Born in St Ives, Cornwall to a wealthy mine owning family, Lanyon started out obsessed with the earth. His father was also an avid photographer and musician, so creativity was encouraged by his parents from an early age. St Ives remained his base, and Lanyon was taught by artists such as Borlase Smart, Adrian Stokes and Victor Pasmore during his teenage years. However, in 1939 he met established artists Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo who had moved to St Ives on the outbreak of the Second World War. Lanyon received private art tuition from Nicholson, and the character of his work changed completely. Despite serving for the Royal Air Force from 1940 to 1945, Lanyon found time to paint and the influence of Nicholson and Gabo remained very evident in his work.
Upon return from his time with the Royal Air Force, Lanyon married Sheila St John Browne, and the couple wasted no time starting a family. Over the next decade, six children were born to the couple, Andrew, Jane, Matthew, Martin, Anna & Jo.