Arts Creativity Quotes

Why simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” wrote Leonardo Da Vinci. He would paint over work that didn’t meet up with his expectations. Not surprisingly, Steve Jobs adopted da Vinci’s maxim in designing Apple computers.

Simplicity is the reduction of complexity. It unclutters the multiplicity of crayons and fence-sitting gray space in the middle and replaces objects with mere black and white.

Simplicity comes from revision

Simplicity retains the essence and deletes the rest. Take a look at the sequence of Picasso’s drawing of a bull. He pairs down the bull from full detail down to its fundamental shape.

The simplicity of design directly relates to the clarity of design — retained and kept implicit is the main thing which gets featured in the work.

'Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication'

Only when we remove the excess can we appreciate the beauty of simplicity. What results only appears natural because all the explaining was wiped our during reduction.

The experts know what to ignore.

Arts Creativity Writing

Why Leonardo da Vinci wrote backward

Leonardo da Vinci wrote backward (mirror writing) because he didn’t want others stealing his ideas. Writes Da Vinci biographer Rachel A. Koestler-Grack:

“The observations in his notebooks were written in such a way that they could be read only by holding the books up to a mirror.”

But did a genius who combined art and science so brilliantly really need to hide his work? Perhaps it was practical: as a lefty, he didn’t want to smudge the ink. As a contrarian, Da Vinci also strived to be different. As blogger Walker’s Chapters writes:

“Do you really think that a man as clever as Leonardo thought it was a good way to prevent people from reading his notes? This man, this genius, if he truly wanted to make his notes readable only to himself, he would’ve invented an entirely new language for this purpose. We’re talking about a dude who conceptualized parachutes even before helicopters were a thing.”

Read more: Why Did Leonardo da Vinci Write Backwards? A Look Into the Ultimate Renaissance Man’s “Mirror Writing”

Arts Creativity

Leonardo’s strange faces

Leonardo da Vinci made ugly beautiful, an approach Francis Bacon did well to mimic nearly five hundred years later.
Leonardo da Vinci made ugly beautiful, an approach Francis Bacon did well to mimic nearly five hundred years later.
Leonardo da Vinci made ugly beautiful, an approach Francis Bacon did well to mimic nearly five hundred years later.
Leonardo da Vinci made ugly beautiful, an approach Francis Bacon did well to mimic nearly five hundred years later.

There’s an excellent piece in the NY Times about Leonardo Da Vinci’s obsession with drawing weird faces:

Leonardo was a true Renaissance man, fascinated with everything — the mechanics of flight, architecture, engineering, botany, artillery and human anatomy — but one of his favorite private pastimes was to draw faces, either as scribbles in the margins of his notebooks or as fully conceived sketches later used for paintings.

Leonardo da Vinci made ugly beautiful, an approach Francis Bacon did well to mimic nearly five hundred years later.

Arts Creativity Life & Philosophy

Leonardo’s To-Do List

In his book Da Vinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image, historian Toby Lester translates one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s to-do lists. On it includes tasks like “calculate the measurement of Milan and suburbs” and “examine the crossbow of Maestro Ganneto.”

It is no wonder the polymath is often referred to as the genius of them all. 

Below is the original list, along with NPR’s illustrated translation.  

Wendy MacNaughton for NPR
Arts Creativity

Leonardo da Vinci and the Codex Huygens


The Codex Huygens is a Renaissance manuscript for a treatise on painting closely related to Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519). Its author has been identified as the North Italian artist Carlo Urbino (ca. 1510/20–after 1585), who must have been familiar with Leonardo’s notes before they were dispersed. Some of the drawings are faithful copies of now lost originals by Leonardo. Others, like the Vitruvian Man, are related to Leonardo but independent interpretations in their own right. The extant manuscript, which appears to be only a fragment, includes five sections (books or regole).

Leonardo da Vinci: Treasures from the Biblioteca Reale, Turin

Copy-paste, retweet, regram. We have it so easy.

Can you imagine having followers who traced your work so these pieces could live on?

More Leo


Bill Gates on the genius of Leonardo da Vinci

A good book review from Bill Gates on Walter Isaacson’s latest book Leonardo da Vinci.

More than any other Leonardo book I’ve read, this one helps you see him as a complete human being and understand just how special he was. He came close to understanding almost all of what was known on the planet at the time. That’s partly because scientific knowledge was relatively limited back then, partly because he had a high IQ, but mostly because he was insatiably curious about pretty much every area of natural science and the human experience. He studied, in meticulous detail, everything from the flow of water and the rise of smoke to the muscles you use when you smile.

Curiosity is king.

Arts Daily Prompts History

‘Water is itself the obstacle to water’

Loop Water GIF by Living Stills-source
gif by Living Stills

Leonardo da Vinci obsessed with water more than any of his multidisciplinary interests: architecture, science, painting, and sculpture.

For Leonardo da Vinci, the current represented that perfect chaos that separated air from water. In his Book on Waters, he wrote:

Nothing shares a surface with something and something shares a surface with nothingness. And the surface of something is not part of that thing, whence it follows that the surface of nothingness is part of nothingness, whence it follows that a single surface is the limit between two things that are in contact. Since the surface of water is not part of the water, and hence is not part of the air or of other bodies placed between them, what is it then that divides the air from the water?

Below is one of Leonardo’s sketches on the movement of water from 1508. It demonstrates the paradox of water in, around, and again itself.

Leonardo da Vinci water #drawing #sketch #art
Leonardo, da Vinci, 1508-09 (Paris MS. F)

Writes art historian Irving Lavin, Professor Emeritus in the School of Historical Studies at the Institue of Advanced Study:

…water in percussion: that is, water is itself the obstacle to water, and in this case the contrast is between the resulting currents on the surface, under the surface, and surging upward carrying bubbles of entrapped air. The relationship between air and water, both in combination and as analogous media, was also a subject that greatly preoccupied Leonardo and played a critical role in the development of his thought that concerns me here.

The structure of a stream lies within its anti-structure. There’s the unpredictable and disruptive movement of its flow. Yet freshwater slithers over rocks, persisting unperturbed all the way into the mouth of the river.

The chaos of running water seems to be why it works.

Read Leonardo’s Watery Chaos

Arts Quotes

Leonardo Da Vinci: Thinking with an extra wrinkle in the brain

Leonardo da Vinci: Mock-up for a flying machine

  No artist contained an extra wrinkle in their brain as big as Leonardo Da Vinci. He was a creative genius who combined the disciplines of both art and science to make something new.

Leonardo’s formula: see, contemplate, emulate, remix, and recast.

His undivided mind drove his imagination which led him toward discovery and innovation. He was also a tinkerer, even a procrastinator. Below are some sketches from his notebooks where he noodled on concepts and ideas.

“Learn how to see.
Realize that everything
connects to everything else.”

Drawing of bird in flight

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”

Drawing of torso and arms

“He who can Copy can create.”

Studying a seated man and stream of water

“Learning never exhausts the mind.”

Study of hands

All images via @ArtistDaVinci