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.

swamp painting in the swamp

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A lady walking on the trail behind me stopped to take this photo and emailed it to me. I think it’s better than my photos. My painting kind of blends in with the scene.

I’m so excited! It was nice out this morning and I made some good progress on it! I’m almost done! Just another week or so, after all this time! I think it was in Nov. I started drawing for the painting. And for so many years I wanted to capture the scene.

unfinished swamp painting / debriefing w details

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I got a start on painting the reflections. Now I feel better about it because that was a real hang up. I’d put some dark green in the reflections today, but it’s still smeary from yesterday, so, maybe later or tomorrow. That’s one reason I think amateur status is better for me than professional. There’s no reason for me to rush through something difficult. I imagine if I was a real pro and art paid the bills I’d hate it pretty quick, like a real job. hahaha I can’t take the pressure.IMG_2419

The sun was streaming into my apt when I took this photo. It’s showing the colors better. You can see some detail in the Spanish moss. I like to blob in some paint and scribble through it with my palette knife to make textures. The green needles on the left will get another glaze because that’s part of the foreground and still unfinished.IMG_2422

I like this section at the top left of the painting because it shows aerial perspective from far away and from close up it shows layers of glazes working. It’s a secondary focal point because orange and blue are complimentary colors. There’s a tint of orange in the leaves and that’s enough contrast with the blue to pull the viewers eye into that area to rest.IMG_2424

It’s fun when branches make windows and you can see the background between them. This is a way to give the painting more depth. The trees and branches are giving the painting rhythm. It could be a modern jazz rhythm because I can’t dance to it. (metaphorically speaking)

After I finally made some progress on the reflections I can visualize how to finish this painting  but it still needs a lot of work on the reflections and cypress knees in the foreground.

I feel like this painting reveals a lot about me if anyone can analyze it. It might look like realism to you but it’s not much like reality. I’ll see if I can get a photo of the swamp for you to compare to my painting when I finish it.

I think it’s not realism or impressionism. I sure didn’t capture a moment. I’m capturing a whole season. At no point in time did the swamp ever look like this. I’m trying to think what style or “ism” my painting fits into. would you call it contemporary classicism? abstract expressionism? I don’t want to sign my paintings any more. Anyone that knows my paintings will know this is mine.

unfinished from 2019 swamp update

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I swear I will finish this. I have excuses for the delay. Holidays, weather, lethargy, etc. Plus, this is the hard part and I tend to slow down even more when faced with it.

I painted some Spanish moss then put the painting aside for a week or more. I went to the swamp to walk and observe the reflections but didn’t take the canvas. I’ll have to paint the reflections at home so I can make them look like a dim mirror of the trees. There’s no need to take all my gear out there. It took me weeks to think this through.

I decided to make the reflections exactly mirror the trees because the water is flat, no movement. They should have fuzzy edges and not be as bright as the trees. The reflections should be the trees upside down and in the right places directly under the trees.  I tried to flip them using tracing paper and charcoal. The charcoal didn’t show up so I tried chalk and that worked. Now I can visualize the reflections on the canvas! It took hours.

The next big step that’s slowing me down is mixing the colors again. That could take hours. Then, painting the reflections will be slow because I want to go over the edges with my fan brush and slightly blend them.

After I get the reflections painted I’ll do another coat of glazes on the foreground and make it brighter.  I can go back to the swamp to finish the painting. Painting at home is boring compared to painting in Plein air. There’s too many distractions here too.

Now I’m really going to finish this. For sure. I promise.

 

existential meme / stolen from cyanide and happiness

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I’m going out for a long drive today and tomorrow. My daughter’s going along with me to bring my Mom to VA from PA. Then she’s taking Mom home after  xmas and I’m staying home. I did that drive alone for so many years then stopped a few years ago. Now Sarah wants to make the drive and asked me if I want to go along this year, so I’ll drive the first half of it. Traffic will be heavy. Weather ok.

Enjoy your holidays, friends! ttyl

swamp painting update

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This painting is testing me. I’m kinda scared but I will finish it.

Since I last posted an update on it, I’ve worked on it another 6 hours or so, and I don’t know if you can see the progress. I finished the background which I warmed up a little with a glaze of warm gray brown in the shadows on the ground and a lighter warm gray brown in the far away trees next to the sky. I added more light green to the tree tops in the middle ground, and went over the middle ground trees twice. That makes 3 times I painted the middle ground trees and background, once in the underpainting and twice with light and dark glazes. The middle ground isn’t finished. I haven’t painted the Spanish moss.

The weather is holding up my progress. One day it was cloudy when I got up and I almost wrote off the day but the sun came out later and I took my paints to the swamp and mixed some colors to indicate sunlight and shadows on the water. It was too late in the day to take my canvas over there because the light is best early in the morning. By noon the shadows are all washed out by light. When I got home I faked in some light and shadows on the water because it’s not easy to see them, so no one will ever know if they’re not right.

Yesterday it was sunny and cold in the morning. I said, YEAH! I’ll have it all to myself! A few people walked behind me and only said good morning, so I made some good progress on my trees then suddenly it was cloudy so I packed up and came home and worked on my trees at home for and hour or so. I mixed my colors at the swamp and had my previous layers of paint to go by, so I’m sure what I did at home will be ok. Sometimes I try to work on a painting at home then when I get back out I have to correct everything I did at home.

We’re getting a lot of cloudy and rainy weather. I might be able to work on the Spanish moss on Sunday. Then more rain until Wed. or Thurs.

The scary part is the water. I’ll have to paint reflections, maybe a lot of reflections. It could take a long time, I don’t know. I’m not sure how to paint the water but first I need to do the Spanish moss because it will also be reflected in the water.

One good thing about painting in this style is that every mistake can be corrected. If I can’t paint the water convincingly the first time I can paint over it. I should get a start on the cypress knees in the foreground before starting on the reflections because they will also be reflected. I’ll have to trace my trees and flip them upside down to get the reflections in the right place. Sometimes the reflections are like a mirror, a blurry mirror.

The last steps after the water will be to go over the cypress knees a second time and paint a lot of sticks. Last year in the winter I saw a beautiful red glow on the skinny sticks but I didn’t see it so far this winter. Maybe the atmospheric conditions have to be right, because I’m pretty sure it was the dead of winter and in the morning I saw the red glow. If it doesn’t come back I might fake it.

The slow pace of progress on this is ok for me. I have patience.

I have the painting propped up in the living room and I often glance over at it.  I can see what I need to work on next. If only the sun would come out for a few days, I’d be so happy. Meanwhile, I might try to do a watercolor at home. I have a little poinsettia that would make a good subject.

meme #2

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Let’s all mock the art world. This piece of  “art” is probably Dada, which is the anti art. The concept is to be outrageous, to shock or amuse you. Are you shocked or amused? I’m not.

Every idiot involved with this should get audited by the IRS because it looks like a money laundering scheme to me.

I can do trash art too. Stay tuned for “Mashed Potato Venus de Milo”. I’ll be FaMoUs!1

 

swamp painting progress report

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Half finished

It’s real nice painting outside when it’s in the 40s F. (cool for my Celsius reading friends) Not too many people walk across the overlook distracting me. My attention span seems to last around 2 hours. When I can see I’ve made some progress I start to feel the cold. I’m wearing layers, but standing still, except to sit on a cold bench sometimes for a break.

I went there twice this week and stayed 2 hours each time and got the background under control and started on the trees on the right. Tomorrow they’re calling for cloudy weather. That’s ok, I’d like to wait a day or so for this paint to dry before I go over it again. Giving a layer of paint time to dry helps eliminate the problem of “muddy colors” because you can put a warmer glaze over a cooler one,  cooler to warmer, lighter or darker, any direction you want it to go without mixing the paint on the canvas. Instead the viewers eye mixes the colors and sees a brighter gray, green, brown, orange, whatever.  That’s one trick to avoid muddy colors.

Another trick to remember is not to mix the colors with your paintbrush. Mix the colors with a palette knife on the palette. Keeping the colors clean, even if they’re gray. For this you need a brush for each color. Mixing colors with a brush on the canvas causes muddy colors, though I think artists worry too much about mud. (mud is part of nature)  Those two things make a difference to the eye of a trained art viewer.

We might get some rain next week. Hopefully, I can get back out there on Sat. or Sun. to work on this. If we get a few days of rain I’ll have to put this aside and find another project to amuse myself.

 

swamp underpainting / oil

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This is a 30 x 30 canvas. I need to do a detailed underpainting because this is a complicated plan. So far, I have my sunlight and shadows blocked in. The underpainting is an important step because this is when I make the most decisions. I can tell that it’s close to correct perspective because I can fit the trees in with spacing that’s close to what I see there. And I decided how much Spanish moss will be in the painting, how much water, where I want the most contrast in order to make focal points, etc.

Now I  have to go over the whole painting again, maybe twice, starting with the sky and the background trees at the top and working my way down the canvas into the foreground with layers of glazes. I’ll brighten it up a lot and give it some depth. I want the grays in the trees to look pearly so I’ll use warm and cool grays together and try to keep the values from light to dark with the same contrast as I see in nature.

I think the water will be the hardest part and it’s the last thing to finish. I don’t have that figured out yet.

This is a start. I have over 10 hours in it so far, and 6 trips to the swamp. including the times I sketched. It could still take weeks to finish because of the weather. I want to get there early in the morning and leave around 10 when the light is different and the park gets crowded. I didn’t expect to make this much progress this fast on the painting, so I think I can finish it in Dec.

the Brain aka glitter ball

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Do you remember that episode from the original Star Trek where Kirk and Spock go to a planet with those very highly evolved beings that don’t have a body, they’re only glowing orbs that communicate telepathically and have the power to  make things happen through thought? If I recall correctly, they forced Kirk and Spock to fight to the death. It seemed like the big glowing brains were so bored all they did was bet on sports that they forced on other species. One says, ” 100 quatloos on Kirk.” Then another says,” 1000 quatloos on Spock.” etc.  Kirk and Spock don’t kill each other and Scotty beams them up.  I’m not sure I have all the details right of that episode. It was a long time ago.

Also, a long time ago my husband brought home a Christmas decoration like this. It’s plastic cups with holes punched in the bottoms and lights in the holes. My daughter and I loved the thing. It had programmable lights, so they go through sequences. We called it the Brain and said it was communicating with us. When it flashes we said it’s angry. When it does a slow fade we thought it was at peace. You can just stare at it and it hypnotizes you.

I wonder what ever happened to that brain. I always missed it and wanted to try to make one when I thought of decorating for Christmas. I don’t usually decorate but this year I looked up how to make Christmas decorations out of plastic cups and watched a YouTube video. My first try didn’t work because the cups were the wrong kind of plastic. When I tried to staple them together they broke. Likewise when I tried to drill holes for lights. Then I went to another store and bought the Solo cups and they worked.

Now we have a brand new Brain. When I told my daughter I was making one she said she’ll be happy to see our overlord again.