Realism isn't my preference or style, but I learned a lot about values last winter when I couldn't get outside much -- since I live in Seattle -- by taking a studio realism still life course from a local realist, Sandra Powers. I just added one of my realist paintings to my web site portfolio. I had dabbled in realism as a young painter, but always in watercolor. Sandra claimed I'd learn a lot about values for my plein air work, and she was right.
I measured a lot, had to look hard for the exact colors and laid paper towels over layers to avoid ridges in the paint, but the real lesson was attention to values. The experience has carried over to my plein air work; I'm now much more careful about values and know what other instructors are really saying when they comment on values.
Saturday after Saturday, layer after layer, I struggled with the values in this painting, at three and a half hours per class. I worked on this painting for a total of 21 hours. As a plein air painter, I was stunned by the time this little 10" by 8" painting took, but Sandra didn't allow much of a sidetrack into alla prima. Still, when I finished, she said that next time I'd do realism! She said my piece, especially the bottle, was still alla prima. Okay, so here's my realism/alla prima piece.