Friday, September 09, 2016

More Metalpoint

A year or so ago I posted a bit about metalpoint, with a few silverpoint drawings that I had done on small gesso boards. In particular, there is a paragraph or two in that posting about metalpoint drawing, including a bit of history. Metalpoint is a very old method of mark-making. The Romans, and probably other ancients before them, made marks using rods of soft, metallic lead. These were generally used in writing rather than drawing. Eventually, rods of silver, relatively soft too, were substituted and by the Middle Ages and Renaissance artists were drawing on various surfaces like vellum and paper using silver rods. Masters of that time, including da Vinci, used silverpoint as a way to draw studies rather than as finished artwork. Other early masters made detailed under-drawings to guide tempera and then oil paintings.

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
The surfaces I've used have been gesso panels, either prepped with a special silverpoint ground, or simply bare gesso, and also 300 pound cold-press watercolor paper prepped with the same silverpoint ground. To some of the panels and paper I added some titanium buff pigment to the ground before brushing it on, which gives the surface an antique look.

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
Eros was done on 300 pound watercolor paper prepped with Golden silverpoint ground. The ground has a fairly light tooth which, coupled with the relatively soft support, means a narrower range of values is possible. Although it looks as if there is a photographic bloom of light on the top of the oval, it is actually drawn that way to emulate top lighting spilling down the cameo.
"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:
Gordon Hanley
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