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.

slipcover and sewing machine repair

img_1844Artists sometimes switch their medium. I feel like sewing lately. Sewing is an art form too. This chair neeeeeeded a new slipcover. I loved the sheen on this fabric. My daughter called it mermaid fabric. It’s kind of iridescent with purple and blue. It will probably hold up better than my last slipcover because it’s a tight weave with a cotton backing. I got it at UFab on sale for $17 a yard. That’s cheap for upholstery fabric.

Every time I make a slipcover, I think of my dear departed mother in law, Jackie Hill, who taught me to do slipcovers. She learned from her mother and wanted to pass the skill on to my generation but she had 3 boys. One reason she liked me more than she liked her other daughters in law was because I can sew. I wasn’t real gung ho to learn at the time, because I had a sewing job and was tired of sewing when I got home. I knew it would be difficult. Now I’m glad she taught me because I could make a living doing slipcovers if I wanted to, and for $150 invested in fabric, I can have a chair that looks like new. It’s not easy though. I scoot around on the floor a lot to cut it, so I’d rather not sew for customers these days.img_1843

This photo shows the sewing machine head tilted back and the oil pan underneath, with a sample of the cork I used to make a gasket on the bottom left.

I didn’t sew for a couple years, and when I looked at the old gasket, I knew the machine would leak oil like crazy. The gasket looked like it was chewed on by a mouse! I called the sewing machine store and asked if I could order a gasket for it but the man said they don’t make parts for this machine any more. I said “Oh no! What can I do for a gasket?” He told me to go to the auto parts store and buy cork because it holds up better than the original foam gasket that was in it. So I bought this thin cork and cut  1/2″ strips, because the old foam gasket looked like it was 1/2″ square. I placed my cork strips in the channel and continued around until I had the space filled in. Then I used silicone gel and glued it all together kind of thick. I had to trim some silicone off when it dried to make it smoother.

I’m happy because it’s working! The machine isn’t leaking oil!  In fact, when I leaned the head back to take this picture, it sounded like there was a real seal on it!  I probably saved myself $100 or $200 making the gasket myself and didn’t have to wait weeks for a mechanic to do it for me! Let me tell you how great this machine is. It’s a Singer 191. It’s over 20 years old and never dropped a stitch. This is a strong machine.

ok, I really want to get back to painting, but I just spent almost $100 on more fabric. I’m going to make a duvet cover for this little down filled throw a friend gave me. That’s how it is when you do a little redecorating, you can’t stop with just one thing.

Square Peg Round Hole

The life of an artistimg_1842

Hey, Look! I’m an Abstract Expressionist now!

Do you ever try to fit into a situation and you know it will never happen? That’s my inspiration, my social failure. To all my social misfit, square peg, friends out there, let me know if you ever find a square hole, because I’m still searching. Then all of us square pegs can get together and mock the round pegs. hahahahahahahaha

Meanwhile, just goofing around with this “Artist Tile Set”, Studio Series, scratch and sketch squares that my daughter got for me. It’s a card painted black over top of colors, or black on top of gold or silver. You scratch off the black. It’s a little scratchboard.

At least my daughter is popular, with over 1200 followers on Twitter. She started the cute baby animal challenge and got tweeted from zoos and aquariums all over the country and Europe. Check it out! #sarahjanethill

 

2 stained glass windows I love at the VMFA

img_1841Magnolia and Apple Blossom Window  /  Tiffanyimg_1838Jacques Gruber  /  French  /  1870 – 1936

I think I’ll steal one or both of these designs. Why should an artist put extra pressure on herself by trying to be “creative” and “original” when she could just copy something great? A lot of artists like to steal from the masters. There’s those funny books telling you how to steal like an artist. They crack me up. Then sometimes you still hear people saying, “It’s been done before.” like that’s a bad thing. I don’t get it. I go with the side of stealing a great design and making it my own. I remember our teachers at York Academy of Art told us one rule of stealing a design. Only steal the good stuff.

I can’t decide how to use one of these in my next project. I need to think it through and do a couple sketches first. Another funny contradiction you hear in the art world sometimes is, a teacher tells the students to just do it, don’t think about it. That sounds weird to me. I would have to take some kind of drug to stop from thinking.  What those teachers want is some subconscious thought to come out in the art.  They like a dream quality in art, I guess. I’m not doing that. I think there’s a reason why the subconscious is sub. It’s a bad decision maker.

These windows were well planned. That, and the great technical skill of the artists make them masterpieces.

Distelfink Walks Labyrinth

gold leaf on oil paintimg_1835

This is my 3rd experiment with masking fluid on oil paint.  I masked off the dark red border on the labyrinth and the gold leafed lines on the bird. The 24 carat gold leaf came out looking real warm on top of the dark red outline but it shows up a cool gold in my photo.

It’s a difficult, time consuming process making the masking fluid  work on oil paint. I wouldn’t recommend other artists try it. It takes a lot of prep time and patience. I’m still working out the bugs. I’m not sure if it’s showing in this photo, but you can see the weave of the canvas  through the dark red lines. If someone examines the paint closely, they’ll know I used some kind of stencil when they compare the thick textured paint to the lines.

I don’t have a lot of experience with gold leaf. It’s something I tried to do long ago and had the gold leaf all these years in my art supplies. I remember hearing you need a smooth surface for the leaf. That’s why I masked off the lines for the gold leaf. The paint can get thick and textured on the rest of the canvas, but should be smooth under the leaf.

The Distelfink is a folk art bird from PA. They mean good luck. Distelfink is PA Dutch for Thistle Finch. They’re native in Europe, not PA, but their images are all over Southeast PA.  I’ve always enjoyed drawing them. And I  enjoy the challenge of drawing geometric designs like the Greek key and Celtic knots. Making the labyrinth work out on the size I want is a math problem and takes me a while to figure out, even with the picture of a labyrinth in front of me. These are two designs I have used since I was a kid, so they’re a fall back design for my experiment.

So,  while the weather isn’t good over the winter, this is what I’m working on. My ultimate plan is to make an icon with oil paint and gold leaf, using a portrait of Edgar Alan Poe. The more practice I get, the better my chances are of success with the icon for a show in the spring at the Poe museum.

Distelfink on Hex / masking fluid on oil paint experiment #2

That was fun.
That was fun.
I'm not finished with this.
I’m not finished with these.

I can’t remember who first told me masking fluid doesn’t work on oil paint. It might have been long ago and I didn’t try it until this year. When I was shopping for a masking fluid to try, I asked the art supply store people if the more expensive Winsor Newton masking fluid is a better product than the ordinary friskit masking fluid and they said the Winsor Newton brand might be easier to lift when the paint is dry. If you leave the cheaper product on for a few days it can stick.  The guy working there asked me what kind of paper I was using. I told him I wanted to try it on canvas with oil paint. They said it doesn’t work on oil paint. I said I’m going to try it and see how it goes. If it doesn’t work, I’ll use it for something else.

I think it’s working ok on oil paint.  It was on the canvas over 2 weeks while I waited for the first layer of paint to dry. I mixed fast drying  Winsor Newton Liquin medium with my colors, but forgot to mix it with one of my glazes, and that blue took forever to dry.

This is the Distelfink on the red canvas with one layer of masking fluid and one layer of glazes.
This is the Distelfink on the red canvas with one layer of masking fluid and one layer of glazes.

I bought a deerfoot brush and dabbed the glazes on top of the masking fluid. The deerfoot is a nice brush to use for a glaze. It doesn’t entirely cover the color underneath.

That’s the blue background that took weeks to dry.

I want to paint eyes on my 2 Distelfinks then use this one on red and try another experiment. The last thing I want to try with it is putting gold leaf on the red outline of the bird.

It’s all part of my bigger plan to make an icon of Edgar Allan Poe. When I do my icon, I need an elaborate border for Poe’s portrait with oil paint and gold leaf.

So, why do they say masking fluid doesn’t work on oil paint? This isn’t too bad. If I try again,  maybe I can get the icon project to work out. I did a layer of masking fluid, a layer of glazes, then another layer of masking fluid and another layer of glazes. I had to wait  a couple weeks for it to dry and the masking fluid peeled off nicely.img_1831

This photo shows another experiment started with masking fluid on a tinted canvas. You can see the masking fluid is a little shiny on top of my charcoal sketch of flowers with 2 little distelfinks.

masking fluid on oil paint experiment

Yeah, that works. (kind of)
Yeah, that works. (kind of)

A few years ago I saw a painting by Maxfield Parrish, “Masquerade”, in Atlanta at the High Museum.  I was amazed by his technique.

Dang, this photo's not  clear.
Dang, this photo’s not clear.

All those little diamond shapes are sharp. And people think I paint tight! hahahaha  I wondered how he did it. The only thing I could guess was that he used masking fluid but people told me masking fluid doesn’t stick to oil paint. This painting was in the back of my mind for a long time. I saw a video about Parrish’s glazing technique but it didn’t discuss his technique of painting corners. The video gave me a lot to consider about glazing. I’ve been glazing with oil paint for a few years and I want to try more ways of glazing. The video also stressed Parrish’s use of varnish. I can’t use as much varnish as Parrish because it’s so strong my neighbors will smell it in their apartments too. I go outside to paint varnish but when the weather gets cold it takes a long time to dry.

Last week I planned some paintings to work on over the winter when I can’t get outside to paint as much. I bought a bottle of Winsor Newton water color masking fluid and tried it on a piece of an oil painting that I don’t like.  I drew a hex sign for my experiment because I’m PA Dutch and I’ve always liked to draw hex signs. I’m not superstitious. To me they’re a decoration. It’s fun to spin a compass around and make a perfect circle.

The PA Dutch put hex signs over the door to their barns to keep evil spirits out. Once I asked how a hex can keep out a bad spirit and was told that the spirit would think it could get into the barn through the hex sign, mistaking it for the door. It would hit it’s head on the hex sign and give up and go away. I can’t verify the PA Dutch really believe that. I’ve been away from that culture a long time. I might add that the old guy who told me that wanted to tell me everything he knew and probably wasn’t just pulling my leg. And he was very inquisitive and asked people questions about a lot of subjects.

ok, I digress. I want to try my experiment again using masking fluid on oil paint. This time, my surface will be smoother and I’ll use a ruling pen to paint my skinny lines.

This post has been here for years. Every week wordpress tells me it gets viewed but no one puts a like or comment on it. I think the stats page is lying. Updated on July 31 2020.

A Good View at Agecroft Hall / oil

img_1828

It’s the most zen place in town.  I’m not a follower of an Eastern religion, but it’s easy to pick up the vibe. That’s one of the benefits of painting in plein air. I have a reason to hang around under a tree like Buddha! hahahahahah

I started on this painting a month or so ago and finished it last week. The trees changed faster than I could paint them. I could keep going and going making corrections but decided not to because I’m starting on the next painting  now.

The banana trees were taken out of the garden before I finished painting them, but I had enough of a start that I could finish them at home. I liked them in the composition. They wouldn’t have lived through the frost. Now they’re in a greenhouse.img_1813

This is what the scene looked like to my camera when I got started. I drew it before I took the photo. The photo looks a lot different than what I drew, so I’m not sure if my perspective is right or if the camera’s perspective is better. I decided my painting doesn’t need the  hedge and close up fence that show in the photo. It might be too much darkness on the bottom of the canvas for a good composition.

The James River isn’t showing in the photo, but if you step 15 feet to the right you can see  it and I wanted to show it in my painting. I hoped after the frost I’d be able to see more of the river when leaves came down, so I mixed my colors for the river and painted it in, knowing I was going to cover it with trees and have small peaks of water showing. I used my artistic license there. If I copied the photo the river wouldn’t be in this painting.

That’s Willow Oaks Country Club golf course on Southside.img_1814

This is my underpainting in gray.

You can see where I stood my easel under a Magnolia tree and sat on the ground on an old beach towel to mix my colors. Cones were falling off the tree all around me but didn’t hit me or my painting. I kept my hat on just in case I got hit because those cones might hurt my head. It’s not as scary sitting under a Magnolia as it is being under a Walnut tree. I avoid the Walnuts trees! hahahahah  Trees dropping cones are a part of the life of your plein air artist. Is that a zen thing?

 

 

The Iverskaya / Mother of God

img_1824

19th century, oil on panel, silver-gilt, enamel,silk

It’s at the VMFA in the Faberge gallery.

I’m not Catholic, but this is inspiring me to do an icon. Mine won’t be religious, but an American icon. I’m planning it for the spring art show at the Poe Museum, so it needs to be Edgar Allen Poe in the icon. Yes, I need to start planning now because I’m kind of slow. hahahahah This will be something I can work on when the weather gets too cold to paint outside in a month or so.

Just yesterday, I was thinking of doing a mixed media  piece to enter in their annual call to artists for the show “Poe’s Enchanted Garden.” I was trying to decide on how to make cut out layers. I had in mind a Dada piece I love by Arp with cut outs, “Mountains Table Anchors Navel.”  I couldn’t decide, should the image of Poe be on top of the layers or underneath to be seen through the cut outs. This real icon tells me, the pic of Poe should be inside the cut out and surrounded by an ornate border with gold and sparkly jewels. Poe won’t be getting a halo though. He might look good in an Art Deco type floral design, all dripping with sad flowers in gold and jewels. Maybe I can work a raven or black cat into the design.

It will be a challenge to do a nice portrait of Poe  for my icon.

Gazebo With Fall Foliage oil

Painting in plein air is my therapy.
Painting in plein air is my therapy.

I enjoyed it so much, sitting on the thick root of an old Magnolia to work on this painting. It’s kind of a Zen thing for me.

I’d be more comfortable standing up to draw and paint, but I walked all around the gazebo and thought the best view was  more uphill from it, under the tree. A big branch was partially blocking my view so I had to move around  too see. I decided not to paint the branch that was in my way, but I also enjoyed the way the leaves glow when the sun shines through them. Have you ever noticed that? This painting wasn’t about the Magnolia, though.

If you look in the other direction from there, you can see the end of the Italian Garden, with a stone wall and roses. It smells sooooo sweet, even in the end of Oct. I’m going back to that tree next year.

What I don’t get is, why am I on this beautiful path alone?

Exquisite Corpse by Bernard Dumaine and Paulo Cunha

graphite
graphite

This is my favorite piece in the Exquisite Corpse show at Artworks.

The show opened tonight.

I met Paulo Cunha who came down from Canada. Dumaine is in France. That’s one fun thing about the Exquisite Corpse game. Artists from all over the world can collaborate. These two guys have a lot of experience working together on corpses.

The Exquisite corpse is a surrealist art game where two or more artists work on a piece and neither knows what the other has done until it’s finished. The second artist has to try to connect to what the first artist started with only an inch showing of the lines the first artist drew. It’s not easy to explain and it helps to have more than one try because it’s not always easy to do. It only works if both artists use the same medium or colors.

The show is in the skylight gallery at Artworks on 4th St. and Hull St in Richmond VA.  If you’re in the Richmond area you should check it out because there’s some crazy stuff in there!