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Poor Leonardo

The brilliant Renaissance artist, Leonardo da Vinci, and all his contemporaries, deserve our pity. They worked without the benefit of several amazing tools that we now take for granted. These are tools I use every day and value greatly.


1 Brush pens. Sweet, juicy black lines flow out of a brush pen without the tedious and messy make-ready and clean up that a conventional brush and a pot of ink require. One can tote several different brush pens of different sizes and colors in a pocket. They never spill like a bottle of ink will. I love my brush pens.

2 Digital images. I can scan a drawing in my sketchbook to turn it into a digital image. Then it is practical to make revisions to the digital image. I remember working as a graphic designer in the 1960s and 70s when we had to wait for black paint to dry so that we could correct the image with white paint. And then we’d wait for the white paint to dry before tweaking the image with black. Switching to digital images has probably added several years of productivity to my life. Think what a time-saver it could have been for Renaissance artists.

3 Image files. Search tools like Google Images and Flickr make it easy to research what things look like in a jiffy. If Leonardo needed to see what a bat’s wing or an octopus look like, he’d have to go catch a bat or an octopus. Today we can have millions of bat or octopus images delivered in a fraction of a second.

Instant access to gazillions of images helps with research, but it also can be inspirational. That’s why I hang out on Flickr. There I can post my sketches and see what others are working on. A daily stimulus to keep drawing. (My Flickr page with its almost-daily additions is here.)

4 Coffee. Sadly, the heroes of the Renaissance never had an opportunity to enjoy a good cup of coffee. The first coffee shop in Rome opened about 50 years after Leonardo died. Think of what those masters could have accomplished with the right fuel. I know my drawing efforts are enhanced significantly by the mild stimulation of a good cup of joe.



I feel a little guilty that I have so many great tools and Leonardo didn’t. Some day, if time travel becomes convenient, I hope someone will help out those old timers. Especially the coffee.

Pittsburgh, May 17, 2017

3 Responses

Mark P Fearing

May 18, 2017

I couldn’t survive without Google image searches. I like to think I’m not that old, but I had clip files when I started drawing for newspapers (just admiring I drew for newspapers dates me now). When I saw a picture of something I thought I might later need to draw, I’d clip it and file it. I still have a few left, but just yesterday I did image searches fro 18th century hairstyles. castaway style islands and ‘cute’ restaurant facades. No clip files needed.

Betsy Clark

May 18, 2017

Love this post, Don! It’s a wonder poor Leonardo accomplished anything at all without modern conveniences and heaven forbid, without coffee!! Somehow he muddled through…

But his biggest handicap was not having a Things-could-be-worse mug — to give him perspective. (Hee hee)

Bob Eames

May 18, 2017

As I sit and enjoy my steaming hot cup of a local dark roast I favor called Painter Black and read your blog post, I can’t imagine life without good pens, digital images and good coffee. My pity (and admiration) for Leonardo and his contemporaries is growing as is my curiosity about the impact that having access to your Flickr and google images and a cup or two of joe out of a calamityware mug might have had on his artistic and scientific contributions…of course that would presume time travel but why not? With good strong coffee, all things seem possible.

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