The Masters Drawings (as well as drawings by other artists) have always fascinated me. How do they make those lines so smooth and fluid, and how did they make such delicate drawings that my pencil could not. They are also interesting because they sometimes feel more fluid or modern than paintings. (More below)
Not having formal training in the fine applied arts, I didn’t realize how much they copied other masters to develop anatomical understanding or that they used media quite different from graphite. Below is da Vinci’s drawing in silverpoint. Its features are
- subtlety of tone in the lighter end of the tonal scale
- single-hatch drawing resulting in an extremely uniform, sensuous surface
Silverpoint was extensively used during the Renaissance both as underdrawing in panel painting and as a medium for fine drawings. Fine drawings, particularly, were done on white or tinted grounds and were commonly highlighted with white watercolour applied with a brush. Metalpoint is based on coated paper upon which one draws with a fine silver, copper, platinum or gold stylus.
To coat the paper, Renaissance artists took bones ( often from the dinner table ) and calcified them by placing the bones in a hot fire until they were a powdery white. The white calcified bones were mixed with a glue medium and then coated on a paper or wood surface. It’s strange to think of. Ingenuous media creation. But as gesso is made from rabbit-skin glue, I guess animals played an important part in media.