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Dot Painting: Pointillism in Colour

April 11, 2010

pointillism-colour-wheelMaybe you haven’t noticed, but I have a certain fondness for colour wheels!

Today’s article is all about pointillism in colour, or painting with dots. I’m teaching a workshop on this topic today and thought it would make an excellent topic for a blog post.

I’ve talked about shading with pointillism in pen, but stippling in colour is a whole other ball game! The pioneer of this technique was Seurat, a French painter of the 1800’s. It involves placing dots of colour next to each other and on top of each other, relying on optical blending to create new hues.

If you blur your eyes slightly and take a look at my colour wheel, we can see the three primary colours and the three secondary colours. When you look closer, you can see that the secondary colours are actually the result of primary colours placed next to each other. The green, for example, isn’t green paint: it is overlapping dots of yellow and blue.

This is the optical illusion. Our eye combines the colours and we perceive it as being green. The colour wheel is a crude example, but this is even more evident in newspapers. The next time you see a colour picture in the paper, look closer. What you’ll see is tiny little dots of colour on top of each other. When newspaper is printed, it is printed with only red, yellow, blue and black ink in varying proportions. The dots are so tiny that our eye blends them together and we see a myriad of other colours!

This is exactly what Seurat has done in his paintings. From far away, they simply look textured. Up close, you can see the hundreds of dots that make up each painting.

How to Use this Technique

Stippling can be done with a small round brush with short bristles. You can also use q-tips, as I’ve done in these examples. Pointillism is a time-consuming technique, whether you’re using pen or paint. The results can be very rewarding, though! You can achieve a sense of light and luminosity through painting dots, and you can also create a painting with a rich variety of colours.

In the painting below, I used only the primaries and white, but don’t limit yourself! You can experiment with mixing other colours to stipple with. Try placing high intensity hues next to low intensity hues, create contrast in values. Remember also to take advantage of the freedom that pointillism allows: that blue object doesn’t have to be onlyblue, you can throw in some spots of red to add to the visual interest.



Have you painted with pointillism? If so, I’d love to see your results! Feel free to post a comment with your link!

  1. Neat article on pointillism- I like how you showed the optical blending with the color wheel.

    Dena Tollefson

    • Thanks Dena! I took a quick look at the paintings on your website; it looks like you use a similar technique to dot painting!

  2. Hi Miranda- thanks for checking out my work! you are correct, I am using a technique similar to dot painting. The unique technique I developed was coined “Daubism” by gallerist Stan Wiederspan because I’m using a palette knife to apply cupped “daubs” of thick oil paint which form a low-relief sculpture effect on the painting. The neat thing about the cupped paint is as it dries, it keeps its ridges and the light catches these ridges as you walk past the painting. It almost looks like the paintings glitter in the right lighting conditions. Take care and have a great Memorial Day weekend!
    Dena Tollefson

    • That sounds fascinating! I wish I could see your work in person. I love the impasto look, but it’s not something I can do myself. It goes against my nature somehow!

  3. Julie permalink

    I was looking for pointillism tutorials online, stumbled upon your website and have been reading the articles and tutorials for a couple of hours, now.

    I’m trying my hand at the technique but haven’t made much with it other than a few sketches and such. Your tips really made it clearer for me. Great work.

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