Learning from Leonardo

Anyone who has had a class with Anne-Marie Evans knows that she often quotes famous artists to illustrate her points during her art classes. I was reminded of her when reading an article about Leonardo da Vinci in the Wall Street Journal (Walter Isaacson, September 29, 2017). Considering the need for close observation, Isaacson notes

In his notebooks, Leonardo set out his simple method for truly observing a scene: Look separately at each detail. He compared it to looking at the page of a book. It was meaningless when taken in as a whole and had to be examined word by word. “If you wish to have a sound knowledge of the forms of objects,” he advised, “begin with the details of them, and do not go on to the second step until you have the first well fixed in memory.”

In attempting to draw an apple with its branch and leaves, I am first bewildered by the confusion of growth – leaves of all sizes growing every which way – and wonder how can I possibly draw this? After hours of observation, I focus on the branch and how the apple is attached and how each leaf bends away from the stem. With judicious pruning, I finally produce a drawing that conveys the “appleness” of my subject. I will never be a da Vinci, but I can learn from his advice and from Anne-Marie’s.

For our upcoming class in November, I think Anne-Marie wants us to observe so closely that we feel at one with our subjects and that we possibly could even draw the subject without having it in front of us.

Flower Study by Leonardo da Vinci. Metalpoint, pen and ink on slightly brownish paper. (This work is in the US public domain [PD-1923].
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Bonnie is on the Board of Directors of the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA). She is a member of the Botanical Artists of the National Capital Region (BASNCR), Immediate Past President of the Botanical Artists for Education & the Environment (BAEE), and Editor of the BAEE book American Botanical Paintings: Native Plants of the Mid Atlantic.