by Brian Sullivan

You can improve your sketching and paperprototyping abilities by adopting some of the methods used by Leonardo da Vinci in his sketchbooks. Leonardo was a prolific sketcher, filling his journals with over 13,000 pages of notes and drawings. These five sketching lessons drawn from his practices will make you a better thinker.

Lesson #1: Sketch Your Ideas Out 4-5 Times

Flower Sketch

Leonardo frequently sketched things multiple times, showing an object from different perspectives or different stages of development. His different sketches of flowers show some with leaves and others without leaves. Some of the flowers are budding, while other flowers are mature.

  • To better understand something, sketch it out multiple times.
  • Quantity leads to quality.
  • Explore from multiple angles and different stages of development.

Lesson #2: Use Annotations in Your Sketches

Arms Sketch

Beside most of Leonardo’s sketches you will find annotations about the subject of the sketch. The annotations are used to clarify the object being studied. For example, the sketch called “The Study of Arms and Shoulders,” which was part of an anatomy study to help him with brushstrokes for The Last Supper, shows four different views of the shoulder with annotation between the arms.

  • Leave room for annotations in your sketches.
  • Your annotations might answer a question for someone that sees your sketch.
  • Your annotations are memory joggers for you.

Lesson #3: Collaborate With Others When You Sketch

Internal Organs Sketch

Leonardo made his sketches on his own, but he collaborated with other people to flesh out the finer details. Leonardo’s sketches of human anatomy were a collaboration with Marcantonio della Torre, an anatomist from the University of Pavia. Their collaboration is important because it marries art with science.

The agreement was for Leonardo to provide immaculate sketches, while Marcantonio would verify the drawings for accuracy and completeness of human anatomy. Marcantonio agreed to have Leonardo’s drawings published. Ironically, one year later, Marcantonio would die of the Black Death. Luckily, Leonardo’s sketches remained.

  • In general, show your work to other people.
  • Collaborate with others when you sketch.
  • Collaborate with someone that will make your sketches better (more accurate, more imaginative).

Lesson #4: Engage Your Imagination

Paraschute Sketch

Leonardo drew from sources beyond just nature and human anatomy. His sketches include civil engineering projects (bridges, roads, maps), military objects (parachute, airplane, tank, machine gun), and robots (crank-driven knight armor). In some cases, these imaginative objects would not be created for almost 500 years later. The key is to engage your imagination.

Leonardo used his imagination because he was curious. Leonardo once wrote: “Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination when awake?” Da Vinci was very curious about flying. In his sketchbook, there’s a page titled, “Flying machines. The Flight of Genius!” On this page are sketches for a parachute, airplane, and glider. Some scholars have postulated that Leonardo’s study of birds helped him with the design of the glider.

  • Sketch beyond your comfort zone (quantity helps you here).
  • Sketch multiple solutions around a problem area (e.g., flight).
  • Let ideas percolate, then revisit your sketches.

Lesson #5: Look for New Combinations

Ladder Sketch

When he wanted novel ideas, Leonardo engaged his imagination for a revolutionary idea (e.g., a tank or a parachute). At other times, he wanted to build upon existing ideas (e.g., bridges and ladder) with incremental changes by force-fitting different concepts together.

Da Vinci sketched a new kind of ladder meant for scaling walls by soldiers. Existing ladders leaned unfixed against walls, easily pushed over by defenders of a castle or fortress. Leonardo made a few incremental changes by using spikes and metal poles to become “rungs” for an enhanced new version of the ladder.

More importantly, Da Vinci used a rudimentary form of the Cornell method of note-taking. Beyond the annotated notes for each individual sketch, Leonardo included keywords for other ideas and cross-references to other sketches. Da Vinci scholars believe this approach would allow Leonardo to organize his sketches and review existing ones to seek new combinations for incremental changes.

As a designer, Leonardo offers several lessons here. First, when you sketch, provide enough detail for someone to understand. It is a sketch, which you can later revise. You need to get your ideas down. Second, you should group similar ideas together. When you group them together, you will see a natural convergence towards a common vision. Plus, you may only need a small mash-up to incrementally innovate. Third, catalog your ideas so you can seek out other combinations later. With search technology these days, you do not need to use a Cornell method of note-taking. You can insert keywords into any saved file; search for a keyword and see what sketches appear. The important thing is to develop the habit of cataloging for the future so you can make new combinations. Just as Leonardo engaged his imagination, he also sought out new combinations—building on existing concepts to come up with something different.

  • Seek new combinations with your individual sketches
  • Catalog your sketches to reuse them in the future
  • Seek combinations from your previous sketches


You can improve your sketching and idea generation by following these secrets from Leonardo Da Vinci. Hidden within his notebooks are a variety of ideas on painting, sketching, architecture, and life (in general). These are my takeaways from reviewing his work. What do you think?


Easter Island heads have bodies

The Easter Island Statue Project (EISP) is a private research program and archive created by Jo Anne Van Tilburg, Principle Investigator and EISP founder and director, with Cristián Arévalo Pakarati, Rapa Nui artist and co-director of EISP.  The profound and immediate need for conservation actions on the moai became apparent over the course of more than 20 years of subjective observation and field experience acquired by us during our island-wide archaeological survey, which was conducted in association with our Chilean and Rapa Nui colleagues.

The Easter Island Statue Project office is located at 225 Arizona Avenue, Studio 500, Santa Monica, CA, 90401. The EISP field office is located at the Mana Gallery, Petero Atamu s/n, Hanga Roa, Easter Island (Rapa Nui), Chile.


wild did they bury them complete with petroglyphs..(who would see them if they are buried?) or was it covered by something else that happened?

[Reminds me of this comic I read when I was a kid.]

Tales to Astonish (1959) #5

Al WilliamsonSteve DitkoJoe Sinnott,
Penciller (cover): 
Jack Kirby
Christopher Rule
Stan Lee
Orig. Published: 
September 10, 1959

Preview! Now Dig This: Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980

This October the Hammer Museum will present Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980, a comprehensive exhibition that examines the incredibly vital but often overlooked legacy accorded to the city’s African American visual artists. Now Dig This! comprises 140 works from 35 artists that have rarely been shown in a museum setting and includes early pieces by now well-established artists as well as works once considered “lost.” The exhibition will be up October 2, 2011-January 8, 2012.
Now Dig This! is curated by Kellie Jones, associate professor in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. Jones’s writings have appeared in numerous exhibition catalogues and publications including NKAArtforumFlash Art,Atlantica, and Third Text. Most recently, she curatedEnergy/Experimentation: Black Artists and Abstraction, 1964–1980(The Studio Museum in Harlem, 2006). Current book projects include, Eye-Minded: Living and Writing Contemporary Art (Duke University Press 2011) and Taming the Freeway and Other Acts of Urban HIP-notism: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s (forthcoming from The MIT Press).

Wittgenstein’s camera

Composite of Wittgenstein's face, along with those of his sisters

To mark the 60th anniversary of his death, an exhibition exploring Wittgenstein’s experiments in photography, and how they relate to his philosophy, can be seen at the University’s Photographic and Illustration Services.

“Don’t think, look!” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

The woman with the haunted look staring back out of the photograph has never existed. She is a composite, created by overlaying four different photos of four different faces: three sisters, all middle-aged Austrian women, and their brother, the philosophical genius Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Made with the help of his photographer friend Moritz Nahr some time in the mid-1920s, the image is the result of a photographic experiment that Wittgenstein conducted based on the work of Francis Galton, an explorer, anthropologist, inventor of fingerprinting and, on a more sinister note, the founding father of eugenics.

Like his cousin Charles Darwin, Galton was fascinated by genetic traits, particularly the commonality of certain physical characteristics which for him represented the potential, higher or lower, of a person’s moral integrity. Galton used the process of composite photography to try and illustrate his argument by overlapping photographs of faces, in the hope of revealing the physical elements that ran through the groups of people he selected.

Wittgenstein had little interest in genetics, but he did have a love of photography, and employed the same technique some 50 years later, with a very different purpose. “Galton was aiming for enhanced sharpness and clarity,” explains Michael Nedo, Keeper of the Wittgenstein Archives. “Something which you could not see in an individual picture, but if you superimposed a number of pictures then it would become clear. Wittgenstein was aiming for different clarity expressed by the photography of fuzziness.”

Wittgenstein said of Galton’s photography that it was “the picture of a probability… what one glimpses”. Nedo considers this statement to be key when looking at Wittgenstein’s own experiments in this kind of photographic composition, Galton tried to force an explanation from what Wittgenstein saw as merely the briefest of descriptions.

“A photograph is a frozen moment, outside time. As Wittgenstein says it is ‘a probability’, not ‘all probabilities’, what one sees in the blink of an eye. But if you keep your eyes open you will see things move and change, nature as a dynamic event, and it is this constant changing that creates fuzziness on one hand but clarity on the other, because if you only glimpse then you exclude all other aspects, you have no greater clarity, you are blinkered.”

“Galton wanted to work out one probability, whereas Wittgenstein saw this as a summary in which all manner of possibilities are revealed in the fuzziness.”

The composite photograph could be said to mark the start of the development of Wittgenstein’s idea of ‘language game’ and ‘family resemblance’, that things assumed to be connected by singular common features, as Galton believed with facial characteristics, are in fact connected by myriad overlapping similarities that weave complex networks, the possibilities represented in the fuzziness. Wittgenstein later uses human families to relate this idea, where “build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way”.

Nedo refers to Wittgenstein’s analogy of a rope to further describe this: “A rope is made of a huge number of fibres, but not a single fibre goes through the ropes entire length, it’s the way they overlap that creates the strength.” Wittgenstein would go on to use the idea to look at questions of language and mathematics in his philosophy.

Wittgenstein was drawn to the descriptive nature of photography, as the other works in the exhibition show. Excerpts from his photo albums reveal a more relaxed and playful side to a man who is often portrayed as a tormented soul. In one photo, Wittgenstein has convinced his friend Gilbert Pattisson to pose in the style of an American gangster movie, a genre of which he was a huge fan, telling him, in the language of these films: “go and case the joint!”.

A previous exhibition at Clare Hall also featured work from Eduardo Paolozzi, the Scottish sculptor and artist, some of whose work can be found in the grounds of Jesus College. Paolozzi was a keen follower of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, and produced a series of works of a similar composite nature, in which he took a single image of Wittgenstein and spliced it with a variety of other graphical elements, including the face of John Lennon, and Greek and Aztec stonework.

“What this work shows is what a creative effect Wittgenstein had on artists,” says Nedo. “I actually find the effect of his writings rather more fascinating within the works of art, whether poetry, architecture or visual arts, than amongst the majority of secondary literature created by philosophers.”

Michael Nedo has devoted much of his life to the works of Wittgenstein, meticulously editing volumes of what will be the complete edition of the great philosopher’s works. Since beginning the project in 1978, Nedo has so far completed 17 volumes, although he says that when its finished it will be “more like 70”.  However, he remains undaunted, and dedicated to the task. Along with projects around Wittgenstein’s photography, next year will see a performance of a concert with reading at Clare Hall that Nedo has constructed around the philosopher’s writings.

“Even after many years, my fascination with Wittgenstein is ever-growing, which is quite something. That’s – I believe – not a result of my naivety or sentimentality, it’s simply the greatest work of our time.”

The exhibition ‘Wittgenstein and photography’ runs at the Photographic and Illustration Service on the New Museums site until the 15th August.

George Tooker

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:51 pm

George Tooker
When I was a teenager, I subscribed to a rather bizarre and eclectic experimental magazine called Avant Garde, published by Ralph Ginzburg. The value of its contents varied, but I remember one thing about it above all else — in one of the issues it introduced me to the work of American painter George Tooker.

Compared at times to Andrew Wyeth and at times to Edward Hopper, Tooker’s work defies being pigeonholed. People have tried to make his individualistic square peg fit in the round holes of Surrealism, Symbolism, Magic Realism and God knows what other isms, without clear success.

Tooker’s paintings, painstakingly and deliberately rendered in the demanding Renaissance medium of egg tempera, evoke loneliness, alienation, and the dehumanizing forces of modern society. Some of his works are well known, almost iconic images, though his name is not a household word.

His enigmatic scenes of eclipsed faces, half glimpsed figures and slack bodied individuals with haunted expressions seem to portray people resigned to their fate as the invisible vampires of modern existence drain away their life and humanity — though there are occasional glimpses of light and life — disconcerting, but powerful and unforgettably resonant images.

Tooker died last Sunday, March 27, 2011, at the age of 90. Unfortunately, there isn’t a really good source on the web for a large number of Tooker’s works.

Ten Dreams probably has the best selection of Tooker’s work on the web, but the viewing method is deliberately terrible. You have to launch each image in a full-screen pop-up window, then mouse over the image area and wait for the image to load in order to see it (because you’re a thief, you see), then close the window and select the next image.

(I suppose they think they’re making it hard for people to grab the images with these shenanigans; they need to do a little more research to understand that they’re only discouraging the most casual users from getting them, and in the process alienating many potential visitors who will find the site too much of a PITA to deal with; but I digress…)

The largest images of Tooker’s work I’ve found are on the Smithsonian American Art Museum including The Waiting Room.

Next best for large images are Terra Foundation (one zoomable) and Sothey’s sold archives (two zoomable).

There are print collections of Tooker’s work: George Tooker, by Robert Cozzolino, Marshall N. Price and M. Melissa Wolfe, is in print, you may find others used, like George Tooker by Thomas H. Garver, George Tooker: Paintings, 1947-1973 andGeorge Tooker.

There is a Cleveland Museum of Art documentary on YouTube in three parts,Part 1Part 2Part 3.

[Notice via ArtDaily]