Metalpoint's Voices / by Jeannine Cook

Sometimes, when I am working in silverpoint - or metalpoint, when I include gold or copper in the drawings - I find that there is a wonderful parallel to music and musical instruments in these shimmering lines.  Perhaps my imagination runs away with me - who knows!

I find that the pure, simple line produced by silver being passed over a surface prepared with ground reminds me of the ineffable beauty of a boy's soprano voice as it floats out into Gothic vaults and dies away to a whisper.


Perhaps  a drawing like Solitaire, Wild Acres could illustrate what I mean for the silver lines are essentially simple.  As I drew this image, the mountain air was crisp and thin, again a suitable parallel to a soprano voice.

When the silver lines are more sustained and yet their delicacy is evident, silverpoint reminds me of violins.  The range and subtlety of this instrument is echoed in silverpoint's capabilities.  This drawing, Balsam Mountain Beech, shows some of these characteristics and was great fun to "orchestrate" as the leaves curled more and more as they dried out during the time I drew them.

Silverpoint allows for deeper, complex tones, such as those of a violoncello.  Sometimes the choice of ground for the paper surface will allow these darker, more sonorous voices to emerge from the silver lines, just as the cello sings in that wonderful lower register.  A Day at Manassas Bog allowed me to explore this aspect of silverpoint, for the subject matter, all dried plants, seemed to resonate with deep memories of past seasons.

Even the sound of a human whisper has a parallel, I feel, in some ways of using silverpoint.  Often whispers go from soft to loud, or vice versa.  They seem staccato, truncated, random, muffled ... at times.  This  drawing, Mist on the River, made me think of whispered voices carrying on the river Edisto as I sat quietly on the bank, early one fresh spring morning.

Perhaps I am being more fanciful than ever, but a drawing like Grevillea makes me think of a piano playing.  The Grevillea tree is so wonderful in its silver-white to dark green-black and its pulsating energy sets up rhythms and harmonies that seem to echo those one hears so often, with delight, from a piano being skilfully played.  The leaves are sturdy, yet light, and the branches tough and resistant - similar to aspects of the piano, an instrument of such versatility. 

My last "interpretation" of silverpoint's voices: when all the lines are working, some light, some dark, some deep, some quiet, but all in miraculous harmony, then one can perhaps think of the drawing as paralleling an orchestra playing.  Rhythms, pauses, simple passages and complex moments... a drawing can have those aspects that one finds also in an orchestra.  Fallen Palmetto, while I was drawing this complicated pattern, made me think of such an orchestral performance.

Sometimes, drawing can become even more fun to do when one imagines other aspects of the medium.  I love listening to all the voices that silver, gold and copper can produce.  It enriches the whole experience of drawing in metalpoint.