Silverpoint Drawings:

Animals

Botanical

Shells

People

Still Life

What is Silverpoint?

Sculptures in Stone:

Colorado Yule Marble

'Fencepost' Limestone

Minnesota Pipestone

New Mexico Sandstone

About Stone Carving

Watercolor Art:

Animals

Botanical

Other Art Projects:

Pointillism

Prismacolor

Graphite

Fine Metal

What is Silverpoint or Metalpoint drawing medium?

 

Silverpoint is a unique and ancient drawing medium rarely practiced today except by a couple of hundred artists in the entire world.
Metalpoint drawing is not an easy or forgiving art medium since once a drawing mark is made on the drawing surface, it cannot be erased - so any errors in the drawing are permanent!

A Brief History of Metalpoint illustration:
Metalpoint was initially used as a drawing and writing medium that dates from antiquity and was particularly popular from the 14th century to the beginning of the 16th by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Fra Filippo Lippi, and Albrecht Dürer. With the Renaissance period, came new artists materials such as graphite (for pencils) that were much easier for artists to use and transport, so the ‘art’ of metalpoint drawing began to disappear in the 16th century and only received a mild interest in the late 1800s by a few Impressionist artists.

Tools and Styli

Tools and Styli

This inflexibility of this medium makes metalpoint most appropriate for small, detailed compositions depicting still objects. It is less effective when depicting movement or for quick, loose sketching, which requires a free-flowing stroke. A technique to add tonal range to metalpoint drawings became popular in the early Renaissance, as interest in three-dimensional imagery grew.
Using metalpoint on a toned ground and adding white highlights renders a ‘chiaroscuro’ effect. The ground provides the middle of the tonal range, and the highlights create greater contrast against the darker strokes of the metalpoint. (Source 1)

The silverpoint technique refers to using a soft metal stylus (usually of .999 pure soft silver) to create the illustration. However bronze, copper and gold wire are also used for styli, hence the true name as Metalpoint. Although other metals might be used, any metalpoint drawing is often just commonly called Silverpoint. (See the photo of my metalpoint styli I have either purchased or hand-made for myself).
The fine-tipped metal stylus allows the artist to design with very fine lines of a pale-gray color – similar to a graphite pencil on a suitably prepared drawing surface. The drawing surface is coated with a prepared liquid called “drawing ground” which when dry, has a very fine abrasive surface.
The drawing ground was a prepared liquid containing rabbit hide glue or some other adhesive property combined with fine bone or marble dust and other elements, painted on a substrate surface such of as heavy paper, wood panel or even parchment in ancient times.
After the drawing is completed, the rendered silver-gray lines on the surface will oxidize or tarnish after a few years (sometimes in 10 or 20 years) and retain a subtle but fine, warm sepia-tone to the drawing. Great care and a fine, light touch is necessary to draw with a metalpoint stylus.
Metal styli of bronze & copper drawings are lighter in color which will oxidize with a greenish-gold hue after several years. Gold metalpoint drawings retain the fine pale-gray color since gold does not tarnish.

Although silverpoint drawing can be a difficult and unforgiving medium, the metalpoint produces a particularly fine and delicate mark, making it a desirable tool for the highly skilled draftsman. Metalpoint drawings require careful handling and special storage conditions because their surfaces are fragile and easily blemished. (Source 2)

Today, only a few artists still prepare their own drawing ground using traditional methods. Commercial drawing ground liquids are available now, which I find easier and more convenient to use.
Only recently in the 1980s and into the 21st century, has this ancient art medium regained a new revival and popularity among a small group of dedicated and highly skilled artists such as Tom Mazzullo, Laura Schechter, Norine Kevolic, David Boles, Anita Chowdry, Gerrit Verstraete, Andrew Gott, Victor Koulbak and several other Metalpoint Artists today. You may see a variety of Metalpoint art on http://metalpointartists.com/gallery.html - the website for The Society of Metalpoint Artists.

In my art experience, I was peripherally aware of the silverpoint drawing medium, but I didn’t know much about it until December 2013. While visiting the Denver Art Museum, I saw some exquisite, contemporary silverpoint drawings by D.U. Art Professor Tom Mazzullo while he was giving demonstrations of this ancient drawing medium. Meeting with Tom has provided me a great interest in this art medium. Tom Mazzullo has also been very kind, generous guide, offering me friendly advice as well as providing me with inspiration, valuable critique and help in working with silverpoint as an art medium. I honor Mr. Tom Mazzullo for his invaluable assistance. You may see Tom’s silverpoint illustrations on http://www.tommazzullo.com/

The technique of metalpoint drawing involves:
1. Preparing the drawing ‘ground’ liquid - which can be gesso or casein paint, commercially prepared silverpoint ground or if you are industrious and adventurous, ancient & traditional ground ingredients can be prepared by suitable instructions on the web. The ‘ground liquid’ is applied to your drawing surface. I use watercolor paper of 140 lb. or 300 lb. hot press as recommended by artist Tom Mazzullo. I prep the watercolor paper as I would for any watercolor painting by taping it to a hardwood board, and with a damp towel, wet the paper to stretch it. After this initial stretching, the ground liquid is applied to the watercolor paper. Allowed to dry and then another coat is applied – usually two or three coats.

2. For ground, I also use either Golden’s® brand Silverpoint drawing ground or (as mentioned), white casein paint which was introduced to me by artist Tom Mazzullo. I’ve found that in using Golden’s® brand Silverpoint drawing ground – you should shake it well before applying it because if not – it takes too long to dry, is sticky and does not always provide a good surface to draw on – so, shake well before using! Either material can be tinted with a small amount of watercolor paint such as light tan, yellow, pink, blue or green.

3. For metal styli, I have two commercially made silverpoint styli, but also have made my own silverpoint styli using .999 pure, soft silver. I have also made my own copper & bronze styli with a wood or metal stylus holder.

4. As the metal stylus tip is drawn on the surface, tiny particles of metal are left behind, creating a mark on the finely abrasive coating of the painted ground on the drawing surface.

5. Some Silverpoint artists advise that a drawing the size of 8 inches by 10 inches (approx. 20 cm X 26 cm.) can take 8 to 200 hours to complete a single drawing, depending on the subject and detail of the drawing.

Conclusion
All types of metalpoint appear gray when first drawn (including gold and copper) and light metals such as silver produce a mark that is darker in value than the solid metal. As the metals are exposed to the air, they begin to tarnish, or oxidize, producing corrosion products that alter their appearance. Color changes vary according to metal composition, air quality, exposure to light, and the grounds they are applied to.

Metalpoint is an intriguing, though often forgotten, art form that holds an important place in the history of art. Its unique aesthetic qualities and challenging technical requirements make it a highly respected and cherished drawing medium. The materials and structure that create these characteristics render most standard conservation treatments inappropriate. The preservation measures of controlling storage and handling conditions are the best means of ensuring that this unique and fascinating medium continues to survive (Source 2).

Historical notes & conclusion - Source cited:
1. Silverpoint Drawing Complete, http://silverpointweb.com/ 
2. BigaBytes Painters Studio: Artist Materials and Techniques, http://paintersstudio.com/drawing/metalpoint.php

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