Developments (DoL)

So, what is going on with this piece?

On returning from Ireland, I was hoping the silver would have darkened for me. Two weeks usually gives me some changes in value. I have used chalk gesso for silverpoint before, but this time things seemed slow. Silver oxidation is dependent on many factors, including environment and weather, but this area of the country has never let me down, as the air pollution and humidity always seem to work with me on this.

The surface also seems less able to handle the thinner silver stylus I use for fine detail. It seems to gouge the surface more easily.

I reviewed the formula of the gesso from my old notebook, and I think I have found the issue. The development of a panel for iconography includes an increase in the ratio of the rabbitskin glue solution to the chalk every three layers. The top layers have a thinner consistency, with more glue, allowing for a smoother surface for sanding. This may decrease the ability of the surface to pull silver from the stylus.

Panels I prepare for silverpoint are rarely covered with more than 3-4 layers of sanded or textured gesso, and I do not decrease the ratio of glue. There is more chalk, and more substance to the layering.

So what do I do?

First, the silver is darkening, it is just taking longer, so I need to work up the colors and be patient. This one may take longer than anticipated and may not be ready for the June show. Second, I need to work up my design in a more stylized fashion, with fewer details than I wanted.

I also need to start up another piece to keep me from fussing too much with this one.

Enjoy the opening act of ‘A Pookah Encountered on the Spiral Path’



Silver Layer (DoL)

Working up the first layer of Daughter of Lir silverpoint. At this stage, the silver is highly metallic, cool grey, and a bit bland. All the darks are similar in value. As the silver tarnishes to a browner color, it will darken, and I will add more layers of silver.

But this is a closeup of some of the detail.

details of the silverpoint layout

details of the silverpoint layout


A word about silver (DoL)

I suppose, if I am going to work two pieces at once, I should have a notation in the title to show you which piece I’m posting. Birch Interlace: (BI) and Daughter of Lir (DoL). You can always go to the separate categories for material specific to each piece.

The original sketch for Daughter of Lir was done at least three years ago. I was excited about my new discovery of silverpoint, and when I found that the chalk gesso used for silverpoint was functionally identical to the gesso I used with egg tempera, I designed a number of pieces in a Celtic Mythology series to highlight the dramatic difference between the delicate silver lines and bright tempera.

Many artists have used metal points to do their sketching and underdrawings. We call our modern pencils “lead” though they are graphite. Originally they were actually lead. Many different metals can be used for drawing, most requiring some sort of “tooth” to be established on the surface for drawing. Silver and gold are the most prevalent metals used for drawing today, but artists also use copper and bronze.

Silver is a very popular metal point. It tarnishes as it ages, which creates a very nice sepia color and deepens the tone of the areas which are layered and crosshatched. A sealing coat is required to stop the process. Silver starts out as a pale grey line, cool and soft, tarnishing to a delicate, warm sepia. In heavily worked areas of metal, there is initially a reflective quality that tarnishes to a darker shine. Pieces take time to mature, and the artist has to be aware of the changing tones and temperature of the piece.

Gold works well, to create soft, warm, non-reflective, grey lines which do not tarnish. It is difficult to establish darker tones, for me anyway.

The silver used in drawing is not jewelry silver. Pure silver, or .999 silver is soft, and can be used for drawing. It can also be “annealed” with heat to around 800 F to harden it and remove trace impurities. I use gold points, and annealed silver points, sold at SilverpointWeb, which I have added to my links. It is an extremely useful website for all levels of interest in this drawing technique. I’m just getting started with it, and I visit this site often.

A chalk gesso provides a fine, microscopic “tooth” to remove shreds of metal from the point as it is drawn across the surface. Standard acrylic gessoes are not “toothy” enough. Chalk gessoes tend to be more brittle, requiring a panel or stretched paper to ensure that the gesso won’t crack. I prefer panels.

The creation of chalk gesso is a complex process, and I would be happy to discuss it on the Mydwynter Studio Art Forum (link available above). It will most likely become a topic soon, as there has already been some interest in it. A gesso with a high proportion of chalk can help create darker tones in silver, as it pulls more metal from the point.

Art-Boards sells an acrylic “panel gesso” with a high proportion of chalk, designed for use on rigid surfaces, such as wooden panels. I have used it, and while the tones in silver are not quite as deep as with chalk gesso, it makes up for that in its amazing ease of use. Just apply to the surface, allow to dry, and sand lightly. I prepared six panels in an afternoon with the quick-drying acrylic gesso, as opposed to three panels in two weeks with chalk gesso. I love being able to work with a quick silverpoint sketch the same day it comes to mind. This gesso is also supposed to work well with egg tempera. I hope to try that out soon.

Golden has recently come out with a “drawing gesso”, also having a higher proportion of chalk. I haven’t used it, but it is very positively reviewed on the SilverpointWeb site, where they also sell it.

I would be happy to engage in a more detailed discussion with other artists in this technique or with those interested in starting. Catch me over at the Mydwynter Studios Art Forum any time.


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