Do you remember joking around as a child, pretending to draw on the walls with a click pen? You thought the nib was safely stowed, but the metal casing marked the wall anyway. Or perhaps you discovered metalpoint drawing by dragging a key along a painted surface. If not, maybe it's time to start playing.
Silver, and other metal wire, was used to draw with in Renaissance times, before the discovery of graphite and the development of the pencil. Leonardo Da Vinci produced some beautiful silverpoint artwork (see the drawing on the right) because his meticulous nature and attention to detail suited the restrictions of the medium.
Requirements for metalpoint drawing
Metalpoint drawings are done on a specific paper or board that has been primed with chalk, clay, gesso, or gouache paint, much like the painted wall of childhood experimentation.
Most metalpoint artists use a length of wire clamped in a pen-shaped vice or a stylus. The point of the wire can be rounded off for a softer impression, and this is easier to work with for beginners - and is erasable if the drawing pressure is not too heavy.
For a finer line, the wire can be shaped with a grinding stone to form a sharp point. This sharpened point usually etches slightly into the paint layer and is not erasable.
Most metal wire can be used for metalpoint drawing. Silver wire produces a silvery grey mark to begin with, but oxidises to a brown colour. Copperpoint becomes greenish, bronze becomes yellowish - so it is worth taking the final colouring into consideration if you are after a specific look. You can hasten the colour change by placing the drawing in the sun.
Metalpoint drawing requires patience but the resultant artwork has a delicacy that is more difficult to achieve with pencil. Tones have to be built up in layers of hatching strokes, and it is not possible to achieve very dark strokes, giving the drawing an ethereal quality. Areas can be softened by careful smudging.
If you enjoy meticulous drawing and are frustrated by the roughness of a pencil drawing and the tooth of general drawing paper, you will appreciate the charms of metalpoint.
This article was first published on BellaOnline in April 2007. © Elsa Neal
Drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci, Public domain image
If you want to experiment with different drawing techniques, you might like Experimental Drawing by Robert Kaupelis