Saturday, September 27, 2008


Live Oak Silverpoint Drawing (work in progress)

I just ordered another bag of Silverpoint Ground and a new silverpoint tool. It reminded me of how many people have never heard of silverpoint and seem kind of bemused when I tell them that I make drawings using a real piece of silver. The more cynical of them reply "why not just use a pencil?" When I try to explain the difference between a real piece of silver and some graphite mixed with clay, I see them glaze over and when I say it is the difference between scratchy polyester and silk pajamas I often get the response "I don't like the feel of silk!" I must be getting old...shaking my head and wondering what the world is coming to.

Following this train of thought brought on a musing about when and how I learned about silverpoint in the first place. I seem to remember everything that interests me about art! During my high school years I used to drive to school using my mother's car (whenever I could finagle it from her) and check into first period and after attendance I would sneak out and drive myself to the Philadelphia Art Museum for the day, returning for the last period to drive my friends the few miles to the field hockey practice. I never did get caught!

Those Ingres drawings! I would wander the galleries and hallways of that museum marveling and studying harder than I ever did at school. I loved the idea of making drawings with a piece of silver and later it was Ralph Mayer in the "Artists' Handbook" that the directions for making silverpoint papers and tools inspired me to try it. I learned that the silver would not make a mark on many papers, and on some the marks would be very faint. Mayer's directions for making silverpoint papers used Chinese White Watercolor (Zinc White) mixed into a slurry and painted onto hot press watercolor paper. I have since learned that this method makes a very unsatisfactory paper, and it is much better to use a traditional gesso ground which I buy in powder form from This is not hard to do, but when I tell my friends that gesso has to be cooked, but must not get too hot, I get that glazed over look again.

This particular drawing is one of my "Red Light Drawings" which I keep in my car and work on it when stuck at red lights, highway construction and horrific accidents. I have worked on this one at other times, but it lives in the car, along with a silverpoint tool (a rod of silver inserted into a mechanical pencil holder), and kneaded eraser. Having a drawing to do, music on the radio, keeps me calm and serene when others are fuming under such circumstances, and one time after a two hour tie-up for an accident, I was sad to have to go again. I must admit that I have too much time invested in this drawing and I'll never be able to charge enough to cover those hours, but I don't care. I love to tilt the piece toward the light and watch the shiny silver surface reflecting the light.

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