How to Paint Like Leonardo da Vinci

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da Vinci’s Painting Technique

Throughout his years (1452-1519), Leonardo da Vinci employed a variety of techniques from painting on a dry stone wall to using wet plaster depending on the work surface he was commissioned to paint. Leonardo da Vinci typically painted with oil paint that he made by hand from ground pigments; later in his career, he worked with tempera made from egg whites. His work surface typically would be a canvas or board, or sometimes stone when painting a mural. As da Vinci began a painting, he would start by covering the canvas with a pale gray or brown, using the neutral color for underpainting. Atop of the underpainting, da Vinci would layer transparent glazes within a small range of tones. Typically, the colors used were natural hues; da Vinci never used intense or bold colors or tints in contrasting colors. By using such a small range of colors, he was able to give his finished works a more cohesive appearance.

Palette colors

The Leonardo da Vinci painting technique used natural hues that were muted in intensity. Most often, his works used blues, browns and greens in accordance to the earth itself. He also incorporated neutral grays, typically for underpainting.


Leonardo incorporated glazes using the da Vinci painting technique of sfumato.  Meaning “like smoke,” smufato consists of applying dark glazes in place of blunt colors to add a depth that could not be achieved otherwise. Leonardo da Vinci explained how he created compound colors by painting a transparent colour over another color.  This technique created what he described as a compound color that is composed of, but differs from, each of the simple colors.

Techniques Used to Create His Great Works of Art

One of his most well-known paintings, the Mona Lisa, displays some of the techniques used by da Vinci in its grandeur. For instance, the use of sfumato gave the painting an illusion of somberness and mystery, while his choice of color palette reflects why her lips and eyes are so pale.

In The Last Supper, da Vinci used tempera over an underpainting made from ground pigments called gesso, which caused the painting to become almost unrecognizable 100 years later. He also painted directly on the stone wall surface rather than painting on wet plaster, as was the norm, which means it is not a true fresco painting.

About Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci is easily recognized as one of the greatest painters the world has ever known. Some of his most famous paintings include the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper and the Vitruvian Man. Known as the true Renaissance Man, da Vinci was also an inventor as noted by his collections of sketches of mechanics that would take centuries to come to fruition. He was also known for being a chronic procrastinator. For those interested in learning from the Italian artist, it is imperative to study the da Vinci painting technique. An artist of the Old Style, very few of his paintings exist today, totaling a dozen or so, because of his revolutionary (albeit often destructive) techniques. However, from the surviving da Vinci paintings we are able to understand a little more about how to paint in his style.

This post was generously provided by Leon Grey.

Leon Grey writes about Leonardo Da Vinci’s Life. See the complete website at When a transparent color lies over another color differing from it, a compound color is composed which differs from each of the simple colors.


Leave a Comment

  • Manuel Marino February 24, 2012, 8:28 am

    Great article, didn’t know all such things about Leonardo, and.. hey, I’m Italian! so it’s even more weird 🙂

    I oil painted in the past but then focused on music only.

    • Deborah E February 24, 2012, 6:43 pm

      You’re not weird! 😉 Yes, I appreciated the guest post, as well, so that I could learn something. I love so much art, but I can’t help but appreciate the art even more when I learn about the artist, and try to view life through their eyes and, hence, through their art.

  • Angel Collins February 29, 2012, 7:31 am

    I love art specially painting, But I guess my skills are not as good as Da Vinci. I have my own style I used to get inspiration while listening music.

    • Deborah E February 29, 2012, 9:02 am

      Hi Angel, You know, we all have special skills and don’t have to be like Da Vinci. 🙂