Gold and Silverpoint Drawing
Metalpoint is the collective name for drawing with metals - gold, silver,platinum,lead, bronze, copper etc. Of these silver is most commonly used, hence “metalpoint” is generally referred to as “silverpoint”
Metal points were used to inscribe into clay tablets from classical times as paper, or the medieval equivalent, was worth a small fortune. As paper developed from the East into Europe metalpoint began to be used on prepared paper.
Silverpoint was probably first used as a writing media. Ancient scribes would keep records on animal skins using a metal stylus to write their message. During the Middle Ages artists began using metalpoint as a a drawing media. Leonardo de Vinci and Albecht Durer are often considered to be the greatest exponents of metalpoint drawing. Renaissance artists would draw on white or tinted grounds. Using tinted grounds gave the possibility of highlighting with white.
When graphite was discovered in the English Lake District the medium of silverpoint fell into decline.
Metalpoint is not a medium suited to producing quick, self gratification art. This is a craft that will not produce an art work in a short period of time. Even the drawing paper needs preparation. The paper needs a slight “tooth” in order for the metal to show. When the metal stylus is drawn over the prepared paper small particles of metal are left on the paper leaving a light grey line. Over time the light grey marks tarnish into a darker richer colour nearer to sepia. This tarnishing will mature over a number of years, although one can often see the maturing process beginning after a few days. I find that my silverpoint drawings tarnish more quickly in winter than they do in summer. I believe this is because of the chemicals in my open coal fire reacting with the silver. Gold and platinum do not tarnish.
I use a ground with an acrylic base that has only recently come onto the market. This has made the preparation process much easier and quicker. Renaissance artists and modern day traditionalists used calcified animal bones made with a hot glue, possibly made hide, The drawing surface was coated and allowed to dry. This was then repeated a number of times over the next few days.
Metalpoints are notoriously difficult to photograph or to scan. Viewing a metalpoint on the computer screen, or as a photographic print they look like ordinary graphite drawings drawn with a 4H pencil. Although a very dark grey is achievable, after many layers of metal, but ivory blacks are not. Metalpoints need to be viewed very closely to appreciate their subtlety, and the way that they change as the angle of view changes and as the light changes. Because of the photographic difficulties none of the photographs here do the originals full justice.
Snake Davis and Heather Small. Gold and silverpoint drawing