I’ve started playing around with a medium that is new to me, but that has been around for literally hundreds of years. Before graphite was invented, artists, many of them well known masters, drew with something else. Metal. Metalpoint or silverpoint is an old world, but still somewhat obscure art form that imbues elegance, luminance, and ethereal ambiance upon the viewer of these artworks. I am learning a lot as I go, but it’s a steep learning curve since there are not a lot of written materials out there for the medium like there are for mediums like oils or acrylics. A lot of the learning process is simply trial and error and digging for info from the few artists out there who are currently practicing this medium.
To start, you need metal. The most popular metals used are fine silver, sterling silver, 24K gold, and copper, as well as a plethora of other metals. Each has it’s own properties and behaviors that will affect the end result of the art piece. Fine silver and gold will not tarnish because they are pure metals, whereas sterling will tarnish to a lovely brown, and copper will sometimes tarnish in such a manner as to almost completely disappear. One of the intriguing things about this medium is that the metals will behave how they want to and in their own good time, sometimes changing within days to taking years to change. I have chosen sterling silver since it was the easiest to get my hands on and was not too expensive. I chose gauges of sterling wire that would fit into 2mm, .9mm, and .5mm mechanical pencil barrels. This makes it the easiest to use like I am holding a pencil.
You also need a substrate such a paper, board, or wood. Most of the time you will need a “ground” that will need to be applied to the substrate. These grounds usually have some sort of a grit to them and this is what grabs the metal particles and allows them to transfer to the surface. Try drawing on regular printer paper with a piece of metal and you will quickly see that nothing happens. Go make a small mark on a wall in your house sporting flat paint and voila…it marks! Some papers and substrates don’t need a ground such a the newer “stone” papers that are tree free, some plastic based papers, and pre-gessoed panels. I have chosen a gessoed panel from Ampersand called Encausticbord for my first piece. I’ve quickly learned that while this had the most subtle texture of Ampersand’s boards, it is still a texture I am fighting, so next time I will sand that texture smooth.
So my subject is a lovely bighorn ram that I took a photo of while on a day trip to a wildlife park this past summer. I love the subtlety that you get with this medium. The darks will only get so dark and the darkest darks will flash the color of the metal you are using when hit with light at the right angle which is pretty cool. I should mention that this is a completely unforgiving medium. Once you put a mark down, it is permanent and it cannot be erased in most cases. Sanded away in a very few cases, but more than likely not.
And this is my progress so far after working on this during my last two craft fairs of the season. I still have a long way to go and the horns are a bit intimidating, but I’ll get there sooner or later.
Stay tuned and to see the end result.