Drawing Glossary

What is Metalpoint Drawing? 3 Metalpoint/Silverpoint Tips

May 12, 2023 by

You’re an artist who is always looking for new techniques to try in your work. Have you heard of metalpoint drawing?

It’s a technique that dates back centuries, and is still used today to create intricate, delicate drawings. In this article, we’ll explore what metalpoint drawing is and give you three tips for working with metalpoint or silverpoint.

We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):

Table of Contents

What is Metalpoint Drawing?

A metalpoint drawing consists of using a stylus – a thin rod of metal inside a holder – on a primed or prepared surface like paper. The stylus makes fine lines on the primed surface similar to lines drawn with granite pencils.

Metalpoint drawing is considered a challenging art form.

However, metalpoint art isn’t complex. Instead, it’s exciting and a great art form to try if you like luminous and delicate drawings.

Artists consider it hard because, in most cases, the metalpoint drawing is not erasable, and you need a steady hand and attention to detail to try metalpoint. 

You can get better at metalpoint if you use a few practical metalpoint drawing tips and techniques, and you also need to know what metalpoint supplies you’ll need for making the drawings. 

metalpoint drawing
metalpoint drawing

For metalpoint drawing to work, the surface of the paper, canvas, or panel is first primed using a ground or primer.

The ground is made with a calcium carbonate mixture or any other inert mineral mixture, a binder like rabbit skin glue, and a color pigment.

You can make your primer at home or buy pre-mixed primers to save time.

To prepare a surface, use a brush – broad tipped is best – and apply the ground or primer on it and leave it to dry. After preparing the paper or panel, you can draw on the surface with your metalpoint.

Is Metalpoint the Same as Silverpoint?

Metalpoint drawing uses different metals like brass, platinum, gold, and copper for the thin metalpoint rod, while silverpoint is when you use silver as the metalpoint rod or wire for metalpoint art.  

Basically, metalpoint and silverpoint are different things but also the same since silverpoint is a type of metalpoint.

Silver is a great metalpoint to work with, and the surface of your canvas needs to have a good tooth – you need to prep it with a gesso primer or a specialized ground for silver, etc.

Moreover, silver changes color over time and turns a darker and browner shade.

History of Metalpoint Drawing?

Metalpoint drawing was a popular art during the 14th to the 16th Century, but before that, it was used as a writing tool.

Often, scribes used it to draw lines on manuscripts to add text, etc. Moreover, as early as the 15th century, Italian merchants used metalpoint as a tool for accounting, and it wasn’t commonly associated with art.

Furthermore, in Netherland in the 15th century, masters used metalpoint drawing to train their pupil’s mental and manual abilities in work-shop painting production.

They made metalpoint drawings of paintings. It was one of the various transmission processes used at that time.

Renowned figures such as Leonardo da Vinci, Fra Filippo Lippi, Sandro Botticelli, and Albrecht Durer made great metalpoint drawings.

In 1490, Leonardo d Vinci used metalpoint a lot, but he abandoned it later on. Around the same time, in Italy, Raphael took upon the metalpoint drawing inspired by Leonardo and Perugino.

His ‘Dear Madonnas’ are a popular silverpoint drawings series. But, after he died in 1520, Italian metalpoint came to an end.

Metalpoint found its decline in the 16th century, and it was given favor before granite, natural chalk, and crayons became the norm.

Only a few artists found the zeal to try metalpoint in the 16th century, and it was rarely seen in the 7th century onwards.

Later, sometime in the 19th century, metalpoint drawing gained popularity among conservative English artists, and in the 20th century, artists like Paul Cadmus, Pablo Picasso practiced metalpoint.

Nowadays, artists use metalpoint with a variety of different metalpoint supplies.

To further explore some of the history of metalpoint drawing and see it in action, we recommend checking out this in-depth video by the National Gallery of Art:

How is Metalpoint Used in Drawing?

For metalpoint drawing, the metals used for making metalpoint are molded into thin wire or rods.

The metal tip of the wires is usually made beforehand, but you’ll have to sharpen or round it over time, depending on the metal used.

For example, hard metals like silver don’t need to be sharpened as often as lead, a very soft metal.

Lead is the only metal that imparts on plain paper with no ground or primer. However, the drawing won’t stay on paper long, so it’s best to prepare the surface before drawing.

You need to choose a surface that supports metalpoint like paper with a heavy and smooth surface, parchment, paperboard, or a wood panel.

To prepare the surface – paper, wood panel, etc. -, you need to brush the surface with a thin coating of the ground and leave it to dry.

Most of the metals used as rods undergo color changes after coming in contact with the oxygen in the air, but some like gold do not change color.

Silver changes into a warm brown, copper become green after oxidation, and platinum and gold don’t change color. You can use different metalpoint rods to get the desired effect.

Can Metalpoint Drawing be Easily Erased?

Metalpoint drawing can be unforgiving, and you won’t be able to make changes after putting down lines on the prepared paper.

To avoid mistakes and waste paper and metalpoint supplies, you should draw the initial sketches and lines using a granite pencil and then draw on top with metalpoint.

However, silverpoint is erasable if you prepare the surface right or buy surfaces prepared with acrylic resins or gesso combined with pigment.

If the surface is prepared right, you can even erase the lines drawn with silverpoint using a simple eraser.

Which Artwork is Drawn by Silverpoint?

Silverpoint is made with pure silver and is one of the hardest metalpoint.

In silverpoint, artists use a thin silver wire held in a stylus to leave marks on the paper. They make these marks to make a complete drawing or sketch.

Silverpoint is a popular medium for making portraits. Artists can make drawings with fine lines, light shading and add dimensions or detail to the features of people with silverpoint.

silverpoint drawing example

Moreover, artists preferred silver for portraits because it oxidizes, the drawing turns a warm brown, and gains more character.

Like all metalpoint works, it’s not easy to erase or correct silverpoint, so for a successful silverpoint sketch, artists must possess confidence, a light touch, and be detail-oriented.

What Supplies Do You Need for Metalpoint Drawing?

While the supplies can differ when you use a different metalpoint, the basic ones remain the same.

For applying the ground/gesso to prepare the paper, you’ll need support like a wood panel or a strong paperboard.

Moreover, you’ll need smooth, heavy surface paper; you can also use a paperboard or a greatly sanded wood panel.

Finally, you will also need a flat brush; it should be about 1-inch wide if you’re going to prepare the surface yourself.

You can use different types of metalpoint metals, like silverpoint, copper point, gold point, brass point, aluminum point, bronze point, and lead point.

Lead is the most malleable metal, and it leaves an imprint quickly, while aluminum is known to be the most robust metal in metalpoint.

If you can find wires of 0.7mm to 0.9mm, you can fit the thin wires inside mechanical pencils. However, you may need a specialized stylus if the wires are of 1.00mm diameter.

You can also use a pin vise, but it may be uncomfortable for prolonged use.

Most metalpoint suppliers provide metalpoint wire with rounded tips. However, if they come with sharp tips, you should use 400-grit sandpaper – wet or dry.

Metalpoint Drawing Tips

Metalpoint is an interesting art medium, and you can make it easier if you follow and use some essential metalpoint tips and techniques

1. Prepare Surface

The thing that impacts a metalpoint the most is the prepared surface.

The prepared ground is sold, and you can even buy prepared papers for metalpoint.

You should purchase gesso, flat latex paint, or a specialized ground coating, not clay-coating. 

2. Avoid Eraser

Try to avoid using an eraser on the paper when drawing with metalpoint.

If your prepared paper is strong enough to withstand erasing, you can do so, but do the test once on a rough drawing.

If the paper is too fragile, the erase will rub off the coating, and your sketch will disappear too. 

To avoid erasing altogether, you should use a light granite pencil to draw a skeletal of the drawing first. 

3. Use Other Tools to Add Color

If you want to add more color to your metalpoint, you can use colored pencils, pan pastels, simple pastels, watercolors, oil paint, etc. 

Metalpoint doesn’t allow for dark colors or full tonal range, but you use layering with the metalpoint to add it.

To further explore metalpoint drawing tips and see it in action, we recommend checking out this in-depth video by Sandrinesgallery:

Final Remarks

Metalpoint drawing is an art form that tests an artist’s imagination, manual and mental abilities since it requires immense concentration, not to mention confidence.

You’ll be able to make good metalpoint drawings if you know how to prepare the surface or what type of prepared surface to buy from your local or online store. You also need to know about the various other metalpoint supplies you might need and how to use metalpoint for drawing.

Frequently Asked Questions

What artists used Metalpoint?

Metalpoint drawing has been used by many famous artists throughout history, including Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, and Raphael. It was a popular technique during the Renaissance period.

Why is Metalpoint not widely used today?

Metalpoint is not widely used today because it is a time-consuming and difficult technique that requires a steady hand and a lot of patience. Additionally, modern materials like graphite and pen and ink have largely replaced metalpoint as a more convenient and efficient drawing medium.

Is Metalpoint also known as Silverpoint?

Yes, metalpoint is also known as silverpoint because silver wire was commonly used for drawing before other metals were introduced. The terms “metalpoint” and “silverpoint” are often used interchangeably to refer to the same technique.