On this day 562 years ago, the master of Renaissance art and his unquenchable curiosity was born. Today Cass Art celebrates the life of Leonardo Da Vinci with a step-by-step guide of how to create like the master.
"Learn diligence before speedy execution"
We are all well acquainted with the beautiful Mona Lisa and her cheeky smile, but a lesser known element of Da Vinci's work is his back catalogue of over 13,000 drawings. These prove that he worked meticulously on every tiny detail, drawing and redrawing until he was satisfied with his creation. Paper was nowhere near as readily available as it is today, so to make the most of its value, artists would fill the sheets until there was no room left at all.
At the time a commonly used method for mark making was silverpoint. Functioning in a similar style to the pencil, artists would prime their chosen surface with gesso and continue to drag a rod of silver over the top to realise their designs. Since the discovery of graphite, silverpoint has of course become largely redundant, although due to its permanent nature many modern day artists enjoy dabbling with it to test their own skills in drawing. Try using the Cretacolour graphite pencils for a contemporary take on a traditional medium. Use a wet sable brush to create shading and tone.
"The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding"
Da Vinci obsessively studied the human form, machinery and architecture often sketching out his own inventions, but unfortunately never realising them.
He favoured a technique of cross hatching to develop depth in a drawing, and recognised the potential in a diagonal hatch to hint at motion in static imagery. He commonly used red, white and black chalk when roughly sketching out inventions and ideas. Try the Conte Carré crayons assorted pack and a Moleskine sketchbook for a portable pocket sized substitute. Keeping your drawings in just one colour allows your focus to remain on the accuracy of your sketch, rather than being distracted by details of the colour palette.
"He who despises painting has no love for the philosophy in nature"
Leonardo was the key advocate of the painting technique 'Sfumato' which literally translates as gradient. He described this style as "without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke or beyond the focus plane". The Mona Lisa is a perfect example of this, you can see there is no line or clear cut division of colour on the surface of the wood.
While of course he was a master of painting, he only left approximately 30 pieces in total, many unfinished. He experimented with traditional materials and often used egg tempera mixed with pigment (the egg yolk becomes the binder, mixed with an agent of either water, vinegar or white wine). Da Vinci was also one of the first artists to enjoy oil painting, favouring a muted greyish palette for the first coat, followed by natural earthy shades for more detailing. Try Michael Harding's range of oil paints which are inspired by the old masters - made by hand and have no fillers. Or you could mix your own! Cass Art stocks a range of pigments in our Islington flagship store.