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This week, I attended a Zocalo Pubic Square discussion at the Getty about how aging affects the creation of art. (See more on the event HERE).

I am interested in the topic because I have just landed a publishing deal for my debut novel—at age 40. Not really old, I know, but not exactly a wunderkind 20-something. So, I look to one of the main characters in my novel for inspiration on maintaining my creativity: the fifty-year old Leonardo da Vinci.

In his twenties and thirties, Leonardo created his share of masterpieces (including the Adoration of the Magi and Virgin of the Rocks), but it was after forty when he designed many of his most famous inventions and painted The Last Supper and The Mona Lisa.

So, forget aging gracefully. Let Leonardo teach you how to age creatively.

Self-Portrait. 1512. Biblioteca Reale in Turn. Photo from
Self-Portrait. 1512. Biblioteca Reale. Photo from

1. SEE YOURSELF FOR WHO YOU ARE–NOW. Many of us avoid looking in a mirror as we age, but as he grew older, Leonardo took the time to study (and draw) himself. Knowing yourself is the key to expressing yourself–which is the foundation of all great art.

2. NEVER STOP LEARNING. Leonardo was arguably the most curious man in history—and he never stopped asking questions. This is crucial to creation: the more information you house inside your brain, the more likely you are to make unexpected connections between two seemingly disconnected ideas.

Leonardo's Notebooks. Photo from
Leonardo’s Notebooks. Photo from

3. PERFECT A SKILL. Leonardo not only delved into new fields, but he also dedicated himself to lifelong pursuits, becoming an undisputed expert in oil painting, aerodynamics, and human anatomy (to name but a few). With time comes the luxury of mastery. Don’t be afraid to go full circle and end where you began.

4. ENJOY MOVING SLOWER. As we age, we don’t move as fast, but that’s a gift. Leonardo often thought about a design for hours before adding a single brushstroke to a painting. He knew that time was the long, winding pathway to beauty.

Leonardo's notebooks.
Leonardo’s notebooks.

5. RESPECT YOUTH. Leonardo wasn’t afraid to learn from his younger rivals: Michelangelo Buonarroti was only in his twenties when he carved the David, and yet, the middle-aged Leonardo sat at the base of that statue and sketched it–just as any student sketches his master to learn.

6. GET BACK TO NATURE. Leonardo spent his life hiking through the countryside and cataloguing biological specimens. But as he aged, he appreciated the connection between nature and art: how a flower petal could inspire architecture or a natural landscape could enhance a certain lady’s smile.

Peter Paul Ruben’s copy of Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari fresco for Florence’s city hall. At the Louvre.

7. EMBRACE YOUR MORTALITY. As we age, we know death is lurking, but instead of running away from it, Leonardo embraced it. He designed war machines to protect himself, studied anatomy to understand the deterioration of the physical body, and drew on the memory of battlefield violence to design a towering anti-war fresco for Florence’s city hall.

8. SPEAK UP. As we grow older, we lose our filters and say what we think. Keep speaking up—Leonardo certainly did. He was a vegetarian and—what we would call today—an outspoken animal rights activist. Conventional wisdom said to avoid bathing, but Leonardo touted the bizarre idea that cleanliness prevented disease. Oh and there was also that absurd idea he kept spouting that man would one day fly.

Speaking of flying…

Flying Machine from Leonardo's notebooks. Photo from
Flying Machine from Leonardo’s notebooks. Photo from

9. TAKE RISKS. Young people are known for taking foolhardy chances, but as we age, we become afraid. We have experienced failure and know how hard it can be to recover. But Leonardo never stopped taking risks. After the age of forty, he served in a war, moved to a new country (France), and even jumped off a mountain with a pair of wings attached to his back hoping–quite literally–to fly.

How do YOU leap like Leonardo into creativity??