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.

connections to the past / mono prints

Isn’t it funny when your kid thinks they’re smarter than you?

If you lived through some bad stuff and people tell you to, “Let it go”, that might not be good advice.

You might think you know what happened but you might not figure it all out until you’re over 50!

If it’s on your mind when you’re trying to sleep years later, there’s a lesson in there for you that you didn’t get yet.

We have to learn from the bad stuff because more bad stuff might happen and we will be better able to deal with it if we know what didn’t work before.

Blue Angels spot UFOs / mono print

My Blue Angels came out funny looking. Should I try again?

50 years ago when I was visiting my Grandma she always had tabloids with articles of great interest to me. UFOs were a thing back then but the people who reported them were laughed at and the Navy pilots that saw them were told not to report it.

So, they’ve been hanging around the Earth for at least 50 years possibly thousands of years or even more. Why don’t they kill all of us? Maybe they like us as we like dinosaurs.

Now it’s in the news here that UFOs are in our restricted air space off the coast of Virginia and California and now the government wants the reports from the Navy pilots. The govt. is saying, “Yes, we know they’re up there.”

cactus flowers at the beach

Isn’t it funny when you’re an East coast girl and you’re thinking of putting a cactus in your painting then you see blooming cactuses on your path?

I knew they were there but forgot about them until I saw the flowers yesterday. . As far as I know, they’re not native but someone probably planted them and they spread around. I also saw yuccas in there. Maybe it was private property then, and now the Chesapeake Bay Foundation owns it.

Yesterday I checked the background for my mermaid painting and it was still too smeary to paint on. That’s the problem with painting with a palette knife, it takes forever to dry because the paint goes on thick. At least the extra time is giving me a chance to plan my mermaid. I think I’ll make her all green. I’m still not sure about what she should be holding, a crab or a cactus or a gold necklace or what. And if I do paint her holding a crab should it be a live crab which is blue or a steamed crab which is red?

kelp forest for a background

I looked at some photos of kelp and then winged it with my palette knife. This is my background for a mermaid. It might take a couple days to dry but I don’t have the plan worked out exactly, so that’s ok.

Yesterday was too hot for me to enjoy drawing in plein air and tomorrow is the start of a big weekend here. Traffic might get bad. And there is a chance of rain this weekend which isn’t good because so many people are vacationing at the beach after being locked down last year at this time. It will be a busy summer season here. It has been dry though, so if it rains it’s ok with me.

Last year when I didn’t have an apartment for a week or so, I stayed at a hotel at the oceanfront. I thought it was a strange twist of fate that when we were told to lock down I was at a place that I could enjoy for a while. I couldn’t call myself homeless because the homeless are broke, it was only a weird moving experience. A lot of my art got stolen while I was moving into the new apartment and I cancelled the lease and put my stuff in storage for around 10 days because I wanted to not rush into making another bad decision on an apartment. Then a guy returned my stolen art. How often does that happen?! So finally I moved in here, but when I left the oceanfront I bought this plaster mermaid for a souvenir from one of the stores on Atlantic Ave. that was open. I thought she was the prettiest mermaid and wanted to draw her. Statues are my favorite kind of models.

I don’t like her tail. I guess they made it like this so the figure would fit in a certain size mold but the tail looks weak. How can she swim with a floppy tail?! I’ll think of a better way to draw it but I didn’t try yet. I’m not sure about the sea shell bra either, or what she should be holding. Should I give her a crab to hold? When I bought this I thought it would be fun to put a little cactus on that plate.

Now I need to decide, do I want to try to do a mermaid mono print or do the fun painting style of Matisse where you tape your brushes onto yard sticks, or possibly continue with the palette knife.

I’m open to suggestions. Maybe I can make these decisions when I’m sketching her.

scouting for plein air inspiration

bird watcher’s paradise

The Marsh Causeway in North Carolina is a real pretty drive not too far from Virginia Beach. I knew Mackay Island Wildlife Preserve was just across the state line but didn’t know how to get there. When I was at Back Bay I saw a sign showing where the boat launches are in the area and a couple days ago I drove down Princess Ann Rd. looking for them and said, to myself,” where in the hell am I ?” because I was so far out in the boonies, but it’s still Virginia Beach. In fact Virginia Beach is huge and mostly agricultural south of the city. It goes all the way to the state line. That part is called Pungo. Then you find yourself on the Marsh Causeway going into Knotts Island.

Mackay Island from an overlook
It’s a huge marsh, looks a lot like Back Bay and False Cape

It was cloudy, cool and windy, which was nice because the wind kept the bugs down. A couple days ago I rode my bike in Back Bay and before I left the parking lot I sprayed with DEET but didn’t really overdo the spray and got a bad bite on my elbow!

gravel road and canal

It’s flat as a pancake. They have the road blocked after you get a mile or so into Mackay but I saw a car from Ohio parked there and no people, so I guess it’s ok to walk or bike, just not drive. I might go back another time and check out that part of the road.

a view of the bay from the causeway
a little chop on the water

This is a view of the bay from the causeway at a bridge.

Probably not a great place to sketch right there by the side of the road.

Anyway, I’m glad I finally found my way to Mackay Island and Knott’s Island. I saw some boat launches and canoe launches.

A couple days ago I found a real picturesque canoe launch on Muddy Creek Rd. in Virginia Beach, not too far down the road but out in the country. There was a broken boat covered with mud and half sunk down in the mud. That would make an interesting subject but it’s also next to the road, but the road doesn’t have much traffic. So, I don’t know, I might go back to that one.

Scouting for good places to draw in plein air is something I have to do and exploring around here is important too. I don’t always sketch, a lot of times I just look around.

recent sketches

Rhododendrons

I didn’t sketch this with charcoal first, I just went straight in with my Inktense pencils on watercolor paper. I was standing so close to the flowers I could hold my sketchbook right next to them and my lines weren’t too far off from the sizes and shapes of the petals.

Inktense pencils remind me of those watercolor coloring books for kids where they have printed dots of color on the paper and the kid only has to make it wet and the color pops out, but before you add water the color doesn’t show. Do you remember those old coloring books?

I sketched on dry paper and added the water when I got home. The bottom of the flowers here show the Inktense pencils with water and the top flowers are before the water is added. It’s fun when you make it wet and the color pops out.

The pencils have a colored end to show you what color you have but the colors on the pencils don’t match the colors you get, so I had to make charts and number the pencils. I did washes of each color from the darkest the pencil will make to the lightest tint you can get. Now when I go out to sketch I can take my color charts and pick the colors I’ll need and easily find them in the box instead of pulling out all the possible reds and greens and testing each color.

When I take a pencil out of the box and use it for the first time I put a piece of tape around the top of the pencil and number it to match its slot in the box.

Once I took them out on the beach and sat on the side of a sand dune to sketch and the box slid down the dune and the pencils fell out so I put tape on them and numbered the tape too, to keep a group or 10 or so together. Now when I need say, # 10, I can pick up that second clump of pencils and get #10 easily without them all falling out. The trays are kind of flimsy and the lid isn’t real tight either, but if I can decide on my colors from the charts I don’t have to take the whole set of pencils out on the dune with me.

Irises, charcoal

It’s too late for this particular clump of flowers. They’re almost done blooming. Next year I’ll plan in advance so I can do a painting of Irises

I can never get too much practice drawing from life. They say if you keep at it over the course of years you get a better eye for angles, curves, size etc. Supposedly, drawing from life makes you more observant. I guess it helps your eye hand coordination. Flowers are great subjects for practice. If you draw it wrong it’s not noticeable.

When I’m undecided on what to paint next I have to keep sketching until I make a good plan. I scouted a pretty canoe launch this morning but didn’t sketch. Tomorrow I want to scout another boat launch, see if I can find a pretty spot by the water.

pointillism experiment finished

The artist that invented pointillism, Seurat, had his color theory down to a science. I wish I knew how he did it but I see so many variations of pointillism I guess most artists put their own spin on it.

close up

Last week when I got to Back Bay the clouds were so pretty I couldn’t resist trying to paint them. It was windy and the clouds were moving fast. I got some general shapes dotted in for the cloud shadows and when I wanted to puff them up with more volume they were all different so I decided to wing it when I got home.

I can’t tell if this experiment is working or not. If it’s not, and you can tell me how to improve next time, please don’t be afraid to advise me. I’m not sensitive about a critique and I don’t feel emotionally attached to my paintings, so my feelings don’t get hurt easily if it’s a flop.

cloud close up

The thing about painting at home is there are too many distractions here. When I go out to paint in plein air I’m leaving everything behind and concentrating on the drawing and painting. It might seem like people out in public would be a worse distraction but the people don’t bug me. I like when someone is interested in what I’m doing. Most of the time I’m alone out there except for walkers passing through.

masking fluid on oil paint experiment / 2021

a close up of my new, still unfinished painting

The masking fluid saved the orange dots in the water when I painted blue and gray on top of the masking fluid on top of the orange tint.

When the paint was dry I scratched off the bumps of paint on top of masking fluid with my fingernail. After I do the dishes my fingernail will be ok but there’s some paint discoloring it. That’s a normal fingernail for an artist. If you try this maybe you will think of a better way to do it than scraping with your fingernail.

People say masking fluid doesn’t work on oil paint. They are misinformed. If I can make it work, you can do it. I’ll give you the tips.

First, tint the paper or canvas with a thin wash in the color you want to save with masking fluid. They will tell you masking fluid doesn’t stick to oil paint but if you thin the paint enough with terpenoid you break down the oil and when it dries the pigments have less binding them to the paper and they get a little powdery. I brush off dry loose pigments with a paper towel before painting the masking fluid on it. The bright orange left plenty of color.

Second step, paint the masking fluid on the dry oil paint tint.

Third step, use a deer foot brush to put paint on top of the masking fluid without lifting it. If you use a stiff brush it might make the masking fluid come off but this brush which works great for stenciling won’t lift your masking fluid. You can build up a few layers of glazes and still see where the masking fluid makes bumps under your colors.

When it’s dry scrape off the bumps and Voila! masking fluid saved your bright dots or lines! This is easier than trying to paint bright orange dots on top of the blue and gray glazes because the orange is a semi transparent color and it shows up bright on a plain white paper or canvas but if you want to have bright orange dots on top of the blues and grays you have to take the time to under paint the dots with white and wait for the white to dry then do the orange on white.

So, yeah, if someone tells me it won’t work I might try to do it anyway. I learn the hard way sometimes but I’m not afraid of failure and once in a while something works for me and others don’t try at all. I could say I’m hard headed like my Mom or I could be a skeptic like my Dad or an unholy mix of the two. hahahahah

zen painting experience

water in the bay

You know that funny feeling when you walk out on a wooden pier and you can see down between the boards and the water is moving under your feet? That happened to me yesterday at Back Bay.

There was a nice breeze and the water was moving pretty fast and so were the clouds. It made me feel a little dizzy but I’m a landlubber. I got used to the movement. It was beautiful out there, sunny windy and not too hot. I hung around for hours dotting my pointillist painting and mixing colors so I could continue dotting at home.

Some people were there but not too many, which I was glad for because dotting paint would look weird to the average tourist and I didn’t feel like explaining that I’m trying to do a pointillist painting.

I enjoyed the experience even more than my ordinary plein air experiences, and that feeling stayed with me for the rest of the day. It was real zen.