Artist Date, Blog, Creativity

How to Become a Better Writer: Leonardo Artist Date


The Artist Date is a dream-child of Julia Cameron, helping readers learn how to become a better writer. We’ve discussed her book, The Artist’s Way, and highly recommend both the book and the weekly date. An Artist Date can be life-changing. It can open your creativity like nothing else. Today, we find inspiration in the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci.


When I was a child, an all-knowing-official-school-testing-person saddled me with labels like ADD and LD. She knowingly explained to my parents this is why I daydreamed, jumped from one interest to another, and saw strange connections between unlikely things. My mother cried. My father looked concerned. I decided there was no help for adults and hid out in books and invented experiments that were by turns funny and flammable.

One day, while trying to find a book I hadn’t read, I came across a biography of Leonardo da Vinci. Here was someone who daydreamed, was never tidy, filled notebooks with contraptions that could not be realized, and blew up stuff on a regular basis. A person who, in the middle of painting-duels with Michelangelo, decided to experiment with his paints and melted his own fresco. A guy who set his patron’s villa on fire (accidentally, of course) when one of his inventions failed in the middle of a dinner party. Here was my patron saint! Throughout high school, college, and my careers as a scientist, systems engineer and writer, I’ve used the question “What would Leonard do?” to get me out of jams and stuck places.

Recently an exhibit of his inventions was on display at the Elliott Museum in Stuart, Florida. The exhibit, called “Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion,” consisted of working models of some of his most famous inventions from his notebooks. You could pull levers and ropes and feel how the machines would have worked in the materials available during Leonardo’s lifetime. I fell in love with Leonardo’s robot, a mechanized suit of armor that he invented to amuse one of his wealthy patrons. The robot would bow to you and the chest plate opened to show the gears.

I spent the better part of the day roaming the 3,000-square-foot exhibit. I watched children pull ropes to make the wings of the ornothopter flap and I watched adults puzzle at the 15th century mind that conceived of helicopters, parachutes and robots that moved. I think Leonardo would have been happiest with the wide-eyed children that day who easily embraced the playfulness of genius that could see unlikely connections between dissimilar things.

I went home that night with Leonardo whispering his famous maxim in my ear: “Let no one define you.” As I drove north with the sun setting in the west behind the palm trees and palmetto bushes and the sound of the ocean beating time to the east, I began planning new projects that may be funny or flammable. Maybe both.

Image by AlicePopkorn. Used with permissionPost by Kathryn Neel.

How to become a better writer? Browse Artist Dates for inspiration, then head out on your own. 


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Your Comments

6 Comments so far

  1. Great source of inspiration!

  2. Kathryn Neel says:

    The scary part is now I’m being asked to teach kids to solder at Maker Faire and to design an educational curriculum at Canaveral National Seashore. Oh what fools these mortals be! :)

  3. L. L. Barkat says:

    “As I drove north with the sun setting in the west behind the palm trees and palmetto bushes and the sound of the ocean beating time to the east, I began planning new projects that may be funny or flammable. Maybe both.”

    That is both witty and lyrical… my favorite kind of writing.

    What a date you had. I imagine this is something that will feed your mind and heart far into the future, in ways you can’t even yet know.

  4. Delightful, Kathryn! I’d love to see that exhibit.

  5. Kathryn,
    Enjoyed your playful and adventurous spirit as I read your words :)

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