Mystique Original Metalpoint 24K Gold and platinum, 24K gold leaf, 22K gold leaf, white gold leaf, watercolour and acrylic 72cm x 52cm

Gordon’s inspiration:Over the past decade, one of the most popular subjects for my drawings in gold and silver (metalpoint) has been the “Mask Series” – comprising mainly closeup portraits of models wearing exotic masks. They are as technically difficult to draw as they are visually striking, even more so when you consider that they are drawn in pure silver metal, platinum and 24K gold – none of which are correctable should a mistake be made. Unlike drawings in graphite, pastel or charcoal, a line drawn in metalpoint is impossible to erase. In a parallel line of artistic exploration, I have for some time been interested in creating full colour photorealist images in this medium. Other than the occasional pale watercolour washes on metalpoint drawings, no-one has created photorealist colourised metalpoints before now, as both the artistic challenges and the technical knowledge have proven insurmountable. To create images such as these requires another level of difficulty above the already considerable challenge of working in metalpoint.

Photorealism in art is relatively easy if an artist works in a paint-based medium like watercolour, acrylic or oils. If a coloured drawing is envisaged, the pastels or coloured pencils can be used. All except watercolours are correctible should a mistake be made. The problem with metalpoint is that the very ground (undercoat) that enables metal to be transferred to the paper is impossible to draw on when the metal is overlaid with other drawing media – as charcoal or pencil for example, will not adhere to the underlying drawing in  gold or silver metal. Essentially the same is true of watercolour, gouache, and egg tempera. If oils or acrylics are used, then there comes a point where you cannot even describe the work as a metalpoint, because all metal lines will be covered in paint and not be visible. This takes the artist back to square one where you may as well just do an oil or acrylic to begin with.

The unwelcome arrival of COVID19 gave me the time to solve this problem. In addition to this, I was also able to develop techniques that combined the colour metalpoint with gold leaf. This drawing combines many of the technical breakthroughs and creative insights discovered over the course of those two years, and applying the knowledge of a traditional science degree to solve an art problem.  The challenge in creating the far more complex photorealist images in the same medium – or more accurately, combination of media – involves the use of multiple techniques that needed to fit seamlessly together to create a highly realistic image. This presents several problems in photorealist work because not only does the colour have to be true to life, but the gold leaf must be shaded to give the suggestion and appearance of reality to the level of a fine art colour photograph.

In “Mystique”, the gold leaf work in the mask consists of multiple sheets of gold leaf that overlay each other. Three types of gold leaf were used: 24K, 22K and white gold – all of which produce different effects. The leaf is finally worked over with a glaze to give depth, shadow and three-dimensionality to the completed image. The entire drawing surface has a further two or three layers of gold metal, along with silver and platinum in the manner of my usual goldpoint drawings. When light is reflected from the surface, the results are as stunning as they are unique. The addition of colour and gilding adds another layer of complexity to an artwork that has already taken an average of 150 – 200 hours of drawing time, consisting of well over 1 million stylus strokes. There is nothing in the art world like these gilded jewels that shimmer with golden light.”

Original metalpoint drawing by ARC Living Master Gordon Hanley.

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