the pink looking as bright as possible. I did some color roughs. I might do another one. I’ll continue with glazing pinks next. Then it will be finished.

I wasn’t going to show it at this stage because it’s almost done, but I thought if I just post a close up of this one section it won’t spoil the surprise.