I became entranced by silverpoint drawing simply by looking at many of Da Vinci’s drawings done in silverpoint. Today, one does not hear about this graphic technique very often as it is not commonly used, despite it having been around for about 600 years. Silverpoint is considered to be one of the most challenging of all graphic mediums. Marks made with silverpoint can never be erased once put down on paper, so no reworking is possible!
What is silverpoint?
Silverpoint drawing is with a silver wire that is held within a mechanical pencil, or other type of holder. With the help of the internet, it is easy to find and quick to prepare. As a new drawing the lines you make will look blue gray in color. However, since silver tarnishes, the color will turn brown over time. Often this tarnishing is desirable as it gives it a very characteristic appearance.
The fact that silverpoint cannot be erased can be seen as both a good and bad thing. Bad in that you are never able to correct yourself and your errors are there for all to see ;-). Good in that you can see the cumulative effect your drawing takes on! Also, nobody can ever erase your drawing away! So, the good far outweighs the bad with this graphite technique 🙂 And, who wouldn’t want to use the same type of technique that artists also used hundreds of years ago.
How to prepare your paper for silverpoint drawing
Unlike graphite, silverpoint requires special surface preparation
If you try to draw on a raw sheet of paper you will likely only make indentations into the paper. This is because the metal is too hard to make any traction onto the paper. Graphite is much softer, which is why it is able to make a mark on raw paper. When a coat of gouache is applied to a piece of paper, there is enough tooth for silverpoint to make a mark on the surface.
Preparing a surface for silverpoint drawing
- Stretch some acid free watercolor or drawing paper and coat it with zinc white gouache or watercolor. Silverpoint draws well on this kind of surface. One or two thin coats of gouache should be enough. You can also use the Golden Silverpoint Drawing Ground shown below.
- Simply wait for the coating to dry completely before drawing.
Materials needed for silverpoint drawing
Not many materials are needed for you to start to your silverpoint drawing! Below are the silverpoint drawing tools you will need.
A note on store bought surfaces used for silverpoint drawing
There are surfaces/paper available for purchase but these tend not to be archival. It is best to prepare your own surface as outlined above. You can even make a tinted ground yourself by tinting the gouache (or silverpoint ground) if you wish to do so.
How to use silverpoint
Before drawing with silverpoint, try to round the edges of the point of the silver wire. You can achieve this by making some broad strokes on your paper and after it is rounded it will be ready to properly draw with!
Silverpoint drawing is best for smaller scale drawings, due to the delicate nature of the medium. It is not meant to be used in broad strokes on large surfaces. You can certainly try it though!
As well, it cannot reach a dark value range as its deepest tone is a mid tone. Silverpoint is predominantly considered a linear technique as it does not lend itself very easily to shading. A shading effect with silverpoint, can be created with cross hatching and laying down lines close together. This line hatching to create shadows can be seen in the image below of one of Da Vinci’s drawings.
Cross Hatching and Line Drawing
Here is one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s silverpoint drawings. Notice the cross hatching over the clothing of the individuals and how it builds up in different areas of the drawing. He was able to get a surprisingly dark value out of his silverpoint in this drawing by building up several lines over time. There are numerous drawing lessons from Da Vinci that we can learn from but this nuance of drawing with silverpoint I think is particularly special.
A different example of an absolutely exquisite drawing by Rogier van der Weyden. Is clear that he is using the delicate quality of silverpoint to its full effect. The combination of the piece having a delicate clear line quality with the entire image being in a high key makes for a beautifully sensitive combination.
Thanks for reading! Please comment below if you have any thoughts or questions about drawing with silverpoint. If you’re looking for ideas of things to draw, that would fun to try in silverpoint as well, here is how to draw a rose. For additional drawing resources, here is a list of some of the best drawing books for learning how to draw or an article on drawing tips for beginners.