I’ve done a lot of work in silverpoint, and I’ve been getting loads of emails from people asking me what my drawings made of silverpoint are made of. I’m not trying to sound like a smartass; but they’re made out of silver.
I’ve found that generally speaking, traditional art supplies have been in use for so long that they are as basic as what they say on the label. So that means that Rabbit Skin Glue is a glue that is made of rabbit skin, Mummy Brown was made out of ground up Egyptian Mummies, and silverpoint drawings are the marks made by a piece of silver held in a stylus on a sheet of paper prepared with a surface, usually containing zinc. Over time the silver oxidizes and looks really beautiful.
People like to complicate this kind of technical stuff for mystique, but a simple version of it is really easy to make if you want to try it. You can just use zinc white gouache painted onto a sheet of paper as a surface ground for the silver to leave a mark on and a piece of silver bought from a jeweler and stuck into a pen, and you’re good to go. Obviously if you want to get into it there can be much more to it than that, but basically the process is the same as rubbing a nickle on a white wall.
It’s a labour intensive medium, and like etching, I love how it combines a kind of austerity with the intimacy of handmade marks. I like this slightly withdrawn quality as it allows for a broader treatment of my occasionally lurid or absurdist subject matter.