silverpoint drawing

Art and life by Jeannine Cook

Scrolling through the amazing amount of mail received on the Web, I sometimes come across an image of a painting or drawing that stops me in my tracks. Just as when you round the corner in a museum and come face to face with a work of art that takes your breath away...

Yesterday, I was reading the daily Art Knowledge newsletter and there was the image of a painting I had always loved, Rogier van der Weyden's St. Joseph, done about 1445. I know it from having seen it in the wonderful Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon, where it is hung with another part of the original altarpiece, the painting of St. Catherine. Her painting is lovely, but it is the tempera painting of St. Joseph which is breathtaking.

St.Joseph, Rogier van der Weyden, between circa 1435 and circa 1437 , tempera and oil on panel, (Image courtesy of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon)

St.Joseph, Rogier van der Weyden, between circa 1435 and circa 1437 , tempera and oil on panel, (Image courtesy of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon)

Van der Weyden depicts an elderly, thoughtful man whose powerful expressiveness is remarkable. His portrait, direct and detailed, even to the whispy stubble on his chin and the lined, reflective face, depicts him three-quarters face, as if he were hesitating and thoughtful just before he turned to face one and say something gentle and considered. The Gothic architecture and slight landscape behind him are neutral and elegantly refined, a perfect complement to the directness of the portrait.

As I gazed at the digital image of St. Joseph, I thought of the quote I had found when Henry Miller wrote that "art teaches nothing except the significance of life". This portrait is a supreme example of that.

The portrait was being reproduced as it is presently being exhibited at the opening exhibition of an enlarged and updated Vander Kelen-Mertens municipal museum in Leuvens, Belgium. The link to Leuvens for Rogier van der Weyden is important - he apparently painted one of his most celebrated pieces there, the Descent from the Cross, another amazing work which is in the Prado, Madrid. Not only did van der Weyden achieve paintings of refinement and luminosity whose human dramas reach out to us across some six and a half centuries, but he also left us a work which I particularly love as a silverpoint artist. At the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, there is a wonderful self-portrait as St Luke done about 1440. He is making a drawing for his painting of the Virgin, in a setting he apparently copied from Jan van Eyck's Madonna of Chancellor Rolin. And he is making a silverpoint drawing....something I don't believe was depicted by any other artist.

New Horizons beyond Shimmering Silverpoint II by Jeannine Cook

Yesterday, I started exploring the ways that artists are moving beyond silverpoint itself to expand its scope. I ended by talking about the combination of silverpoint with touches of watercolour, a mixture which requires a balancing act not only technically but also in the careful use of colour because it can easily overwhelm the silverpoint.

Lost my Marbles! silverpoint, Prismacolor, Jeannine Cook artist

Lost my Marbles! silverpoint, Prismacolor, Jeannine Cook artist

Coloured pencils can also be a path to touches of colour. If the drawing surface ground is acrylic, however, it is best to avoid pencils with a high wax content because each layer can soon obliterate the layer beneath. By the end of drawing these marbles with Prismacolor, I felt indeed that I had Lost my Marbles!

Silver foil, applied judiciously, can add another dimension to a silverpoint drawing. The foil will eventually tarnish, depending on its quality. It needs to be protected with a seal if its original look needs to be retained.

(Remember, silverpoint drawings will also eventually evolve to a warm golden brown as the oxidize.) Metal dust also offers interesting effects, especially when included in the ground prepared for the silverpoint drawing.

Te Saluto, Carolyn, silverpoint, silver foil, Prismacolor, Jeannine Cook artist

Te Saluto, Carolyn, silverpoint, silver foil, Prismacolor, Jeannine Cook artist

August Moon, silverpoint, silk, Jeannine Cook artisst

August Moon, silverpoint, silk, Jeannine Cook artisst

Many other silverpoint artists are using a variety of media and supports in combination with silverpoint, from silverpoint on globes to cut-outs. Others combine different metals, in realism or abstraction, to achieve very contemporary effects. The website lists a number of silverpoint artists who are doing very different, interesting work in the medium.

Silverpoint is showing itself to be more versatile than its traditional reputation would suggest. It is an interesting challenge to extend the vocabulary of this beautiful medium. In essence, just as in any art from, an artist can have fun mixing history and traditional techniques with today's idiom and interests. But a warning: Silverpoint's shimmer can be addictive!


New Horizons beyond Shimmering Silverpoint I by Jeannine Cook

Silverpoint is a drawing medium which uses silver for mark-making, as I have frequently explained in this blog. It has been known since the 1200s for its subtle, lustrous tonalities and indelible fine lines.

Silverpoint has been undergoing a second renaissance since its rescue from oblivion in the early 19th century. Its latest versions, some of which I have been talking about in the current Evansville Museum of Arts Luster of Silver exhibition, show that it still has a lot of vigour and zest. It was largely forgotten after the discovery of graphite supplanted silver during the late high Renaissance.

Silverpoint was rediscovered in the early 1800s when Cennino Cennini's 1390 manuscript of Il Libro dell'Arte was found in the Laurentian Library in Italy. Readers of the first printed edition learned of this drawing medium in 1821. Many artists tried their hand at silverpoint, but the advent of abstract and non-figurative art in the mid-20th century virtually banished the medium.

In recent years, silverpoint is slowly regaining its luster, thanks in large part to Dr. Bruce Weber, presently Director of the National Academy Museum. In 1985, he curated a ground-breaking silverpoint exhibit, The Fine Line. Drawing with Silver in America , at the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach, Florida. (The catalogue of that exhibit has since acquired a cult following amongst silverpoint aficionados!) with silverpoint back on the map, artists took note. Today, the number of silverpoint artists is increasing. The medium is now being taught and covered by the art print media and Internet, with the important becoming a clearing house for information on the medium.

The first Luster of Silver 2006 survey of contemporary silverpoint, curated by Holly Koons McCullough at the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia, was testimony to the medium'srenewed vigour. While most full-time silverpoint artists often follow the centuries -old techniques (which include using gold, copper, platinum and other metals in addition to silver), they are nonetheless pushing the medium out to new boundaries. Combining different media with silverpoint is technically difficult. But it is happening, and it demonstrates the medium's ability to reflection and respond to today's complex and challenging world.

I frequently combine silverpoint with touches of watercolour, a balancing one-chance act when working on an acrylic ground. But it fun to try these combinations for new effects. The watercolour can be applied traditionally in liquid form (difficultand not always stable on the acrylic ground). In the example below, Marianna's Gift, the silverpoint drawing is on a tinted ground. The highlights are placed in with white gouache, an opaque form of watercolour. Adding the darkened touches of red watercolour straddled the old and the new forms of silverpoint.

Marianna's Gift, silverpoint.watercolour on tinted ground, Jeannine Cook artist

Marianna's Gift, silverpoint.watercolour on tinted ground, Jeannine Cook artist

Many Renaissance drawings were on tinted grounds.

(I will continue this discussion about New Horizons for Silverpoint tomorrow....)

More than meets the eye... by Jeannine Cook

An exhibition of contemporary silverpoint drawings, The Luster of Silver, opens this weekend at the Evansville Museum of Arts, Science and History, in Evansville, Indiana. It will be of particular interest to me not only because my work is included, but because I helped curate it from digital images, along with fellow artist, Koo Schadler, and the Museum staff.

Assessing art from digital images has become much easier in recent times. However, because silverpoint drawings, with marks made in silver that are often faint and delicate, are very difficult to reproduce satisfactorily, even digital images are possibly not doing justice to the work. Consequently, it will be most interesting to see the actual work of the twenty-seven eminent artists included in the exhibition. I also wonder if digital images, generally, have the impact and veracity to allow us to delve deeply into the artworks involved.

When one is standing in front of a painting or a drawing, there is a potential dialogue that draws one in.... you can look closely at the brush strokes of paint, how the artist has handled the pen or pencil or silver stylus. You can let the artwork talk, loudly or in a whisper, of many things , as you stand before it. I am not sure that digital images have the same power. In a gallery or, in this case, in a museum, a silverpoint is a lustrous, shimmering drawing, full of life and contrasts. It can hint at things beyond the here and now, and push us to new ways of thinking. Thus I am eager to see if the show we selected for Evansville will allow us to consider dimensions and aspects of life that are really "more than meets the eye".

The Music-Art Connection - again! by Jeannine Cook

Last year, I attended a concert in Savannah, GA, where the Emerson String Quartet, with violinist Daniel Hope and friends, played a piece, Terra Memoria, by Finnish composer, Kaija Saariaho. As I sat listening, a series of silverpoint drawings began to dance through my mind’s eye. The results of this concert are slowly becoming reality on paper as I work to draw what I envisaged as the music was played.

Terra Memoria, commissioned by the Carnegie Hall Corporation, was first performed in June 2007 in Carnegie Hall, New York, by the Emerson String Quartet. The music evokes “those departed” and remembered in evolving fashion by the people remaining. My silverpoint drawings, so far three in number, address evolutions in the world between reality and abstraction. There are more still to be done, but it is a series in which I am trying to tell my subconscious to be utterly in charge, and thus I am trying not to think consciously at all as I do these drawings.

Terra Memoria I,  silverpoint, goldpoint, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

Terra Memoria I, silverpoint, goldpoint, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

Terra Memoria II , silverpoint, goldpoint, acrylic, Jeannine Cook artist

Terra Memoria II, silverpoint, goldpoint, acrylic, Jeannine Cook artist

Catching up with spring by Jeannine Cook

Spring in coastal Georgia comes with such a rush of beauty and imperatives that there is never enough time to celebrate it all. Suddenly there are a myriad subjects to draw in silverpoint, another vast selection to paint in watercolours - and time never suffices.

Azalea trio, silverpoint, Jeanninie Cook artist

Azalea trio, silverpoint, Jeanninie Cook artist

It is always interesting to return to a subject that one has drawn or painted before; every artist has favourite themes to visit and revisit over time. It is astonishing how a simple flower, such as an azalea, can elicit different reactions and dictate different approaches every time it is drawn or painted. No wonder museums have such diverse collections of paintings and drawings which include and celebrate flowers. Think of the heyday of Dutch flower painting in the 17th century, when so many talented artists followed Jacques de Gheyn II's example. He was one of the earliest artists (1565-1629), who depicted wonderful tulips, roses and other flowers (not all of which bloomed at the same time) to satisfy the demands of the ever-more wealthy Dutch burghers. Since then, Manet, Fatin-Latour, Monet, Renoir, Matisse and so many others have turned to flowers for inspiration again and again.

Perhaps it is because one can see in a flower the basis for realism or pure abstraction - at the same time, really - that it is endlessly interesting as a subject. Added to which, I personally find a serenity and elegant logic to a flower that delight. However, each time, there is a surprise in how the structure works and I am often reminded of Paul Valery's statement: "Until you draw an object, you realise that you have never actually seen it." And so one rushes to catch the fleeting spring glories, to try and "see" them close up and celebrate them - again!

Lines by Jeannine Cook

Lines loom large in all our lives from a very young age. Who hasn't taken a pencil, a pen, even a lipstick, and made energetic, happy scribbles on all sorts of surfaces from early childhood? Those were our drawings, and they often won praise and encouragement.

Later, lines become the underpinning for paintings, the punctuation marks for long columns of additions in arithmetic or the scaffolding for musical notes on a score. So many uses and so many meanings... But for anyone interested in art, a line becomes more and more nuanced and meaningful. Not only does one learn to use line to express oneself in silverpoint, graphite, pen, paint, charcoal or any other medium, but you also see line much more clearly all around you. For me, the contour lines traced out in grassy strips between ploughed fields to prevent erosion on our farm were some of the earliest memories of line. Even an avenue of trees is two parallel lines that speak of time, order, shade, beauty and horticultural skill - another childhood fascination.

When I draw in silverpoint, lines can whisper or speak loudly, in a metaphorical sense. Just like the lines drawn in space by a violin bow as it moves across the instrument, softly, sensuously, vigourously or hesitantly. Or like the traces of an insect when it walks on a sandy surface. I drew this set of tracks on Sapelo Island, Georgia, in the sand dunes.

Sand Dune Colony, Sapelo -  silverpoint, Jeannine Cook, artist

Sand Dune Colony, Sapelo - silverpoint, Jeannine Cook, artist

When one looks at lines drawn by Albrecht Durer ( in a silverpoint drawing, such as those in his 1520-21 Diary of A Journey to the Netherlands, they run the gamut of effect and message. As he records an amazing variety of people, places and things he sees during his trip north, the silverpoint lines show his questing eye, trying to understand the anatomy of a dog, the pattern of a tiled floor, the bone structure of a woman's face... Lines in a drawing can show how the artist's eye, brain, hand and paper surface are connecting together; that is why drawings are so often considered so immediate and fresh.

Dog resting, silverpoint, from 1520-21 Sketchbook, Albrecht Dürer (Image courtesy of the British Museum)

Dog resting, silverpoint, from 1520-21 Sketchbook, Albrecht Dürer (Image courtesy of the British Museum)

Frequently lines become like a golden orb spider's magnificent web, linking together in complex fashion to become a drawing, a painting, an architect's structure. Every time we start to work with lines, something unique evolves. A simple line, short, long, interrupted or continuous, can be an amazing creation.