Detail (enlarged) showing hatched lines of silverpoint drawing.
Silverpoint literally involves drawing with silver. Silverpoint is a type of metalpoint – lead, silver copper or gold could be used, but silver was the most common. Paper must be prepared, and a ground of gouache, casein or acrylic gesso can be be applied. The ground is often tinted a pale color, such as pale grey or pale green. The silver wire is drawn across the prepared surface and leaves a residue of silver behind.
Making a modern silverpoint stylus is easy. You can use a drafting pencil (which takes 2mm leads). Ask a jeweler for a 2-inch length of 12 gauge sterling silver wire and ask that it be straightened out. Then place the wire into drafting pencil. You will need to shape and smooth the point. Initial shaping can easily be done on a small diamond sharpening stone. I refine and polish the point using a nail buffing board. The point needs to be smooth, with no burrs. If the point feels scratching when you use it, it is either too sharp or there is a burr that needs to be polished off.
Depth of tone is achieved by layering, usually via hatched or cross-hatched strokes. Pressing harder does not make darker tones – rather, it damages both the point and the surface of the drawing. Once a point is shaped and prepared, it will need periodic shaping/polishing, but not often. I polish my points about once a month. While not impossible, erasing is difficult and can damage the surface of the drawing.
The darkest tone you can get with silverpoint is not nearly as dark as a graphite pencil, but it yields a lovely, silvery surface. Over time a silverpoint drawing tarnishes and develops soft, brown tones.