Friday, September 30, 2016

Three old eyes

Silverpoint continues to fascinate me and teach me. The medium is demanding in a number of ways. It teaches patience and care in application of the stylus in the sense that once a mark is made the artist is committed to that mark owing to the difficulty with removing it. Metalpoint can't be erased the way graphite or charcoal are removed, with erasing material. Silverpoint can be used to achieve a fairly good range of values from dark to light, but the range is a compressed one because of the difficulty in achieving the darkest darks.
"Yellow Ochre," silverpoint, 4x6, 2015
In this drawing, for example, I wanted to achieve a believable range of values that was as wide as possible. This is an old, nearly-dried out tube of oil paint on my studio table, set on a value scale in bright light. I was trying to achieve the widest value separation I could using silverpoint. The ground is a gesso board, about 4x6. Even with much work, the value range is fairly narrow and probably not full steps.

The narrow range of values achievable with silvepoint is only possible with a patient and gentle approach; pressing too hard with the stylus may score the underlying ground, leaving marks that mar the overall value. Further, depending on the softness and adherence of the ground, it's possible to cause that layer to flake or crumble, which cannot be repaired. In making dark values, it seems to me that the best initial approach is to make gentle, circular movements of a beveled stylus, perhaps no more pressure being applied at first than the weight of the stylus and holder. As more and more metal is deposited, more pressure can be applied. Even so, a true black value is virtually impossible, for me.

Further, line weight is controlled differently with silverpoint than with graphite or other drawing materials. To darken and sharpen a line requires repeated (but again, gentle) applications along the line being laid down so that if the artist is careful, lines can be widened, shaped, sharpened or blurred, and varied substantially, delivering considerable realism. The trick is to begin where you know there will at least be some kind of mark. Initially the mark is will be faint if made gently and simple to modify if wrong. Clearly if you put it where there should not be a mark, you will have a significant problem depending on how dark it is. Instead, placing the first faint marks as a kind of scaffolding allows continuous and slow refinement of the image, so long as one begins with a fair amount of accuracy. 

"Three old eyes," silverpoint on paper, 2016
Here's an example of eyes from my recent metalpoint studies. This is the bottom half of a 6x8 spiral paper sketchbook prepped for metalpoint. These were done for practice from online images. Each eye is from a different, older individual. In each of these the value range is more narrow than it might seem at first, and only could be managed by a gentle and patient approach to mark-making.
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