Teaching a Renaissance Drawing Technique

Last week, S. and I visited the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Among the exhibitions, she became intruiged by a large collection of silverpoint drawings covering a broad span of history. S. expressed a great interest to learn the technique. Online, I ordered some small birch panels, silverpoint ground (an acrylic gesso) and a holder and found the right kind of silver (.999 pure) locally at a jeweler supply shop.

First, we applied a layer of ground to already-gessoed heavy paper for S. to use as a test sheet. Then we worked to prime the 9" x 12" birch panels. They required seven thin coats of ground (at least!) to cover properly. Next time, we will use undercoating layers of regular gesso or acrylic paint, as the silverpoint ground is expensive. I showed her how to sharpen the silver nibs on water-proof sandpaper: one like a pencil point, the other an angle (bevel).

I showed S. how to tint the final two layers of ground with watercolor to achieve a pastel-pale surface which we used on 3 panels, and left the other two white. We achieved two beautiful tones using ultramarine blue on and, and terra verde with a touch of lamp black on two others. This was an opportunity to reiterate about water-based paints vs oil paints; care of brushes, use of sandpaper, etc. Since Sylva is learning drawing techniques at this time, not painting, most of this is information for the future.

S. experimented with silverpoint on the test paper to see what kind of lines are achieveable with the technique. I reviewed the crosshatching technique. Then, I told her she needs to choose her own subject matter, now that she has improved so much in her contour-drawing skills. We also experimented with drawing on the silverpoint ground with graphite to set the composition. It turns out that the very thinnest mechanical pencil, used lightly, is the kind of graphite most easily erased, enabling the artist to set down a drawing, develop it in silverpoint, then erase the "helper" drawing. You can't erase silverpoint! That's a challenge for any beginner.


Deborah S.

Studio Arts, Literature & Writing

50+ hours
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