“Normally, people think about getting the likeness in a portrait,” says Mian Situ. “But I think to be a good painting it?s most important to get the mood and the soul. For example, there are paintings where you can see it?s the person, but the portrait doesn?t have the mood; it doesn?t have the feeling to be a good painting.”
To achieve the right feeling for a given piece, Situ focuses on color, a variety of contrasts, visible and invisible lines, as well as the overall composition. “They all work together,” he says. “Let?s say I want to create a feeling of strength. In that case, everything has to be strong—strong lines, strong contrasts, strong lighting, that kind of thing. And if you want to get a soft or sweet feeling, you have to get everything work together for that type of result.”
Depending on the mood he?s after, Situ may use strong lighting and contrast, as he did to produce a feeling of strength, or he may use softer edges and less contrast as he did to produce a gentle look. Then again, if there?s more than one figure in a piece, the individuals themselves may create yet another type of powerful contrast. “For instance a mature woman and naive child are a contrast to each other,” he says. “In straight portraits contrast isn?t so important. But if I want to tell a story with a composition, then I have to choose the characters, and I use this type of contrast.”
Situ breaks line into two distinct groups. “Of course, there?s the visible line—like the outline of a mountain or the outline of a tree,” he says. “But some lines aren?t so obvious. They suggest direction or movement, but they don?t actually connect. For example, let?s say there are some clouds in the sky. They don?t link together, but they have movement and they form a type of invisible line. Likewise, if you?re painting multiple figures, each person has some gesture toward another person. That forms an invisible line.
Frank LaLumia is a signature member of the Plein Air Painters of America and is the author of Plein Air Painting in Watercolor and Oil. To see more of LaLumia’s work and to learn about his workshops, visit www.lalumia.com.