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.

what they dug up @ the Ghost Ranch

IMG_2355

It’s hard to imagine this high desert was once a lush swamp, but 300,000,000 years ago at the end of the Triassic era, all the continents were joined in one extra large land mass called Pangea and even before the real age of the dinosaurs the ancestors of the crocodile were here. This is a Phytosaur.IMG_2356

This little one isn’t too scary. In fact he doesn’t have teeth. It’s an Effigion Okeeffeae, which means Ghost of O Keefe, after Georgia O Keefe’s Ghost Ranch where they found it. I wonder if I spelled all that right.

Tomorrow I’m going to get serious about sketching the scenery. I have a week here.

Advertisements

Taos Art Museum Fechin House

IMG_2354

This is the front of Fechin house. Nicolai Fechin was an artist and Russian. They have Russian themed things in the gift shop out back.IMG_2353

This is the back of the museum. It’s a privately owned house but they don’t live there. There’s also a studio in back and I peeked in. Some artists were taking a class.

They change their exhibits to include other Taos artists but Nicolai Fechin’s works are always on display.IMG_2352

This is Fechin’s “Indian Profile”. It’s larger than life, charcoal on paper. He did mainly portraits.IMG_2351

This is Nicolai Fechin’s self portrait. charcoal on paperIMG_2350

This is “Eva in Peasant Blouse” painted in 1933, oil on canvas.IMG_2349

This is the by other artist represented this month, Marjorie Eaton. “The Boy” charcoal on paper.

Marjorie Eaton / 1901 – 1986. She was born in California. Her dad was a doctor and her mom died when she was a baby, but her dad remarried and she loved her step mom. Marjorie’s step mom took her to Europe shopping for clothes.IMG_2348

Eaton came to Taos and was so inspired by the natives she became good friends with her models, and had an Indian boyfriend. I don’t know if they got married.

This is “Man in Cloak”, oil on paper mounted on board.IMG_2347

She painted this “Nude” at the San Francisco Art school in 1924. Marjorie was recognized for her talent and had an offer to study with Picasso, but the war happened and she didn’t get to go to Europe then.

She went to Mexico and loved it there. She became good friends with Diego Rivera and Freda Kahlo, among other famous artists of the time.

Darn it, my phone isn’t taking a charge. I’m heading up to the Ghost Ranch today where there might not be a signal anyway. If I can’t get it to charge this week out in the middle of nowhere, I’ll stop at a Verizon store before I head home.

Taos Pueblo photos

IMG_2344

The native Americans pass these apartments down through the generations. They are over 1000 years old and the oldest continuously inhabited homes. They don’t have electricity or running water. They’re adobe and require upkeep with more adobe added. When I was there I saw a bunch of guys working on their houses. As I was walking out I asked one guy if I could take a picture and he said no. I said ok and went on.

It seemed unfriendly to me because people often take my picture when I’m drawing in Plein air. They don’t always ask permission but I don’t really care.

There’s only about 50 people living there full time. The other pueblo owners come back for feast days and pow wows, Catholic and Native American celebrations.

IMG_2343

San Geronimo church / Catholic / built in 1850.

The guide said they also practice their native religion but she was not to talk about it. I guess they don’t want to spend the time on that subject.IMG_2345

This is Red Willow Creek which is their water supply. They go to the creek for drinking water, cooking, washing, and I saw guys getting water from the creek to mix their adobe. It’s fed by their sacred lake which was confiscated by the US government for a national park and then returned to them by Richard Nixon. They own thousands of acres besides the pueblo. They call themselves a sovereign nation but they pay taxes to the US.IMG_2346

This is the ruin of their original church that they were forced to build by the Spanish Conquistadors.  Built in 1619 and destroyed in the 1680 Pueblo revolt when the natives drove the Spanish back into Mexico. It was rebuilt and destroyed again by the US cavalry in the 1847 Taos revolt.  When the cavalry bombed it there were 150 women and children inside that got killed.IMG_2342

Before the Spanish came they didn’t have doors or windows on their pueblos for safety reasons, as protection from other raiding tribes. They went in and out through the roof.

When I pulled into Taos yesterday around 9:30 AM I ran into a traffic jam. After I checked into my motel I sent my daughter a text saying I made it to Taos. Then went back to see the pueblos but couldn’t get in because their wifi was down. They have wifi where they collect the entry fees. ($16). I planned to go back today but didn’t take my sketchbook because this is a one time visit for me.

I got a National park pass with unlimited visits for a year for $20 and got my money’s worth out of that at the sand dunes going in and out for 3 days, so the $16 per visit seems too expensive to me.

When I got into my motel the wifi was off over the whole town and Verizon was  off too, so there was no communicating with the rest of the world all day.

I drove up and down through the traffic a few times. Too many people shopping. It’s a tourist trap for sure. I couldn’t find a parking spot, gave up on shopping and came back to the motel and read my daughter, Sarah’s manuscript all afternoon which is a real page turner and I’m sure it will get picked up by a publisher.

This afternoon I’ll go to the Taos art museum. Maybe I can get another post done before I go to the Ghost Ranch tomorrow. I don’t know if they’ll have a cell phone signal at the Ghost Ranch. I read where it’s spotty up there for wifi too but they have it in the main lodge.

2nd try sketching at Great Sand Dunes National Park

IMG_2341

The weather is great. I was there all day working on this sketch but I took a long break and walked with the camera to take pix for my blogging friends.

Yesterday I wasn’t happy with my sketch because it didn’t show the panoramic view I hoped to get. I was sitting on a small dune to do the sketch. Today I sat on a bench behind the visitor center which is about 1/2 mile back from the dune and I think it came out better. I worked on my charcoal sketch for hours first. I find it difficult to do a panoramic sketch. The sketch keeps getting bigger and bigger as I’m going which means it’s out of control.

At least this is showing the scale of the dunes better because of the trees. The dunes are 750 feet tall, the largest sand dunes in North America.IMG_2335

Some wild flowers, asters, I guess. IMG_2334

Rabbit brush. The plaque says cows don’t like to eat it. Someone used the area to graze cattle and now there’s a lot of this because they ate all the tastier plants. That was long ago.IMG_2331

yucca. They’re small for a yucca. I think that’s what it is though. If not, please tell me.IMG_2330

horse brushIMG_2329

fringed sage. It’s a very delicate plant. This is a close up.IMG_2337

The two main grasses are blue grama grass and Indian rice grass. Aren’t they soft and delicate looking? I don’t know what the reddish brown plants are.

I learned so much today about this unusual ecosystem in the park. It has so many layers and they all depend on each other.

Elevation : 8170 feet. San Louis Valley with Sangre De Christo mountains.

Tomorrow I’m off to Taos New Mexico, which isn’t too far from here.

sand dunes and mountain side

IMG_2324

I went out at the crack of dawn to Sand Dunes National Park and the dunes had great shadows. First I walked out to the grassy knoll to have a look at the view from there. It’s fantastic! I went back to the car and got my watercolor paper and color swatches because it’s too far to lug even watercolors over the sand. I got plenty of exercise at the high altitude walking on the sand today. People go the whole way to the top and walk on the ridge. They surf down on boards too.

I thought it would be less weight to carry if I picked a few colors of Inktense pencils. As I was working on my charcoal sketch the light changed and the shadows were gone. It was getting close to lunch time. I decided to go back this afternoon and see if the shadows looked better a few hours later.

I wish I could draw a more panoramic view. This doesn’t give you the perspective. If I drew people on the ridge they would be tiny. This isn’t as much of the mountain as I’d have liked in the sketch, but at least I got the tree line in so the altitude is showing a little.

When I left the dunes a little while ago the shadows looked dramatic again.  I have one more full day that I can spend up there, then I’ll have to move on again, so I hope I can get another sketch tomorrow.

pix from the Great Sand Dunes National Park

IMG_2322

I have a new favorite road, 160. I’m in Alamosa, CO. IMG_2321 It was a longer drive from Pueblo than I thought it would be. And so amazingly beautiful all the way. I guess if you live up here you eventually get used to it, but I keep slowing down to enjoy it and the speed limit is 65. Everyone’s passing me. I want to sketch in the Sand Dunes tomorrow. Today when I got there it was lunch time already and I was hungry. They have a restaurant but I wanted to find a motel for tonight too. I’m not drawing or hiking on an empty stomach. So I left the dunes to get a sandwich in Alamosa. The towns are so few and far between, I don’t want to go all the way back to the dunes today. Tomorrow I’ll take something to eat and stay a while.

I’m at 7500 feet now, I think. This is the high road. If I had a 4 wheel drive I could go up past the tree line, but the Taurus can’t go there.

The motels here are booking up early so it’s good I left the dunes when I did because there might be no vacancies later. It’s early and the Motel 6 only had suites available so I took one for $135 or something like that. It’s a huge room.

I might go out and try to find this park the guy at the desk told me about, see if I can do a sketch this afternoon of the mountain. It’s only a few blocks away.

a view from the Sky Line Rd. Canon City CO.

IMG_2320

This morning I was talking to a guy and when I told him I’m an artist he gave me some great info on the most beautiful places. Canon City is around 40 miles west of Pueblo on 50, my favorite road. I was looking at it on the map last night. I drove through it going east long ago but I didn’t know about the Sky Line Rd. I was glad the young dude told me to check it out.

Pueblo is at 4600 ft. and it seems fine to me. Canon city is at 5500 ft and the Sky Line Rd. runs on top of one of the ridges up higher. When I pulled off 50 to the Sky Line Rd. at first I thought I was driving on a paved foot path, it’s that narrow. The guy asked me if I was afraid of heights. I’m not. But screw up and you could go down like Grace Kelly.  The road is one lane, one way and when I got back down I was on the other side of the hill from where I started and I got kind of lost in Canon City. After a mile or so of driving next to the ridge in a residential neighborhood I saw some guys working and asked how to get back to 50. I was going the wrong way on the right road. After that I was confused which way was east for a few minutes.

Then I got a sandwich in Canon City and went back up to sketch. I got too much sun. Darn, I bet there’s not much shade at the Ghost Ranch either. Maybe I should get some sun tan lotion. I didn’t pack it.

I might go back tomorrow morning. I bet the light will be better. Then I’m thinking of leaving Pueblo and moving to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Pretty sure I’ll be able to find a room.

When I’m traveling I think it’s good luck to give the spirits what they ask for. I’m not really superstitious, but if someone who looks like a bum asks me for money I give them a buck, if they ask for food or tobacco I give it to them. Tobacco especially, spirits love that stuff. Yesterday I a guy who was sitting outside my motel said excuse me ma’am, then started telling me his misfortunes. I gave him a couple bucks and a banana. Tonight a girl told me she’s homeless and hitchhiking with her boyfriend. She wanted a cigarette so I gave her one. She didn’t ask for money. Then she wanted food so I gave her a couple muffins and a yogurt. I hope this keeps me and my car safe.

Dodge Kansas stock yard “Dodge, Queen of Cowtowns”

IMG_2318

I drove the whole way out here to Pueblo CO. through some of the most beautiful parts of the country and this is the first overlook I came to.

The first day when I left VA Beach it was misty and rainy most of the way through VA. Traffic moved fast on 64. When I got to the place where 64 runs along with 81 in the mountains the road was dry but it stayed cloudy until I got through West Virginia. It’s so beautiful up there in the Blue Ridge Mts. and it really looked blue gray in the gray clouds with some clouds covering the tops of the mountains and making the ridge line look fuzzy.  It’s a whole different atmosphere than the beach. I couldn’t stop to take a photo. There’s no place to pull off safely. 64 is an amazing drive but you have to pay attention to the road because it twists and turns so much for an interstate. It goes up and down hill, I mean way up then way down. I kept my car between the lines and looked around as much as I could. I don’t think a photo could do it justice because there’s nothing like actually driving through it and being surrounded on all sides by the Blue Ridge mountains.

After West VA, Kentucky seems boring from 64. I know it’s another beautiful state but you have to get off the interstate to see the beauty and I wanted to keep driving. I made it as far as Shelbyville KY. I said I wasn’t going to drive for more than 8 hours but I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t run into any traffic jams. I drove more like 10 hours every day. I’m not tired.

The 2nd day, I hauled ass right through the rest of KY then southern Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. IN and IL were both beautiful from the interstate. MO is boring from 70. I made it past Louisville with no problem. Twice I wanted to stop for gas and got lost off the exit and drove for a few miles through corn because there’s no place to turn around. No big deal, I’m lost a lot of the time.

I got through ST Louis with no problem on 70. Traffic was heavy. ST Louis doesn’t look so good from the road.

When I got close to Kansas City there was a detour off 70 onto 270. 70 was closed. The detour ran you through the city and funneled you back onto 70. I was on the interstate for 2 whole days trying to get west fast. When I wanted to get off the road last night to find a motel I came to an unmanned toll booth that wanted me to insert a ticket but I didn’t have a ticket! The gate was down, cars were backing up behind me. I was STUCK! at the freakin toll booth! Why don’t they let you use EZ pass there! I used it on the other tolls! So. there was a call button and a voice asked me how long I drove on 70. I said, long time. She said from Kansas City? I said yes. Then a $2.50 toll showed up on the screen and I paid it with my credit card. I was in Lawrence KS.

I’m blaming my lack of a ticket for the turnpike on the construction at Kansas City, MO. Yeah, MO, you need to fix that. I rarely have a scary thing happen to me on my drives, but that made me a little nervous so I didn’t want to drive the interstate today.IMG_2319

Here’s another view of the stockyard. It’s huge. Those tiny gray dots in my photo are cows. Today I found my way to rte 50 which I remembered from a previous drive. It was so beautiful all the way through Kansas and I had the open road all to myself for long stretches. It’s mostly flat and straight so easy to drive and look around. The fields go on forever to the horizon. I saw a lot of cattle, farms with fields of grain for the cows, I saw a lot of cows out grazing in their beautiful fields. I saw a bunch of smaller stock yards. I saw amber waves of grain out there! Once again a camera wouldn’t do it justice because with the wind blowing over the fields the tops of the grasses blow like a wave.  Just like these shots aren’t showing the stockyard well, those are cows waiting to be killed. They will be in your grocery stores this week.

I saw around 1000 wind turbines that go on for miles as you get close to Dodge.

And I saw oil rigs in fields pumping and lots of grain elevators all the length of rte 50. I was on the flat plane most of the day.

Now I’m in Pueblo and I will probably stop driving so much and do more sight seeing.

Driving is a zen thing. A photo can’t give you the feeling of freedom you experience by driving. You see some beautiful bridge coming up and next thing you’re going across it trying to glance down over the side. Or, you see the road up a few miles ahead snaking around some beautiful mountain and a few minutes later there you are.

There’s no place to stop and take a picture, you have to enjoy it that minute and try to remember it because then it’s gone and you’re looking at the next thing.

I think I’ll be able to stop driving all day and do some sketching now that I made it to CO.

travel log

IMG_2317

I taped this cartoon inside the cover of my travel log one time when I drove out west. That trip was kind of therapeutic  because my mind was in a turmoil back then. I was totally amazed by the great vast staggering beauty of the country. If I flew over it to my  destination it would be impossible to see the country on the way and every 50 miles is something else, especially when I took the scenic route off the interstate.

My Ford Taurus has a huge trunk and the most comfortable seats. That’s why I bought it, for a road trip. It’ll go up a mountain, no problem.

I can’t decide if I should take my camera and computer or not. I did my road trips without them before.

The Ghost Ranch is at 7000 ft. and I live at sea level. I want to leave plenty early so I can spend a couple days in Colorado and try to get used to the altitude before I go up to the Ghost Ranch which is in New Mexico.

I’m taking 3 primed canvases and oil painting supplies and also my watercolors and paper, easel, and everything I usually take to paint in Plein air. I’d never be able to take all that on a plane. Not to mention clothes with a coat and jacket. The weather up there could be cold or hot. It changes drastically, I think.

I’ll leave tomorrow and might get as far as Kentucky in one day. I’m not driving more than 8 hours a day but I’ll probably do more like 7 hours a day until I get out west.

I can’t take anyone with me, but that’s ok.

I’ll start writing in the back of the old travel log  because I filled in the front  part of it in 2005 when I drove Route 66 from Springfield MO. to Santa Monica, CA. then came back east on 50, “the loneliest road in America”. They are some beautiful roads, and as a taxpayer, they’re mine.

a better plan for Pleasure House Point

IMG_2316

This is watercolor paper stapled and stretched. It’s 15 x 20, larger than the pastel sketchbook I used for the previous  marsh sketch. I did a more panoramic view this time, just outlining the shapes of the trees, sky, water and grass with charcoal. It’s a little easier to draw larger and on the second try. I didn’t start  painting today because it’s too hot and humid. I didn’t want to stay out long. It’s cloudy and not much breeze. We’re on the edge of the cone of doom for hurricane Dorian.  I didn’t hear any evacuation orders so I’m not leaving. We’ll have a couple days of nasty weather, maybe it won’t be too bad. Keep your fingers crossed for  VA Beach. I hope the lights stay on. Maybe I’ll be able to start painting this on Sat.

So, this is the first step. I think this is a better sketch than my first try. I don’t know if you can see it very well.

I almost forgot to tell you about the weird noises. I guess it’s birds in the sedge. Every once in a while a bunch of them start squawking oddly.  I don’t see them.