The drawing pencils we know today are made of graphite which became popular as a material for drawing towards the end of the 16th century. Before then drawings were made using a variety of metal sticks. Many of the lovely drawings of the Renaissance period were done using these ‘metal points’. Lead point was the easiest of metals for the artist to use because it didn’t require the paper to be coated with a slightly toothy surface like silverpoint did. The drawback is that lead is a very soft metal which blunts very easily so the point must be re-shaped often. It was often alloyed with tin to make it harder and reduce the need for constant re-shaping.
Today we still talk about the core of a graphite pencil or coloured pencil as a ‘lead’. We also sell graphite sticks, thin and also 2mm, that are called ‘leads’ and the holder for the loose leads is called a ‘clutch pencil’ or ‘lead holder’. Some sizes of the clutch lead holders work well with silver rods.
Some examples of silverpoint drawings from the 15-17th centuries:
An abrasive surface is used to allow the metal to leave a trail of itself. Metal point drawings are difficult to erase but they also do not easily smear. It is best suited to a delicate style of line drawing, a sensitive hand and a confidence that doesn’t use erasure. You can use the end of the metal as a rounded tip or you can sharpen it on a sharpening stone, with sandpaper or using metal cutters. Realise that a very sharp point will leave indents in the drawing surface.
At Jackson’s Art Supplies we stock a variety of traditional metal point materials:
Lead Point Stylus–
This stick of solid lead is quite heavy for its size. It comes wrapped in tape.
Because it is the softest metal it makes the darkest grey line of the metal points.
A lead point will make a mark on any paper.
Lead-Tin Point Stylus–
This solid stick of lead-tin alloy is nearly as heavy as the lead point. It comes wrapped in tape.
Because the lead is alloyed with tin it is a bit harder so it blunts less quickly and it makes a slightly lighter coloured grey line than the lead stylus.
Will make a mark on any paper.
These 100% silver rods and wires need to be held in a clutch holder which is purchased separately or they come in a ‘pencil’ that is a wood body with a silver wire glued in the tip.
The thin wires fit the wire holder (a type of pin vise) and the 2mm rods fit any of our 2mm clutch lead holders.
The silver marks of the drawing will tarnish over months or years and become a darker, more brown colour, this is one of the effects desired by artists.
The silver is the hardest metal and requires a smooth yet somewhat toothy surface that can be achieved by preparing your surface with gesso primer, Golden Silverpoint Ground, Sinopia Chalk Casein Ground for Silverpoint or by using a toothy pastel paper such as Mi Teintes Touch paper and card or Clairefontaine Pastelmat papers. When testing – the 2mm silver rod was found similar to a 3H pencil hardness.
This 9ct gold wire fits the wire holder (see above).
The gold is softer than silver but still works best on a coated ground the same as silverpoint does. The colour is a warm grey to a golden colour, with a golden sheen.
The gold does not tarnish so the drawing colour will not change.
Golden Silverpoint Ground–
Many artists enjoy drawing on a surface of illustration board coated with silverpoint ground. The thickness of the board means the moisture from applying the ground will not curl the paper.
As Golden say:
“Designed for the achievement of fine, detailed lines, Silverpoint / Drawing Ground is permanent, lightfast and more flexible over time than traditional preparations. Formulated to meet the unique needs of metal point artists, Golden Silverpoint / Drawing Ground offers a metal receptive ground, applicable to a range of drawing supports. Developed for easy application, the ground has a very fluid consistency that will level as it dries. A Single coat of Silverpoint / Drawing Ground provides a smooth, durable surface, ideal for mark making with a silverpoint stylus or other metal, such as brass, gold, copper, or even a steel paperclip.
Silverpoint, or metal point, drawing as an art form has changed little over the centuries of its distinguished history. The artist working in silverpoint today has an intimate connection to the work of such revered artists as da Vinci and Rembrandt, as well as more recently, Picasso and Joseph Stella. As tiny particles of metal are left behind on a slightly abrasive ground, metal point drawing offers the ability to achieve lasting, exquisitely detailed lines that won’t smudge. If different types of metal are used within a piece, over time oxidation of the different metals will impart subtle shifts in the tonality of the lines.”
Read these earlier posts about silverpoint.
You might like the book Silverpoint and Metalpoint Drawing.
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Postage on orders shipped standard to mainland UK addresses is free for orders of £39.