Apollo Dorian’s values

It is too stinking hot to paint outside or in the studio during the day so I’ve begun a study project that I can do using my plein air kit and small panels in bad light. (The coolest rooms in the house have the worst light…) One gets very spoiled working outside where the light on panel and subject is either plentiful or controllable.

Apollo Dorian’s book Values for Pictures Worth a Thousand Words is a step by step explanation of American teacher Frank J. Reilly’s lessons. (Another great resource for that is John Ennis’ website The Reilly Papers.) It’s all about knowing how to manipulate values to express a lighting situation when painting realistically from imagination. Very useful for days like this when it 47°C outside (and even hotter in the shed studio).

I have read Apollo’s book several times but I confess that reading for me is not the same as doing, so for the next month I’m going to paint his examples myself. I expect in painting them, with my own materials and limitations, to get a more useful outcome than merely nodding at the page and thinking I got it.

I can do these in poor light because I am painting the values Apollo specifies with the Munsell neutrals I have already mixed and stored in syringes. Kept in the fridge like this they last just fine. (This an old pic from an earlier post – the only difference since then is that I cut the block down to fit just the set of greys and use the other bit for other colours).

Storing oil paint in syringes

Step one is some bevelled cubes. Painted according to this diagram from the book:


Apollo Dorian painting exercise

Painted, it looks like this. Not convincing at all. I realised that what I took to be values for a plane 45° to the light is actually intended to be a suggested halftone value. The half-tone on a sphere would only be this dark for a tiny band close to the terminator. The point would have been clearer if the diagram showed a sphere rather than a bevelled cube! (My mistake, but that’s why I am doing this.)

Keen to know what that plane should be I asked Ron Francis (the modern master of painting reality from imagination). He agreed “Even without our eyes adjusting the brightness, the amount of radiated energy would be close to 71%, (value 7.1), and if we take perceived brightness into account, it would appear to be 87% (value 8.7)”. He also pointed to the page on Dr David Brigg’s ‘Dimension of Colour’ website about the Effect of Inclination to Light. Perfect.

Painting exercise cubes with Apollo Dorian's values