View Full Version : Leonardo's Mona Lisa, recreation study of a masterpiece.

09 September 2005, 01:18 PM
Alright, my second masterpiece study, I found the Michelangelo study incredibly rewarding and informational, teaching me many things and filling in a lot of my knowledge gaps, so I decided to start another one today, but probably won't be finished for a couple of days allowing you to see the work in progress as it goes on. Hope you enjoy this thread and find it interesting.

This time, I remembered from the start to scan it in from the near initial stages, with the guidelines and proportional markings more easily readable for those of you interested in the process.

I approached this piece in a slightly different way from the Libyan Sibyl piece, in that I started with and am adhering to the construction grid and making sure that I am 90% happy with each stage before I go on - one of the biggest things about doing a study of such a famous icon know by billions - I'd venture to say this is THE most well known painting of all time - is that if something even remotely tiny is drastically wrong, people will pick it out, and that includes myself.

For instance a slight tonal difference can significantly change the look of the face entirely.

I think so far I am succeeding in capturing the essence than not - of course as I progess further, I be will be doing hundreds if not thousands of modifications along the way. So don't think that anything is set in concrete.

A quick run through of my materials (for those of you who keep asking) - complete graphite pencil set, from 9B-B + HB + H + F, so 11 pencils altogether, a black prismacolor pencil, graphite powder in a jar, toilet paper roll, kneaded eraser and a stick eraser.

The pencil range is to cover all the tonal ranges from light to dark, B for those who don't know = Blackness, so 9B = very very dark, but the lead is also very soft, 1B is much lighter and the lead is harder. HB is Hard Black, H is for Hard and F is for fine, which is the hardest lead and is typically used for fine details and light shade.

Black prismacolor is used to give that extra rich black for most shadows, and can also be used to darken details - an excellent render tool for almost all circumstances, but hard to erase.

Graphite powder is used to give tone, and I like to smear it on the page before any work begins to allow me to work on a non-white surface for a few reasons - highlighting later on is easily accomplished, allows increased readability of the tones and lastly, I just hate working on a pure white surface.

The kneaded eraser, for those who know how to use it, is one of the best tools for creating highlights, it can be shaped into a fine point and used to lift lead off for increased highlights, or it can be used in a wide sweep to lift a lot of graphite at once.

The stick eraser is there also for precise erasure, but it also takes more lead out of the paper's grain that the kneaded cannot.

Alright, first scan - this is the preliminary stage of marking out the proportions of the image, the correct placement of limb trajectories and so on, this is the skeletal version of the final piece and just like any piece of art, must be satisfactory before moving on, or else the problems here will manifest themselves in not so happy ways later on.

So far, all I have used is a 6B pencil to mark out the grid I want to use, as well as put in the conceptual trajectories - this is most obvious in the hand placement. Also, graphite and red ochre and raw sienna grinds have been layed. At this stage, work light, work fast, you dont want to put any hard values in because the darker it is, the harder to erase.

So, the foundation:

09 September 2005, 01:19 PM
Alright, this is the second update, I'm working on my favourite part of the whole piece as well as the most challenging, the face of the subject, so far, the face has taken about 3 hours in total, hundreds of erasures and careful pulling and pushing with tone and sulpting of the surface.

I've used mainly soft leads to fill in dark areas and tissue to soften the grain as well as apply the tones where needed. As you can also see, the pre-toned paper is coming in useful at this point with my stick and kneeded eraser, I am picking out large chunks of highlights which bring it towards life.

I thought I'd throw in this half finish shot to show what it looks like before I start detailing to show the contrast between the two. Its already starting to take on the unmistakable face, with a few hundred more alterations, it should be to where I will be happy with it.

A closeup of the details - as you can see, I've been pretty pedantic about the whole thing so far.

Stay tuned for more updates and progress shots.

09 September 2005, 02:42 PM
looking foward to the rest,excellent so far,gunna digitally color it?

09 September 2005, 03:18 PM
magic man,

Great stuff, looking forward to future installments! Thanks for posting this! :)

Cheers, :)


09 September 2005, 04:50 PM
this is incredibly informative....thanks and good job.

09 September 2005, 05:06 PM
No way man, that's awesome man, I can't wait for more:D
This glued me to my seat.

09 September 2005, 04:06 PM
Thanks guys...this is the next installment, couldn't get back on it for a few days because of work and I also just started a master strength training course (really good for augmenting my knowledge on the human muscular system and function).

Okay, real-estate wise, I've stuck exclusively to the face, in a something as famous as the mona lisa, you want to make sure that everything is as accurate as can be - I've succeeded maybe 80% imo, but I'm not going to spend much more time on the face since I want to get around to the rest - thats one thing to remember, everything doesn't have to be 100% correct, if it reads as a whole then you've done a decent job, but this piece is special to me so I've spent a lot of time on the face. I've finally gotten to th stage where I feel its as close to the original as I can possibly make it without killing a small child out of frustration.

If there's one thing to learn from trying to tackle a recreation of such a famous piece, its that you learn persistence and patience. So far I've taken an additional 5 hours in trying to get the facial balance as close as possible, and you start to get jittery after trying to get that damned smile as correct as possible after a couple of hours - it makes you gasp in awe at the mastery of Leonardo's painbrush.

One of the major problems I faced while rendering this is a monochromat, is that a lot of the colors were very muted and when you shift them towards a grey scale, you undertand that many of the colors were slightly altered hues which when looked at from a tone point of view, really didn't differ by much at all - especially around the lips, which also happened to be one ****ing hard aspect to tackle.

I was left with the reality that I would have to make a few judgement calls on what tones to essentuate and relegate in order to convey the color difference in grey scale, but not so much that it altered the visual construction of the face.

Here is the overall image - I am recompositing the hand placement as well, which is why the contruction lines have been altered.

Here is a closeup of the facial details - if you compare it to the detailed closeup of step 2, you will notice hundreds of subtle alterations. Another great thing about these studies is that you are training yourself to become a master observer - something I think is essential to becoming a masterful technical artist.

More updates to come soon.

09 September 2005, 04:14 PM

Looks great so far, and I appreciate your insights on your working process and challenges. This is great to see, and good luck with your continued study of this piece! :thumbsup:

Cheers, :)


09 September 2005, 08:59 PM
damn! awesome man!

09 September 2005, 09:17 PM

09 September 2005, 07:42 AM
:eek: Daang, you're too good at this, looks awesome (and is really helpful as well, with the technical stuffs).

09 September 2005, 02:32 AM
Mmmm. If ever there was a face to practice shading correctly, this is the one. Excellent work so far. What size is your paper?


09 September 2005, 09:46 AM
this is great and very informative- thanks alot for sharing that =)

09 September 2005, 04:44 AM
dbclemons - A4.

Disclaimer: I am not looking to do a completely perfect copy of these masterpieces, for me, its knowledge and understanding that I am trying to acquire. I really don't mind if something is slightly off if I learn a lighting rule from rendering it. I also sometimes take creative freedom in certain things and I don't work from reference 100% of the time. Tangibility is what I am aiming for, not a carbon copy.

Hey all, haven't been able to update as much as I'd like, getting way too busy heh, but its all good just means more cash-a-mola to quell my rediculous addiction to buying art books. =(

Haven't been able to spend a lot of time on my own personal studies at the moment since I started the strength training course as well, but hey i dont mind, that course is awesome for pushing my knowledge of the human body, I'd advise anyone who has an interest in the human anatomy and fitness to give it a go.

Alright, had a bit of time this morning to start getting back into my Mona Lisa study, starting to really flesh out the value regions and push the shadows.

Now, I'm working from a relatively small reference and some of the details are difficult to see, so I've taken some creative liberty to practice some artistic licence in the drappery, an area that I'm also trying to tidy up and i saw this as a good place to practice it. I've kept to most of the core folds, but i haven't really taken to exact detail with the clothing so I can practice folds and drappery principles on my own accord. So far I feel that the rendering is suitably high to blend in with the rest of the image's style.

I am pretty excited about getting started on the hands soon as well, deceptively relaxed, I feel they - apart from the face, will be the most challending to capture.

So another few hours in:

09 September 2005, 04:59 AM
magic man,

WOW!!! Well, that's all I have to say. :thumbsup:

Cheers! ;)


09 September 2005, 05:32 AM
ditto what Rebecca said.

That's amazing work.

I can't wait to see this finished! :D

09 September 2005, 06:05 AM
Ditto what sphere said. Bring on the lovin'! :thumbsup:



09 September 2005, 03:58 PM
wow, i know it has been said but, wow, i just lost my vocabulary, wow....

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