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Marcus Wood


Silver point Drawing - What it is and why I use it?


‘ ... if your desire leade you to draw on a Table-Booke Leafe then use a silver pin ... very neatly after the manner of hatching like a print, or the Limning way as you like best'

John Hoskins manuscript 1597: British Library Ms. Harl. 6376, p7


Before graphite was black lead, before black lead was window lead, before window lead was the silver pin, and with the point of the silver pin, or wire, silver point drawing was made.

The silver point has to be used on a fine but abrasive ground which will scrape the silver off the tip of the silver point tool.  Such grounds were made from many recipes.  Some grounds used burned powdered chicken bones or lamb bones, the powder mixed with rabbit skin or fish bone glue.  Often a fine gesso of whiting, lead white powder and gum Arabic solution was used.  I use a gesso of lead white, whiting and rabbit skin glue which can be worked deeply, indeed scrubbed into paper or vellum.


I love the medium for the following reasons.

1 It is the chosen drawing method for the two most beautiful renaissance drawing albums, that of Jacopo Bellini now in the British Museum and the Silver Point Sketchbook of Albrecht Durer.

2 There is almost no limit to the fineness and faintness of line a fine silver point can achieve, far finer than the finest human hair.

3 You can be as free as you like, but you can’t rub out what you have done. 

4 The only way to erase is to paint over with fresh ground and begin again, and so each drawing is often a graphic palimpsest, a new body laid upon countless entombed ancestors.

5 The first great English limners Isaac Oliver and Nicholas Hilliard were silver point masters, and evolved their line from Hans Holbein’s English drawings.

The Great Chain of Sexual Being Cycle

In order to understand this cycle of works it is necessary to think about the fusion of human sexuality and animal creation.

The infamous ancient Egyptian Turin Erotic Papyrus shows scenes of both animals or humans in various sexual acts and positions. Some consider it to be “a satire on human manners and desires, as the animal vignettes on the first third of the papyrus suggest”.  It is also a class satire mocking individuals from the highest ranks. Some critics  consider the papyrus to be purely pornographic, and it has even been suggested that it was some sort of early erotic manual, an Ancient Egyptian verion of Alex Comfort's The Joy of Sex.

An identical set of ambiguities enshrouds the ecstatic sexual unions adorning the exterior of the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple (Mahādeva Mandir meaning "the Great God of the Cave").

When I asked the painter John McDougal many moons ago how to go about making a good living out of art he observed: 'naked women and animals, they never go out of date'...


These works came out of engagement with ancient Egyptian and Hindu sexual fetishes. The sacred fingers of the embalmer, the first and second fingers of the left hand, or the second and third fingers of the right hand.  These are the digits used to penetrate the body and draw out the vital organs and the entrails from the thoracic cavity.


Snakes are of course everywhere in Egyptian and Indian art.  In the most sexually explosive of the Tantric texts the Naga and Nagan do not stand for either male or female sexuality but a fusion of both.  Cobras, long and thin or short and fat,  encircling the lingam and embodying the yoni, and often symbolically pervading the destruction of Shiva by Kali during the act of intercourse.  


The most ancient and important taboo prohibitions are the two basic laws of totemism: not to kill the totem animal and to avoid sexual intercourse with members of the totem clan of the opposite sex.

Sigmund Freud Totem and Taboo


'A common greyness silvers eveything'

Robert Browning, Andrea del Sarto

The scopophiliac gaze is the scophiliac's craze. Look but whatever you do don't touch. De-saturate everything, obsessive but anodyne, draining the colour out of flesh and orifice, cutting things down to essentials in the abattoir of the obsessive's dead ends.  The scopophiliac's gaze sets out the limits of male abjection.  Despite the claims of Freud it has nothing to do with female empowerment and less to do with male libido, it is simple sadism.