Sunday, April 13, 2008

Behind the Veil - Pencil vs Silverpoint

People occasionally comment on how many different media I use, oil, watercolor, egg tempera, and a bunch of different drawing media. They'll ask how I decide which to use on a particular piece. Sometimes it's just a matter of what I feel like. Right now I'm thinking I haven't done a watercolor in a while so I'll probably dust them off and do some. But sometimes there actually is a good reason for using one medium over another.

Each medium has it's strong points and weaknesses. Let's look at some drawing media this time, specifically silverpoint as opposed to pencil. They are very similar in a number of ways, and I tend to use them in about the same manner with a couple exceptions. Silverpoint is difficult at best to erase so what you put down, be prepared to live with. No going back to pick out highlights with an eraser. Pencil is a quicker medium, good for sketching and exploring a form. It's really a more forgiving and versatile medium. Pictures are worth a thousand words and that's good because I'm much better with images than words, so on to the pictures.

Silverpoint on blue gray prepared paper

Silverpoint, to me, is best used for something like this, small and intimate. It holds details well although that isn't particularly important in this drawing. The down side is you can't produce a very dark tone. As a result they won't capture your attention from across the room. So don't try, play to its strengths. The pale gray lines produced by a silver wire will give a very sensitive treatment of the subject. As the silver tarnishes the drawing will become slightly warmer further adding to intimacy. It's a very subtle warming that you really won't notice happening. You'll feel it more than see it. I've talked a lot about silverpoint in earlier posts, no need repeating myself any more than I already have.

Pencil heightened with white chalk on gray laid paper

So here we have a similar subject. It's slightly bigger (the silverpoint is about actual size in the larger view) and the paper is darker, but still similar. The major difference is in the treatment. A pencil allows for much darker values letting me create an image where the figure emerges from the shadows. I couldn't have done this with silverpoint simply because silverpoint won't give me a dark that dark, but with pencil -- no problem. The choice for pencil here was an easy one.

Let's say I had done the second one in silverpoint, the darks would have been about as dark as the paper, maybe another step darker, but that's it. I might have made that work, but instead of a dark, mysterious piece it would have been much airier, more like a cloud than a shadow. It would have had a completely different feel and not what I was going for at all. Somebody is probably thinking that I could have done the first one in pencil. It wouldn't have looked that much different and probably would have been easier. That may well be true. So why silverpoint over the more versatile pencil? It's largely a matter of feel that doesn't translate well to photography much less the net. Besides I felt like it and I have a lot of silver wire to use up.

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