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How to Shade with Pointillism

August 23, 2009

pointillism-31Pointillism or stippling  is when you use a series of dots to create an image. It takes time, and loads of patience, but the results can be incredibly impressive!

For pointillism, you’re going to want to get some special pens. The best ones are fine tip pens with free-flowing ink. Ball point pens won’t work very well because they need to be moving for the ball to refresh teh ink. I’ve used Staedtler Pigment Liners. You’ll also want a range of sizes as well. Something like an 01, an 03, and an 05 would work well.

You want to make sure the dots of the different sized pen are blended together. You don’t want to see the border where you switched pens. Also, don’t rush your mark-making. If you get careless, some of your points might get little tails. You want nice clean dots to create an even surface.

As with any drawing, you want to start out with a good line drawing. Outline the contours of your subjects, as well as the shapes of the major shadows and highlights. You want to have good guidelines for when it comes to filling in the values.

When using pointililsm to shade, you need to think about values just like you do when shading with a pencil.


Around the highlights, use your finest pen and make the dots far apart. Avoid putting any dots inside the highlight area, but make sure that the points gradually become more and more farther apart closer to the highlight. You don’t want your marks to suddenly stop dead.


As the highlight fades to the midtones, switch to the middle-sized pen and mark your points closer together.


For the shadows, use the fatter pena nd make your marks close together. In the darkest areas, your dots may be so close together that no paper shows through. You might be tempted to  cheat and use the pen to shade in the entire shadow.

Try to resist!

It would be faster, but it would be obvious. With pointillism, it’s important to draw everything using only dots. The marks create a pattern or a texture that is visibile even in the solid black areas. If you have a really large area of black that would take you days to dot, you could try colouring it in solid, then adding a few dots on top to mimic the pattern.


Also, don’t draw any lines! Even if there are wrinkles or eyelashes, don’t draw a line. Use a series of points to create the line and it will look more natural. A solid line will be a distraction in amongst all those dots.

When your drawing is done, let the ink dry for ten minutes or so before erasing the pencil lines. You’d hate to smudge all your hard work!

Pointillism in Colour

You can also use pointillism with paints or pastels. You do this by layering different colour dots on top of eachother. When seen from far away, the dots blend together and create a different colour. A simple example of this would be dots of red and yellow, which would appear as orange from far away. This type of illusion was used extensively by Seurat. This example from Wikipedia is A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, by Seurat.



From → Drawing

  1. Penny permalink

    Your site here is very informative and I really enjoyed looking around.

  2. brilliant stuff helped me alot but give more pictures………

    • What kind of additional pictures would you like to see? More tutorials on different forms?

  3. Rogel permalink

    Hi MIranda,pls give me some tips how to draw portraits and about shading using only ballpen.emai me heres my e-add

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