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.

Bigfoot with upside-down tree / scratchboard

6 foot human for scale

I watched a series on Discovery+ called “Alaska Triangle” that shows all kinds of unexplained scary phenomena happening in Alaska. They feature Bigfoot in a few of the episodes and I never really believed in Bigfoot, like, why didn’t anyone kill a Bigfoot and prove their existence? After watching the show I had to consider they might be real.

One Bigfoot hunter went to Kodiak Island where the people believe they are living close to Bigfoots and they might be in danger because the Bigfoots make their presence known and keep the humans on the coast but the rest of the island belongs to Bigfoot. The guy went to a place on Kodiak where Bigfoots jammed dead trees into the ground with roots to the sky. It showed the man walking on a trail way up in the wilderness with a cameraman and he actually finds upside-down trees, said to mark the Bigfoot territory. Then the guy got scared and didn’t go farther, so, no actual footage of a Bigfoot.

They said it would be impossible for weak humans to do that to a tree and why would they? This is how the Bigfoot warns you of its strength and how easy it would be to kill you. Which got me thinking.

Could a human turn a tree upside-down without heavy equipment? I think, maybe a couple guys could do it. Ancient humans raised stone pillars without modern machines by using leverage, so why not a tree upside-down?

Then, why would a human turn a tree upside-down way out there in the middle of nowhere? To scare lawmen away from a still or a pot farm? A still would be impractical so far away from a corn field. Could you grow corn on Kodiak Island? It doesn’t look like it would be possible. Could you grow pot there? I don’t know, maybe.

Now I can’t decide if I believe in Bigfoot or not after seeing the upside-down trees. But the series is good and kind of scary, in my opinion, even though it’s repetitive. They keep saying over and over, 16,000 people have gone missing in the past 30 years. Could that be true? And if its true why didn’t I hear about it before? Consider the size of Alaska. It looks like 1/3 of the total land of the US., The roads don’t go very far into it. You can see it from the coast on a boat, or from a plane, but you can’t drive all the way through. Also, a lot of adventurers might go there to test their survival skills and die of starvation or get eaten by bears. Maybe a lot of criminals go there to hide and they freeze in the winter, or maybe a lot of people just want to escape society for legit reasons and go there but die in the harsh conditions. But 16,000 people in 30 years? Does that sound like a true fact to you?

Do you believe in supernatural shape shifters coming to Alaska through portals caused by electromagnetic disturbances in the atmosphere? UFOs? Did you know there’s an underground pyramid larger than the ones at Giza which is made of black stone and is being kept secret by the govt., but it’s a place where UFOs refuel? That’s not to mention ghosts, sea monsters (which could be real) alternate dimensions, etc.

Are ghost ships for real? Do planes vanish off radar and when they go searching for wreckage there’s none to be found? Big planes loaded with people and military? Anyway, Alaska beats Arizona and New Mexico for weird, 10 to 1.

beach goldenrod / charcoal and chalk

It was really nice over there today, sunny, not too hot with a light breeze. The tide was way out and boats were going out through Lynnhaven Inlet and guys were fishing. I just sat down on the sand and was enjoying the view for a minute and a man with a beagle stopped and asked me if I was ok since I was sitting in the shade with my back next to the dock and he expected to see people catching rays. I said I’m fine that I was planning to sketch but didn’t start yet. Then he talked a little while.

There are two views I’d like to paint from this spot, the sand bar at low tide with boats beached on the sand and people out on the sand bar playing around, and the other view I want to paint is the bridge going over the inlet. There are at least 6 or 7 views that I’ll paint at Pleasure House Point eventually. Today it was just a goldenrod sketch.

They’re calling for rain tomorrow. I might be able to paint this at home from my sketch. The goldenrod looked like straight cadmium yellow and the greens are the same greens I use all the time.

The recent tidal flood left a lot of debris washed up in front of the goldenrod. It’s a messy looking weed but that’s ok. I don’t have to paint all the dirty stuff around it. I’d like to do a fall still life, maybe next year, because I have so many plans in mind for this fall, but I think goldenrod would be good for the still life, so it’s a good thing to get some practice on the subject.

flooded path / charcoal and chalk

The sandy path is on the left, water on the right and in front.

I like this scene for my next painting.

I took my 11 x 14 sketchbook and charcoal because I didn’t know if it was still flooded there and I wanted to sketch the flooded meadow but that has dried up again. I considered trying to sketch goldenrod but when I got this far on the path the water was over a foot deep so I sat on the sand to draw this. I was up off the path slightly. When I last saw it the water looked 3 feet deep there. That’s where the tidal water floods the path every day, but sometimes you can walk across and not get your feet wet.

2 ladies came through with 4 little kids and 2 babies. One of the babies isn’t born yet and the other lady carried a baby in a sling. The smallest kid was a little girl that looked about 3 years old and when she stepped in the water she fell down and got drenched but she didn’t cry. Her Mom said, “This is the same water you play in all the time.” Then they all waded across, a couple of them stepped on the cinder blocks which were submerged, and a couple of them walked straight through. They’re not afraid. They reminded me of myself when I was a kid and played around by the creek a lot. I fell in and got muddy every year. That’s how your plein air artist spent her carefree childhood, down at the creek, catching crayfish and making mud pies, getting stung by stinging nettles and slapping mud on the rash because mud stops the sting. Jewel leaf also stops the sting but mud is quicker, and mud is fun, but jewel leaf is pretty when you make it wet. It looks shiny and silvery. And now I’m getting old and still hanging around by the creek, only a different creek.

scouting for plein air inspiration on the King tide / photos

Lesner Bridge on Lynnhaven Inlet

This is the highest tide I’ve seen in the 4 years I’ve lived here. I’d like to draw this bridge but the view from Pleasure House Point is swamped. It’s cloudy windy and cool. (in the low 70s) I’m still wearing shorts and sandals. Everyone is talking about how high the tide is.

expensive apartments on the other side

They recently rebuilt this bridge and the apartments butt right up to it. If I ever move over there I’d need to have the bay view. I checked it out once. I don’t need the extra amenities like a chauffeur to the airport or grocery store. The lady told me a lot of the residents only stay there over the summer but have another home. The apts. are for over age 62. It looks like parking is tight over there.

you don’t usually see this much foam on the bay.

That’s the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel on the horizon.

I was walking at Pleasure House Point yesterday and 3 days ago. The path was flooded. 3 days ago I rolled my shorts up and took my sandals off and waded through the deepest part, where it almost always has water running through, it was thigh deep, and I got across. Then yesterday it was flooded even more and when I got to the deep part it looked like it would be up to my waist so I turned around. The path I took to get out of there was flooded up to my knees in places.

that’s one corner of Pleasure House Point on the right behind the boat and barge.

One of the regular guys over there was talking to me yesterday and warned me about going barefoot, (sharp shells, germs ) I know. We were in amazement of the deep water. He told me a man that owned the property before built bulkheads and that’s where the paths are now but nature is reclaiming it. Eventually it will all be marsh again and the trees will be swamped and die out. I asked him why the water is so high and he said the wind is pushing it in.

Recently I overheard some guy talking about sea level rise when I was at P.H.P. and he said it went up 1 foot in 5 years. YIKES! I might see the end of the paths at Pleasure House Point! I might buy some waders. I was wondering if I could put my art supplies on a boogie board and float them to a dry spot because it is extra pretty over there when it’s flooded, in my opinion, but it would be impossible to carry my stuff through the flooded pathways.

another view of the Lesner Bridge

I often see guys fishing there and boats going through but not today. And its going to rain tomorrow so I’m glad I got out today even if I didn’t sketch. If I go back to this parking lot I should pay the $3 but a lady told me they don’t enforce it during the week. Today I paid because the fine is $70 or $80, I forget, but I definitely don’t want to get a ticket.

the boat launch, flooded and the walkway next to it flooded too

dune and bay sketch / charcoal and chalk

Today I walked all the way through the campground with my sketchbook charcoal and water bottle to see the view from the farthest yurt, #1. I was glad I waited until this afternoon because I think they had some rain over there this morning. There were puddles and the big chairs at the yurt were wet. I mainly wanted to get some exercise because it’s going to rain tomorrow and Sun.

Sketching is progress even if I never use the sketch for a painting. I can’t get too much practice. It would be a long haul to take paint that far from the car even with my beach cart. I’d still like to hang around all the yurts when they’re not occupied and do more sketching this fall. That’s the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel on the horizon.

I think I’ll try to paint Lynnhaven Inlet next but I wasn’t ready to start on another big project today. Maybe Mon.

Life’s not easy if you’re a pine tree on a sand dune. / oils

Trees are like people.

I spent roughly 20 hours on the dune next to this tree and I was only trying to capture it’s image but when I got home I kept thinking about the tree, like the tree was communicating with me by mental telepathy or something! nah, I’m kidding. This is what the tree would like to say.

The sand doesn’t have enough nutrients. The wind is trying to blow me down all the time. Someone called me scraggly and now I have a low self esteem. I won’t live as long as other pine trees or ever get tall.

And still, the scraggy little tree lifts it’s dead bleached arms to the sky like a person who suffered but doesn’t give up hope.

There’s something going on in the shadows and places where you can see the dune grass through spaces between branches. It’s heavily textured.

You can’t go down the dune through the grass filled with burrs and give the tree a hug. The tree is prickly too, not to mention that’s a steep drop off and you have to climb back out.

You want to remind the tree that it is on prime real estate with a better view than most pine trees have and its head is above dune level.

Plus, the tree has a lot of grace, like people who have lived through some bad stuff. Then when something else bad happens, those people don’t freak out in the next dangerous situation. Like the tree, they remember a worse storm. And people or trees that had it easy fall apart under stress.

windswept tree painting progress report

This is how far I got on it after 4 mornings of going out on the dune to paint and staying for 2 or 3 hours each time. It was sunny and not hot so, very enjoyable out there. My Gluteus Maximus had a workout 4 mornings in a row hauling my art supplies up the dune on the deep soft sandy path. The beach cart makes it possible but not easy. And I have a dark tan, which is really only a darker shade of red because I don’t tan well. It doesn’t feel sunburned. They’re calling for cloudy and rainy days all week. bummer, because I’m almost finished with the painting. I could finish it this week if the sun comes out. I hope they change the weather forecast. I guess there are plenty of things for me to do at home that I neglected lately because this painting took a lot of energy last week.

The tree is still only roughed in. I had to work on the background first. I considered finishing it at home but most of the time when I work on a painting at home, when I get back to the scene I don’t like what I painted at home.

windswept tree underpainting / oils

It was real nice out on the dune this morning and yesterday. I’m excited that I got this far with the painting. Maybe tomorrow and Sun. I can make more progress.

I have two coats of paint on the sky and I’m going to call the sky finished. Before I paint the tree I need to work on the opposite shore, the sand, the water and the grass again and let it all dry a little so that when I paint the bare branches over the sky and water they don’t smear.

I changed my mind about adding a kite surfer into the picture. This painting is all about the tree. I’ll try painting a kite surfer another time.

The branches and sticks will be the last to paint along with the pine needles.

wind swept trees second sketch

This time I had a larger paper and liked my sketch more than the first try. I might be able to use this one for a painting since my tree feels less squished and more more wind blown.

There was a nice breeze and a few guys kite surfing. They’re just tiny tiny figures out there. I was thinking about putting a kite in the painting. I’ll have to move him in more off the edge of the scene. He’s so small on the paper I’m not sure I could paint him with Inktense pencils or watercolor. I might use oils for this.

There are some buildings in the background on the left. This photo cuts off the buildings a little. It also cuts off some dune foliage that is in the tall grass. I was thinking of leaving the buildings and other foliage out of the picture, move the tree a little to the left so the kite surfer has more room. The dune grass blowing in the wind is shiny and soft looking, so that will make a nice contrast in color and texture to the pine tree. You can see a little of the sandy beach in the background too.

I need to get out there a little earlier if I use oil paints because it could take some time to mix colors. I’ll do an underpainting, maybe start tomorrow.

That’s my plan, all worked out and ready to start on the painting. I had to do the second sketch to make those decisions.

exploring is important to your plein air artist

It’s another nice day. I think I’ll go out for a drive.

Hampton Roads is a large heavily populated area with a lot of access to natural places and a lot of bridges across the rivers. I know my way North across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. (13) That’s a pretty drive but I think the toll is $12 so I don’t go that way very often and it would cost too much to go to the Eastern Shore to work on a painting since I go back again and again to paint.

264 to 64 is the way I usually go West but they’re expanding the Hampton Roads Tunnel and there’s a lot of traffic jams there. That construction will take a few years. What if there’s a hurricane and I get stuck in a traffic jam? That would be scary.

Years ago I drove 460 from Petersburg to Norfolk to avoid traffic jams on 64. They’re doing a lot of construction on 64 too. Sometimes traffic is flying but it’s usually heavy and you can run into a jam that will stop you for a half hour. Sometimes I run into 2 traffic jams and a trip to Richmond which should take 1.5 hours turns into 2 or 2.5 hours.

There are a lot of pretty drives West of here that I remember but I didn’t drive East to West. I was driving West to East.

Smithfield is pretty. Hog Island is pretty. The James River ferry is real nice to take. Rt. 10 is pretty. I need to try to find my way to Smithfield from here. It’s not too far. I’d like to explore Ragged Island but I’m afraid to go alone since it has a reputation and I’m not sure if it’s safe for an old girl.

Then there’s the Colonial Parkway which I drove a few times and that is also very pretty with nice places to park and look at the river. Jamestown is pretty, Williamsburg is pretty. And so is Yorktown. Not all of those towns are considered Hampton Roads.

It could take the rest of my life to paint all the nice places I’ve seen in Southeast VA. Sometimes I just explore and try to figure out alternate escape routes, times, distances, traffic, where to park for maximum beautiful scenery etc. I can look it up on maps but I have to drive it in real life so I can remember it. Plus, I enjoy driving.