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Silverpoint Drawing Technique – Part 2

Drawing in Silverpoint – VIDEO [Part 2]

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Almost lost secrets of the Old Masters

By Vladimir London

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Silverpoint Drawing Technique

Almost lost secrets of the Old Masters

By Vladimir London

Table of contents:

PART 1
1. Introduction
2. History of silverpoint
3. Metal-point drawing tools
4. Silverpoint supports
5. Preparing silverpoint grounds

PART 2
6. Silverpoint drawing techniques
7. Silverpoint tarnishing
8. Storing silverpoint artworks
9. Conclusion

PART TWO

SILVERPOINT DRAWING TECHNIQUE

Silverpoint Examples – Drawing Academy Artworks

In the Drawing Academy Course you will see a step-by-step process of creation of the Life Portrait Drawing in Silverpoint.

This portrait is done on specially coated paper. The paper is tinted in a light pink-grey color, which compliments a natural skin tone of the model. Various metal-points were used for this drawing; the most used stylus was dead-soft pure silver.

Before starting a portrait of a model in metal-point, it is a good idea to make several sketches in pencil to familiarize yourself with the model’s face. This will help to avoid any drawing mistakes in metal-point. Making and comparing preliminary sketches also allow choosing the most interesting model’s pose for the future portrait in metal-point.

To see a step-by-step process of how this portrait is created in silverpoint, you may subscribe to the Drawing Academy course.

Another Drawing Academy Metal-Point Video Lesson Presents the Process of Making a Female Figure Drawing.

As the subject for this artwork, the marble statue of a skillfully carved female figure is chosen. This sculpture is displayed in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, UK.

A preliminary sketch in graphite pencil is prepared first; it will serve as a cartoon for the figure outlines. This sketch will be transferred onto coated paper and thereafter rendered in metal-point. A preliminary sketch is very helpful in making a very neat and precise drawing and keeping the support ground clean.

Drawing Academy presents video lessons dedicated to human figure drawing. These lessons include information on human body anatomy, explain a human figure proportions, and show how to draw a human body step-by-step in a realistic manner.

The knowledge of human anatomy is essential for drawing people realistically. In most cases, observing the human figure is not enough to make a truthful drawing. Professional drawing skills come with the knowledge of human anatomy. In the Drawing Art Academy, there are numerous video lessons dedicated to this subject, such as: construction of skeleton and bones as well as main body muscles that are essential to correct perception of body plains and shapes.

Professional fine artists draw not only what they see, but also what they know. It doesn’t mean that a human figure must be drawn with a see-through skeleton and muscles; instead, keeping internal body structure in mind while drawing helps truthfully depict realistic looking body shapes.

In the Drawing Academy Video Course There Is Another Video Lesson Dedicated to the Metal-Point Drawing Technique – Drawing of Discobolus.

The metal-point technique is quite thorough. This method takes time and there are no shortcuts. Metal-point technique requires different skills as opposed to making graphite or charcoal drawings.

Silverpoint allows for no mistakes. Metal marks are almost impossible to erase with an eraser; in addition, an eraser will leave marks on the gouache grounded paper that will spoil the appearance of the artwork.

The pressure on the drawing tool shall be very light; after all, it is a piece of metal that can easily damage the ground and paper itself.

One of the main characteristics of the metal drawing technique is the impossibility of making strong dark marks from the first attempt. A metal stylus leaves light-grey marks that can be darkened by repetition of strokes, slowly building up tonal volumes.

Metal-point technique requires a very sensitive touch. Every line should be placed with care. There is no margin for error. Even the lightest lines are clearly visible.

Rendering shades in silverpoint is achieved by gradually building up tonal values. Over-rendering in metal-point should be avoided as using an eraser to lighten up dark areas is not an option.

Every ground has different characteristics and works better for a particular metal-point. I have tested numerous ground compositions, mixing in various proportions of white chalk, Titanium White, gouache, and white marble dust in combination with various binding mediums like rabbit skin glue, Gum Arabic and cooking gelatin.

For the Discobolus drawing, I am using the Nickel-Silver alloy stylus. This metal gives the darkest line on this particular ground.

Silverpoint Pencil Grip.

When it comes to the silverpoint drawing technique, the correct pencil grip is very important.

Usually, the position of the drawing board for small-scale drawings is close to horizontal. My drawing board is tilted about 25°. At such a position, it is easier to handle the drawing tool like a writing pen. With the right-hand grip, the pen handle should be pointing to the right shoulder, which is essential for good quality lines.

In Drawing Academy video lessons you will see how I hold the metal-point drawing tool. The third finger supports the silverpoint mechanical pencil from below, pushed down by the index finger from the top and pressed by the thumb from the side.

Such pen grip was perfected by many generations of calligraphers and artists. They are the reason why this pen grip works so well. Correct hand positions insure correct hand movements. Using this grip, while extending and contracting three fingers holding a pen, makes the pen-tip go along the writing surface. The tip just slides in parallel to the paper.

Changing the grip or turning the pen handle away from the shoulder will cause the tip movement to change drastically. It will no longer effortlessly slide along the paper surface; instead, it will make curved movements up and down. Some additional correcting of the hand movement is required to keep the pen on the paper. This affects the quality and precision of the lines.

Protecting Silverpoint Ground When Drawing

Protecting the ground is the major concern for a silverpoint drawing… during as well as after a piece of artwork is done.

Grounds for silverpoint must be kept clean of grease and blemishes. This can be achieved by:

1. Keeping it clean by avoiding excessive contact with your hands.
2. Protecting a drawing from physical damage.

To protect the coated paper surface from contact with your hands, a piece of clean paper can be placed under the hand.

A metal stylus leaves fine marks that would not be any darker or broader if more pressure was applied. Thicker marks can be achieved by using a wider metal wire. For example, for fine details, a 0.9-millimeter (or 0.035 inch) stylus is perfect, while broader marks can be drawn with a 2-millimeter (or 0.08 inch) stylus.

Increasing the pressure on the stylus would not give a darker line, but can damage the ground surface. A light pressure on the stylus must be applied throughout the drawing process for this gives a uniform surface to the artwork.

A thin stylus should have a rounded and polished tip that would not scratch the drawing surface.

Many fine artists say that metal-point is the most difficult drawing media, as it requires great drawing skill and discipline. One of the main disadvantages of this technique is permanence of the marks that are not removable by a rubber eraser. However, scraping off or sandpapering the ground can remove indelible metal-point marks. Such an approach, of course, is damaging to the ground.

Developing Tonal Values in Silverpoint

The beauty of silverpoint is the accuracy of details of which it can produce. Of course there is no need to achieve a photographic realism there. A very thin stylus that never goes blunt is an ideal tool for detailed drawing.

With silverpoint it is possible to achieve a very smooth texture. Values of tones are gradually built up by multiple renderings with the same stylus pressure over and over again. As more metal particles are deposited on the surface, the darker the area becomes.

I am making strokes in a direction that compliments the object volume and characteristics of the shape.

The tonal values of shades and mid-tones are achieved by building up multiple layers of silverpoint strokes. Every stroke needs to be very delicate and light to prevent paper surface damaging, yet be strong enough to leave the mark.

Silverpoint technique requires easy and delicate strokes of the stylus. The pressure on the drawing instrument must be minimal to protect the paper coating from scratching.

It is best to start from the darkest areas of the drawing. In such way you can test the darkest achievable tone by a particular metal-point. All other tones of the drawing will be lighter. I begin the drawing with short and light strokes, and with very little pressure on the stylus. The darkest areas of the drawing are rendered first. They will be used as the point of reference as to the maximum volume of tone achievable with this particular metal stylus and ground combination.

The direction of the silverpoint strokes ideally should along the contours of an object. Every line is very thin but clearly visible. It takes many layers of silverpoint to build up the tonal value required.

As with any other drawing, it is advisable to render shades in a way that develops various places of an artwork simultaneously. It is better not to concentrate on a single area for too long as the eyes can get used to one location and notice less details and shades gradation. By changing the focus of attention by rendering shades in various areas one after another, fine artists can keep perception of the subject unsullied.

When rendering shades of some particular area, I compare its value to other areas of the drawing. When other areas become under-rendered, I move my attention to those locations. Then, I repeat the process. In this way, the drawing develops naturally and looks complete at any given time. If, for some reason, I decide to stop working on the artwork at any time, it would look unfinished but complete.

Many amateur artists take a different approach. They start from one point of the drawing, let’s say top-left corner, and go with the full tone from the very beginning. While such a method works well for pen and ink drawing or embroidering cloth, for a professional drawing, it is hardly acceptable. This is the same way children draw.

Another common mistake you want to avoid in silverpoint is using the full tone the drawing tool can provide right from the beginning. When starting with the full strength from the start, there is no room left to go darker when it is needed.

So, gradually developing tonal values is a much safer and more professional way to progress when drawing and rendering.

Unlike in graphite pencil drawing, where one grade of pencil can be changed for a softer one to get darker tones, in metal-point, there is a limit to how dark you can go. Increasing the pressure on the stylus would not give a darker line but might damage the ground surface.

Drawing in metal-point is quite a laborious technique. Sometimes it takes hundreds of hours to complete one drawing.

SILVERPOINT TARNISHING

When choosing a particular kind of metal-point, fine artist should know that metal marks can become tarnished with time and it will affect the overall appearance of the artwork.

All types of metal-points leave grey marks at the beginning. When exposed to air, some metals oxidize and change their hue and tone.

Various metals behave differently as every metal has its unique characteristics.

Silver is one of the most favorable metals for drawing and valued for its consistency of marks and noble origin. As a drawing media, silver was recommended as the metal of choice for Medieval and Renaissance artists.
A silver stylus produces delicate lines that can be built up in tonal value with repetition of rendering.

Over time, in contact with air, this metal forms silver sulfide, which changes its gray appearance into warm brown, it is also becomes darker in value. This quality needs to be considered for drawings that combine several metals. What might look like a uniform gray in the beginning, later on can change its look.

Gold-point is one of the most stable metals that will not tarnish nor change its look. Unlike the golden color of a stylus, it leaves slightly yellowish gray marks on a coated support. These gray marks will stay gray, so there is no guesswork involved in how the artwork will look many years after it is created. I have tested the 24 carat gold stylus on various grounds. The grey marks it leaves are slightly lighter compared to the silverpoint and Nickel-Silver.

Gold-point is much more expensive than other metals used for drawing, this might stop some students from buying it. When making decision based on the price tag, you need to consider that the single gold-point stylus will last for years. Unlike graphite pencil, it does not require sharpening and wears out very slowly. Hundreds of drawings can be done with one golden-point tool.

Gold and silverpoints are sometimes alloyed with a small amount of copper to make styluses a bit harder and less weary.

Another metal that can be used for metal-point drawing is lead. It can mark most surfaces and does not require specially coated support. It is so soft that it can make marks on plain uncoated paper or parchment. Many Medieval manuscripts have writings and margin lines drawn in lead. This is the only erasable metal-point. It also has some disadvantages. The lead stylus quickly becomes blunt; but most importantly, this metal is toxic and is not safe to use. With time this metal tarnishes, forming lead carbonate, which changes its color to a darker bluish value.

Lead is often used as an alloy with tin, which makes this metal harder. Tin, on its own, is not suited for drawing purposes; it is too hard for the ground and produces light gray marks.

Other metals, commonly used for drawing, include copper alloys like Nickel-Silver or German silver, brass, and bronze. Copper forms a copper carbonate when oxidized, this gives its marks a greenish or yellowing tint.

Bronze contains tin and brass has zinc, tin and zinc modify a patina of copper and affect the metal-point look when tarnished.

When using a combination of various metals in the same artwork, artist needs to consider how tarnish will affect the look in the future. Gold-point will keep the same gray color, while silverpoint might go dark-brown… affecting the balance of values. So using two metals in one area simultaneously should be avoided, as at the time of actually drawing, all metal marks will look gray. The miracle of tarnishing will happen later.

However, when used with knowledge, a combination of various metal-points in one artwork can produce interesting decorative effects.

The color change caused by tarnishing develops over a certain period of time. The speed of tarnishing depends upon how much the drawing is exposed to the environment and how clean the air is. It could take from a few months to several years.

STORING SILVERPOINT ARTWORKS

Silverpoint is a very delicate media. It requires a soft touch when drawing and also special storage conditions and careful handling when the artwork is done.

Silverpoint Artworks Storage

Storage of silverpoint artworks present some challenges. Because the ground is water-soluble, it will absorb water from air in humid conditions; this can make ground soft and dull. Absorbed water may contain some pollution that’s always present in cities and towns that might cause staining and blemishing. Stained ground surfaces cannot be cleaned with an eraser or breadcrumbs. Erasing will pick up particles of metal from the ground, ruining the artwork.

Abrasion should be avoided when handling metal-point artworks. Loose paper sheets can rub each other, causing mechanical damage to the coated surface and metal-point drawing.

Flaking also can occur during the artwork’s storage. In very dry conditions, the binding medium can lose its flexibility and adhesion to the support. On the other hand, the high volatility of air humidity allows paper to expand and contract, causing the ground to flake because it has had its own response to the humidity change.

Taking into account all these possible causes of damage while storing, it is advisable to keep metal-point drawings in an acid-free mat, which protects the coated support surface from light, air, and abrasion. Ideally, environmental conditions should be stable, without humidity extremes.

CONCLUSION

In spite of all challenges, the silverpoint technique holds a very special place in the history of art and should not be abandoned by contemporary fine artists.

Slow-developing rendering gives a great exercise for a fine artist. The technique is quite inflexible as Joseph Stella, one of America’s fine artists of the 20th century once said, “I dedicate my ardent wish to draw with all the precision possible, using the inflexible media of silverpoint and gold-point that reveals instantly, the clearest graphic eloquence.”

I am very much fond of the metal-point technique. It might be inflexible and quite difficult to use, but such results are not achievable by any other drawing media. I like it for the ability to produce very fine and delicate marks. This is a tool of choice for the highly skilled draftsman.

I hope this information was useful and gives you not only a general knowledge on metal-point techniques and materials, but also inspires you to try this media for yourself and keep traditions of the Old Masters going.


BONUS: Silverpoint Drawings

Silverpoint 

Drawings

Silverpoint Drawings – Album

55 Drawings in Silverpoint by the Old Masters and Contemporary artists.

Right-click and choose “Save Link As” to save this Album.

Download Silverpoint Drawing Album.


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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Kathleen Holmberg says:

    These two videos are wonderful! Years ago I attended a 1 hour demonstration on silverpoint drawings and purchased a complete kit, but did very little with it as I could not find complete enough instructions — until now. Thank you so much .

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