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Contemporary art and design works that make use of traditional techniques, a tendency

that spans global cultures and includes a wide range of experiments with materials and
imagery. Examples include the incorporation of calligraphy into paintings and the use of
embroidery or weaving, for instance, in the textile works of Alighiero e Boetti or the
digitally spun tapestries of Pae White. These works often blur the boundary between art
and craft, representing a hybrid of cultural traditions.


Contemporary art is often looked at with a skeptical eye. The truth about contemporary art
is that it uses techniques that most people aren’t quite used to, causing that skepticism to
come into play. However, these techniques are actually quite difficult and all deserve our
credit. It’s an incredible feat to create a piece of contemporary art, especially using these
techniques. They challenge the mind and offer unique perspectives in a way that art has
never been able to do before. For that reason, they’re some of the most valuable
techniques that a person can experience through artwork. Here are three techniques that
are among the most relevant in contemporary art today.

One of the artistic movements that has been most relevant throughout the contemporary art
movement is minimalism. Minimalism seeks to take away what’s unnecessary and leaving
only what’s essential. Minimalism is incredibly difficult and has even made its way into being
a huge part of branding and design for companies all over the world. This is probably the
most important part of contemporary art, as it has informed so much of society. Have you
noticed that branding has gotten more minimalist over the past ten years or so? You can
thank the contemporary art movement for doing that.

Taking something that people view as useless, and then using it in a unique way in order to
make artwork is one of the most important movements that currently exist in contemporary
artwork. The idea is that things that we often view as junk are actually more valuable than
we think that they are. Everything you find can be used to tell a story, or to create new
diverse perspectives that we’re looking for when we attend an art exhibitions. The found
objects movement is one of the most important movements in all of contemporary art

Walter De Maria created an art piece in 1977 that included a four hundred steel poles over
one mile by one kilometer. That’s incredible. Creating something huge to express diverse
perspectives in artwork is incredibly popular, even today. Over the past forty years, large
scale art, and art that includes the environment has come into its own as one of the most
important movements within contemporary art. That’s why you often see modern art pieces
alongside buildings, or as huge structures out in the open.


With every new age of art, there are new unique techniques that define how the movement
develops. For contemporary art, among many techniques, you can find techniques such as
minimalism, found objects, and large scale paintings. Each of these bring their own unique
perspective into the artistic community, and each is valued as a pick for a technique that is
most influential in contemporary art. Look out for these when you’re out at an exhibition
next, you’ll find that they’re much more relevant than you perhaps think that they are.

First part of a series on the traditional metalpoint technique and its contemporary use in fine art.
Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin, also known as the Saint Luke Madonna, 1435, Rogier van der Weyden, Oil and tempera on
panel, 137 x 111 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Silverpoint is rarely used today except by a few persons who take an interest in traditional artists' materials, yet it was a
favorite technique of the old masters. The disuse of silverpoint, after graphite sticks came into use during the 17th century, is
one of the most curious details of technical art history. It is peculiar that an instrument once used by the most famous artists
who ever drew on paper should have come to be neglected and despised by their successors, and neglected so completely
that they lost the tradition of its use. Despite the modern tendency to revive the use of traditional art techniques, silverpoint is
almost entirely neglected. Fortunately, this situation appears to be changing today.

The neglect of silverpoint is regrettable because it has distinctive and valuable qualities of its own. It is a hard pencil that
hardly wears down, does not break or require sharpening, and gives a dark grey line of the most intense clearness and
subtlety. It is such a drawing instrument that a lover of perfection in form would naturally be tempted to select, a refined
stylus that literally and truly encourages refinement of style.

Silverpoint consists of a short length of silver wire sharpened so that it will make a fine line without piercing the paper. Set in
a mechanical pencil holder, it resembles a drafting pencil, and the resemblance is not merely external, for the work done has
similar though not identical qualities to it. The property of a drafting pencil is to make a line of uniform thickness. At first
glance, this does not appear to be an advantage in fine arts. The graphite or charcoal pencil, with which a thin or a thick line,
or a line thick at one place and thin at another, can be drawn by simply varying the degree of pressure or the angle by which
it is held, is a more pliable tool than the silverpoint stylus. Nonetheless, it is a mistake to condemn this technique when great
masters have used it. The techniques they used were often limited, yet the results were masterful.

Study of a Woman's Head, c. 1490, Leonardo da Vinci, Silverpoint on greenish prepared paper, 18.0 x 16.8 cm, Musee du
Louvre, Paris.

If the line drawn with the silver stylus were ragged and broken, if there were no telling whether it would draw to the end or
stop midway like an ink pen sometimes does, if it were accidentally thick or thin--if, in short, it could not be relied upon by the
artist, then silverpoint drawing would really be a flawed technique and deserve the demise that has been its fate. It is unlikely
that such a flawed technique would have been tolerated by Raphael or Leonardo; but as they found silverpoint to be reliable,
they easily dealt with its uniform lines. We must remember, too, that the stylus can be made with differently shaped points
and sharpened to varying degrees, and that the artist can keep two or three different styli if required. The common practice,
however, seems to have been to draw with one point, and that rather a sharp one.

The major objection to silverpoint is that silver does not mark paper. On unprepared paper, it leaves a mark useless for
artistic purposes; but paper can easily be prepared as it was by the old masters, and when that is done the marks of the
point are a dark grey, equivalent in tone to a hard lead pencil.

A thin ground of opaque white is all the preparation needed for paper. The white may be tinted with any color or used as is.
The old masters prepared papers in a great variety of tints without an apparent rationale to the colors.
Heads of the Virgin and Child, 1508-10 c., Raffaello Santi da Urbino, called Raphael, Silverpoint on pink prepared paper,
14.3 x 11.1 cm, British Museum, London.

It is not difficult to tint your own paper, and this provides the advantage of getting precisely the value and hues that you like
best and those most perfectly suited to the intended drawing. The paper should be smooth and, if lightweight, should be
stretched as if for watercolor painting, and the ground applied evenly with a wide soft-hair brush.

An advantage of tinted paper is the extended range of tonal values that are possible. The silver or metal lines appear darker
over tinted paper, and bright highlights can be introduced with white paint. The old masters often heightened the tonal value
of the tinted paper with white. These harmonize best with the lines of the silverpoint when they are sharp and fine, and
applied with the point of a small sable brush. White paint can be made with egg yolk, gum arabic, animal collagen or casein.
The old masters used lead white to heighten their drawings. These lines of lead white often turned black due to polluted air
containing hydrogen sulfide. In the late 19th century, Philip Hamerton describes one such drawing by Pietro Perugino of an
angel leading a youth. "The drawing is in silverpoint on a greenish ground, and what were intended to be highlights in thin
sharp touches of white, are now black lines."[1] This type of discoloration is reversible and has been restored in this drawing
at the British Museum today.
Eliza, 2006, Koo Schadler, Silverpoint and egg tempera on blue toned gesso panel, 6 x 8 in, Collection of the Evansville
Museum, Evansville, Indiana.

Today, artists have an extended selection of titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and barium sulfate (called barite or blanc fixe) as
whites for heightening the value of tinted paper. Each white has its own individual qualities, such as opacity, color
temperature, specific gravity, etc. These pigments can be tempered with one of the above-mentioned mediums and brushed
on with the fine point of a small brush.
In the next issue, we will discuss the preparation of toned grounds.

1. This drawing is in the collection of the British Museum, D. 1860-6-16-139. Hamerton, Philip Gilbert. The Graphic Arts.
Little, Brown and Co., 1902. P. 126.

This section is adapted from The Graphic Arts by Philip Gilbert Hamerton.

See the Complete Silverpoint Drawing Kit

Silverpoint Drawing Kit has everything needed for silverpoint (and metalpoint) drawing. The kit includes 2 mm and 0.9 mm,
metal holders (styli), two fine silverpoints, two copper points, two nickel-silver points (a total of six metalpoints), copper wool
pad, silverpoint ground, Maped Epure vinyl eraser and step-by-step instructions all in a wooden case.

See all Silverpoint Drawing Supplies

Natural Pigments has all supplies for metalpoint drawing, including silver, sterling silver, aluminum, brass, bronze, copper,
lead, nickel-silver, and steel points; and holders, gesso boards, grounds and drawing aids.

Aqueous Pigment Dispersons for Toning Grounds

Natural Pigments introduces a new way of making traditional waterborne paint and grounds: Rublev Colours Aqueous
Dispersions. Aqueous dispersions are pigments dispersed in water ready to be mixed with water-based mediums. These
dispersions are especially made for use with traditional painting mediums, such as egg, casein, fresco, watercolors and
distemper (glue tempera). They are also ideally suited for use with gesso for making toned grounds for drawing and painting.