Leonardo's Early Training
Even before he became famous, Leonardo was heavily involved in the arts. Though he was in many ways a typical kid, he was already beginning to break away from the pack. Unfortunately, not many specifics are known about Leonardo's early education, but it's possible to make a few generalizations based on what we do know.
Running the Gamut
Leonardo got a taste for a wide variety of arts at a young age. He studied music and singing during his formative years, learning to play the lyre and other Renaissance instruments. One of his favorite “academic” subjects was probably mathematics; the ability to apply mathematical principles to art would, of course, be one of his signature trademarks later on.
Leonardo was known for starting more tasks than he finished; his notebooks reveal many ideas that never actually took shape. Is it possible that Leonardo simply had too much exposure to too many different things as a child? Maybe he tried so many things that he never learned to focus on one at a time.
The Great Lefty
Perhaps not insignificantly, Leonardo was left-handed. Generally speaking, the right hemisphere of the human brain (more dominant in left-handed people) controls art, music, creativity, and emotions. In contrast, right-handed people are more oriented toward the left hemisphere of the brain, which is associated with math, science, language, and speech. It'sno surprise, then, that Leonardo was left-handed. Many other great artists throughout history have been left-handed, including M.C. Escher, Paul Klee, and Michelangelo Buonarroti. A number of famous musicians are also left-handed—Robert Schumann, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Ringo Starr, just to name a few. Da Vinci was in excellent company!
Leonardo's left-handedness likely has something to do with his unusual style of writing, which flowed from right to left. He also wrote individual letters backward, so they formed a mirror image. You might already know someone who writes this way—this style isn't uncommon among left-handed people, and Leonardo could have devised the technique as a child.
Leonardo didn't learn to make formal brushes and pigments until his apprenticeship to Andrea Verrocchio. During the Renaissance, artists couldn't just run down to the corner art supply store for paints and brushes—they had to make them all themselves! As a child, Leonardo probably used materials he found on his own (or ones borrowed from his grandfather) to create his sketches.
His willingness to use what he could find served him well. Had Leonardo's skills not been sufficiently developed, he probably wouldn't have earned his apprentice position. Though only seventeen years old when he was apprenticed to master artist Verrocchio, Leonardo had already shown early promise. Few dated drawings survive from Leonardo's childhood and the first few years of his apprenticeship. Nevertheless, one of Leonardo's earliest known drawings, a pen-and-ink landscape of the Arno Valley, from 1473, is also one of the first drawings ever to detail landscape in a trulyrealistic, convincing style. Even at the very beginning of his career, Leonardo was already innovating.