Testing silverpoint grounds

Posted by on February 15, 2014 in Blog, Materials and Techniques | 10 comments

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


Testing silverpoint grounds - one coat of rabbit skin glue

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


Tesing silverpoint grounds - two coats of glue

Doubly disappointing!


3. Rabbit skin glue with eggshell


Testing silverpoint grounds - glue plus eggshell

Egg shell ground with a mortar and pestle and added to rabbit skin glue – but obviously not ground finely enough.


 4. More grinding…


Testing silverpoint grounds

Better – but still not useable….

5 And yet more grinding!
Testing silverpoint grounds

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
Testing silverpoint grounds - Robersons

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


Testing siverpoint grounds zinc white

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.


  1. Very interesting comparisons. I’ve used Roberson’s Ground which is fantastic. I’m just about to try the Gouache/Gum Arabic, and note your excellent results, so encouraged.

    I’ve tried the Golden Silverpoint Ground and it is hopeless. It settles into a solid in the bottom of the bottle. When it’s usable after much mixing, it doesn’t give enough tooth, so please don’t waste any hard-earned cash on it. Hope this helps. best wishes.

    • That is interesting. I’ve often wondered what the Golden ground was like, but I’ll give it a miss. Thanks! Interestingly, Cornelissen’s are now selling silverpoint paper, which comes pre-primed. It feels very smooth, but it did take the silver surprisingly well when I tested it in the shop so I bought a couple of pieces home with me. I’m looking forward to trying it out properly and seeing what tonal range I can achieve. It’s not on their website, as far as I can see, but it comes in two weights and a couple of neutral shades. Might be worth a try, if you can get hold of some?

  2. The Cornelissen’s paper is quite good, but extremely expensive. I have tried stone paper for my silverpoint sketchbook and that is surprisingly nice and more economic. I use the expensive paper for the final work.

    • I haven’t used silverpoint on stone paper but it seems increasingly popular. I must get hold of some of that. Thanks Mario!

      • Thank you for your information.
        Mintz brand Terraskin paper advertises that it will decompose back to powder and am waiting to hear how long that takes.
        Robersons ground sounds iffy if it flakes off. I wonder if the Cornelissen’s prepared paer uses the Roberson’s ground.
        There is a video on you tube about the settling problem with the Golden.

        • Thanks for that, Sylvia – I didn’t know about the decomposition. That’s interesting. The Cornelissen’s paper is completely smooth and definitely isn’t coated with a ground. It is fiberless, and I suspect it’s something like Terraskin. I must ask next time I’m in the shop. It still isn’t on their website.

          As far as the Roberson’s ground is concerned, I’m better at using it these days and perhaps more accepting of the slightly limited tonal range of silverpoint, so less likely to scrape it off the page in my desire for very dark tones!

          I’ll have a look for the Golden video. Thanks again for adding more information – it’s much appreciated.

          • Any progress on finding out what Cornelissen’s paper is coated with ?

  3. Hi Brian
    No progress, I’m afraid. I haven’t done any silverpoint work whilst I’ve been artist in residence and I haven’t been to Cornelissens either. Hopefully 2017 will be less hectic!

  4. When I was in high school, my art teacher had me make up some silverpoint paper because I was a fan of Leonardo since I was very little. It was only tempera paint, white in powder form that I made wet enough and tinted with a drop or two of watercolor to a soft peach and over 40 years later it still has held up, had a great tooth and took to silver and other metals very well. I work as a goldsmith and jeweler now and was looking to see if this was a thing online now in the way I made it and offer this to play with as it was fun and easy.. ask a local jeweler or silversmith for a wee bit of metal and have them point it softly if you wish. all is well.. 🙂

    • Thanks LLynda. How wonderful that your art teacher took the trouble to do that. Fun and easy are always good! Thanks for taking the trouble to comment – I love hearing about other peoples experiences with old techniques 🙂

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