Sunday, July 10, 2005

Today's Image: Experimenting with silverpoint

A few years back, I went to see an exhibit of Leonardo da Vinci's drawings at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. A number of the drawings were done in a medium called "silverpoint." I was mystified, and intrigued.

Then, the following Summer, an instructor I had for a botanical illustration course showed us some experiments she was doing with silverpoint. To make a long story short, today's offering is my first fully rendered attempt at silverpoint:

Silverpoint (any metalpoint technique) is simply scratching metal from a stylus onto a prepared surface. Before the invention of graphite pencils, it was pretty much the only alternative to charcoal, and was widely used in medieval and Renaissance times.

This piece is titled "Crux," and measures 11" x 16".

I got my silverpoint stylus (really just some jeweller's silver wire in a holder) from New York Central Art Supply. I also bought from them some clay coated paper they market expressly for use with silverpoint.

Don't use the clay-coated paper. It's no good. Better to follow the procedure I gleaned from artist Richard Kirk's website. Well, I think it was from his website. Can't seem to find the information there any more.

Well anyway, get some smooth illustration board, and put down a few coats of Winsor and Newton Designer's Gouache -- Permanent White. This makes a nice ground, enabling a fairly wide range of lights and darks. Even so, silverpoint isn't a very high contrast medium. It's sort of like working with a very fine, very hard pencil.

Kirk's site is excellent. He's a consummate draftsman, and I dig his bizarre compositions. He also posts works in progress, so you can see the stages of composition. Really useful and inspiring. You've got to check it out.


Above are some details of the "Crux" piece. My technique needs some work. It takes a lot of patience. After a while, the silver tarnishes, giving the whole work a soft brown patina. You can see that in the full image at top.

Another interesting silverpoint site is SilverPointWeb.Com. The author of this site warns against using gouache as a ground, and sells his own special formula. I don't know. The gouache seemed to work fine for me, and his stuff looks like a lot of trouble. He also sells the styli, and goldpoints as well! I gotta get me one of those.

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