Friday, May 30, 2008

The integrity of silverpoint

When does silverpoint cease to be silverpoint? by Gerrit Verstraete
The question of integrity in the use of silverpoint is a valid question. Silverpoint essentially remains a drawing medium with as its primary means of expression, the line. Second to the line is silverpoint’s ability to lay down delicate tonal values through meticulous cross hatching. This is especially useful in the rendering of figurative work. The art form known as silverpoint involves a discipline of drawing with a silver stylus in point form across a piece of paper or board covered with the appropriate ground. But, I have also created a metallic surface effect by rendering the ground with the flat edge of pieces of metal such as a thick silver ring or copper pipe, as a background for actual silverpoint drawing. When artists use silverpoint in a “non-point” or non-linear fashion, such as the effect of a metallic surface described above, it ceases to be silverpoint. One may call it silver work or silver technique or metallic rendering, but silverpoint it is not ( unless it is only part of an actual silverpoint drawing ). This is not a value claim but simply a way to avoid confusion between silverpoint and silver rendering. Both are valuable as a technique. Needless to say, an artist is at liberty to employ either silverpoint or metallic rendering or use them together in the same work. Some artists choose to use a lot of other media together with silverpoint. When silverpoint and metallic rendering are reduced to simply being a part of some abstract or expressionist work of art, a part often obscured by colors, textures and values of other media, one may ask, “is it silverpoint?” Good art nevertheless, but the integrity of silverpoint may be lost in the overall effect. The attached drawing used both silver rendering and silverpoint. For a larger version scroll down to the bottom of the blog.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

From realism to abstract

Silverpoint is an exacting medium yet it more than stands up to being stretched beyond conventional or traditional use. To illustrate this I have included two metal point drawings: one is a gold point drawing in my ongoing "Luminata" series of realist figurative works, the other a minimalist abstract drawing from a series of four titled "Consummation". To view larger images, scroll down to the bottom of the page.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What does silverpoint look like?

What does silverpoint look like? Not everyone is familiar with this art form.
Periodically we will feature metal point drawings in a larger format so that you can have a good look at this very special and valuable discipline of fine art drawing. These drawings can be viewed at the end of the blog. Just scroll down. Enjoy.

Ask a master

If you are an artist, a curator, collector, educator, or just someone who wants to know more about the fine art of silverpoint drawing, or details about exhibiting silverpoint work, then let us know. Either ask by posting a comment on this blog or email the International Silverpoint Archives ( ISA ) at

The Art of Silverpoint Drawing

The Art of Silverpoint Drawing
by Gerrit Verstraete AOCA, BFA, ACAD
Silverpoint is a drawing technique that was extensively used during the Renaissance both as under drawing in panel painting and as a medium for fine drawings. Fine drawings were created on white or tinted grounds and were commonly highlighted with white watercolor applied with a brush. To this day, silverpoint, or metal point as it is also known, remains a traditional but seldom used artist’s technique for fine drawing. Essentially, the technique is based on coated paper upon which the artist draws with a fine silver stylus. Metal point drawings are created with a stylus of copper, silver, gold, and platinum. A contemporary metal point tool comprises a standard draftsman’s mechanical pencil. Instead of graphite “leads,” the artist inserts a silver, copper, platinum or gold rod or wire of about 2mm in width. Silver and gold are readily available from jewelry craftspeople. A fine metal file keeps the point relatively sharp, although too sharp a point may tear the paper.
To coat the paper with a “ground,” Renaissance artists took bones ( often from the dinner table ) and calcified them by placing the bones in a hot fire until they were a powdery white. The white calcified bones were mixed with a glue medium, such as rabbit skin glue, and then coated on a paper or wood surface. As silverpoint drawing began, minute particles of silver were embedded in the surface leaving a grayish line. In turn these lines tarnished with time giving the drawing a mature look. Instead of calcified bones and rabbit skin glue, a contemporary ground for silverpoint drawing is standard flat white latex acrylic primer paint or Gesso. Tints can be added to the while latex paint. My favorite tinting material is guache paint and watercolor. Any paper of reasonable weight ( Stonehenge 245 GSM is an excellent paper ) is suitable for surface preparation for silverpoint work. Other commercially available surfaces include clay-coated Plike paper, clay board and primed masonite. I have spent considerable time exploring mixed-media surfaces using such materials as silver enamel, gold dust, marble dust, and plaster of Paris. I will brush, splash, spatter, roll, sand, press and burnish the ground experimenting beyond conventional boundaries.
The artist must possess a certain amount of confidence in his or her ability to draw because silverpoint lines cannot be erased. Neither is silverpoint a sketching medium. Instead, it is a fine drawing medium. Lines can be built up to create tonal values through hatching, contour lines, drifts, and other drawing techniques. The overall tone of an original silverpoint drawing is a light to medium grey. To strengthen some areas of the drawing, especially in the form lines that contain the image, I will use limited graphite to increase the density of black. I must, however, be careful not to overpower silverpoint with graphite especially when my aim is to create a metal point drawing.
Silverpoint began to decline in the late sixteenth century as other drawing materials became more available and tastes changed. The advent of etching and engraving also spelled a demise for silverpoint work. By the seventeenth century there were few silverpoint drawings. There was some renewal of interest in the late nineteenth century, but its true revival belongs to the twentieth century, when such a revival of metal point drawing flourished in the United States dating back as early in as 1904. In Canada little work in silverpoint is created, at least to the extent that such work enjoys public appreciation and awareness. I began using silverpoint in the early nineties, inspired by the drawings of Canadian master, John Gould. The medium remains exacting yet very rewarding as somehow, the artist feels “connected” to the work of centuries ago. As I continue this journey of walking in the footsteps of masters, I feel particularly blessed to have begun to master this ancient yet every bit contemporary technique.
In addition to traditional representational drawings in silverpoint, I have “pushed the envelope” along with a few others to take the medium into abstract and minimalist work. Very exciting. The journey continues…..

About the founders of ISA

Gerrit Verstraete is from the province of British Columbia, Canada. He is Dutch by birth, and since 1958, Canadian by nationality. In addition to traditional classical figurative drawing, abstract painting, and experimental works on paper, he is passionate about silverpoint drawing and an enthusiastic member of that small worldwide group of artists who share the same passion. He is also an arts education advocate, founder of the Drawing Society of Canada, and the online Canadian Academy of Drawing. His artwork appears in numerous private and public collections.

Jeannine Cook is from the state of Georgia, USA. She is Tanzanian by birth, European by heritage, British-American by nationality, Jeannine Cook is one of a small number of artists worldwide who specialize in silverpoint drawing. Passionate about sharing the beauty of this medium, she frequently writes and lectures about it, in addition to furthering her own and other artists’ opportunities to exhibit silverpoints. Her luminous watercolor paintings complement her shimmering drawings executed in silver. Cook’s work is in many public collections in the United States and Europe.