Drawing Lesson 34, Part 3 – Metal-Point Drawing Technique

Discover the Metal-Point Drawing Technique

Video Lesson Description

In this video lesson, you will discover the Metal-Point Drawing Technique as well as how various metal-point marks tarnish with time.

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Metal-Point Drawing Tarnishing

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

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

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

Silver is one of the most favourable metals for drawing and valued for its consistency of marks and noble origin.

The silver stylus produces delicate lines that can be built up in tonal value with repetition of rendering. As a drawing media, silver was recommended as the metal of choice for Medieval and Renaissance artists. Over time, in contact with air, this metal forms silver sulfide, which changes its grey 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 grey 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 colour of a stylus, it leaves grey marks on a coated support. These grey marks will stay grey, so there is no guesswork involved how the artwork will look many years after it is created. Gold-point is much more expensive than other metals used for drawing, this might stop some students from buying it. When making decision on the price-tag point, 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 silver points are sometimes alloyed with a small amount of copper to make styluses a bit harder and less weary.

I have tested the 24 carat gold stylus on the ground this female figure drawing. It leaves lighter marks compared to the metal-point and nickel-silver. Golden-point produces grey marks with a slight yellowish tint; it can be very decorative for certain creative tasks.

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 colour to 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 grey 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 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 for the Metal-Point Drawing Technique in the same artwork, artist need to consider how tarnish will affect the look in the future. Gold-point will keep the same grey colour, while metal-point 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 grey. The miracle of tarnishing will happen later.

The colour 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.

Metal-Point Drawing Technique Media

Metal-point 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.

While drawing using a Metal-Point Drawing Technique, special care needs to be taken to protect the ground from hand and finger grease. The surface of the ground is very absorbent and will take on finger marks easily. Any oily marks are almost impossible to remove. Rubbing the surface with eraser might damage the ground and leave permanent blemishes. Another danger is over-working an artwork so the ground underneath the drawing begins to flake, losing strong contact with support. Scratching the ground with a sharp stylus can also happen when too much pressure is applied when drawing.

Storing Metal-Point Drawings

Storage of metal-point artworks present some challenges as well. 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 surface 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 can cause paper to expand and contract, causing 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 form light, air and abrasion. Ideally, environmental conditions should be stable, without humidity extremes.

Permanence of Metal-Point drawings

A thin metal-point stylus produces permanent non-fading and non-erasable lines that will withstand the test of time. Some of the Old Masters’ drawings are more than 700 years old! Such permanence is explained by the inertness of the metals used. For example, gold-point will remain stable without oxidation for as long as support lasts.

So here we are today, with the metal-point support and ground dictating how permanent metal-point artwork will be.

Great art starts with a great drawing. Practicing the Metal-Point Drawing Technique improves drawing skills.

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