Kultivate Contributor Myra Wildmist is back with another tip, this time on how to create the perfect portrait:

If you want to be an artist, you have to look at art.

If you want to learn how to create a great portrait, look at the work of those who have already done great portraits.

Remember those portraiture hints I gave you last time?

Those hints didn’t spring from my brain like Athena from Zeus’ thick skull. For years before I took up Second Life photography, I  looked at the works of artists, great and small, and read quite a bit about art. My ideas about what makes a good portrait – e.g. a profile photo – were formed from all that reading and from looking at the work of other artists.

The techniques for creating a good portrait have been understood for hundreds of years. You need look no farther than what is arguably the world’s most recognizable painting, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, to realize this.


[Image: monalisa.png, Caption: Leonardo could take a great profile photo. © RMN, Musée du Louvre]

Almost all the portraiture techniques I mentioned in my last post, can be found in da Vinci’s portrait of Mona Lisa (Thought to be Lisa del Giocondo):

  • Mona Lisa fills the frame, almost as if Leonardo used a telephoto lens.
  • In my opinion, the eyes are the focal point of the painting. The viewer tends to see the eyes, first – She’s looking at you!
  • Leonardo used his bokeh.
    Of course he didn’t have photographic lenses or know about depth of field blur effects, but look closely at the background. You almost have to force yourself to look at the landscape surrounding the Mona Lisa. The background compliments the Mona Lisa, but it’s barely noticeable. That’s essentially what bokeh does – it compliments the subject without detracting from it.
  • Leonardo used light and shadow to bring out his model’s face.
  • And, of course, the Mona Lisa is doing something special. She’s smiling that world famous smile.

It’s safe to say, Leonardo da Vinci knew a little bit about portraiture.

If you want to improve your art, look at art. Look at the work of artists who came before you. There are lessons to be learned from every artist, great and small. You just have to show up for the lecture.


Mona Lisa – Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo,
The Louvre


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