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.

horse sketch in charcoal with model horse

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It took me about 1/2 hour to get this far. That’s ok for a start. I’ll take the proportions when I get back to work on it and see if I got it close to accurate. I only eyeballed it till now.

We have had a lot of hot and humid weather lately. Now it’s raining. A few days ago I went over to Pleasure House Point to scout for a scene to paint with my watercolors and the sand was too hot. I had sandals on, I could feel the heat. I decided to go early in the morning but I can’t get motivated. The weather is kind of sapping my energy. It will be better this weekend, they say. I did find a place to sketch where I could have some shade to sit next to a small tree. I might stand up in the sun to sketch, but I can sit in the small shady spot when I take a break. It will be great to draw and paint in plein air again soon, I don’t think it’s necessary to break a sweat for the sake of art though. Life makes you suffer enough, art should be fun. I’ll go back to Pleasure House Point eventually.

Meanwhile, there’s this horse. Maybe I can do something with it for an art project. I have an idea or two for it.

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Chesapeake Bay Beach Cloudy Day

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This is all Intense pencils. It was cloudy the past few times I went to First Landing State Park to work on this. The water looked smooth. I didn’t see waves from where I was standing. I always think I see two colors in the water and texture.

I worked on the painting at home for a few hours from my sketch and color notes, and went back to the beach to check my colors and values against real life. Then I came home, made some corrections  and finished it.

I want to go to Pleasure House Point and try to get a sketch in between the  rain showers tomorrow if I can.

Beach in charcoal and chalk

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It was hot but cloudy with wind, so that made it tolerable for sketching the view from the overlook on the boardwalk going over the sand dunes. The bench was too hot to sit on, though. That’s ok, I like to stand up to sketch. I didn’t stay long.

I’d like to try to paint this with watercolors at home. I took my color swatch charts and picked some colors to work with. It’s almost a monochromatic color scheme, especially since it got cloudy. I’ll keep it kind of monochromatic with some faint tints of color when I paint it and see if I can get the values close to reality. The horizon line was fuzzy from the distance and straight so I’m going to try on a scrap of paper first to get the look I remember. If I use gray in the sky, I should probably use gray in the water and avoid the bright blues which I’d rather use.

That’s the plan. Keep your fingers crossed.

Green Horse on Orange

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To go a little more abstract this time, I didn’t draw it with charcoal or pencil first. I couldn’t decide how to go about it, then just went with the old blob in a rough  shape method, like I would with charcoal, only with paint. First I put a glaze of cadmium yellow on the whole paper and let it dry. Then I sprayed water on it  and tried to make it evenly damp. I dabbed up the puddles with a paper towel. The paper warped like crazy. Then I blobbed in the general shape of the horse with green and lifted some of the color back out.

The red color, opera, looks like a bright orange over the cad yellow. I did a test strip to pick my colors and liked the colors I got when Veridian green mix with opera. And they both looked good on top of the cad yellow.

Then just to mess it all up, I splashed rubbing alcohol all over it. I held it in front of a fan till it was almost dry then darkened up the green paint with some ultramarine blue to paint the sketchy lines.

That was fun. And good practice on things like, the right wetness of the paper, trying to control a bleed, drawing with a paintbrush which I can’t erase, etc.

 

Blue Horse, Red Sky, Yellow Grass watercolor

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This time I wanted to let the horizon line bleed. It was out of control because of the paper warping and I let it go. For a second I considered trying to stop it, then I said, let it bleed.

It was fun watercolor practice. I think I’ll do another horse. There are so many possibilities with how to go about watercolor, I’m just kind of playing around. Play is a good way to learn.

I have a song stuck in my head. A few days ago I watched” Bohemian Rhapsody” on HBO. It was good. I love Queen, and of course, Freddy Mercury. The movie had a short clip from the” I Want To Break Free” video where they’re dressed up in drag and Freddy comes in pushing a vacuum cleaner. I remember when it was on MTV. I thought it was brilliant and I loved the song. So I had to look it up on Spotify to get my fix. I Want To Break Free might be my favorite Queen song. Didn’t Freddy have an amazing voice? What a great inspiration he was.

horse sketch part 2

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Now I’m getting somewhere with it. YEA!  I took the proportions of my model by holding a pencil at arms length, resting my arm on my easel to hold it steady, closing one eye and putting my thumb on the pencil at the height of the body from the bottom of the hoof to the top of her back and compared that to the length of the body. The height equaled the distance from her rump to the middle of the front shoulder. So I knew the proportion was close. I made corrections on the head and neck to make them look right with the body. Then I drew her blaze with chalk because it makes the head shape easier to see. I also redrew the legs making a faint line at knee level and drawing circles where I thought the ankles should be. I didn’t erase all the measuring lines.IMG_2296

WOW! That’s a bad shot! hahahaha Nothing’s in focus! I had it set on auto. That’s ok, I never said I could take a decent picture with my good camera.

I put in in anyway so you can see how badly lit my model is on that shelf and if I drew it in proportion.

The plan is to transfer this sketch to a piece of watercolor paper and try to paint it. I’ll move my model to my work table where the light is slightly better and draw it one more time. I could still make corrections. Then paint with watercolors. I have some ideas in mind I’d like to try with the watercolors.

horse sketch

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Should I stop here or should I continue? Does this look like a horse? This is how I was taught to draw, start out by blobbing in the general size and shape of the subject. By this point I’ve moved the legs half a dozen times but I’m trying to make the negative spaces between the legs look like my model.

I worked on this about 1/2 hour. That’s how long my attention span lasts for sketching, then I need to take a break. I’ll get back on it and try to refine it but there’s no rush. Taking frequent breaks refreshes my concentration.

One great thing about drawing is that you can take it in any direction you like. If you don’t want to render a finished drawing you don’t have to. If you want to draw from your imagination or do abstract drawing that’s fine too.  That’s why I wonder what’s up when I read an article where the writer uses the words “slavishly copying”, like that’s bad.. To me, accuracy is important. I enjoy copying something beautiful. I feel like I’ve studied it in more depth if I get a tight drawing. In the long run, I’ll have a better file of it in my brain that I’ll be able to use if I want to draw that subject again, only it’s moving, or not in front of me. I won’t need to look up a photo of it. But drawing this way is a discipline. It helps if it was forced on you when you were young. hahaha The people who say slavishly copying, they can’t do a tight study.

Red Horse, Yellow Sky, Blue Grass

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I was putting this off because it was kind of difficult and I didn’t have the time to concentrate on it. First I had to redraw my horse sketch from a few weeks ago onto watercolor paper and make corrections. That took a couple hours. Then I couldn’t decide what colors to use. Finally I decided it would be best to start with the background and do the horse last like I would if it was an oil painting. Too many decisions! I tackled  the sky, grass and horse as separate experiments, using two Inktense pencils on the wet blue  paper for the grass. It was kind of fun pushing the paint around to make it as even as I could on the horse then lifting out paint with a paper towel where I wanted highlights. Now that I got one horse sketch finished I might try again with a different model horse. It’s still too hot out for me to enjoy painting in Plein air unless I get out at the crack of dawn.

#she rises

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Here’s a mural with the spirit I love about Virginia. It’s like our state seal except now she has more arms and she’s a mermaid. This mural has a lot to say. It’s about woman empowerment to me but it’s also about modern times and issues.

She’s not human so maybe she’s a goddess.IMG_2290

That looks like the eye of an Egyptian goddess in the sun.IMG_2287

These could be wind turbines with a lighthouse. You can get your boat in safely here. Maybe the wind turbines are in the mural because some people don’t want  to see them out there in the water. As for me, I don’t care. If I want to paint the ocean and the turbines are there, I could either paint them or not.IMG_2286

I think this is a waterspout or tornado that could be dangerous to the city buildings. And also here’s a blade to kill the tyrant, but he has so many ways to die in this mural.

One funny thing about the real VA. state seal is that every once in a while some idiot in our elite ruling class wants to change the seal and put a bra on Virginia. I keep thinking it’s a joke, but they’re serious about it.IMG_2288

Why do the politicians worry about that nipple when things more serious are happening? I’ll tell you why. They know they could be the tyrant and a woman could rise up against them. It’s fear of feminine power. Virginia, she did it before and she can do it again, knocking down the tyrant. People think sic temper tyrannis means death to tyrants but it really means thus always to tyrants. The tyrant isn’t dead yet. Does she spare his life?IMG_2285

Notice the nipple design is repeated in the forehead? hahahahaha Take that nipple haters!

The artist that designed the mural is John Hutchinson.  He and his friend, Igor who has a design business,  worked on the mural overtime for 18 days with hours put in by other guys too, and my hair stylist, Burcu helped, she’s married to John. It’s at 17 and 1/2 St. and Baltic in Virginia Beach.

pink crepe myrtles / sketch

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I started this yesterday in Plein air and finished it at home using my Inktense pencils and watercolor in a tube for the background. I wanted to try to make the background as smooth and thin as I could. Some blossoming of the paint happened, maybe because the paper warped. I remember stretching watercolor paper long ago. I might have to look it up and see how other artists do that. Or, if any of my fellow bloggers could tell me, do you stretch your paper? and if so how? I’d be interested. It seems like extra work, like priming a canvas, but I still prime my canvases for an oil painting.