As you know, I love trying new techniques and especially reviving old or forgotten ways, so . . .
Silverpoint is a drawing technique that uses metal points (usually pure silver but also gold and iron) on a prepared ground. This was the only way that fine and detailed drawings could be made by the Old Masters of the Renaissance, until graphite was discovered and pencils as we know them started to appear after 1760. Graphite was mined in Borrowdale in the 1500s, eventually giving rise in 1832 to the UK’s first pencil company which launched the Derwent brand of pencils.
I have always been an admirer of Albrecht Durer, who was extremely skilled at silverpoint. I first researched the technique in the 1970s, and spent many hours in the London art shop of L. Cornelissen & Sons, looking at materials. At the time, I never took it any further - but just recently a client suggested that I might like to try it, and it sounded like an ideal opportunity to see what I could do. After some enjoyable experiments with different materials, I'm delighted to say that my first silverpoint works are now for sale.
Firstly, unlike a pencil, a metal point doesn't make a mark on plain paper! The paper has to be specially prepared. First it is stretched flat, then a carefully-mixed 'ground' (using my own take on an old traditional recipe) is applied to the surface. Subtle colour can be added to the 'ground', for example in the barn owl drawing above.
When the 'ground' is completely dry, I can start to draw on it with points of metal which I perpare for drawing myself - mostly silver and gold but also platinum. The metal leaves a trace on the prepared 'ground' (surprisingly they all leave a similar grey mark on the paper but they do have subtle differences) - gentle strokes achieve fine lines, but increased pressure strengthens and deepens the shading. However, great care has to be taken not to damage the underlying surface, which also renders an eraser useless! The resulting image has a soft, ethereal quality that works especially well with feathers and water.
The finished works are very subtle and each one has a label on the back of the frame detailing which of the precious metal points I have used for the drawing.
If you would like to be the first to receive news of the next drawing in Silverpoint, then please drop us a line.
This drawing (below) was the first Silverpoint that I attempted, I did a lot of drawings of people and portraits when I was young, so it was nice to return to this after such a long time.