Although he was a painter's son, Paolo Farinati trained under another local painter, according to Giorgio Vasari. His master's eccentric manner encouraged Farinati to emphasize line over color and to restrict his palette to grays, browns, mauve, and rust. Farinati worked mostly in his native Verona, but a 1552 painting commission for the Mantua Cathedral altered his approach. In Mantua, Farinati studied Giulio Romano's complex, energetic frescoes and soon adopted his animated figure types and elaborate, imaginary architecture. He also adopted Paolo Veronese's chiaroscuro and less polished brushwork, and Michelangelo's muscularity, which he had studied in reproductions.
Farinati kept a detailed journal from 1573 until his death. In it, he outlined his wide range of projects: painting frames; designing costumes; decorating headboards, doors, horse trappings, and missal covers; and prestigious commissions for altarpieces and frescoes in churches and villas. His chiaroscuro drawings on tinted paper are particularly notable; he often used them to plan his paintings, and more than five hundred survive. Very soon after his death, they became collector's items; Sir Peter Lely, an artist and renowned collector in the 1600s, owned many.