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 update and wildlife report

I’m excited that I got this far with the painting and might be able to finish it soon! Not tomorrow or the next day though, because they’re calling for cloudy then rainy weather. I might be able to work on it at home a little. Today I got as far as starting on the reflections.

omg. Can I save this?

I’ll be mad at myself if I can’t paint a decent figure in that spot. My first layer of gray was so bad I had to scratch off the texture from the water that was showing through and it was kind of blotchy. Then I tried to paint a layer of glazes to start again on my dude but the texture was still showing so I scratched again. The glaze bled a little, now the edges look fuzzy. I’ll have to paint the man with my palette knife. I thought a brush would make it easier because he’s small and it’s hard to paint detail with the palette knife, but now I can see if I don’t paint him with the knife he’ll look weak next to the rest of this heavily textured painting and he’ll visually recede. This is the kind of problems you have when you’re trying to paint something and you don’t exactly know how to do it. It might work out or it might be a total waste of time. Too soon to tell.

Wildlife- bird

This crazy cormorant popped up out of the water like a shot and then flapped around so much it looked like there was a fountain out there with all the splashing! Then he went back under and again popped up with much splashing . He was going under and popping up so fast and with so much drama, flailing about, I was getting a little concerned about him. Then a minute later he stopped doing that and acted like nothing was wrong.

Wildlife- human

A man stopped to talk to me and we had a nice conversation. He’s from PA too so naturally we talked about pretzels and cheese steaks. He told me things I didn’t know about Pleasure House Point, like just recently someone had a gender reveal party there and they sprayed colored plastic confetti all around. The idiots. The gender reveal parties around here get really destructive sometimes. There’s a reward for info leading to the arrest of the perps.

That man had me cracking up with his enthusiasm for pretzels and cheese steaks! I’m going to go where he recommended to try the cheese steaks tomorrow. He took this pic and emailed it to me and is sharing the pic so maybe I’ll get famous around here soon!

Oh No! Did I paint another ghost?!

Nah, it’s an underpainting for the figure I’m planning on putting in the painting. It’s 2.25″.

The texture of the water is showing through. I might try to scrape that off. before adding color on top of this.

I’m a little conflicted about this figure because I’m breaking one of the few rules I remember from my art school days back in the 1970s. That rule of the academy was never copy a photo. I see more successful artists than me are copying photos. No one cares anyway. It’s not as much fun breaking a rule that no one cares about. The photo isn’t really making it easy to do. Why not copy a figure?

I was undecided about how to proceed with putting a figure into my painting but I wanted to try and I don’t have a model. As I was reading other blogs I saw a photo with a dark figure and thought it looked great! Check it out! George writes great poetry and songs too!

I walked around the pond and tried to see if any light would be seen on the figure from the opposite side of the pond where I’m working on the painting. There will be only two little spots of sun on my guy. The top of his hat and his left shoe. All the rest is shadow because it’s backlit.

This wasn’t easy for me to get a plan worked out but now that I got past this one hang up I’ll go back to Pleasure House Point and finish this soon.

Clouds Rolling in Over Pleasure House Point / update

I went over the clouds again, the background trees, the edge of the creek on the other side, the creek water and changed the shape of the pond in the middle ground then finally got to start on the trees on the path. So, I’ve been to the point a bunch of times and went there to walk a few times without painting. It’s supposed to be nice again tomorrow so maybe I can get more tall grass painted on the path and do some tree trunks and sticks.

Then I’m almost finished except for the reflections on the pond and I want to put a figure on the path. The paint is getting kind of lumpy because of all the layers applied with my palette knife. I might paint the figure with paint brushes since it will be small and a palette knife isn’t easy to do a small figure.

I can’t be a purist about any certain style or art subject that comes up. I think it’s fine to mix up different styles in one painting. A purist who wants to do a palette knife painting might not want to use a brush at all. Some watercolor purists don’t use water color pencils along with watercolors in a tube. Once I heard a juror say, “Pick one style and stick to it.” I wondered if she meant me. Heck, I don’t even know the different styles. I only know what I learned in art school long ago.

I wonder if they would give this a bad critique at the academy. Probably. They were the old school purists.

When there’s not much fall color but you manage to find a little bit and put it in the painting.

There is only one bright tree on the far side. I almost covered it with a pine tree but I’ll save it.

When you don’t take your easel because it’s windy then you find a good way to anchor the painting down to a stick.

I don’t know how well this shows up in the photo. I put the handle of the drawing board over a stick that’s rooted there and it kind of tilts the paper up a little while stopping the wind from blowing it away. Also, maybe you can see where my drawing board broke at the handle once long ago and I glued chop sticks on it to repair it with some glue on paper towels ripped to fit and a little wooden shim over a crack. I just don’t want to buy another drawing board. I’ve had this one so many years I kind of got attached to it. It’s been all over hell’s half acre with me.

If it’s windy I’ll just sit on the ground to paint. It’s a real nice spot there at the edge of the pond.

pond, path, creek and golf course painting update

We’re having some nice weather this week. It might be cold tomorrow but I should probably let this dry a little before I go back into it.

I was glad when the clouds rolled in this afternoon because I had a solid blue sky and I wanted to make it more interesting. I’m not sure if I want to work on the clouds more or if I should leave them alone. I’ll probably work on the background trees again before I start blobbing in the trees on the path.

my illustration for “wordless Chorus” w. song and close ups

Fall leaves caught on an updraft.

A couple weeks ago I illustrated a song for Halloween and thought it was a lot of fun so I decided to do another one and this time it was even more fun! I picked Wordless Chorus because I didn’t want to illustrate lyrics. I wanted to see if I could let the music move my hand. I tried to paint with no plan in mind and be fast and spontaneous.

The part of the song I’m illustrating starts at 3.18.

I listened to it a couple times and thought it sounds uplifting and exciting. I’t’s wild and free spirited.

First I mixed some yellow and orange and waited for the fun vocals to start. Then I quickly loaded up my palette knife with yellow and went to town! Then I waited for the part of the song I like again and repeated the process with orange.

I stopped to have a look and decided it needed some pink so I mixed up more paint, turned my paper 180* and slapped in some pink while listening to the vocals.

Then I looked closer at the texture and it reminds me of the veins on a leaf. I said, I guess it’s fall leaves in the wind.

The black background makes it look dramatic but after thinking it was a leaf abstract I wanted to see it on a blue sky, so I added the blue but tried to keep from messing up the edges and smears I made with the bright colors.

The unexpected palette knife textures are fun to look at. I’m not sure how this kind of art rates in real life, I mean is it a big waste of paint, is it worth anything, but it was fun to go wild with it and I might do another illustration of a song.

There’s a funny vein in the paint. I don’t know how I did that.

I can’t tell if this expresses the song very well or not.

marsh sketch / debunking a famous quote

Do you remember that famous quote, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” ?

sounds like b-s to me. It makes me think they want art to be political and that is not the main reason for art.

When I was in art school my wise teachers told us art serves 3 purposes, decoration, illustration and self expression. Self expression being the least important. It’s only the huge egos of the modern art world that think they can change society with a painting. And who cares about my self expression? I don’t have that kind of ego. I blame my parents. You might want to thank them. If an art viewer is savvy enough to analyze my paintings, there’s plenty of information in there about me. I can’t keep self expression out of it. I don’t need to deliberately make paintings expressing my moods.

Now, let’s say I know a disturbed person. Am I going to show them Starry Night and think that will comfort them? If I want to comfort someone who is disturbed I’ll find out what’s bugging them and try to find a real practical solution. If I showed Starry Night to a disturbed person and asked them if that comforts them they might say yes because they think I want to hear a yes. Then they go right back to their problems and forget Starry Night instantly.

What if I had some resentment to people who are comfortable? I don’t, but that would be political and if someone’s comfortable why should I try to ruin that for them. They’re not hurting me.

I don’t care really, if art metaphorically stomps on some high muckety muck’s toes. Whatever. I only want to say, if a quote sounds stupid, stop repeating that nonsense. Make art for illustration or decoration. Making the comfortable disturbed is a weak kind of art.

3 pastel sketches from long ago, never to be seen again

Say your goodbye.

I think this was one of my first plein air sketches from Middle Creek Wildlife Preserve in Lancaster Co. PA. maybe 2006.

I want to use both sides of the paper and this will get ruined along with 2 others. They’re 7″ x 10″. I pulled an old sketchbook out of my flat file to find a piece of paper to redraw my new landscape larger on the other side. When I slap some oil paint on the back of this paper these will be lost. If you want to stop me from ruining one of these you can make me an offer, otherwise, maybe tomorrow these die.

I can’t remember where this scene was. That was around the time I started drawing in plein air so I can’t remember if I had a vacation at VA. Beach or maybe Chincoteague, because this looks like Assateague.

I have to be ruthless with my old art. I haven’t looked at these for 15 years. I won’t miss them. Anyway, I’m posting them so you can compare them to my new paintings, and so they can live on the cloud forever, at least until the electricity goes out.

Sea Oats / palette knife practice w. close ups

I tried to make mental notes of the colors I needed when I sketched this in plein air then painted it at home. The color looks good in the photo for the sea oats but the background isn’t showing up green enough and there’s a lighter area showing on the right because of a glare.

For the background I wanted to give a color and texture of pine needles. For the sea oats I wanted to make a fuzzy texture .

This photo shows some of the paint texture.

It seemed like the painting went fast on this project. I worked on it for around 5 hours, which isn’t really that fast, just fast for me, because I often have 30 or 40 hours in a painting. So I like the palette knife for that. It’s not easier than painting with a brush, just different. This was a simple experiment.

The palette knife makes the project faster because I painted right on top of my sketch. Usually I redraw my sketch and then redraw it again on the canvas. This way I saved a lot of time because I didn’t prime a canvas which is a multi step process with sanding the canvas, painting gesso on it and sanding it again then tinting the canvas. That part needs to be spread out over two days or more. This way I could jump right into painting.

It’s nice not to have to clean the brushes. That is a job.

Paper is working out to be more conservative than canvases, So the palette knife is practical on a lot of different levels.

I am using more paint than I use normally. That’s one drawback to the palette knife.

The palette knife is fun, though, so I’ll do more.

Pond, Path, Creek, Golf course / sketch and photo

I adde a person walking for scale but I might change the figure in the painting.

I made the path wider so it’s more visible.

This is a plan for a palette knife painting on paper. I’m going to try painting right on top of my charcoal sketch, at home, because it’s going to rain again for a few days. Luckily, I got a few colors mixed in plein air today which I can put plastic wrap on top of and they will be good for a week or more. They say the sun will come out on Sat. too, so I can get back over there and mix more colors.

We didn’t have any frost yet. The trees are showing some color but not a lot. I might fake in some fall color in the background, or I could wait and see what happens, but the beach isn’t the best place for fall colors.

I need to look at this sketch and make some decisions before I get started painting . Like exactly where to start. I mixed some middle ground tree colors in plein air but I should probably start with the sky and background. Or I could try to paint the water first. The water looks different every time I see it, so I might just wing it.

Yawn.

I’m not a good photographer, but this pic is too boring. I’ll get a more interesting painting if I don’t use it, I’m only showing you the photo so you can see how much my naked eye differs from the camera. Which eye is the better representation? The human eye or the camera?