One of my recent projects has been researching metalpoint, particularly grounds and supports. I've been experimenting with various kinds of supports, both rigid and softer using gold and silver styluses. Goldpoint can't deliver the deeper darks that silver does, but it imparts a hazy, ethereal quality that's missing from silverpoint, at least in my hands. To try out these unfamiliar materials I've been doing some drawings, lately mostly copies and originals of old cameos, particularly cameos of gods of mythology, which have a stylized appearance.
Cameos date back to Roman times, often carved from shell, wherein the darker layers are removed, bit by bit, leaving the lighter, creamy-colored material of the shell as a delicately carved profile. Most often the profile is a pretty woman, but sometimes less attractive subjects, like Medusa, were carved, as well as male gods, such as Mars. And cameos weren't always carved from shell but were carved from lava and other stone as well.
|"Cameo," gold and silverpoint, 4x6 panel|
Metalpoint is drawn on a slightly gritty surface, which abrades metal from the stylus. With metalpoint, you have to begin with the lightest of touches--almost letting the weight of the stylus and holder keep the metal against the surface and drawing it lightly across the surface. To achieve darker tones the best method is to cross hatch, again lightly, going over the surface repeatedly, adding very slightly more pressure, then more and more and finally just a bit more pressure. Even so, truly dark darks have been very difficult for me.
The drawings in this post were all done primarily as personal studies rather than images for sale. The first is simply an image of an old cameo rather than a specific character. Many times cameos depicted a mythological character, or perhaps a sign of the zodiac, but sometimes they just showed a pretty woman, as the first does. The second is the goddess Flora, who is known by the flower spray and by flowers in her hair. She is also based on an antique shell cameo.
|"Flora," gold and silverpoint, 6x8 panel|
I've been laying in an underdrawing, approximating the outline, contours, and so on with gold, which has a warm medium-dark tone. Silver is cooler and darker, and I use it for the final drawing in all of its phases, especially trying my best to achieve smooth darks without evidence of marks.
As is fairly obvious, the drawings with the most silverpoint passages have the widest and most satisfying value ranges.The much firmer surface of the gesso panels allows for considerable variation in line weight and value whereas the softer paper (see Eros below) makes for softer, more gauzy atmosphere. So the support can vary depending on the overall effect desired without losing much in terms of value separation. But for sharper and harder lines, more definition and a generally solid effect, a firmer support is useful.
|"Eros Cameo," 6x8 silverpoint on paper|
|"Diana," 6x8 silverpoint on paper|
The huntress Diana was taken from an antique cameo I saw online. She looks a trifle wild-eyed, it seems to me. Diana can always be recognized by the crescent moon symbol. She carries her bow over one shoulder.
Previous posts about metalpoint:
Metalpoint, August 2015
Excellent book about metalpoint methods:
Old Master Drawing Methods
Australian Metalpoint Master: