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.

waves looking South with unexpected figure drawing practice / charcoal and chalk

The weather hasn’t been great around here lately. It cooled off a little the past few days but stayed real humid and we had rain. Today was great out there! We have a nice breeze from the Northeast so I faced South. I was getting started on my sketch and two ladies sat right in front of me. They were wearing backpacks that I didn’t want to draw. So, I only got the one figure in the sketch. She was moving around and looking at me but didn’t know what I was doing.

The wind blew my paper half off the drawing board but I had a roll of tape in my bag. When I hurriedly taped it the paper didn’t go down evenly. That’s why there’s a shade in the sky, where the paper is slightly warped.

A man stopped to talk and asked if he could take my picture so I said yes. Then I asked if he could email the pic to me and he said he can’t off this. He was holding an expensive camera. Then he said he didn’t have anything to write my email address on and I said I have something to write on. He obviously didn’t want to do it. He said carry on with what you’re doing and left. Made me kind of mad. It reminds me of some other people I know who don’t mind asking me for what they want and I say ok but when something is important to me, no can do. If I insist they ghost me. The jerks.

Most people that take my pic out there will at least try to send it to me even if I can’t use it for some reason.

I stopped at the Happy Oyster on my way home and got some fried oysters to treat myself. They were delish, as always.

We have more rain coming in this week. I hope I can get out to draw another morning real soon.

Atlantic Ocean looking NNE / charcoal and chalk

This is my favorite spot so far to draw waves. They redid the path from the parking lot to the beach and put a nice thick mat all the way over the dunes to the beach.

It was calm and the waves were small again. Flies were biting me even though I used bug spray. It was getting too hot and humid by the time I left. I worked on this for around an hour. It was still nice to get out on the beach and sketch.

They had a sale at Jerry’s Artarama and I got 3 of these big pieces of Canson Mi Tientes paper for $6!

Atlantic Ocean looking Southeast / charcoal and chalk

The wind was calm and the sky was reflecting on the water as I was looking in that direction. The waves were small.

A couple guys were fishing and I tried to sketch one but it was pretty weak so I erased it.

A lady with a camera stopped and asked me what kind of tracks those were in the sand. I hadn’t noticed them. I thought they were raccoon tracks but I’m not sure. She said she saw the same tracks about 1/4 mile down the beach. She also saw a sign that said there are bob cats in the area. So we can’t completely rule out a bob cat. I didn’t have my camera.

This spot is a little easier to get to so I might take my camera along some time.

These are my Kneaded erasers that I use to work with charcoal and chalk or pastel.

I bought a new one to replace the oldest one on the bottom of the photo. The one in the middle is getting old but still workable.

They’re not exactly sticky but they’re tacky. To clean them you stretch it like taffy and fold it back over on itself. Keep doing that a few times and it’s renewed.

Kneaded erasers are great for charcoal because it doesn’t matter how many times you erase, you won’t wreck the paper.

Atlantic Ocean looking North on large paper / charcoal and chalk

Every time I drive to the ocean front to draw I am so happy. This is the best thing for me. My therapy. I think what did I do to deserve this? Must have been something real good because I never thought I’d retire to the beach and get to do this. But I don’t really believe in karma. You could look at it another way if you did believe in karma. You might say this is a consolation prize for all the s— I been through in my life. Now I get to sit by the ocean and draw.

Anyway, I think I’m improving on my waves. I’ll do more sketches then when I have a few taped to the wall I can pick the best waves and try to do them again in a painting.

I see a texture on the ocean so I don’t want to paint it flat. I’m experimenting with background waves a little too. To do the ocean I filled it in with charcoal but not solid, then I went back and erased and blended the charcoal into the paper, blending and lifting some out at the same time to give it some unevenness and hopefully wavy directions. Then I wanted a little swell so I added a little more charcoal and didn’t blend it down.

Drawing with charcoal, for me, is as much erasing as it is drawing. And it goes faster than a pencil because you can use the side of the charcoal and block in a large areas faster. It took me around 2 hours to get this sketch. Also, a beach is a simple scene, sand, sky, ocean, little bit of dunes far away, and a misty horizon. I’d get bored drawing the same thing again and again but not this because it’s always changing and the waves move. Plus, it is so sweet to just hang around there on a nice morning. Tiring to lug my gear over the dune, but worth it.

wave sketch on larger paper / charcoal and chalk

It was really nice out there this morning with a strong wind from the North. Lots of people were out running, biking, and walking on the way in, but not many on the beach.

It rained last night so the sand wasn’t blowing because it was still wet, but I had to face South to draw. I collapsed my beach cart and leaned my drawing board on it and sat on the sand with my back to the wind.

When I’m trying to observe waves there’s so much going on. You have the wet sand, the sand with a thin layer of water, water rushing back out, big bubbles, water between waves (which direction is that going?) breakers, water in front of breakers and water behind breakers, all moving at once in different directions.

It’s hard to say when to stop. The temptation is to draw too many waves.

The dry paint on my drawing board from previous paintings is showing through causing a texture in the sky. Next time I’ll have to put a few pieces of newsprint under my pastel paper so that doesn’t show up again.

I bought 3 pieces of Canson Mi Tientes pastel paper so I could do 6 large sketches of waves using both sides of the paper. That might be enough practice before I paint the scene because I did wave sketches in the past only smaller. It’s kind of a haul lugging my supplies down the road and the path then over a dune. The beach cart makes it possible. I guess the exercise won’t hurt me.

Lynnhaven Inlet / charcoal and chalk

It wasn’t hot when I got there but it was when I left. Good thing I got out early.

As I was sitting there on the sand sketching, I saw a whole school of little fish jump several times. I made good progress on the sketch and then this guy started fishing there. I tried to sketch him as fast as I could. I thought it would be good to give my scene some scale. He kept moving the whole time and only cast out a few times then left. I think he didn’t want to be in my sketch.

Then the second guy came in and a boat pulled right up to him and asked him if he caught anything and he said yes he had extra fish so he gave one to the guy in the boat for free. They talked about shad which were right there.

I was excited to get some unexpected figure drawing in this morning. I want to practice drawing moving subjects as often as I can because it’s a challenge. Things like waves, clouds, people etc. Whatever is moving. If I get enough practice it will eventually improve my drawing skill.

I’d like to do a painting of this scene too. Larger, because I kind of squished the bridge slightly in this sketch.

beach sketch / charcoal and chalk

It was so nice out on the beach early this morning after a long stretch of heat and humidity. Then it rained but the weather changed. It was cloudy but not hot and the bugs weren’t after me even without the DEET. Not many people were there. No fishermen. I don’t know if it’s because it’s Tues. or if rain is coming in. I should check the weather because I’d like to go to another spot later.

One thing I like about this view is that I could get some aerial perspective in the painting by looking the long way up the beach. The buildings on the horizon are faint.

There were no shadows or much contrast at all so I sketched some birds in. They were the darkest things out there. Then I put a few big ghost crabs in too, coming out of their holes.

I could get more waves in the picture if I had a bigger paper.

I meant to tint this paper gray but it came out black. I think it will still work because oils are mostly opaque and it’s good to start dark and work up to the light colors. I put some blue in the sky but it’s not dry yet.

begonia cubed / oils

It was a little scary to paint the flowers with my brushes taped to yard sticks. I couldn’t decide, should I put a coat of Maroger medium on it first in case the brushes bobbing around on the end of yard sticks made a really bad blip? Because with the medium on the dry painting first I could easily wipe off a mistake. Then I thought Matisse probably didn’t use Maroger medium and if I want to try to paint like him I should skip it.

After I got going it wasn’t as bad as I thought but my brushes did go all off in places.

I never saw a painting by Matisse that I didn’t like. If I could copy his style that would be a real accomplishment to me. But I can’t just copy one of his paintings because mine would look like a bad imitation. I have to wing it a little because this isn’t something they taught at the academy. And also, every artist is different, so you’re supposed to do your own thing. I did try to find his style. I’ll keep working on it. Too bad he’s dead. I can’t shoot him an email and ask.

This close up shows a brush stroke gone wild in the red on the flower and in the blue that went over the stem.

Oops, the blue cut right through that stem. Should I fix that? I’d like to fix it but something tells me not to.

I don’t know. I guess this is the best I can do for modern art at this point in time. I made it as bright as I could. I’m pretty sure Matisse mixed his colors instead of using them straight out of the tube.

Look at my beautiful palette

Am I crazy to be excited about my palette?

The greens, grays and blue are leftovers and I covered them with plastic wrap. They’ll stay soft and workable for weeks but will partially thicken up.

I tried to match the colors of my begonia and rejected a few of the mixes on the right which still look like neat blobs. I think the right colors for the flowers are between the ones I mixed. That’s close enough for lights and darks.

The two I liked for the light areas of the petals and the two I liked for the shadows are all messed up because I thinned them with terpenoid to make them slightly runny.

Mixing paints on the palette with a palette knife is real fun.

I decided to leave my begonia painting rough. I mean I’m not going over the background and leaves again. That’s the modern art way and I’m trying to go modern. Once and done.

I particularly like this smear. Now you see why I need the large palette. The blue is left over from the background and it’s covered with plastic wrap. I started thinning the red with turpentine and it accidentally bled over the blue and some blue got into the red. I had to quick scrape up the red and move it away from the blue.

The background is gray because I have duct tape on the back of the glass. It’s easier to see what colors you’re mixing on a gray background than on a white background. And the duct tape keeps the glass from breaking and making a problem when I’m out in plein air. I’ve had the same piece of glass on the palette for years.

These are the colors I want to use all thinned down nicely so they flow off my brush and make nice brush stroke textures.

ok, I’ll get back to painting, but I have all day and it’s hot and humid so you get to see this because I don’t want to go out. I have time to stop and take pictures of my palette and write a little. I hope it’s not boring.

begonia cubed / update

The background was easier to paint than I thought it would be and I like the blue, but now my dark green leaves look too dark and because I taped my brushes to yardsticks the blue and green smeared.

I might work on the leaves again today. You can see some smears in this close up. I’m not sure if I’ll go over the background again or not. Darn it. I should make that decision before I repaint the leaves.

I wish I could ask Matisse for advice. I don’t want advice from Picasso. hahaha What would Matisse say?