Ok I’ve talked about silverpoint in several posts and happened to mention Pelikan’s Plaka which is a water based casein paint that is sold in 1.75 oz glass jars.
I live in the metro DC area (Washington DC and parts of Maryland and Virginia) and have bought this at the Utrecht art store in DC (it’s near the National Women’s Art Museum) and Plaza Arts (in Fairfax, VA on Nutley Street)both carry the black or white plaka.
I found it by doing a google search of the words “pelikan +plaka” there were several hits. It looked like quiet a few of the on-line stores carried both the white and black found here but also some wonderful light blue and a gray. (I’ve been tinting mine with watercolors).
On-line I found it at a ASW, Jerry’s Artarama and several other locales. There was also an art supply store called Island Blue in Victoria, BC that had a great price (I think it was 2.31 a bottle and they had a huge variety of colors) for it (too bad the shipping was $21. CDN). There was also an ebay store that had a ‘lot’ of bottles but the colors were hideous. If you want to order it online and you live in the states try Mister Art or Utrecht. They have it for $3.21 and 4.39 respectively.
To use Plaka as a ground. Simply apply one light coat (using a flat watercolor brush or a hake brush) onto your surface (recommend smoothest paper possible, I use either arches hp watercolor paper or my moleskine sketchbook, but a nice bristol board should work dandy as well). If the paint is too thick and sludgy don’t be shy about adding a small amount of distilled water to it to loosen it up enough to paint with.
I don’t always paint to the very edges, I like it when the paper shows through along the edges; but paint to the edges if you prefer. The paint dries in about 10-20 minutes. Make sure it is completely dry before attempting to draw on your surface.
After the plaka dries I usually burnish it with a soft cotton rag or even a nylon. Robert Liberace recommends just one coat, I’ve seen books and articles that suggest several layers with buffing in between. I recommend you try it with various layers and buffing/not buffing and see which one works best for you. I’ve considered experimenting with the rabbit skin glue replacement (I think it’s called pve size) that is considered a better ground than rabbit skin. But the idea of having to add the titanium pigment makes me nervous because I would be doing this in my home. I have pets and some health issues, either of which make it a very bad idea. If you decide to try it always wear gloves and a commercial quality respirator. The pigment powders are fine and many of the pigments are toxic.
My sister has a fairly extensive posting about silverpoint/metal point on her blog, Measure by Measure, with recipes for grounds using bones, rabbit skin glue et al. I just use the plaka but I am not necessarily worried about long term conservation since I am learning and the prepped paper is for class or for drawing at home but not for sale. We talked yesterday about the cotton used in arches watercolor paper and perhaps she’ll comment here about it and explain her reasoning.
If you want to try silverpoint recommend you visit both by sister’s blog post as well as the silverpoint web site, which features demos for applying grounds, information on techniques as well as selling supplies (both 24kt gold wire as well as silver wire).