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 Richmond VA 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.

Pleasure House Point in Dec. / oil

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The story of the insane SHRIEKING bird.

One day I was over there painting. I was all alone on the path. It was peaceful until this loud screeching shriek came from right behind me. I stopped and looked around but couldn’t see the bird.

Another day, I heard it far away. I also saw the likely culprit walk into the sedge a couple times. The second time I heard the bird, people walked down the path with binoculars and I thought they were probably bird watchers, so I asked them if they heard that loud screeching bird, and they did hear it. They said it was a sandpiper, and showed me a photo on a phone. I said, yes that’s it. Mystery solved.images

I also heard a loud chattering bird noise and now I wonder if sandpipers make that sound too.

A problem happened because of the cold weather.

Finally the sun came out after days and days of cloudy rainy weather and I was anxious to work on my painting, even if it was freezing. I bundled up and went out. As soon as I opened the lid on my palette, the glass broke! It was 32. Fortunately, I always put gray duct tape on the back of my palette glass, so little pieces of broken glass didn’t fall out. Breakage does happen sometimes with glass, but the main reason I put duct tape on the bottom of my glass is because it’s easier to see colors and values on gray than it is on a white palette. And some of the broken pieces were big enough to mix paint on, so I made some progress on the painting that day despite the broken palette. Weird, huh? I guess it was the sudden cold on the glass that caused it to break.

Well, that’s two nature stories for you.

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how I rig up my taboret for plein air painting at the beach

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I looked at plein air easels in catalogs, and saw most of them don’t have spikes on the legs. They also have tiny pallets. I have an easel with spikes, It’s saved my painting from falling down in the wind a lot of times. I wonder why spikes aren’t always on plein air set ups. And why the tiny pallets? How’s an artist going to mix up colors and thin them down with turp for a glaze? I guess that might be one reason plein air impressionists don’t use a palette knife to mix paint, their pallets are too small. I usually spend a lot of time preparing my paint so I need a big enough palette to mix a few colors. I bought a palette for watercolor or acrylic and discarded the sponge it came with. I have a piece of glass with duct tape on the back to mix on. I can see my colors and values better on the gray duct tape than on a white background.

They make the plein air kits so it all fits in a box you have to lug out to your location. Maybe most plein air painters don’t go over sand dunes or down long trails. A few years ago I bought this beach cart with wide wheels. That’s how I can take all these heavy supplies down a sandy trail. I lay my cart on it’s side close to my easel on the left because I’m left handed, and put my palette on the side of my cart. It’s off the ground high enough that I can easily reach it, and it was windy this week but my palette stayed wedged in that spot and didn’t blow down. I had to keep a hand on my painting at all times, and when I stopped painting I had to take it off the easel and put it on the ground so it wouldn’t blow down. Even so, sand gets into my paint and sticks blow on it that I can brush off most of after the paint dries.IMG_1956

This is my camera’s perspective of the scene. It looks far away compared to my naked eye perspective, and the colors look more gray. It got a little cloudy so the shadows aren’t showing up in this photo. This is why I don’t use a photo to get my sketch.

Instead of starting my painting from the weak perspective of the camera, I hold up my sketchbook and try to imagine it’s transparent. I decide how much of the scene is covered by my sketchbook and measure my perspective by comparing nature to the size of my paper. I try to decide where I want my horizon line to be on my sketch and how far I can extend my sketch on each side. How many trees can I fit in the painting, how much sedge, water, etc.

Even though I am trying to match the colors and values of nature so that I can make the illusion of depth, I can’t copy nature exactly.

I recently read an article about a plein air painter who says don’t copy nature, just do your own interpretation of it. His paintings were monochromatic. What’s the point of going out to paint in plein air if you’re not trying to match the colors and values of nature? I can’t see anything more beautiful than nature as it is. My own interpretation comes through in the painting even though I am trying to copy the beauty of nature as I see it. That artist with the big write up in a magazine has a much larger ego than I do if he thinks his monochromatic fuzzy flat paintings are somehow better than real life.IMG_1954

This is my painting with one layer of glazes over the whole canvas. You can see the difference between my naked eye perspective and the camera’s. My perspective is up close and personal compared to my photo. So, what is real? It could be entirely something else from the naked eye or the camera.

I have a plan. / Port Authority Norfolk

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A couple days ago I bought some supplies at Jerry’s Artarama. They had a sign about putting your art in the store window, so I asked about it. They want to hide the back of the display racks facing out the windows, so they are making canvases in the sizes to fit the windows. You buy an odd size canvas from them, but they will put the painting in the window and not ask any commission if someone wants to buy it. I decided to give it a try. An artist has to take advantage of free space. I’m glad Jerry’s Artarama is doing it.

So I got this 19 x 38 canvas, and thought it might be fun to use it for a panoramic scene. The place that came to mind was the view from the Hermitage Museum in Norfolk. It’s the Port Authority all the way across the Elizabeth River.

Imagine the canvas covered by sky and river with a thin strip of land breaking it up far away. The strip of land has rigs they use to load and unload ships. They’re moving giant  ships in and out every day and they have huge stacks of cargo containers too. I’ll have to paint the rigs small because they’re far away, but they’re quite large constructions.  I might use my secret masking fluid on oil paint technique for this.

That’a my charcoal sketch taped to the canvas. Since I sketched it in plein air and it wasn’t too difficult to get my drawing close to natural visual perspective, I’m pretty sure I can make it work when I paint it.

We’ve had a few cloudy rainy days which is boring for your plein air artist because there’s no shadows. I have 2 other paintings planned, but it’s good for me to go out and sketch even if it is cloudy and chilly. They are predicting more of the same dreary weather for a couple days. As soon as the sun comes out I’m going to work on my painting at Pleasure House Point. I don’t care how cold it is or if it’s windy. I’m going out to paint.

When I was at the Hermitage doing this sketch it was kind of gray blue over there in the sky and water. It makes me feel like tinting this canvas with a peachy color because that’s the complimentary color of the cold steel gray I saw out there today. Won’t that be funny to paint this scene on a peach tinted canvas? Wouldn’t it be great if I could get the bright winter sunset colors in the sky and water? Maybe I could let some of the peach tint show through. I don’t know, it’s just an idea at this point.

It might take me a few weeks to finish this, because I’m going to wait for a real pretty winter sky after I get my land and rigs roughed in on the peach color.

7 reasons why I like sculptures for figure drawing practice

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  1. They don’t move. There’s no need to worry about running out of your 20 minute time allowance before the model needs a break. The artist can take a break any time they want to and the model will be in the exact same pose. You can even go back any time any day and the model will be the same.
  2. I can finish a drawing. Don’t get me wrong on this, open studio figure drawing practice is necessary, the more the better, but I never could finish a drawing. I had lots of sketchbooks full of sketches that I threw away when I moved. When I looked back at my figure drawings from years ago I could see an improvement that came from the open studio. I work slowly though, and I do enjoy finishing a drawing, which I could never do in the 3 hour or so time of the open studio.
  3. Lighting isn’t a problem. Check it out and decide what time of day you like the light and go then. There is no getting stuck on the dark side of the model. You can’t beat natural light.
  4. The pose is good. Like to see a graceful model in an interesting pose? Statues are more likely for that than some nude sitting or standing around.
  5. They’re ideal figures. Easy on the eyes, in perfect classical proportion.
  6. It’s not crowded. Sometimes at open studio figure drawing, my view is blocked by another artist . When I go out to draw a statue, I get to pick the best side to draw from. No other artists are there drawing.
  7. Last but not least, THEY’RE FREE! Who needs to pay a model to do figure drawing?
  8. This sculpture is “Breaking Ground”  by Kathleen Farrell. It’s the WPA monument at Norfolk Botanical Garden. During the depression the government had this project where they hired 220 African Americans to dig gardens by hand. 200 were women and 20 were men. It looks like back breaking work, doesn’t it? And that’s not all, they had to watch out for snakes, and the weather made it even more difficult. This model probably saw something moving on the ground, because she’s not looking at her shovel, she’s looking to the side. Yikes!

Pleasure House Point / charcoal

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It’s so beautiful over there, I could get 4 paintings from this one spot.

There’s a canal on both sides of this sandy path and the path makes a turn, so there’s water in front of you too. It’s all divided up by tall red grass and various types of vegetation.

I’m priming an 18 x 24 canvas for this painting so I can show more of the water on both sides. I don’t want to crowd this beauty into a small canvas.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation owns this wildlife preserve. They have some nice trails going through it. It’s free and not too crowded, with enough space for me to stand up my easel.

Whitehurst Lake in Nov. / oil

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See the photos below, stripping off the layers of glazes all the way back to my underpainting.

As I was working on this, I read a science fiction story my daughter wrote. She had a real good idea, STOPPING TIME. That’s the illusion I’d like to put into my viewers’ heads.

I often think about modern Impressionists when I’m taking my sweet time finishing a painting. The Impressionists feel like they have to rush. Their goal is to capture a moment. To me, that sounds impossible. Like a Kodak moment, like the shutter on a camera. Click, and you have the image in an instant.

It’s true, they complain because the light changes so fast. They don’t take the time to work the paint by mixing colors with a palette knife. They squirt the paint out of the tube and stick the brush right in it, mixing the colors with the brush on the canvas. That is why they have to worry about muddy colors.

Impressionists, what’s the rush? You can go to your scene a little early for the best light and mix some colors to the shade you need. You can put a glaze on the painting thinking it’s close to right. Then when you go back the next day at the same time, the light will be the same as the day before, and you can easily make corrections since the paint has partially dried overnight. You can put another glaze right over top of the previous one without smudging the colors together creating mud. You can go warmer or cooler, lighter or darker so easily. Then the eye of the viewer blends the colors and you get depth in your shadows. And the lightest and brightest colors are on top in thicker paint.

Sometimes people tell me that what I’m doing looks like magic. They see me in the same place day after day with my painting slowly evolving. I always tell them, it’s not magic. It’s an illusion. I started thinking, maybe I can make the viewer think I can stop time.

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This is my painting with one layer of glazes covering the whole canvas.

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This is my underpainting in gray on a violet tinted canvas.

A  few years ago I bought a tube of violet so I could paint some purple flowers. The violet in a tube is brighter than a violet I can mix with any red and blue. But I rarely paint purple flowers so that tube didn’t get used. I decided to tint my canvas violet instead of gray, as I did before, just to use my violet paint before it dried up.

When I tint a canvas, I thin the paint with odorless Turpenoid so it’s like a wash. It makes the pigment not bind with the Gesso. The purple pigment is kind of powdery on the canvas and rubs off even when it’s dry.  When I do my underpainting, I’m using neutral grays but the violet lifts and changes the gray. Then, I get the feeling the paint is sitting a tiny fraction of an inch off the canvas. After I put some glazes on top of my underpainting, I think they are sitting on top too, like the violet makes everything lift, visually. So, the violet is kind of fun to work on.

The underpainting is a necessary first step in this way of painting. I estimated I had 8 hours in it at this point, because first I sketched it with charcoal on paper. Then I sketched it with charcoal on the violet canvas before I started to do the underpainting.

I have to take the time to do these steps. I doubt I’ll ever learn to paint fast. I have the time to go back to the beautiful place any day and stay as long as I like. So this way of painting that was pushed on me when I was young at York Academy of Art, actually suits me fine, now, but when I was in art school, I rebelled against the Academy. hahaha

Cypress Swamp with Spanish Moss / charcoal

 

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When I was working on my painting at the botanical garden, I met a lady who does plein air painting and she forwarded an invite to me from The Artists Gallery in Virginia Beach. It was a call to plein air painters to meet in First Landing State. Park today. I was so happy because for at least 30 years I wished I had the time to paint there. Now I do and also had the pleasure of meeting some other plein air painters.

I’ve always loved this swamp and came here when I was on vacation at the beach in years past. The water looks black because it’s forming peat on the bottom. I imagined the first settlers that came to VA from England, when they got off their boat at the mouth of the Chesapeake and went a little in off the beach, they ran into THIS! They probably decided to get back on the boat and go upstream. The moss is hanging like spooky draperies all around. It looks soft and breezy. A settler might think it would make good mattress stuffing, but it’s full of bugs. Funny, I haven’t got a single mosquito bite since I’ve been here, and I’ve been hanging around by the water a lot.

Someone told me once, this is the farthest north they call subtropical because Spanish moss is native here. It is a couple degrees warmer here than in Richmond, only 100 miles away.

Wow! was it ever beautiful over there this morning. I could never get tired of painting in there. I have a painting started at the botanical garden which might take me a couple weeks to finish, then I’m going back to First Landing to paint the swamp. I’m looking forward to seeing it again after the frost. I know it will look different after the leaves come down, but I also think winter might be the ideal time to paint it

Mirror Lake with Water Lilies / oil

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When I think I’m finished, I see something that needs touching up. Good thing I didn’t clean my brushes. hahahahahha

The Water Lilies are fading fast. They’re showing brown on the edges. I kind of like the brown, but I should try to paint them when they’re blooming next year. I’m not sure what month that is.

I hope this shows up ok on the computer, because I think I can see some depth showing as I look at it here in real life.. I built up a lot of layers of glazes. It took me 2 weeks of working on it almost every day for 2 or 3 hours at a time. It rained twice and I didn’t go out to work on it those days. Yesterday was kind of chilly, but I wore layers, so it wasn’t too bad.

I’m priming a canvas for another scene at Norfolk Botanical Gardens.  I think I have time to do one more painting before the leaves are down, since we haven’t had a frost yet. It’s another beautiful scene over water.

Mirror Lake with Water Lilies charcoal

IMG_1925This is my 2nd try. It was so nice to get out and sketch this morning after months of not sketching because I moved. My art supplies are some of the last things I’m unpacking.

I went over to Norfolk Botanical Garden thinking I wanted to draw the beautiful bronze figure, but I had a look at the lake first and it was so bright and beautiful in the sun. I said to myself, that statue will be the same all year, let me sketch this before  frost  wipes out the water lilies.

Now I have to unpack a box of canvases because tomorrow I’m going back to start a painting.

the view from my new apartment

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It’s an arboretum! They also have a garden planted by VA Tech.  Then there’s an easement that will never get developed. It looks like there’s enough room for another apt building back in there. I hope it doesn’t happen.

The traffic is kind of heavy here, but it’s not as noisy as my last apt where Henrico Drs. Hospital has been building a new cancer treatment building for the past year or so.

2 months ago some loud guy moved in upstairs from me at the old place. Just my good luck it was time to renew my lease, so I canceled it. It took me the whole 2 months to pack my stuff and clean the old apt. Funny how work expands to fill the time allotted.

Now I’m at the beach in a new apt only 1 year old, and on the top floor. It’s real nice. And only 10 minutes drive from my daughter’s house in Norfolk

I’m so tired from moving, but I still got out to walk and explore the Norfolk Botanical Garden yesterday and today. It’s big. So many flowers are blooming!

The weather here is still hot and humid.

Yeah! I got my INSPIRATION BACK!!! First thing I’ll draw is a beautiful bronze figure at the botanical garden.