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Check our Frequently Asked Questions to see if we’ve addressed your question or e-mail us at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.


Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take for the drawing to achieve the patina, or color change?

First, opinions vary on what’s occuring to cause the change. Some authoritive sources call it “oxidation;” others state that it is more an effect of atmospheric sulfur. I know that works framed behind glass can take years to begin to change. I also know that several works I stored in a basement for three months changed considerably during that brief time. There was a noticeable aroma of sewer gas, so perhaps there’s a connection – and, I must add, it was pretty humid, so atmospheric water vapor might also be a contributing factor. I haven’t been able to duplicate the conditions in my studio, but if I do I’ll post it here.

I’m afraid the answer is, “It depends.” I tend to go with the sulfur theory, so if you live, say, downwind of a pulp mill with a bad stack scrubber, maybe your drawing will acquire the patina in as little as a day. Also, depth of the silver deposited on the surface makes a difference; light shading and blends will change rapidly, giving a most unusual quality to the drawing, and a sure way for a connoiseur to tell at a glance that the item is a silverpoint. I have seen changes in drawings I’ve vigorously blended after only a day. As they say in the NewsGroups, YMMV (your mileage may vary.)



Which paper do you recommend?

A 70 to 90-lb smooth plate premium drawing paper seems to work best, for my purposes anyway – I use Strathmore 500 Series 2-ply drawing paper. Good results can be obtained from any quality high rag content paper. Wood-pulp based papers have a tendency to tear, but if you treat them gently and don’t rub them at all (wiping makes little paper-pulp raisins) they should be fine. Watercolor papers tend to swell a bit, making the line from the traditional point somewhat soft-edged – which can actually be quite pleasing.

Should I wash out my brush between coats?

Yes. Definitely. As quickly as possible.

I tried scanning my finished drawing, but whole sections came out blank. What’s the best way to digitize silverpoints?

The Best Way is to use a digital Single Lens Reflex camera, of six megapixels or above. Disable the flash, select the highest resolution, watch for reflections, use the white spot meter for correct exposure or bracket heavily, and adjust for correct printing or display, varying brightness and contrast in photo editing software until it’s accurate.Metalpoint drawings can’t be scanned very well, and they’re also devilish to photograph. The dark marks in your drawing are actually silver metal deposited on the surface. It remains highly reflective even when dark or patinaed – which you can readily see if you hold the drawing so that it reflects light from a window or lamp. Those sections are blank because the scanner’s light was reflected back, just like a mirror would do. In fact, mirrors were originally a piece of glass with silver attached to the back.

Another way to digitize your work would be to photograph it using a fine-grain slide film. You can shoot during mid morning or mid afternoon sunlight, but better results are obtained when the light is slightly diffused (as in light of an overcast or foggy day) or with north light, not in direct sun. If you’re shooting in direct sunlight, position the work so that the sunlight comes in at a slight angle, and position your camera straight on to the drawing. Watch out for bright objects behind you being reflected from the silver. Use an incident light meter and shoot at the indicated exposure, or set your automatic exposure on a grey card or the surrounding landscape, then shoot the drawing using that setting. “Bracket” this exposure half a stop and one stop in either direction from indicated (giving you a total of five exposures per drawing), and you’ll be assured of getting at least one which will be usable. In addition, Aaron Board suggests the use of polarizing filters to remove unwanted reflections. When your slides have been processed, scan the best ones with a slide scanner; some copy centers have slide scanners available for such work. Fine art printers certainly do, and are experienced in color matching and value/contrast settings; take the original in along with the slide so they can do their magic with a solid reference.

The Third best way would be as above, but use color print film and then scan the best prints. It might help if you instruct the film processor to assume absolutely correct exposure and print each frame with no adjustments. Keep in mind that “1-Hour” places can only make limited changes to their automated systems, and the person you talk to may not be the person making the prints. Also keep in mind the target group for such services; they’re used to family snapshots, not fine art reproductions, and typically adjust for proper skin tones.



How many coats of ground should I use?

One coat of ground will work, in that the surface will then be capable of showing a mark made by a metal point.

However, I recommend four coats. I find that four coats provide a smooth, even, deep coating which allows the greatest lattitude of marks, from deep darks to light blended tones. I suggest you experiment with several small pieces of paper, with one, two, three, or more coats, try them out and see which one best suits your drawing style.



What’s the best way to tone a ground (Supersedes previous editions, questions below anyway).

Some clients report exellent results with liquid pigment, I believe Createx is the brand. Keep in mind that any additions to the ground will modify the formula and its properties; be moderate.

Is there anything that the ground won’t stick to?

The acrylic formula may not stick to some plastics. It works well on most absorbent surfaces including pressed board or Masonite

Asked and Answered

Re: Ground Thickening

> Hi James,   The prepared test panel arrived and, in the words of my 21 year old daughter, Sweeet!  I won’t have time to really draw on it until sometime this winter (I am struggling to make a deadline for a tempera show in Santa Fe) but I can’t wait.  I did a small area of tone on the bottom and it was a joy to work on.   You have us so jazzed about silverpoint that we are going to add a demo/mini workshop on our next Italy workshop.  We will probably be ordering 20 styli from you later in the spring so we can give one to each of our participants.   If you plan to be out east in the future, let me know way ahead of time and, perhaps J. P. and I can arrange to have you do a small workshop at the Art School.  We can arrange an honorarium but probably would not have travel money……, if you’re out this way and can link it up with another trip…. I have 3 students working Silverpoint now and I am spreading the word about you and your site.

>Thanks again, F. W.

You’re welcome! I’ve heard from J.P., and he seems delighted with his materials as well. ====>James

Board Vs Paper

I have a big question………I don’t watercolor. Therefore I do not have any watercolor paper. So, do I need a board, watercolor paper and tape to do this right? If so, please recommend the paper in thickness and brand, etc. I do oil paint on 1/4″ masonite that has had 6 coats of gesso and sanded with #400 sand paper. Can I just spread your prepared grounds on gessoed masonite? I also do not have stretchers for canvas. > >R. S.

Dear R. S., Take a look at the website, in the Support and Surface Preparation section, for discussion of surfaces and paper prep details. You can use just about any kind of good-quality paper; I use 2-ply Strathmore bristol, in the 500-series (100% Rag). Watercolor paper will work, but thicker watercolor papers are too “spongey” for my taste. 90-lb is about as thick as I would use.

You can use Masonite. Wipe it down with a good degreaser (I use acetone or lacquer thinner) then rinse with water – but don’t scrub the surface too much or allow the solvents to stand on it too long or it will swell the fibers and roughen the surface. Gentle sanding with fine sandpaper may help. Apply three to four coats of ground, to paper or board.

If you’ve never stretched paper, don’t worry – you just either tape it or clamp it down to a surface while it’s wet, and let it dry. It stretches itself, as the paper contracts when it dries. Apply the ground quickly but smoothly, and let it dry again, then repeat. Warning: a full-size sheet of 4-ply bristol “board” or “plate” will contract so much it can bend a piece of 3/8″ plywood! Smaller pieces are less problematic. Small pieces can be taped down with masking tape, larger pieces require gummed tapes like kraft shipping tape, which is getting harder to find, for some reason. I don’t like what the gummed kraft paper tape does to my edges, so I use those little binder clips, and just run them all along the sides of a board cut a little smaller than the paper, and wrap the paper over the edge – the clip clamps the paper on both sides of the board. Then I use wide masking tape to give a good clean edge and to cover up the clips so they don’t get bonded to the paper by the ground.

I’ve never tried the ground over gesso, and I suspect it depends on the gesso. If it’s acrylic gesso, I believe it would not work that well, but I could be wrong; you can try it and let me know, then I’ll tell the rest of the world to avoid it! (Or go ahead, as the case may be.) Good luck! ====>James



Board & Paper - More

I’m interested in the art of silverpoint and I’m ready to order some material from you but I have a few questions that I’d like to ask first. I read all the info on your website and I hope I don’t ask something that you’ve already addressed. I despise the task of stretching paper so I mainly stick to 300 lb. watercolor paper when doing watercolor and I use Brisol paper/board for pen and ink work.My questions are – first, how do I treat Bristol board when preparing with your ground coat( do I need to stretch it?) I think I read on your website about this but I never could find it again. Is there a prefered Bristol (such as 4ply).  Second, I think I would prefer to use Masonite for my silverpoint work( it seems ,to me, this would be the best route for me) . What are the instructions for preparing Masonite and can home supply Masonite be used? I know there are tempered and untempered kinds.  I appreciate your help and I am looking forward to working with this new-found medium. I look forward to your response. > > R. M.

Dear R. M., I use four-ply bristol, and I do stretch it. The heavier the paper is, the more it will need stretching. For watercolor, you might be able to get by with just taping it down – or not, I seem to recall that working wet-into-wet on 300-lb cold press was usually okay. But the silverpoint ground contracts when it dries.

You can use the ground on masonite. I recommend untempered, and that you wipe it down with a water-miscible solvent to get rid of surface oils and/or other contaminants. I use acetone, but acetone is a somewhat-dangerous substance – one should wear gloves, and do the task outdoors for the fresh air. Then I use water to rinse it. Work quickly, and not too abrasively, so you don’t raise the fibres in the board.

Smaller panels won’t require much beyond this. Large panels should be “cradled”, that is, affixed to a cross-braced framework to prevent warping. I’ve gotten around this by using half-inch birch plywood sealed with shellac, instead of masonite.. Hope this info helps. ====>James



Board Bonding permanence

Love your site, will soon be ordering your supplies. What kind of plywood or masonite can I use, can it be a finish-grade high quality plywood of the smoothest surface? Or is that a waste of money? Masonite comes in different thicknesses. Which one? And the big question…when it’s all over and done, how do you un-bond the paper from the wood surface, do you merely peel it off carefully? Do tell. And the biggie question: Do you have a produced VIDEO I can purchase? Now THAT would be a real bonus! >D. B. , Indiana

D.B., Thanks for your interest and your note. I’ll do my best to answer your questions. I use half-inch BIRCH plywood, the highest quality I can find. I use clear shellac to seal the wood before bonding the paper with rabbit skin glue. The bonding process isn’t really reversible, so I allow two inches on each side of the paper for matting and framing. I admit the bonded product is evidence of obsesiveness, or something close to it. Thicker Masonite is better than thinner, due to the fact that it wants to turn into a taco shell. Thinner panels can be used if they’re CRADLED: (===> make a stiffening subframe of strips of wood and attach the panel to it.)

Folks just starting out with silverpoint should perhaps stick to stretched paper. I use 4-ply Strathmore 500-series (100% rag) bristol, Plate Finish. The video idea has also occurred to me, and the new management may follow up on that; I think it would be an excellent way to SHOW people how I do the entire thing. Feel free to contact me with any other questions you might have. ====>James



More on Panel Stretch / Bonding

I have a question about Silverpoint that wasn’t answered in the FAQ. I am inquiring about how to mount paper such as the Bristol you suggest using to panel or hard board. In the FAQ in another email to some one you stated, “If you wish to use paper, you may wish to mount the paper on a hard support; one client uses dry mounting to accomplish this, I use rabbit skin glue on half-inch birch plywood.” Could you please explain for me a bit further how to do the dry mounting technique and also your rabbit skin glue technique, and also does the paper require stretching before mounting? Thanks for your time, BD (no location)

Dear BD., About the dry-mount press, I believe it’s some kind of vacuum contraption, but I really can’t say for sure, I’ve never seen it. Contact Stacy Brown, through her website via the Contemporary Gallery on Silverpoint Web; she’s a most gracious person as well as a disciplined and talented artist, and I’m certain she would gladly entertain your question.To stretch and bond paper to panel, I use 10:1 Rabbit Skin Glue water (by weight, ten parts water to one part glue powder). I start by soaking the paper. I already have a suitable birch panel prepared with three coats of shellac. I mark out on the panel exactly where the paper will go, and I coat that space with the glue.Then I pull the sheet of paper from the soaking bin, lay it onto an angled plywood sheet, and use a brayer to remove excess water, followed by a very light wipe with the big cellulose sponge.I add a fresh coat of glue to the marked-off space reserved for the paper, then transfer the paper to the birch panel. With the heel and edge of my my hand, I gently sweep the bubbles from under the sheet. Hint: it’s easier to do this whole thing with the panel at a slight angle, but different people do it different ways. I have trouble aligning wet sheets properly, working flat; I would recommend doing at least this step with the panel almost vertical!I then lay strips of vinyl edge molding (cheap, from Home Depot) along the four outer edges of the paper, overlapping slightly onto the adjacent un-glued shellac surface, then lay a sheet of plywood over that; this sandwich assures a good bond at the edges so that the darned thing doesn’t peel up if I get too vigorous. I usually stack these sandwiches three high, in two stacks, since I never go to all this work unless I’m going to stretch and bond at least six panels. Hope this helps – I’ll have to add this to the FAQ – Thanks! ====>James


I have a question about Silverpoint that wasn’t answered in the FAQ > >What kind of erasers can you use, and what kind of erasers would have been >used.

On some surfaces, on some grounds, a plastic graphic arts eraser may remove some marks. Other than that, you can remove them with sandpaper. I use a small piece of #400 Garnet sandpaper, rolled up into a tiny tube. Redrawing over the sanded area looks different than the drawing around it. Sometimes, doing a little “touchup” with ground on a small brush helps. Good luck. ====>James



Mixed Media

Good afternoon. I was wondering. Can silverpoint and graphite be effectively mixed? And secondly, when applying silverpoint, is it supposed to bite into the paper or float on the surface? I thank you for your time > >Sincerely, >RTL

Dear RTL, The silver point works the same way as a graphite pencil – it leaves a mark because it leaves a small amount of itself on the surface. The silverpoint ground is quite responsive to the metal; just draw as you normally would.

I have seen works in which other media are used in addition to silverpoint. Some are quite striking. And, of course, when it comes to art, anyone can do anything.Whether it “works” or not depends more on how than what ~~If you know what I mean… Hope this helps, ====>James



Toned Ground (2)

>From the illustrations on your site, the ground only appears to be >>white… and I need a colored ground, as I like to add highlights in white >>ink, white chalk or tempera. >> >>What would you recommend in order to achieve this with your ground? Adding >>powdered pigment, or tube color (if so, what: acrylic, gouache, casein or >>something else). Also, what would the best way to apply a colored ground so >>as to obtain a uniform (non-streaky) surface?. >> >>Thanks in advance for your help… and congratulations for your site; I >plan >>to order soon some material from you. >> >>R. S.

Dear R. S.
, The best way may be some form of liquid pigment, but not watercolor paint or acrylic. You can add powdered pigments also. I recommend that you use a muller or mortar-and-pestle, and mix it into a little water or smaller amount of the ground first, then add it to the a larger portion of ground. Failing to get a good dispersion will cause streaks and/or spotting, from clots of undispersed colored pigment. Best of luck, ====>James