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.

Sea and Sky / from memory

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This is my third try to represent a wave, painting at home from memory with my Inktense watercolor pencils. It’s on the back of a flop experiment. That’s why it has some smudges showing in the sky.  It’s another experiment, this time trying out masking fluid applied with my fan brush to mask out the white clouds, and  white oil paint stick used to mask out white foam on the wave.

I’m guessing which colors from the set of pencils to use after finally finishing with the big project of testing each color pencil by making washes from the darkest concentration of the color to the most washed out lightest version of the color.  That’s why I call that  that exercise  a gray scale. If black is 100% and white is 0% using gray, when you do a gray scale of a color you can estimate the value of the color. Some of the colors don’t get any darker than 30%. I have 3 pencils that go to black in the set, which is good.

Now I need to go back to the beach to see if the colors I picked are close to the colors of nature, or if I can make a better color.

It’s going to get unseasonably hot out there today. I’m not sure if I’ll go to the beach today or wait till tomorrow when it might be more comfortable weather. In the summer, if I don’t get up at the crack of dawn, it’s too hot to paint in plein air in the sun. In the winter, I have to wait until afternoon when it warms up enough to go out. That way I’m not suffering for art.

The time I spent goofing around at home with these pencils is going to help my chance of success when I seriously try to do a nice finished painting. You learn a lot through play. You can take a class and a good teacher can help immensely  but you still have to work on your own for a long time to get anywhere with art, at least that’s my experience.

 

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Space Crabs Digging Tunnels in the Crab Nebula / watercolor

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That was fun and easy. I think I’ll do another.

I’ll go back out and paint in plein air again real soon, but this could be my style if I live so long that I can’t drive, or some other horrible thing happens and I can’t get out in nature.

Plus, it gives the viewer a little glimpse into my subconscious.

 

untitled / watercolor pencils

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I wish I could be an abstract expressionist. Yesterday I read a blog, Vin de Vie Wine of Life, by Sarah Abraham. about an artist Oliver Lee Jackson who’s work is hanging in the National Gallery until Sept. 15. His paintings are so beautiful. At my art school, YAA, they discouraged us from that path. We had to plan our paintings. Abstract expressionism is painting from your subconscious, if  I understand it correctly, and we were expressly forbidden to do that. I distinctly remember our esteemed teacher Fitzkee saying , “Don’t clean out the cobwebs from your brain on your canvas, no one wants to see that.” I understood Fitzkee’s point of view.

But last night I just wanted to have a little fun with my Inktense pencils after working on that academic exercise for hours. The old school exercises can’t hurt if I’m trying to see the colors I can make with the pencils and learn to use them, but is scribbling blindly bad for my art?

I don’t really want the viewer to see the cobwebs or worse things in my brain. I thought abstract expressionism was for the artist to communicate their emotions to the viewer, and I’m not feeling at all emotional these days. (Thankgawd for less of that)  Does this  little play painting speak to you at all? Should I title it, “I Find Myself Amusing” ?

an art exercise I can’t avoid / watercolor pencils

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A month or so ago I bought this set of Inktense  pencils on sale. There’s two trays in the box and each pencil has the color on the end.  One day I was sitting on a sand dune trying to pick a color and they all fell out of the box. I tried to reorganize them but it looked like I have a lot of dark colors which are hard to tell apart from looking at the colored ends. I wondered if I had doubles of any color and how the lighter more water washed versions of these colors would look.

One reason my first attempt to use the pencils was a total flop is because I can’t pick my colors, so I knew I had to do this rather time consuming practice project. Just like back in my art school days, I started making gray scales with them starting with the dark colors.

I tried doing my gray scales on dry paper then putting water on top and also tried making the paper wet first and doing my gray scales into the wet paper. The look was the same to me.

Then I realized I have to number them or I still won’t know what pencil makes what color. If I cut up my strips of color and tape them to the pencils the lid won’t fit on the box so I just put a piece of tape over a few pencils at a time and numbered them in case they get mixed up again. I can get a few pencils off the tape and try them out in Plein air and number my combinations then put the pencil back under the tape. I also left white strips between the colors because the water really brightens up the colors which all look gray when drawing on a dry paper. That way if they get mixed up I have spaces to match colors to pencils.

So, this is my plan. Take the whole set out with my colored strips to try to match the colors I see in nature and make notes of which pencils I used to get those colors. I haven’t even done half of the set and my hand got tired of holding the pencils. I’m left handed so I switched to holding the pencils with my right hand and it worked ok for this experiment. The sooner I can get all these pencils categorized the sooner I can get back out and try my hand at painting with them.

In the long run this exercise will give me a better chance of success in my next try on painting a scene. The thing I’m really hoping for is to put them in the basket of my bike and go farther off the beaten path than I could go with my oil paint supplies which are bulkier and heavier than the set of pencils. If I can get some good color roughs with my watercolor pencils then I can do a larger oil painting  at home. I want to paint that black water but I’ll never get a big canvas that far down the dirt road. I can’t drive there in my car but I can bike it.

Easter Egg Drops Acid, Thinks It Is One with The Universe.

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This is an experiment with Inktense  pencils.

I tried to draw an ocean wave at home with my new Inktense colors but got nowhere with that so I picked some colors and did and abstract. I like these pencils. they have strong colors. I tried drawing on dry paper then making it wet and I also tried drawing on wet paper and adding more water on top. They’re like watercolor pencils.

The real thing I’m excited about is the video I want to make this week. I’m just goofing around at home today because Virginia Beach is having a huge concert and I don’t want to go out in the heavy traffic. From what I saw on the news, the concert is a great success and there will be one every year, which is good for the city.

I hope I can do the video this week and get my daughter’s tech help to put it online real soon.

Back Bay / watercolor

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I don’t call myself a professional artist, here’s one reason why.

This painting is really a flop. Lucky for me, as an amateur, it doesn’t matter when a painting doesn’t work out. If I was a pro it would be a big embarrassing waste of time to goof around with something for hours, then I don’t like it. If I only knew what I was doing I could be good.  Yeah, I could be real damn good, but I’ll have to practice because doing watercolors isn’t as easy as the pros make it look.

I’ve taken a couple watercolor classes in the past and I might do that again, but I have a feeling it takes years to master watercolor.  I might buy some magazines and see if I can get tips. Or, if you have any advice, dear reader, I’d appreciate it.

I did this at home. I’ll go to Back Bay and try again in another beautiful spot.

 

 

 

 

The Beautiful Back Bay / charcoal and chalk

IMG_2246Finally! I have a sketch I’d like to work into a painting from Back Bay. I’ll take my watercolor pencils and give them a try.  I have very little experience with watercolors but they’re less bulky to take to a popular overlook than my oil paint supplies.

I want to explore and sketch more places there. This could take some time. Years.

The water isn’t finished in this sketch. Before I left home that day I checked the weather report and it said the wind was coming from the southwest but it would change to the northeast. When I got there the bay had nice ripple waves. First I started planning where the water would show and where the reeds would be, and the horizon. It seemed like that went fast, but when I looked at the water again it was CALM! The water looked like glass. I hate when it’s calm so I quit working on the sketch.

The weather is very important to your Plein air artist. It’s funny how fast it changes around here too. Good thing I can go back any time.

Back Bay / charcoal and chalk

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A couple days ago when it stopped raining I went down to Back Bay just to check it out and as soon as I started walking it rained again. I got soaked. I said I’d go back when it stopped raining. Then yesterday it was sunny and warm and dry but the wind was whipping. I took a bike ride anyway. I did good with the wind and even on a gravel road but the wind definitely made it more difficult. There were gusts that made me walk it a few times. And riding into the wind coming back made me too tired to sketch the beauty by the road.

I’d like to do a painting of the dark water with the almost white sedge. I stopped a few times to look at it and found a some places I could sketch on less windy days.

The water is almost black. It’s the mud on the bottom. I thought to myself, mud is beautiful. I could see layers of violet, brown red and blue to make it. Then with the contrast of the delicate grass growing in the mud and shining so brightly in the sun, it’s bleak and beautiful. Then in the background you might see trees far away or more water.

When I got back to the parking lot I sat in the car to sketch this view over the bay. Darn it, I got a little too much sun. I’ll have to stay in today which is disappointing because  I want to practice drawing and painting water.

 

Chenille Jacket modeled by my daughter

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Years ago my Mom showed me a jacket pattern and asked me if I wanted one. The pattern said you should use 3 colors. Black white and gray comes out looking elegant and red white and blue is striking. Mom made 3 of these. One for herself and another one for my sister. I don’t know what colors they picked because I never saw the jackets, but I loved mine and wore it out. I kept the old original.IMG_2239

A few years ago I asked Mom if she still had the pattern but she didn’t, so I pinned the old jacket to a piece of plastic packing paper and traced around it to make a pattern. It’s a very simple jacket, with the sleeves and front and back all one piece. But it can be difficult, and I ran into a few problems. Plus it’s time consuming. I have around 40 hours in this. I made one a couple years ago with green batik fabric and didn’t like it as much as the red white and blue one of old, and the batik fabric might not give the chenille look.

You have to wet it when you’re finished sewing and run it through the dryer to fluff it up. I did that for this photo, but I still haven’t washed the green batik one, that fabric seems stiffer than this cotton.IMG_2240

This is the old one on my work table. I can’t wash it again because the strips are coming off the shell. I think I should still keep it.IMG_2243

This photo shows the inside of the new jacket. Sometimes people want to see the stitch lines. I used a watercolor pencil to draw those diagonal lines on the shell 1/2″ apart for sewing my bias strips on. There’s also a lot of hand sewing on the inside all around the edges.

It’s probably not a marketable piece, considering the time and difficulties, but I knew I’d like it, so it was worth the time. If anyone else can sew and wants to make it I’ll give the pattern to them. I might be the only one with the nerve to wear it. It is kind of loud and proud.