Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa recreated with watercolours…and zero art knowledge


How did our JR Manager Rhea Mogul fare when we gave her a set of cheap watercolours to recreate La Gioconda?

Rhea Mogul |

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Our JR manager Rhea Mogul tries to recreate Mona Lisa, a painting by the renowned artist Leonardo da Vinci.

Every Wednesday in Young Post’s holiday pagination, the team will attempt to recreate a famous piece of art from different genres to the best of their ability. For today’s YP Nails It, our Junior Reporters Manager Rhea Mogul attempted to recreate Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci’s world-famous painting, the Mona Lisa.

Leonardo da Vinci was an artistic genius who rose to prominence during the Italian Renaissance. His work ranges from drawing and painting to sculpting and even inventing. But perhaps the most well-known and celebrated piece of work by da Vinci is the Mona Lisa.

The subject in this painting became famous for her enigmatic expression, and there has been a lot of debate over who the subject is; with rumours ranging from the Virgin Mary, to an Italian noblewoman, and even da Vinci himself.

It is also one of the most valuable paintings in the world. So, of course, it made perfect sense for me – not a painter, a sculptor or inventor – to attempt to recreate this multimillion dollar masterpiece.

I started by sketching an outline of the woman on my canvas with a pencil, before starting to paint. But as soon as I outlined her head, I knew I’d already messed up. It looked more like an egg than a head, and the proportions were completely off. That was strike one. But I didn’t start to panic just yet because I thought it would somehow fix itself down the line.

Once I finished my rough sketch, I was ready to put paint to canvas.

Step one: draw a draft.
Photo: Alejo Rodriguez Lo/SCMP

But instead of using oil paint, like da Vinci used for his portrait, I was given watercolours. This already made my task more difficult, as the paint wouldn’t stick to the canvas. But being the quick thinker that I am (I’m really, really not) I decided to use triple the amount of paint in each section to make the colour stick.

I soon realised that I wouldn’t be able to achieve the level of detail and intricacy in da Vinci’s work. The most difficult part was recreating the shadows, and the subject’s hands. They looked so realistic, trying to paint them myself made me appreciate da Vinci’s talent so much more.

Another part I struggled with was trying to recreate the creases and folds in the subject’s clothing. Instead of using the tip of my paintbrush to achieve the effect, I brushed a thick layer of paint on my canvas, and used the end of my brush handle to make grooves in the paint, adding details to the collar and sleeves of the dress.

Getting detail with watercolour was a challenge.
Photo: Alejo Rodriguez Lo/SCMP

I thought it actually looked all right! Our videographer Alejo agreed and said it gave my painting more depth and character.

I decided to use this trick for almost everything in the painting, including the subject’s hair, eyes, and mouth, and the trees in the background.

Towards the end, my painting looked more like a modern Picasso than a da Vinci, but there really wasn’t much else I could do with the paint and the canvas in front of me.

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Although my final product nowhere near as beautiful as da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, almost everyone I showed it to knew what the painting was supposed to be – which I happily took as a compliment!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout this process, it’s that da Vinci was one of the best artists ever known – and I am not. It amazes me how, some 500 years ago, with limited tools and technology, da Vinci was able to produce such immaculate and stunning works of art. I would love to travel back in time to watch him create this masterpiece, along with so many others. Perhaps I’d be able to crack the mystery behind the painting, too!

Edited by Nicole Moraleda