Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Real Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine          For newcomers to this blog, or those who have forgotten what it's about, here's a link to "Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine" on Vimeo, performed by the Brigham Young Singers  and made to advertise their concert last year. I love their enthusiasm.  There are lots of other versions on Youtube, the BYU singers is my favourite. 
          Looking through the facsimile pages of Leonardo's notebooks for his early studies of wings, I came across a page fragment with four separate sketches of different types of winged creatures, none of them birds. I reproduce it here, you can see a dragonfly, insect (? moth or fly), flying fish and a bat. 
The pen-strokes are rapid but controlled and sometimes don't quite join up, and he doesn't bother to complete the opposite wings of the fish and the bat, they are taken as read, being the mirror images of the first side. They are notes on his observations, aides memoirs. The dragonfly's legs are haphazardly drawn, but they are of no concern to Leonardo, it is the wings that interest him. 
      I find the sketch of the bat particularly fascinating as to me it reveals Leonardo the man, enjoying his own joke, his old retainer holding out the wing of this enormous bat, the wing being almost the size of his retainer's cloak, the body of the bat being the size of a large lamb. 
      The retainer's expression is one of comical earnestness, he's holding the bat's voluminous wing and the quality of the drawing is such that one can almost feel his grip on it. The hooded cloak is drawn in some detail, almost as though Leonardo couldn't help reproducing the folds of this garment. I love this drawing for its immediacy, skilful execution and its humour, it brings the genius that was Leonardo Da Vinci to life.
      I will use some of his early sketches for the preliminary pages of the book, to lead the reader in to the text of Tony Silvestri's poem. To help set the mood, I decided to colour the paper (Griffen Mill's handmade-see earlier posts) to emulate the pages of the notebook. I stained down a couple of trial pieces, using tea. I made it fairly weak, and applied with a large soft brush to damp paper which was taped to a formica-faced board with masking tape to keep it flat. It took three applications and dryings to get the colour and I made it a little uneven. Of course, it stretches and bubbles up when wet, but dries back flat. You can use a hair-dryer to hasten the drying process. I was quite pleased with the result and will try printing on it when I next have the press inked up. 

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