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.

ODU gets a Banksy

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High St. Rat 2010

It came from San Francisco. Brian Greif, an art collector saved it from a building being taken down. It’s on Victorian era redwood siding. You can find it at ODU’s Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Gallery.

Banksy  said the reason he got famous is because he hid his identity. Isn’t that genius?! Way to play the art world, Banksy. And now he’s rich.

The thing about the art world is that it doesn’t matter if you’re great at what you do, or how inspired you are. The powers that be don’t even like innovation. Remember when the Impressionists got rejected from the shows? And now everyone loves the Impressionists. The elites in the art world only reacted after Impressionism was a big thing with the public. They never would have recognized the genius of the Impressionists on their own. They haven’t changed in the past 150 years. The art world higher powers are the same kind of narrow minded snobs as the ones that rejected Impressionism. They’ll fall for the cult of personality before skill every time.  You need a gimmick or an outrageous personality to get noticed. This is one field where insanity can be to your advantage.

I love Banksy for playing the art world the way he does.

 

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Magnolia in the Wind / with some thoughts about inspiration

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This flower is too sexy for my blog. Too sexy for my blog.  Too sexy OMG.

Oh well, I draws em like I sees em.

Inspiration. Where does it come from? I can only talk from my own experience here, so feel free to opine, as always.

I think it comes from outside myself. It’s nature or other art, or a good teacher, or music, literature, everywhere you see something that grabs you. When I was young and worked full time and exercised every day and had a house, husband and kid, I wasn’t into drawing and painting. I still had a lot of ideas but when you’re young and you have a lot of obligations and distractions it’s easy to put art on a back burner. I always knew if I lived long enough a time would come when I could concentrate on art. To me art and craft are the same thing. Back then I was inspired to take a pottery class or two. I was inspired to make gingerbread houses and carve pumpkins among other things. Is the inspiration to sew or cook something special less than the inspiration to paint? I say it’s all the same. If I don’t feel like painting it’s because I’m on something else.

I had a lot of stress back in those days but I don’t think stress kills inspiration in my case. It’s that there’s only 24 hours in a day and I like to sleep too. There were a few years when my mind was in a turmoil. Art gave me the chance to” live in the moment”. It’s a good break for your mind if you’re under stress. I think all that advise you read about living in the moment and giving up the past, whatever is eating you, is too idealistic. It’s not like you have switches in your brain where you can just turn off thinking about that bad thing. When you can spend a lot of time alone you have to go back over it again and again until you figure it out. Then you can get some peace of mind. There’s a lesson to be learned from whatever your mind is fixated on. You have to face it. Masking the problem with pills won’t stop it from coming back. Plus the meds could suck the spirit out of your work, if you’re an artist, by numbing your brain.

The main thing about inspiration is that it requires time alone to work for me. It helps to eliminate some things from your life if you’re a very busy person.

About this drawing: It was so windy that flower was blowing all over the place. I drew a moving target. It was real good practice because after drawing so many magnolias I had to work faster and observe then sketch and observe again when the flower blew back. I had to work faster and it wasn’t too bad because charcoal doesn’t show up on this paper anyway, so, just skip it. With flowers, if you get it wrong no one knows.

 

Magnolias getting floppy / pastel and chalk

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These flowers are huge. I’m sketching them life size on 9 x 12″ paper and they’re running off the edges. When I do a painting of this next year I’ll have to paint them smaller but drawing large is easier than painting small. These are for practice.

Vine charcoal doesn’t work well on this dark paper so I have to skip that step and block in the general shapes with pastel and chalk. The more flowers I draw the easier it’s getting but these sketches still took around two hours each.  For my painting I need about three times the number of magnolia studies I have. Then I can eliminate the ones I don’t like. The tree has some buds so I might be able to get a couple more sketches in before they all turn brown and fall off. I’ll have to go back next year and do more. IMG_2232

Spring has sprung around here.

Magnolias wide open / pastel and chalk

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Last time I saw this tree all the flowers turned yellow overnight. It still had a lot of buds. Now all the second buds are open and it looks like the cold didn’t damage them. The tree is more beautiful than before. I hope I can get more sketches before they wilt. But it’s pretty even when they get yellow.IMG_2227

My next apartment is on the other side of town from the botanical garden so I want to get flowers sketched until I move. Then I’ll be hanging around at the ocean front more. I’ll still go to the garden but not as often.

 

Good things about having no roots

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The main thing is not getting attached to stuff. Every time I move I either give away or throw away paintings. I’m tired of this one so I put it in the lobby of my apartment. Let’s see if it gets picked up. If nobody wants it by tonight I’ll pitch it. If it gets taken I’ll put another one there next week.

I’m leaving an expensive new “luxury” apt. It’s overpriced. When I signed the lease they had a security guard in the parking lot at night. Then when they had most of the apts. filled they let the guard go. Then cars got broken into. Not mine. The false fire alarms here were so annoying. It’s not only one apt, it’s the whole building and it happened about 15 times in a year and a half. Good thing I’m healthy, but I was a little worried it would scare my Mom or give a friend a heart attack when they came to visit. Then when it was time to renew the lease they wanted to raise the rent $78. I handed in my notice to vacate and started looking at other apts. Then I got an email saying they would only go up $45. I wrote back no thanks. Then I got an email saying they would go up $20. I said no. Then they said they would keep the rent the same. I said I’m out of here. I’m so glad I’m free.

I’m so glad I make all my own decisions and don’t have to listen to any drama.

I’m the freest damn yankee in VA.

Magnolias in the rain / happy accident

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When I got to the tree today I was surprised to see that a lot of the flowers are turning brown before they open but it’s a nice yellow ochre. I think the one on the left is a bud I sketched a couple days ago. I was glad I brought a yellow ochre pastel along.

Before I left home I checked the weather and there was a 5% chance of rain with the chance going way up in a few hours so I thought I could get a little sketching in. Guess what 5% I was under.

It started as a few drops and I continued to sketch. Then it was a pretty good shower and I took shelter under a tent for a few minutes hoping it would stop raining. It messed up my sketch and I thought about giving up for today. Then it eased up some so I finished the sketch.

I couldn’t blend or do any erasing on that flower on the left. The rain made my pastels run and smear. I thought WOW! This rain is giving my sketch that fast loose happy accident look so prized in the art world these days! Maybe I should draw in the rain more often! Crazy though it seems.

Magnolias till they drop

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My goal this month, besides moving, is to sketch as many magnolias as I can. Next year I’ll do a painting but the more flower sketches I get in advance, the better.

It was cold out there yesterday and even colder today, so I might get back to the tree this afternoon, but I’m not sure if I will.IMG_2220

This is one reason why my paintings aren’t marketable, they take a long time in the planning stage. People seem to want art to be spontaneous and fast. They don’t want to pay for the time it takes for me to finish a painting but if I could ever sell a painting I expect it to pay the rent. I’d rather throw my  old paintings away when I move or give them to my friends than sell them cheap.

Yesterday I worked on this sketch for about an hour and a half and got this far. First I blocked in the general size and shape of the flowers with the side of a small piece of charcoal then erased the excess and drew some lines. Then I erased the lines that were in the wrong place and redrew my lines. Then I erased again when I started in with pastels. Now you may say,” Chris, Why don’t you learn to draw faster?”  I’d say, “If I liked to rush I wouldn’t have moved to Virginia in the first place, I’d have gone to New York. Also, why rush if you have the time and you enjoy what you do?”

Sometimes I think I can give in to peer pressure and paint fast, but why should I? I like my  nonprofessional, “amateur” status and can’t conform to art society rules for very long, when I do try.

Between these sketches and the ones I do next year for the painting I’m planning, I could have 20 hours or more in the sketching phase. My painting won’t come out like I want it to if I skip this step.

Magnolias / pastel

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These flowers are so big when they open that only one will fit on this size sketchbook paper. If the weather holds up I’ll go back with more paper next time.

If I do a painting of this tree I’ll only do a few branches not the whole tree. Maybe next year. I’ll put a piece of glassine paper over this sketch to save it. Most of the time I just put the sketch back in my sketchbook and they get smeared.

There’s also some lichens I want to sketch before it gets crowded at Seashore St. Park. I love their texture.

And I have a great plan to produce a video of a conceptual art piece on the beach. It’s still too cold for that but I’m excited about this movie I want to make. It’s a secret. You will freak out. My daughter said she’ll help me with it.

Star Magnolia / charcoal, chalk and pastel

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Sketching is more important to me than painting at this point in time. In a few weeks I’ll be moved into my new apartment, then I’ll have time to start on a landscape painting. I have a lot of my things packed but if I keep making a little progress every day on that job it’ll be under control on moving day. I’ve moved so many times in the past 15 years that it’s no big deal anymore. In fact it makes me feel free to know if anything bugs me about the place I can leave. I don’t have too much stuff.

It’s great to get out to sketch even if it’s cloudy. And sketching regularly will make me a better painter, if what our teachers at YAA told us is true. It will take years, but you just have to keep at it even if you only have a couple hours to sketch some flowers.

These flowers change fast. I sat down for a few minutes and when I looked at my sketch again the petals had moved. At first they have a pale pink line and as soon as they open they start to yellow.

Next time it doesn’t rain I’ll try to sketch some purple magnolias.

Daffodils / mixed media

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I’m not crazy about the yellows I got with my oil paint sticks for this one. I hoped it would look yellower on a violet background. They’re still too green. I might try again with pastels next time it doesn’t rain. But I saw some other plants blooming that I also want to sketch so I’m not sure if I’ll continue sketching daffodils or just wait until next year and do a painting of them.

Today when I got back to my car in the parking lot at the botanical garden, I saw a squirrel sitting at my front tire with something big and white in its mouth. When I got in the car the squirrel ran over to the trees but came right back. I sat there for a few minutes getting my things together for my next stop and the squirrel came back to my car. I heard this scratching sound under my car and got out to look. The squirrel ran away but came back and started scratching again so I started the car and he only went about 15 ft. from the car then came back. I inched forward and saw him going to the trees. I wonder what he was stealing off my car. That was weird.