Help Fund Free Art for Kids

Art Projects Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci

Welcome back to the next in our series of free art lessons for children. If you missed it, our last lesson detailed some of our favorite summer art projects for kids of all ages.

In this video, Barbara Mason looks at the iconic Italian Renaissance man – painter, sculptor and inventor Leonardo da Vinci. The lesson looks at the life and works of this multi-talented artist, including a simple art project based on his methods.

Leonardo da Vinci – Painter, Scientist and Sculptor

Follow along with Barbara Mason as she creates a simple design inspired by Leonardo da Vinci. Use simple art supplies to create oil pastel and crayon art in the style of this great master.

Materials Needed for Leonardo da Vinci Art Projects

Scroll down to see images from the Leonardo da Vinci lesson.

Learn About the Renaissance Art of Leonardo da Vinci

Follow along with the transcript below for an introduction to the art and history of Leonardo da Vinci.

Hi there, I’m Barbara Mason and welcome to Golden Road Arts. We’re going to talk today about one of the most famous artists in the world, Leonardo Da Vinci. Now Leonardo Da Vinci was a Renaissance man. So, a Renaissance man means that you’re very good at a lot of things, not just one thing, but many, many things. And you’re not just very good at them, you’re very accomplished, so much better than just good. And that was the way Leonardo was, and he was one of the first people that really was renowned for this kind of skill that he had. He was a wonderful artist, a wonderful draftsman and a great scientist.

So, we’re going to talk today a little bit about his life. He was born in 1452, so 1452, that is, I think that’s like 600 years ago. It was a long time ago. So, at the time that he was born, people didn’t have all the modern conveniences that we have. They didn’t have the kind of communication we have. They didn’t have the tools that we have. They couldn’t travel the way we did. They traveled on a horse if they wanted to go far, maybe on the donkey. It was quite a different life and so things were a lot slower than they are now just because it was harder to get around and harder to do anything.

And so, Leonardo didn’t have the tools that we have, so I want you to look here at tools on the table beside me. You go into any art store anywhere you live, and you can buy these tools. Watercolors, there is this amazing little brush. Now, this brush has got water inside it, so all you have to do is take this brush and you just squeeze it a little bit because it’s soft. You squeeze it a little bit and you can – I’m just going to draw on my paper here. You can squeeze it just a little bit and put a little water in there and right away you can paint with it. Now that’s a pretty amazing thing to have a brush that actually has the water right in it. So, this is a pretty amazing thing.

And there’s all these different kinds of pencils and crayons and white crayons and black crayons and every color imaginable and pastels, chalk pastels, crayons. There’s just nothing that we cannot go into an art store and buy here. So, we’re very lucky to be living when we are because we have unlimited materials that we can use.

So, in Leonardo’s day, they had to make their own materials. As a young boy, he lived with his grandparents and so what a lot of other kids were going to school. They kind of lived out in the rural area and so his grandparents, they didn’t really send him to school, they just sent him out to observe the world. And he was very, very smart, very observant. And he spent a lot of time looking at nature, looking at the way things worked. And he had an incredibly brilliant brain. He had probably a brain that was probably just like Albert Einstein who was one of our most famous scientists in our time. He was very, very, very smart.

And so, when he got to be a little older, his father could see that he could draw really well. Everything that he saw out in the country he would draw pictures of it and so he had to make his own drawing tools and so they would take some kind of clay and roll it into the shape of a pencil and they would make their own pencils. And they would have charcoal that they would get from the fire. They would burn wood and it would leave charcoal and so they would use that to draw with. And so, the tools they had were not very refined compared to what we have but they were able to do amazing things of them.

They didn’t have, of course, cameras and so there are no pictures of Leonardo, only drawings that someone else has done. As he was growing up, as I said, he was a really, really talented draftsman. He could look at something and draw it and he was very good at that. But beyond just being able to draw, he had this amazing brain where he would want to know how it was put together, what made it the way it was.

And so, the first thing I want to show you is a picture of Leonardo and it is one of the few pictures done of him, and this picture was done when he was a very old man. He lived to be 67. And so, this is a picture of him that was done by one of his apprentices that stayed with him for many years. And you can see this picture has a very old man and you can see it’s drawn. It’s kind of a sepia color, kind of a brown color. It’s drawn on kind of rough paper and it’s got a lot of fine lines, so they had very fine pencils, and you know they did have pens, and so they drew with ink a lot and so it’s an amazing drawing. Obviously, his apprentice was a pretty good artist as well.

Leonardo was very interested in the way things were put together and he was a really good artist. So, this is something that he drew when he was pretty young and you can see how well he was able to capture the line of the jaw and the line of the neck, the way the forehead looks, how the eyes are set into the face. And this is just a very rough sketch that he probably did in just a very few minutes – but you can see his amazing talent even when he was a very young boy.

And as I said, he was very interested in how things were put together and he was really interested in the human body. And as he got older, he drew pictures of people. And you can see this one in particular if you can look at this and see the lines where he has the lines where everything intersects. So, he would say, OK, the mouth is here and if you draw a line up here it’s going to be the outside of the eye, and this other line is going to be the inside of the eye. So, he figured out where everything should go on a person, and he made many drawings.

In fact, I have a whole book of his sketches in this book here and it has all of his sketches in it. And these sketches, as you know, they are 600 years old, so that’s pretty amazing that we still have these. They were lost for about 100 years and then they were found. Leonardo was very revered in his lifetime. Everyone that knew him thought he was just amazing. He was not only a brilliant man, but he was such an amazing artist. And he was interested in light and shade and how things would look if you changed the way you looked at them. So, we’re going to put some pictures of things that are in these notebooks on the internet.

And also, I want to show you a picture of Leonardo’s writing and I’ll find one in here. Leonardo of course was Italian, so he wrote in Italian, so you can see on the bottom of this, not only is it in Italian, but it’s backwards. And so, people talked about, why don’t we think he wrote backwards? Do you think he was trying to hide what he was writing? Well, what we really think is that he was left-handed, and it was easier for him to write across this way than it was for him to write this way. Because they wrote with pen and ink – a pen that you would dip into ink. And as you wrote, if you’re right-handed and you are writing this way, then you’re writing not dragging your hand across your writing. But if you’re left-handed you’re writing this way, every time you make a mark, you’re dragging your hand across it, so you’re smearing your work. And so, we think that he wrote this way because he was left-handed, and he was able to write without smearing his work. And so, we think that’s why his work is backwards. You hold it up to a mirror and you’re Italian and you can read Italian. You’ll be able to read this writing.

He wrote on all of his drawings that he did. There are many, many descriptions of things that he observed. He was a great observer, and he spent a lot of time just looking at things and thinking about them. And I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Leonardo. He’s probably one of the most famous artists that ever existed. And one of the things that he said was that if you really going to invent something, if you are really going to create something, you have to be alone. He felt that if you were by yourself, that your mind would work better than if you were distracted by other people. So, he did his best work, he thought, alone when no one was around.

Now, Leonardo didn’t just draw, but he was a wonderful painter. And I’m going to show you some pictures of paintings that Leonardo did. At the time that he was a young man, he left the place where he was born. He was born, in the little village of Vinci. And at that time, if you were born in a village, a lot of times you would say Da Vinci. Leonardo of Vinci. And there was a little more to his name too, but that’s mostly what we know by now, you know, which means Leonardo from Vinci. When he was about 14, his father could see what a wonderful draftsman he was and what talent he had. And so, he sent him to Florence to be apprenticed to a famous artist there and so, the way it worked there. You know, here, if you get to be a pretty good artist, you go to school and then you go to an art school. But the kind of art schools they had 600 years ago, it was an apprenticeship and so you went to work with a famous artist that was already making work and he would have maybe 10 or 15 other artists there and you were the youngest one and you would learn from everyone. So, everybody did things a little differently and you would learn things as you went along, and they would all teach each other.

And very soon they could see that Leonardo was so talented. He was so talented that he actually did things that were more impressive than his teacher. And one of the things that he did is called the Baptism of Christ. In this picture right here, Leonardo painted the angels. And he was about 20 when he painted these angels. And if you look at them and you look at the rest of the picture, you can see, if you’re really careful, you can see that it was in a different style than the rest of the picture. So, one of the things that Leonardo did is he started using oil paint. So, most of the artists of his day, they used tempera paint, so they would take pigment and they would mix it with egg yolk. It was called egg tempera and they would paint with that, and it gave you a beautiful painting. But oil paint, Leonardo thought, oil paint gave you an even better painting. It lasted longer, was easier to mix and you can get lots of beautiful layers. So he did a lot of layering with his oil paint.

So, I want to talk a little bit about this painting. This is probably the most famous painting in the entire world. This is the Mona Lisa. So, we think that this painting was done of a woman of Lisa of Giaconda. This right? And she was the wife of someone that Leonardo knew and he must have been very famous and probably rich for him to have painted this piece. But he must have really liked her because he worked on this piece on and off for many, many years, probably half of his life. He kept going back and painting on it a little bit. So, I want you to look really closely at this point. And in fact, I have another picture of it that’s a little bigger than I’m going to show you now. The Mona Lisa is a beautiful painting, but she looks different. Why do you think she looks different? Not only does she have a beautiful smile, but if you look really closely at her face. Really closely on her face. Something’s different about her and what’s different about her? She doesn’t have any eyebrows. So, everybody we know has eyebrows except the Mona Lisa. So, I don’t know if it was a fashion thing to pull your eyebrows out in 1500, I just don’t know that. But she does not have eyebrows and so it makes her look very kind of mysterious and we don’t really know why Leonardo spent so many years going back and working on this painting, but there are many, many, many layers of paint on this, very thin, transparent layers that he built up. And the more he built it up, the more he would fuss with it and change it. And so, he was able to make things look really realistic because of his amazing ability to paint.

So, Leonardo thought of himself not just as an artist, but he really thought of himself as a scientist. He actually was very interested in science, and at this time, science and art, they kind of went hand in hand. Today you’re either a scientist or you’re an artist. You’re not usually both, but in Leonardo’s day, it was very common for people to be interested in all kinds of things, and Leonardo was very interested in science, and he learned about science just by observing. He observed the different animals and different people. How everything was put together. And one of the things that he did – I’m going to show this to you. This is called the Vitruvian Man and it was done in a sepia color. The one I have here I’ve changed it a little bit and made it black and white and I’ve got several copies of it here and we’re going to put a picture of this on the internet so you can copy it if you want.

And so, what I’m going to do is I’m going to color this in different ways. So, the original one of this is in that sepia color and would probably be about this color maybe. And all the lines, all the lines are this color – the person is this color and it’s just very, very rough. Very rough and very much this color. And the whole paper is this color and you can see all these marks here. So, when I scanned this on the computer, I wasn’t able to take those marks out. Maybe if I were better on the computer, I would be able to, but I just left them in because I thought, well, this is Leonardo’s real work, and this is how he did it.

And so, the reason he drew it like this, you can see he’s got one man that has four arms and four legs. And you can see here that there’s little marks where he’s got it divided. So, here’s the division for the shoulder where your arm hits your shoulder. Here’s the division for your elbow where your arm bends, and then here’s another mark for where your wrist is. And then when you come down his body, there’s a mark here where your chest is, a mark where your legs hit your hips. A mark for where your knees are, and a mark where your ankles are. And then all around this is this box. So, he’s showing that if you stand like this and you put your hands on, you can be in this box. And it’s exactly the same distance from here to here as it is from your head to your feet. And then he wanted to show that if you spread your legs apart and you move your arms out, that it went in a circle, but it was still the same distance. So the distance between your feet and your hands were the same, even though you’re now not in the same spot in the box, but in this circle, it’s the same. So, the amount of space is the same. And so, he was showing the way that you would be if you were being measured.

So, I was using that, that was a pastel. And this is an oil pastel, so I’m going to show you it’s going to draw a little differently. So, see how that one was kind of rough? Let me do that again so we can show it a little better. See how this is kind of rough? And it looks almost like, it almost looks like a chalk line. So, what this is, this is a pastel. They’ve taken color pigment and they put it in a binder. A binder is what holds it together and they’ve scrunched it down real tight so that it forms into a pencil. But this is an oil pastel and so they’ve mixed this with oil and so you can see how different it works. How it goes on so creamy. And so smooth. And this looks a little rough. This looks so much more like a pencil. And then of course we have our famous crayons. You know, people laugh at crayons. But I have to tell you, crayons are pretty cool. I like crayons.

And so, we’re going to show you the difference here. So, we’re going to color this leg with a crayon. And so, you can see it’s almost like a division between the oil pastel, and then the crayon. So, the crayon has a wax binder. The oil pastel has an oil binder. And then we have charcoal. So, if we were doing charcoal, it would just be black. Look at how smooth that goes on. So, with charcoal you can not only have it go on smooth.

So, all these things are tools that Leonardo would have had. And so, you can take your finger and you can smooth this out. Look at that, look at that so I can shave his body. I can just shave his body with his pencil just by drawing and then smoothing it out with my finger. And so, he named this the Vitruvian Man, because there was an architect in the 1st century BC. His name was Vitruvius and he was, as I said, he was an architect. And so, he designed a lot of buildings and probably did a lot of sculpture and Leonardo must have thought his work was pretty good, and so he named his example of the different pieces of a body after Vitruvius.

So, now I want to show you these watercolors. I’m going to paint this with watercolor. So, this is a cute little watercolor box. This is a mini box. It has a little brush in it, and you can take this with you if you’re going to travel and you want to go out somewhere and paint. You can just take this little, tiny watercolor box and put that in your pocket and take it with you. So, it’s pretty amazing. Or you can have a watercolor box like this. And you can do the same thing. So, we’re going to paint our Vitruvian man here. We’re going to give him a little color here. We’re going to give him maybe a little purple.

So, when it’s your work, you know you can color it any color you want. I just kind of thought purple might be a good color for him. The whole idea isn’t so much to paint him, but it’s to remember that these are the actual divisions of a person. So, when I was in school, I learned that a person was eight heads high, so we could actually measure that and see if Leonardo’s man is eight heads high. So, we could say, OK, let’s see, his head is this big, so one-two-three, four-five-six. It’s like seven and a half. So maybe he’s got a small head, I don’t know. But anyway, I’m just going to color him this color, then I’m going to put a little orange in. So, one of the things that you can do is, when you color, colors that are across from each other on the color wheel, they always look good together. So purple and orange look good together. Purple and green look good together. Orange and green look good together. I think I’ll color the box the orange, and then I’ll make the circle another color. Oh yeah, I’m going to color the box orange. I’ll make this circle in a different color on the outside.

So, Leonardo was just a really famous artist and as I said, the Mona Lisa is probably the most famous and most expensive painting in the world. It has an interesting history. It was hidden away during the Second World War because they were worried that something would happen to it. And then it resurfaced again. And so, they were able to show it again. It’s at the museum in France called the Louvre and it’s not a very big painting. It’s only like maybe 16 inches. So, when you see it and you are standing there beside it, I’ve been to see it. There’s a lot of people in front of it, so it’s kind of hard to see it. And he has a plexiglass box around it because somebody tried to damage it once and they don’t want it damaged, of course. And so now let’s do green for our circle. And so naturally, they have a, they have a plexiglass box in front of it, so you can’t touch it. And then there’s a cord, a velvet cord in front of that, so you can’t really get close to it at all. But, of course, we have wonderful photographs of it, so we don’t really need to get that close to it.

The day that my husband and I went to see it, there was hardly anybody there, so we were able to get really close. And it was amazing to see it. I was surprised at how small it was. You know, when you look at things in picture books and they’re so famous, you start to think they’re bigger than they really are. And when you see it, you just say, “Oh my gosh, it’s not very big. Why is it so famous? Good question.” I think it’s famous because Leonardo was such an amazing person. So, there we have our Vitruvian Man. So, I hope that you will take one of these pictures of the Vitruvian Man and color him any way you want.

The other thing I wanted to show you today was a little bit about science. This is one of the most fascinating things that I have. This is an eggbeater, and so your mother might have one of these or she might not. Maybe your grandmother. So, this eggbeater, I think, belonged to my grandmother. So, it’s pretty old, but it’s not that old because right on the side of it, it says stainless. So stainless steel is something that was invented less than 100 years ago, they started making stainless steel. So stainless steel doesn’t rust because it’s got a coating right in the metal, so it won’t rust. And so, if you look at this, you can see that somebody had to figure this out. OK, these wheels are going to go like this and they’re going to not hit each other. They’re going to spin, but they’re not going to hit each other. And so how are we going to hold them? So, they’re far apart, and yet they spin, and they don’t hit one another. So, there’s this thing that goes down the middle, this wire right here. And then at the top they’re these little tiny teeth and these little, tiny teeth go into this big wheel that has lots of teeth, bigger teeth on it. So, as you spin it, you can see these little teeth, they go into the big teeth that you’re turning with your wheel. So, you’re turning the big teeth around, but it turns the little teeth many, many times. So, I just think this is one of the most amazing things. So, somebody had to figure out exactly how to make this, how to put it together. And then of course I’m sure they sold it in a store. But anyway, you look at this, I just think this is a marvelous thing. You think, OK, somebody had to figure this out. So how did they think, OK, if I put this on here, it’s going to hold everything, so it’s not going to move. This is going to turn the wheel. This big wheel is going to turn the little wheel, that’s going to turn these, that’s going to spin around because I have it, I’m going to be able to make whipped eggs or anything else I want to whip. And I just think it’s a fascinating thing.

The more I’ve looked at this in my life, the more I think about what an amazing invention it is. And, you know, there’s a lot of inventions that happen because an artist looked at something. So, art and science really do go together. They aren’t separate. So, an artist had to design this and then a scientist had to build it, or maybe the scientists designed it and the artist had to build it. But one way or another it’s an amazing invention and I think that this is something that Leonardo would have loved and maybe it’s something he actually thought about inventing in his lifetime.

So, we’re going to put up some information on the website, especially for you teachers. It’s a list online of videos that you can show your children that are about Leonardo and his life. And there’s also a list of books and educational resources, and we’re going to put that out. There’s an awful lot of stuff written about Leonardo Da Vinci. He is one of the most famous artists of all time. And 600 years later, we’re still talking about it and we’re still teaching our children about them. We still think that he is probably one of the most famous people that ever lived. So, thanks for joining me at Golden Road Arts, and I hope that you will enjoy getting to know more about Leonardo Da Vinci. I certainly enjoyed learning more about him in getting ready to do this video, and so thanks again for coming to Golden Road Arts. This is Barbara Mason and I’ll see you next time.

Free Art Lessons From Golden Road Arts

At Golden Road Arts, we create fun and engaging art tutorials for elementary and middle school kids. Please browse our video content to access a broad collection of art styles and techniques. And to get started, watch our free art lessons here.

Art supplies for Leonardo da Vinci lesson.

Sketch of woman’s head by da Vinci.

Art and writing from da Vinci’s manuscript.

Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci.

Art lesson demonstrating The Vitruvian Man.

Artey the Art Bear holding a news for you sign about online art lessons news
Free Summer Art Events for Children

Join Golden Road Arts this summer for free in-person art events and book readings at Hillsboro parks.

Free Art Lessons

Delivered to Your Inbox

Every Child Deserves Access to Art Education

We deliver free art lessons to elementary and middle school children online and at in-person events through partnerships with school districts, libraries and community organizations.

Free Art Lessons

Whether you are a parent, teacher or student our art lessons are free.

Shop Our Art Gallery

The art featured in our online gallery is available for browsing and purchase.

Support free online art lessons for kids

Support Art for Kids

By spreading the word, making a donation or purchasing art you can help us.