Diana Fairbanks Gives an In-Depth Tutorial Using Silverpoint on Prepared Board
The Way We Were ...
Changing your mind is considered a fundamental right and privilege that artists take very seriously. Silverpoint, the 'pencil' of an earlier time, respected no such right. Part of the silverpoint drawing process was to prepare a functional surface because sterling silver would only mark on an abrasive substrate ... and marks once made, couldn't be erased! Artists abandoned this medium in favor of the versatile pencil and paper.
Silverpoint on Prepared Board
by Diana Fairbanks
Back Again ...
Interest in metalpoint technique has revived as artists look to add new media and craftsmanship to their drawing arsenals. One of the reasons for this renewed interest is a growing appreciation of the exploratory process of drawing, as opposed to the more refined work of painting. Another is that artists who use this medium have learned that the sterling silver wire needed to produce these drawings actually costs about the same as quality extra-hard graphite lead.
My Way In planning this piece I pulled original images from studio specimens, Alta Vista online searches, and stock files that came with my painting software. I printed out paper images and arranged them on the prepared board for composition.
A prepared, buff-tinted pastel board was used and treated as a medium tone. After the basic drawing was sketched on the board, some areas received gesso washes. The rim of the plate, for example, was washed in Venetian Red gesso. Rose, fork and bone areas were washed with an off-white gesso. Gesso preserves the 'toothy' structure of pastel board. Additionally, silverpoint-drawing errors can be re-coated with the gesso mix and redrawn.
Heigh Ho Silver ... With gesso washes down, I started the silver work by drawing outlines and cast shadows. The plate and grid values are also drawn onto the board. Showing the grid allows me to use 'scaled up' small drawings for some areas of the work, and juxtapose organic and geometric elements. Then the work of rendering the various tones of gray got underway. I use contour lines to begin with and follow with layers of circular and crosshatch lines. Patience is valuable here. Since silverpoint makes a very light mark, darker areas have to be worked repeatedly.
As a piece gets more finished, it takes on a distinct metallic sheen that can be treated with matt fixative or an oxidation agent. Either treatment will make the finished piece easier to view in typical indoor lighting, but fixative will eliminate the need for glass covering. The images of the gardener above the plate were not planned as thoroughly as other elements of the drawing so I could have some space to 'play'. I reintroduced red and white gesso passages. The gold wash on the plate rim was made by masking off areas and applying metallic pigment, then dropping alcohol into the wash to mottle it. I painted the title and my signature influenced by Asian-style signature seals.
About the Author
Diana Fairbanks is a Seattle-born artist who has lived and worked at Alki since 1974. She received a classic art education at Wenatchee Valley College with Robert Graves, and, upon being awarded a full-tuition scholarship for art studies, completed a B.A. and B.F.A. at Fort Wright College with instructors including Paula Mary Turnbull and Benjamin Franklin Moss. She later completed an M.Ed. and Ed.D. in Educational Technology at the University of Washington. She was awarded a Kellogg Allied Health Education Fellowship to continue studies in Medical Illustration as part of her graduate work.
During and after graduate studies, Diana taught art courses in post-secondary settings for fourteen years. These classes have included beginning and advanced drawing, survey of rendering techniques, and a wide variety of media production topics. Concurrently, she also served an extensive list of media clients through her graphic arts business.
Today, Diana is a full-time artist and teacher who exhibits regionally and internationally. She has been awarded grants for creative projects for the city of Seattle.