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.

testing testing new laptop / sewing problem

OMG! I got this new laptop and figured out how to use it all by myself! Aren’t you proud of me?! I am because I have this aversion to computers and I thought I’d have to wait a long time for my daughter to help me since they have covid in spite of being vaccinated and boosted. I’m getting a booster next week but it seems like the shots aren’t working very well.

The weather hasn’t been good to draw in Plein air so I made this little hooded vest for my granddaughter using Butterick B6372.

The pattern calls for a 12 inch separating zipper. I checked it 3 times! I’m sure I cut on the lines and followed the directions exactly but it came out with the zipper too long! There’s not enough fabric to do a bottom hem! If I extended the zipper at the top instead of at the bottom it might get in the baby’s neck, so I let the excess off the bottom.

I figured out a way to finish it by using wide bias tape on the bottom instead of a hem. It worked and looks ok because the pattern calls for bias tape around the arm holes, so it matches. I think they didn’t try the pattern at the pattern factory because a 12″ zipper doesn’t work with a medium size. In fact I didn’t see any 10″ separating zippers in the stores. Problems like this happen all the time with sewing projects. You can spend time and money on projects that don’t work out or don’t look like the pattern, or thousands of other things always go wrong. Most sewing problems have a solution. Sometimes you have to think it over for a little while, put it aside, and the answer comes to you. Or throw it away. That’s how sewing is like painting. It could be a big waste of time. It could test your patience and it might work out, or not.

I’ll show a picture of the new princess modeling this as soon as I can.

a view at Stumpy Lake / charcoal and chalk

It was cool and sunny today with no big wind, so much nicer than yesterday for your plein air artist.

I tried to find a place in Portsmouth that was recommended to me but couldn’t find the right road so I came back to the beach and went on down to Stumpy. I walked off the path about 50 ft. towards the swamp and sat on a mossy root that was out of the muck a little and sketched. No one could see me. I wouldn’t go off the path except it’s been cold so I thought I’d be safer from things that bite.

The background trees were sunlit and the closer trees were mostly shaded. There was a little ice on the water. I stayed for over an hour to get this sketch. I might try to do a watercolor there some time while it’s still winter but I’d also like to go back to the bent tree and try again with pastels on a big paper.

I counted 4 great blue herons on my way out and an equal number of photographers. I bet Stumpy is popular with bird watchers.

bent tree over marsh and plein air gloves

This sketch came out real messy and I don’t care.

They said this is the coldest day in 3 years with the temp right around freezing all day and a brisk Northerly wind. It doesn’t get very cold here. I bundled up and went out to sketch and shop a little, not because I’m so dedicated to art but because the sun’s out and I’m tired of hanging around at home.

You’ll never guess what I saw, a sexy soldier jogged past me wearing shorts and a T shirt. Yes, ladies, if you appreciate seeing a strong male bod all year long the beach is the place to be! hahah I love those guys!

I sketched quick and I’m not excited about the sketch but the first one of any subject is for me to decide if I like the location for drawing or painting. Is it safe, am I in anyone’s way, do I need a larger paper etc. I need to make a lot of decisions before I start on a project. These are a few of them. Yes, I do need a larger paper. The tree is more graceful than I drew it. I always seem to cramp my trees on a too small paper at first. I find it easier to draw larger.

The gloves on the bottom of the pic are my plein air gloves that I’ve been wearing for so many years I forget how old they are. I cut off the finger tips then the seams frayed so I sewed the loose ends together by hand. The paint is dry. I might have to buy some new ones but these are so nice!

My fingers got cold today, so I switched to the blue pair but then I kept smearing the charcoal so I gave up on neatness for this sketch. Another decision I have to make every time I start a new project is how much do I really care about it. Things like sketches or even mono prints, I don’t care about as much as I care if I decide to do a finished painting. Some artists worry too much about showing a sloppy sketch and you never see a bad one, and some artists don’t care at all and just sling some paint and see what they get. I find mental balance by caring sometimes and being apathetic other times. Either extreme, worrying too much what others will think or never even really trying to do the difficult thing, is not good. Striving for perfection even if it’s impossible, I say why not shoot for the ideal sometimes. It might improve my skill. Perfectionism has its time and so does the messiness of an art project.

Scouting for plein air inspiration @ Paradise Creek and Stumpy Lake / photos

kayak launch at Paradise Creek park

It’s in Chesapeake. With a name like Paradise Creek I thought it needs a golf course. It backs up to the shipyard and the area doesn’t look very prosperous.

I was surprised to find an art installation.

I think the pieces on the ground are strips of shiny metal but I didn’t go down there to get a closer look. The shiny metal cut outs of figures are to represent man in nature.

the plaque for the art
a view of the wetland at Paradise Creek

I walked on the path around the marsh. They have more paths but I didn’t try them all.

a footbridge in the background

Some other people were walking but I’m not sure if it would be safe for me to hang around alone and paint.

more marsh

At least I found my way over there on the first try without getting lost. I took the roads off the highway because the interstates are a little confusing and I don’t use the GPS. My car has it but you need to hook it up to a bluetooth and I don’t have that. When I want to scout a new place I Google it and try to remember the turns and roads, so I’m often lost. hahaha Well, if you’re an explorer you can’t let that scare you. Now, the interstates, yeah, scary. Why do they confuse me with 64E that doesn’t go East and then there’s 264, 464 and 664 to add to my confusion. Plus, I didn’t take my E-Z Pass and didn’t want to run into a toll.

This was good because since I’ve been at Virginia Beach for around 4 years now, I still have a lot of exploring to do and I need to find more escape routes in case of a flood or hurricane. They’re expanding the Hampton Roads tunnel which is my normal route to higher ground, but the traffic is bad. There’s a jam on that road every day, 64W.

I have no idea what’s in this thing

It’s on the shipyard property, as far as I can tell. There’s a bunch of them. They’re surrounded with piles of sand or stones or maybe metal. It’s an industrial looking area all around with small houses too.

This is Stumpy Lake with a Great Blue Heron. I saw 3 today.

The first time I tried to find Stumpy Lake I was lost and gave up and went home. The second time I did find it in the late afternoon and it was real pretty and looks safe. Today it was cloudy and not too cold. When I was there before it was sunny and the trees were lit up kind of orange in the afternoon sun.

The other day Stumpy Lake had a ton of egrets in the trees. I counted at least 20. Today I only saw a few along the shore.

I saw a lot of ducks. I think they were cormorants, mallards and mergansers but I wouldn’t bet money those are the correct names.

Stumpy Lake backs up to a golf course so you can’t walk along the shore from the parking lot but they do have a trail through the woods that is very much covered by tree roots and runs next to a swamp.

I found a few places to sketch in my recent scouting expeditions. Normally I don’t take my camera when I go out driving around to do recon but today I did. I can’t use any of these photos for a drawing or painting. As you can see, they’re a little boring as far as photos go. I’m sure a pro photographer could show you the beauty much better but I’m planning on going back to Stumpy Lake to sketch this week. It’s going to get cold again. I’ll have it to myself.

sketch of the Maya corn god and weird dream

He’s made of terra cotta at the VMFA

This morning I woke up at the crack of dawn and turned on the weather channel. It was cold and there was news of a huge traffic jam on 95 in VA. that people were stuck in their cars all night because of snow. I went back to sleep on the sofa and this is what I dreamed.

I was outside and a lot of people were walking around, then Donald Trump came out of a building and he was mad! He said, “Where’s Eddie!?” some people pointed in Eddie’s direction so I ran ahead of Trump and found him. Eddie was a guy I knew years ago that dated one of my friends. I ran up to him and said,” Eddie, you have to run and hide! Trump is after you!” He looked at me like he didn’t care, like he was extremely bored. Then Trump’s men started to Duct tape Eddie to a pillar and Trump was going to flog him!

I yelled out, ” Mr. Trump, Stop!” and Trump looked at me as if to say, “Whothehell are you?” I heard clapping and looked. Across the street some people from India were sitting on a stoop clapping because I stopped Trump. I knew they were from India by their clothes.

I sat down at a bar because I wanted to order some food and Trump sat right on top of me! He was facing away from me but holding me down. I said to Trump, “It’s a good thing you didn’t flog Eddie, you would have caused yourself a worse problem than Eddie ever caused you.” He didn’t answer.

A few minutes later I was still hungry and I said, “Mr. Trump, do you want to get lunch?” He was surprised. He said, “You want lunch?” I said, “Did you already eat?” Then he let me up and I started walking. Everyone was walking and it was crowded.

I was supposed to go to PA. and pick up my Dad and bring him to VA. ( My Dad died in 2001.) I was tired and hungry. It’s a long walk. I tried to call my Dad to say I’d be late, but when I dialed the area code the numbers changed. I thought, darn it, I need a new phone and a car. I kept walking.

A bunch of people were working under a bridge. They had a table set up. A lady said to me, “You’ve been here before.” I walked on some more.

I passed a place where they were setting up for a concert. It was an Elton John look alike who called himself Pelton. They were setting up a buffet and I grabbed some ham and cheese off the buffet and kept walking.

Then I woke up.

That’s my dream. Do you think it has any meaning? Or is it random stuff in my subconscious? I haven’t thought of Eddie for years because I think my friend might be dead. I tried to call her years ago and left messages but she never called me back, which is weird because we hung around a lot and had some good times back then.

I drew the corn god years ago and pulled him out of the flat file for this post.

my granddaughter

I have to admit, I always thought Christmas didn’t live up to the hype. Like all that Christian stuff isn’t for me and neither is the family love and support thing. Neither is the shopping. Most Christmases were stressful, lonely, etc. I’m always glad when it’s over. When my daughter was little it was more fun but that was long ago.

This year I have a good reason to be happy and I think it will be even better when I can play with my granddaughter, who I thought would never be born. Today she was sleeping on her Dad’s shoulder.

This is why I want to tell people who are depressed during the holidays, hang in there. Things change. I’m not singing carols or watching sappy movies but this is a big improvement. A new hope for the future.