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.

Bald Eagle charcoal sketch

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My model is made of bronze. This is just a start. I couldn’t draw small enough to fit the whole bird on the page so I want to transfer it to a larger paper and go back tomorrow if the nice weather holds out. When I go back I’ll make some corrections. I’ll finish the feathers more and draw white feathers on him. I should look up eagles to be sure because the sculpture doesn’t have the white feathers colored white.

There are so many beautiful bronze animals around here. This one is at Norfolk Botanical. I bet they’re all made by David Turner. I love that guy’s work. At Seashore State Park they have a beautiful red fox in bronze which I also want to draw.

I’m one of those artists who think there’s nothing more beautiful than nature and it should be represented in art as closely as possible to reality.

 

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sketching on the beach with charcoal and chalk

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Can you see those two pelicans flying away? I had my Bob Ross moment there, drawing those happy little birds.

I think that guy knew I was sketching him. He kept turning in my direction. I was almost finished with my sketch and he left. Then some foreigners came out with a giant arch shaped kite. The guy had a harness strapped on his body holding the kite strings. It looked like the girl was doing most of the work trying to lift the kite up to catch the wind then going after it every time it came down. He was yelling instructions at her in Russian or something.

The kite was coming down a little too close for comfort to me so I packed up and left. That happens sometimes when you go out sketching in plein air, you gotta move for some reason.

 

Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area Tour Road / charcoal and chalk

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I drove to PA because they had the cone for the hurricane hitting Virginia Beach. They told people in sections A to evacuate. I live in section C but I decided to leave to avoid power outages and so I wouldn’t have to worry about my car getting flooded. As soon as I got to PA I heard the hurricane was going to hit farther South than previously thought, so I came back to the beach and the lights are still on. It’s windy but not scary here. It looks like we got lucky this time. And I enjoyed the drive to PA and back. The scenery is beautiful and traffic was light and fast.

The place I love most in my home county, (Lancaster) is Middle Creek so I went up there and got this sketch. After I got my sketch and was ready to drive out I saw a huge pheasant in the tall grass by the side of the road. He was just poking around in there and didn’t fly off when I drove past him. I saw him close up. He was a beauty with big red spots around his eyes.

Middle Creek is great for seeing wildlife. In the Spring you can see 100,000 snow geese if you go at the right time and get through a traffic jam on that little country road.

Can you see the little mountain foothill  in my sketch is hidden by fog?

Crab bag

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What was your first impression of this painting?

(a) Oh no! That finger could get a nasty pinch!

(b) This way to the crab.

(c) That artist picks crabs.

(d) God created crabs.

(e) other

My working title was god created crabs but this is one of those paintings better left untitled because it’s open for interpretation.

A long time ago I saw an unforgettable mural. I thought it was brilliant! It was at Colonial Beach VA. It was the hand of God as it looks on the Sistine Chapel pointing at a crab. The hand of God is easily recognizable as you remember it reaching to Adam. When I went back another time that building was gone along with the mural.

I looked up the fresco and all I could get was a tiny picture to work from. I thought it was too small for me to copy and I’d rather draw a hand myself than copy or trace the hand of God, which would be difficult anyway. So, that’s my hand. It doesn’t look strong enough to be the hand of God. I wondered if art viewers would make the connection.IMG_2107

It wasn’t easy sketching my hand. It kept moving. I worked on this sketch for around 2 hours but I took a couple breaks.

To get my sketch of the crab, I looked up Blue crabs and then tried to sketch it from memory. They’re always steamed when I see them and they’re red all over. I decided they look cute still alive and standing up, so my painting isn’t like the mural either with the hand or the crab’s pose. Lucky for me I had some practice sketching live ghost crabs a couple weeks ago.

Yes, it’s true. The Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab is the tastiest kind of crab in the world. I could pick for hours and eat my fill then pick more for people who don’t like to pick so they can have crab cakes. yummy

The side straps the bag was made with are sewed into the seam at the bottom. They’re made of some kind of black twisted polyester strings. I have another bag with similar cords for strings and sometimes they hurt my hands. On this bag, the cord was fraying out of the seam. I had to make it stronger and I wanted to cover the strings in some fabric that would be softer than those rough black strings. So, I used this little scrap of fabric that was left over from the quilt project, because it’s a good color match.

I’ll use this bag to carry my sketch book, water bottle and pencil box when I go out to draw.

Look what I bought!

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Normally I pooh pooh the zodiac because they often describe Capricorns as social climbers and I have no interest in society, but once I read that Capricorns can have a second childhood and I thought that sounds like fun. I’ll do it.

When I was a kid I had a hand me down bike that was my brothers news paper delivery bike. It had coaster breaks and no gears. I was all over town on it. This is the most popular kind of bike at Virginia Beach because who needs gears on flat land?

I should have bought some training wheels. (nah) It’s been a long time since I was on a bike, but they say you never forget how to ride. I did ok going around the parking lot at the bike shop but when I took it on the gravel road at Back Bay I couldn’t control  it. I was all over the place on the bumpy road. Luckily, there wasn’t a lot of people that afternoon and when a car or hikers or other bikers came down my path I stopped so I wouldn’t cause an accident with my zig zagging. I rode about 2.5 miles in then turned around and on the way back out I did a little better steering. Before I went home I stopped back in at Conte’s where I bought it and asked the helpful sales guy to adjust the handle bars down a little cause I’m kind of short. Maybe that will make it a little easier next time I go out.

It looks like they’re calling for more hot weather and chance of rain this week, but next Thurs. it’s supposed to cool down again, and after Labor Day it will be less crowded so I’ll get in some riding practice in Sept.

My goal is to go to the end of the Back Bay road to False Cape. I’ve never seen False Cape. They have already closed the one side of Back Bay for the migrating birds. They could have left the trail open until the birds get here, but oh well. I hope they let the other trail open all year and I also hope I will be able to see the Snow Geese and Tundra Swans because they are so beautiful. And I will eventually capture the beauty of Back Bay in drawings and paintings.

 

Japanese Maple / charcoal and chalk

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I’m anxiously awaiting fall because I bet this little tree gets bright red. It’s my new favorite tree at Norfolk Botanical and I want to do a big painting of it this fall. My sketch book is too small. The tree is much wider and I can’t draw small enough to fit it on this paper.

I’ll go back with a full sized piece of pastel paper and my easel and try to draw it the size I want for my painting. Even though I’ll have to wait a couple months for the colors, I can start planning the painting and do a practice pastel. The tree is pretty and graceful all year round.

I was standing on the shady side so most of the leaves are in shadow, but you can see bright leaves on the other side of the tree showing through. That’s why the branches look so dark, because they’re shaded. When I paint it I’ll check the light at different times of day and decide what time it looks best. The path is small. If I take my easel and drawing board I can get it out of the way if a lot of visitors walk through easier than I’d be able to move my little oil painting set up. Maybe I can do my pastel in plein air and later mix my paint colors there too, but I’ll paint it at home so I can use a large canvas and tape my paintbrushes to a yard stick again. That made me feel as if I can paint loose like an Impressionist.

Ghost crabs / charcoal/ with unscientific observations

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I can’t decide. Are they like heads with legs coming out the sides and no bodies? Or are they like bodies with no heads and eyes on top? Anyway, they have a ton of personality.

Last week I walked barefoot on the beach at First Landing State Park a lot, maybe too much because my right foot got stiff. I soaked my foot in water with epsom salt and it’s ok now but I’ll probably stay off the sand for a few more days.

One day I took my sketchbook along and at the end of the beach close to the Fort Story fence I saw a bunch of holes the crabs made. Some were large holes for big crabs. I sat still on the sand for a while and a few crabs came out of their holes pushing sand out and making piles next to their holes. They looked at me. They must have 360* vision with their eyes on top. When I moved they were in their holes like a flash. I saw a couple big ones. They were probably 3 or 4 inches from tip to tip, running back and forth at the edge of the gently lapping waves of the bay. I wished I had a sardine to lure the others out of their holes to pose for me. They don’t stand still long so I did a couple sketches from memory. I think it might be a good drawing exercise to observe them then sketch them from memory.

I sat there for about 1/2 hour and got these sketches then a lady walking on the sand scared them all back into their holes, so I gave up on sketching. I’ll go back another time soon because I want to do a painting of the bay with the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel on the horizon.

a quilt my Mom started and I’m finishing

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Did you ever say you’d finish a project for someone else then procrastinate for about ten years? I did.

Mom did most of the piecing of the two inch squares then stopped because she had cataract surgery and after that she had double vision and now is practically blind. She was working on this for my daughter and she called it an around the world quilt because my daughter loves to travel. I told her I’d finish it and when Sarah gets married it could be a wedding present from the both of us. I was off the hook for a long time because Sarah was concentrating on her career and didn’t get married. Now she’s engaged and time is running out so I had to put the art supplies away and sew.

I don’t have much quilting experience and I thought it would be time consuming and difficult. Also, I don’t have a big work table so I have to move furniture out of the way and spread it out on the floor to work on it. I had to cut around 50 of the squares to finish the piecing and the first hurdle was picking colors that would go with the ones Mom used. I procrastinated even more waiting for coupons to come in the mail and made a few trips to the fabric store for fabrics to finish the piecing then more fabrics for the wide border, polyester batting and backing.

The first time I tried to make the border it looked real bad. It was all lumpy when I laid it out on the floor and I knew I could do better. I think it came out lumpy because the pieced squares stretched as I was sewing. I had to rip all the way around and rip gently so as not to ruin the piecing. It took hours to fix it. The second time I sewed the border I had the piecing on the bottom and the border on top and the squares didn’t stretch. That white on the edge is the batting extending past the top of the quilt. I’ll trim it off when I finish the edges.

Now on to the next step. I’m going to try to quilt it on my singer 191. I’m hoping I can do a decent job of it and save a couple hundred dollars instead of taking the job to a professional quilter. First I’ll have to loosely tack it by hand while it’s still on the floor to keep all the layers from sliding out of place. If I tack it in 25 places, that should do it. Then I won’t need to put in as many pins and hopefully I can roll it up small enough to get it through my machine without scratching myself up on pins.

I’ll be glad when it’s over. Finishing a job for another person isn’t as much fun as your own project. I’m sure Mom will be excited to see it finished after all these years and Sarah will love it too. Wish me luck, friends. I’m kind of worried about the quilting part.

Lotuses / oil / some tips on composition I remember from art school

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They said the mind seeks balance but we shouldn’t make a balanced composition because when the viewer’s eye sees balance it’s instantly bored and moves on to the next thing.

The way to create imbalance is with focal points. An odd number of focal points is more interesting than an even number because the viewer’s eye will keep going around the canvas. If there’s only one focal point the viewer’s eye will go to it and stop right there. Also, don’t put a focal point dead center on the canvas. That makes a static composition.

Focal points can be created in different ways by using contrast such as complimentary colors or value contrasts, or by making sharp detail on an otherwise blurry painting.

I find composition to be a difficult part of painting and cutting my shapes out of paper and arranging them like Matisse helped me plan this painting. I’m getting a lot of inspiring ideas from Matisse this summer.

About this painting : The path through the Japanese garden is too narrow for me to stand up my easel. I’d have been blocking the other visitors so I took a few pastels and did my sketches on my small sketchbook because I don’t need my easel to hold it and I can easily back out of the way if people want to walk through. I did the painting at home using Matisse’s method of taping my paintbrush onto a yardstick and standing back from the canvas to paint. I’ve tried the brush on a stick method a few times and it still seems awkward. It’s hard to control the brush. I have to hover the brush over the canvas and when I make contact with the canvas in the right general area I want to paint, I kind of roll it. After I get the general shape I’m trying to do, I can get some brush strokes on it. I want to keep practicing this brush on a stick thing. Maybe it will get easier if I practice.