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Silverpoint Drawing

Updated on October 17, 2014

You can easily make a silverpoint tool and primed paper for drawing and experimenting with this historical medium. If you're a packrat like me, you can use the stuff you already have lying around to try it; otherwise, the materials are not very expensive. (Other metals will also leave a mark, so if you have any copper, gold, or other wire at hand, you can try that, too.)

Supplies you'll need...

18-22 gauge silver or copper wire. (See the next section for comments about obtaining wire.)

Craft knife blade holder. You don't need the blade, just the holder.

Wire cutter

Sharpening stone, file or wet/dry sandpaper

Card stock, art board or heavy paper

White watercolor paint or gouache (buy prepared or make your own (see below)

Artist's paint brush. Fan, wash or round, or whatever brush you already have.

Bristol Board pad or substitute.

First get your wire...

You can buy silver wire from a jeweler's supply company. Silver comes in different grades and hardnesses; I have been using a half-hard sterling silver with good results. I recommend about 18 gauge if you are buying it for this project, so it won't tend to bend as you draw. You might also have luck at a craft store, finding silver wire or pre-made earring wires or loops that you could straighten out. However, if you have some leftover wire or know someone who could give you some, go ahead and use that to see how you like it before investing in anything different. Alternatively, get some copper wire from the hardware store and do copperpoint.

Open up the chuck on the knife blade holder. Cut the wire with wire cutter so that about 3/8" will stick out when you mount it in the knife holder (less if your wire is thin, so it will have more support). Use the stone, file or sandpaper to remove the burr from cutting and make the point smooth. Some artists like a pointy cone shape. My own philosophy is that I don't want to be sharpening all the time, so I try to make a dome shape like what it's going to wear down to anyway. Use your own preference, but try not to leave anything sharp at the tip. Insert the wire into the holder and tighten it down. That's your drawing tool.

Prepare your surface...

Now for the paper: silver won't leave much, if any, of a mark on ordinary paper. You need to coat it with something to give it more tooth. Some say that there is also a chemical reaction, in addition to the abrasiveness of the coating. Anyway, a white watercolor or gouache should work pretty well. I make my own version of a white gouache by mixing gum arabic (mine came cheaply from a printer's supply store, but you can get it at art stores - probably a better grade there) with pure powdered titanium white pigment and water. Mix your paint to a thin skim-milk consistency, and brush it onto the paper with a fan brush, or whatever brush you have. My personal preference is to just use one thin coat. It's enough to catch the mark from the silver, but it still stays close to the paper fiber.

Here's the tricky part - you'll have to weight the paper down while it's drying if you want it to dry smooth. I wait a few minutes until there are no wet spots on the surface, then I interleave it into a pad of bristol board and weight it down with books overnight. Look around and see what you have that might work for you. I find I don't have much other use for bristol board, so I'm perfectly happy to use mine this way. You might have some old mat boards you could use.

Go ahead and draw...

Once your paper is dry, start drawing. Make enough sheets so that your not afraid to experiment. It's really not that different than using a really hard pencil. The line is very delicate, and never dark black. Very faint lines that you make with almost no pressure can even be erased.

Go for it!

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      rachel_e_reagan 7 years ago

      @PaulaGail: Thank you very much! I can't wait to try it! : D

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      PaulaGail 7 years ago

      [in reply to rachel_e_reagan] Yes, that's what I use - the blade holder (without the blade, of course) will clamp down nicely on the wire.

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      rachel_e_reagan 7 years ago

      I was wondering what kind of hobby knife will hold 18-22 guaged silver wire. Will a #11 exacto blade work?

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      anonymous 7 years ago

      Excellant instructive How-to. Thanks.

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      anonymous 8 years ago

      Thanks for your advice on paper preperation, I am going to try it,