Thursday, April 26, 2012

Silverpoint and its limitations

I've been posting silverpoint drawings at various places on the net for a few years now. I usually don't get any comments at all which is depressing but I can live with that. I don't say much either so I can see where that is coming from. One comment I do get quite a bit is, "Your darks need to be darker." Uh, how many times does it need to be said, "This is as dark as it will get." Depending on the image that can be a deal breaker. But for the most part silverpoint will give me darks that are dark enough.
Silverpoint on off white prepared paper
14 x 10

 I think the people are used to seeing highly retouched photos with totally black darks and almost pure whites. Very contrasty and eye catching, but not really true to nature. Let's do something I usually don't do. Let's look at the reference photo I used for this drawing.
So here we have a very usable reference photo from the lovely auroradreams. I made a couple minor changes, but nothing earth shaking to be sure. Now look at the darkest darks, hair, eyes and the shadow under the knee. Silverpoint won't get quite that dark, but it will be pretty close especially when its aged and the silver has tarnished. Definitely not a problem though. Now look at the folds in the drapery. The shadows are light and airy with plenty of light reflected in them. Certainly no real dark darks there. But that's exactly where people want to see more contrast. Well, let's do a little retouching and see what that looks like.
That's certainly more dramatic. It's also becoming a completely different image. Better? Maybe. Worse? Maybe. Kinda depends on what you're trying to do. Again look at the darkest darks. All detail is gone including the reflected light on the knee. It just disappears into a black hole. Of course just because it doesn't show up on the photo doesn't mean I can't put it in anyway and I would, but it would have to be extremely subtle or the form wouldn't look rounded. And back to the drapery. The shadows are darker, much more dramatic with much, much less reflected light. A bad thing? Again, depends on what you're trying to do. Rembrandt made a pretty good reputation doing that. To my knowledge he only did one silverpoint though, and honestly it wasn't his best work. While we're on the subject of Rembrandt let's take this a little further.
Not quite Rembrandtesque but it's getting there, and I think we're close enough for our purposes today. I've darkened the midtones a bit more. I actually had to lighten the head and shoulder some because it was disappearing into the background. We've come a ways since the original image. Better, worse that's up to you. It's largely a matter of taste and really what you feel like at the time. Honestly, I think this retouched version is really a pretty good image for a drawing ...... in charcoal. I could get the background this dark in silverpoint, but the shine would be really annoying for quite a while. Charcoal or an ink wash would be a much better choice. I've learned it much better to not fight your medium, and silverpoint does have it's limitations. You want dramatic, use something else.

 I also think that's why silverpoints don't hold up particularly well in big shows. You don't get the high contrast, eye catching images that you can with other drawing media.  Silverpoints also tend to be small simply because they take a while to do. Those darks have to be slowly built up. So you have a big show of large, dramatic, eye catching pieces surrounding a few small, basically gray drawings. No matter how good they are they tend to get overlooked. Now before you start thinking this is all just sour grapes let me say I don't show silverpoints. These are just done for fun, and to keep my drawing skills sharp.

So if silverpoint is such a crappy, unmarketable medium why use it? Because I like it. It's perfect for smaller, intimate drawings.  I like those.  It just has a quality that is like nothing else.


Jeannine Cook said...

Perfect explanation of what some - only some! - people have troubles with in silverpoint. One of the other issues is that in digital images, the lustre of the silver never comes through, and that, I find, is what captivates people when they see these subtle, evocative drawings in real life.

Dave B said...

I agree that silverpoint is almost impossible to photograph. Even good photos don't capture the subtle beauty. But from the few I've shown, I've found that people don't bother to look hard enough to notice that quality in real life either. What does intrigue them, if they even notice, is that the lines are silver. I can only imagine what the response would be if I used gold. I get a lot of people that think it's pencil, including one of my favorite teachers. All in all it's much less frustrating to just do these for myself

Joanne Hopper said...

Beautiful silverpoint works David - it's hard for people who haven't done metal point to understand what goes into it - even other artists... Really love your snow scene too!

Dave B said...

Thanks and thanks for taking the time to comment. Sorry it took so long to get back to you. Been busy chasing my own tail it seems.

Most people have no idea what goes into any good art so i don't find silverpoint to be any different in that regard.

Thanks for mentioning the little landscape. Personally, I'm still not completely sold on it. There's more stuff coming. I'm just having trouble getting too excited about things lately.

Jocelyn said...

Hi: I found your silverpoint drawing, funny enough, because it seemed to have more variation in tone than many being done. It is well done.
I am going to be tackling a silverpoint soon, a one shot deal most likely, as I don't want to get into preparing surfaces for them after I use the one that someone else will be giving me.
I have been doing artwork and portrait commissions for over 20 yrs but have never tried silverpoint. I tend to work with more dramatic contrast lighting conditions than maybe what silverpoint is suited for, but will be trying it out :-)
Nice example of silverpoint that you have here :-)Thank you for sharing.

glenn said...

Hi Dave:

I like the snow scene as well. I have just started silverpoint and i was surprised that very few people have heard of it before, even the local art store?? Well it is coming into fashion again. Keep drawing and good luck.