Testing silverpoint grounds
Silverpoint is a lovely medium to use, but it is difficult to achieve really dark darks. I have long suspected that the depth of tone that can be achieved has something to do with the ground used to prime the paper. Spurred on by a conversation with David Cranswick suggesting the use of rabbit skin glue mixed with ground eggshell as a ground, I thought I would experiment – so here we are, the results of….
Testing Silverpoint Grounds.
All tests are done on Arches Aquarelle HP.
1. Rabbit skin glue – one coat
Disappointing, but not an unexpected result. The glue on its own doesn’t have enough ‘tooth’ to capture the mark of the silver – so here we have an almost blank sheet. If you look very carefully (with the eye of faith) top left, you can just see the indentation of the silver.
2. Rabbit skin glue – two coats
3. Rabbit skin glue with eggshell
Egg shell ground with a mortar and pestle and added to rabbit skin glue – but obviously not ground finely enough.
4. More grinding…
Better – but still not useable….
5 And yet more grinding!
The glue was cooling at this stage and the whole mixture was going a bit gloopy. However, the addition of eggshell definitely helps – it’s still too lumpy, but I can now make a mark with silver on the page. Next time I heat up some rabbit skin glue I’ll try this again, with the eggshell even more finely ground, and put an update at the bottom of this post.
6. Roberson’s Silverpoint Drawing Ground
A commercial ground made, according to the pot, of bone ash (although it doesn’t admit to the medium, which I strongly suspect is acrylic). It definitely allows for a good range of tones. Interestingly, two coats (seen here at the bottom of the page) does give more tooth – and so darker darks. It is a creamy colour, obvious against the paler paper. There is a drawback, though – the ground tends to flake off slightly with continued cross-hatching.
7. Zinc white gouache with Gum Arabic
The addition of the gum Arabic stops the zinc white from powdering off, and actually this produces a lovely surface to work on. Of course it is white rather than tinted.
Both the Roberson’s ground and the gouache / gum Arabic mix are good, effective grounds for silverpoint, so that’s what I’ll be using for now, the choice depending on the effect I want to achieve. If anybody has used other grounds, for example the Golden Silverpoint Ground, I’d be interested to hear your opinion of them.
Roberson’s ground can be bought from Cornelissens.