Howard Daum was born in Poland. The family lived in Lodz until Daum was 14 when he and his mother emigrated. They went to Montreal, Canada, where he studied with the painter Alexander Bercovitch from 1934 to 1937. In 1938 Daum and his mother came to New York and settled in the Bronx. Upon graduation from high school in 1940, Daum attended the Art Students League on a scholarship. He worked with Will Barnet, Cameron Booth, Morris Kantor, Harry Sternberg, and Vaclav Vy.