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Learning from Leonardo da Vinci’s Journals

January 17, 2013

by Kerry Kilpatrick

If you understand the power of a journal to trap important ideas and concepts then you understand the desire to read the journals of histories greats. How would you like to sit down and read a journal that was created contemporaneously by Leonardo da Vinci. To read his thoughts without the polish of a publisher or the finessing of an automatic spell checker. It would be like looking over his shoulder as he wrote down thoughts and ideas that were way ahead of their time.

Fortunately you can read the translated version of da Vinci’s journals by a simple click of a mouse. The original Italian texts were translated by Jean Paul Richter in 1888 which was a story in itself. It seems that da Vinci had a unique writing style. He wrote backwards and from right to left so that the casual observer would not be able to read what he wrote. You needed a mirror to read his writings.

Richter had this to say about da Vinci’s style of journaling:

“the different paragraphs appear to us to be in utter confusion; on one and the same page, observations on the most dissimilar subjects follow each other without any connection. A page, for instance, will begin with some principles of astronomy, or the motion of the earth; then come the laws of sound, and finally some precepts as to colour. Another page will begin with his investigations on the structure of the intestines, and end with philosophical remarks as to the relations of poetry to painting; and so forth.”

I believe there is a lesson to be learned from Richter’s observation of da Vinci’s journaling habits. Your journal entries need not be logically progressive literary works of art. It’s okay if they are a hodgepodge of disconnected thoughts. It worked for da Vinci! His thoughts, as well as yours, don’t always flow in a linear fashion. The writing of your journal should capture the free flowing form of thinking that is the nature of spontaneity. Polish what you write later but capture your thoughts in their purest form of random thinking. The only way you can journal wrong is by not doing it.

I will leave you with a journal entry from Leonardo da Vinci. He had this to say about painters who didn’t take the time to really study that which they were painting. It is a lesson that applies to all of life:

“Those who are in love with practice without knowledge are like the sailor who gets into a ship without rudder or compass and who never can be certain whether he is going. Practice must always be founded on sound theory, and to this Perspective is the guide and the gateway; and without this nothing can be done well in the matter of drawing.”

The translated journals of Leonardo da Vinci are available here:

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