What Is Stippling?

Black and white stippling

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Artists use several mediums when completing a piece of art, but one or two tend to become a method of choice. Stippling is a technique that incorporates several small circles or dots in the same color to create a composition. These dots can be drawn, painted, or etched onto a surface using a variety of mediums. 

Stippling dots group together to create a recognizable image. The closer you are to the image, the more you’ll be able to pick out individual dots. As you step further away, you might not be able to recognize the stippling effect because you’ll see a complete picture instead.  

This article will discuss the history of the method, why artists choose to use it, and how you can get started stippling. 

Stippling History

Artists use the stippling technique to create sculptures, engravings, and paintings. Giulio Campagnola first created the process of stippling in 1510 during the Renassaince period. Initially, he mastered this technique for printmaking. Back then, pages were printed in one color, so images would be printed using stippling to recreate depth. These prints are known as stippling etchings or engravings and are made by engraving several tiny dots onto a metal plate.

Why do artists use stippling?

The stippling technique offers artists more creative license to experiment with how they depict shapes and shadows of still life objects. Hatching is another similar shading technique that uses lines instead of dots. 

Stippling vs. Pointillism

Stippling and Pointillism both incorporate a series of dots. However, stippling uses dots in one color to create a texture, detail, or complete picture. Pointillism implements several different color dots to create a whole piece of art. 

Pointillism was developed centuries after stippling in 1886 and is associated more with the Impressionism movement. Artists like Monet, Georges Seurat, and Paul Signac influenced this movement.

Supplies for Stippling

The media you use when stippling is almost as vital as the technique itself. Specific tools will help you create precise dots with the appropriate depth and effect. If you want to practice using this medium, consider investing in the following:

  • A fine ballpoint pen. If you’re just starting out, an inexpensive ballpoint pen would work, but you’ll have more success with a finer tip between .03 and .005 inch. Some artists recommend using an archival felt-tip pen for the best and most consistent results. 
  • A graphite pencil and sharpener. Pencils won’t have the same deepness as ink, but they work well for creating depth. They are also slightly more forgiving than ink if you’re a beginner. 
  • Paint and a fine-tipped brush. Paint is usually not the material of choice for stippling because it dries slowly and can drip or smudge easily. 
  • Matte drawing paper. You can start stippling on any paper. However, try to avoid paper that is glossy to prevent smudging. Paper that has a rough texture or cardstock works well. Keep in mind that some thicker, more textured paper can wear down the tip of your pen or pencil faster. 

How to Get Started

When stippling, pay attention to the balance between negative and positive space. To put it simply, hundreds of dots that are tightly concentrated together will give the illusion of a dark shadow. Fewer dots that are spaced far apart will give the illusion of light.

Practice creating a gradient using stippling.

This concept of negative and positive space seems straightforward, but the technique takes practice. Before you try your hand at stippling an object, work on creating varying degrees of lightness and darkness. Create a gradient of dark to light on a blank page by clustering lots of dots together and gradually spreading the dots out. Eventually, try to fill in simple three-dimensional shapes to see how you can use dots to create depth.

Take your time to perfect the technique.

If you’re a beginner, the tendency might be to put a ton of dots down in rapid succession. Take your time and be precise with placement and technique. Some artists recommend holding a fine tip pen at a 90-degree angle to the paper. Keep your dots as similar in shape and size as you can.

Remember these helpful tips:

  • Step back from your work every so often to get a better perspective. It can be easy to get lost in small sections. Take a picture with your phone to see how the composition is coming together and evaluate where you can adjust or correct any mistakes. 
  • Try to maintain the same pressure for each dot, and don’t press too hard. Darkness and shadow will be created by how many dots there are and how close they are together. Using different pressure to create darker or larger dots is not useful for this technique.

Once you have mastered the art of creating dots with consistency, move on to some more advanced tutorials that can show you how to map out a picture using this technique. Good luck!