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What Is Silverpoint?

Wednesday, September 23, 2020


Happy Wednesday, My Lovelies!  I've received some questions about silverpoint from posts on my other blog and Instagram, so I thought I'd write a post about it.

Metalpoint is using any type of metal to leave a mark on either paper or board that has been treated with a special ground.  Silverpoint refers to drawings made with a silver stylus.  Literally any kind of metal can be used, but the reason I like silver is because it doesn't stay gray: It tarnishes to a soft sepia brown-like color.  Gold, copper, lead, iron, zinc, platinum, aluminum, and brass have been used by artists.

Here are examples of metal styli: gold, silver, and copper.
This photo is from Silverpoint Web, and this site is a very good resource for all things silverpoint.

Sometimes silverpoint is mistaken for goldpoint because it turns tawny, but goldpoint does not look like gold, surprisingly.  Instead it's a very pale, delicate gray.  I would like to try it in the future, but they styli are very expensive.

Metal will not work on just any surface.  It must be prepared with a special ground.  Pigment is combined with a binder; the pigment can be made from anything, and during the Middle Ages and Renaissance it was typically made from ground animal bones with a binder of rabbit skin glue.  Then the paper or wooden board was brushed with the ground and dried before use.

Silverpoint was used for documents as well as drawing.  Monks used it for illuminated manuscripts beginning in the 8th Century.  The old masters used it until graphite was discovered in the 17th Century.  

This soldier was drawn by Leonardo da Vinci as a demonstration for his students in his studio.  The students were then expected to draw it.

St. Barbara
Jan van Eyck
I'm amazed how intricate her tower is!

Silverpoint was virtually forgotten for hundreds of years. Cennino Cennini’s Il Libro dell’Arte 1390 manuscript, rediscovered in the 19th century, revealed the technique of silverpoint.  Artists are definitely intrigued by it, but it is an unpredictable medium.  It is very delicate, and it is very difficult to erase because if erased too hard, then the ground can be removed and the silverpoint won't stick to the paper.

I first became interested in silverpoint when I took our daughter to her art class at the Jules Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn, University.  The museum was hosting an exhibit of Russian born and trained artist Viktor Koulbak.  I fell in love with his art.  Click on the link for the museum to see more.

Viktor Koulbak
Many artists enhance silverpoint with other media, like oils, watercolors, even colored pencils.

I have drawn four silverpoint drawings so far.  I really like it!  One reason is it is so portable.  I can throw my silverpoint pencil in my purse and not have to worry about it marking anything!  All I need is my stylus and a sheet or two of treated paper.  Another thing I like about the medium is that most pieces are small.  Silverpoint requires lots of layering.  

These pumpkins are my first silverpoint drawings.  You can see how I practiced the spheres at the top of the page:  Silverpoint is a study in values, or lights and darks.

Below are three orchid studies

This orchid was harder to draw because the top blossom and buds were the only things in focus.  The rest of the blossoms were out of focus, so I had to treat them as little abstracts.  Now that I look at it on the computer screen, I think I'm going to slightly darken the lower out of focus blossoms.

This is my mechanical pencil with the silver stylus.  I love it because one end is flat, ant the other one is a sharper point.  

Below are a couple of contemporary silverpoint artists I admire:

Joanne Harper

This book introduced me to silverpoint techniques and contemporary artists.  I highly recommend it, and I love Banjie's art.  Here is a LINK to her site.

Another website I'd like to recommend (that I also quoted in this post) is Jeannine Cook's site.  

The National Gallery held a silverpoint exhibit in 2015.  I hate that I missed it!  Below is a book about the exhibit.  It is phenomenal!  All artists' libraries should have a copy of it.

Silverpoint needs to be seen in person.  Photographs don't do it justice because it can't capture the unique sheen.  If there is ever an exhibit of silverpoint near you in the future, go see it because it really is a unique medium that is a joy to see.

Until next time...

Ricki Jill


  1. You just taught me something new! I never heard of this. I must have slept through this in art history. You are very talented.

  2. This is beautiful. I had never heard of this before. Thank you for sharing this. xoxo

  3. Hmmmm, this is all new to me and very interesting. I need to learn more about this! Your pumpkins are drawn to perfection!!

  4. Even on the computer, it is gorgeous!! Thanks for teaching me about something I'd never heard about!

  5. This is all new and interesting to me. Your drawings are amazing.........

  6. I had not heard of silverpoint before and these examples are all beautiful.

  7. Your drawings are beautiful! This is very interesting.

  8. And now we know.....this is fascinating, and as I've said before, your works are beautiful!

  9. These are all stunning RJ, wow, your patience is incredible, what an impressive technique!

  10. Thanks for this, RJ. I think I heard of silverpoint from my art history classes eons ago but they never really said what it WAS or how to do it -- it was just that "this is an oil, that is a silverpoint." I love both the examples you showed and the work you did yourself. It looks challenging, fun and I love the finished work. Brava.

  11. This is so beautiful. I have never heard of silver point before...I'm so intrigued! Thank you. Your drawings are exceptional, you have such a talent! wishing you a blessed weekend, xo Lidy


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I'm Ricki Jill. Welcome! I'm honored that you're reading my blog. I enjoy sharing my creative lifestyle @ The Bookish Dilettante. For more information about my blog, please read the Start Here page. Thank-you for stopping by, and I hope you'll consider following me via email.

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