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  • Writer's pictureBonnie Johnson

Introduction to Pointillism

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

Introduction to Pointillism Welcome to an introduction to pointillism. This is the first in a series of both written and video lessons all about the artistic medium of pointillism.

I am a pointillism artist who has been practicing pointillism for the last 14 years. It is my personal favorite medium and I want to encourage other artists to pick up the medium as there are very few practitioners of pointillism. This lesson is an introduction, if you know nothing about pointillism you have come to the right place. In this lesson I will cover important definitions in the medium, supplies and materials, a bit of history, and beginners techniques. These lessons will get progressively more advanced eventually getting into modern pointillism practice and theory.

Pointillism – What is it? Pointillism is the art of creating an image out of dots of unmixed color. Color is the keyword in this definition. You may be familiar with stippling which uses black or white ink to create an image with dots. However stippling is it's own practice as it only uses black or white ink, pointillism requires the use of color. There is nothing wrong with stippling but it just isn't pointillism.

So here is the most famous example of pointillism to give you a visual idea of what that definition means. This is Un Dimanche Apres-Midi a l'Île de la Grande Jatte, or in English A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte painted by Georges Seurat between 1884 – 1846. It is probably the most famous pointillism painting known today.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884–86, oil on canvas, Georges Seurat


Pointillism was in fact developed by Seurat in France in the mid 1800's. It was a branch of the impressionist movement. I will cover more on the history of pointillism in a later lesson.

Pointillism and Color Theory Pointillism is founded on the ideas of optical color mixing. Complex colors are achieved by layering dots of pure color instead of mixing colors. This is essentially a more scientific approach to the idea of a limited palette. The limited palette can be either referring to the colors expressed in the final piece of art, or the colors used and mixed to create the art. Most of the time when people talk about a limited palette they mean the colors of the work of art itself. Here are some examples of art showing a limited palette. Pointillism uses the limited palette because it does not permit the mixing of colors. Non-primary colors must be achieved through the layering of dots of primary colors, for example if you want green you will have to intermingle dots of yellow and blue, then from a distance the area will appear green. Now in pointillism the “primary colors only” rule gets broken all the time, even by the artists who developed the technique. In my own pointillism my palette is limited to the colors of my pens which are, red, blue, yellow, green, orange, purple, pink, brown, and black. While that is considerably more than the primary colors it is still a very limited color palette especially since I cannot mix the colors. If I just blocked in my colors with my pens without any layering with other colors then my work would lose a lot of its complexity. Most colors in nature are not even secondary colors they are highly specific colors that artists must use their skills to mix these precise colors. To achieve these colors with pointillism I have to layer up to five colors to create the optical illusion of a single more complex color. If you look closely at the moss on my pointillism here, it looks like a nice warm green, however it is layers of green, black, orange, yellow and brown.

Every Leaf in the Forest, 6.75 x 8.75 in, Bonnie Johnson

So to achieve the correct illusions artists have to have a pretty good understanding of color mixing and color theory. Mixing red and blue will create purple, and layering dots of red and blue will create the color of purple. If you are worried about color theory don't worry the next lesson will walk you through understanding color theory and how it is used in pointillism.

Mediums Pointillism can be practiced in two mediums: paint or ink. I will discuss techniques for each later but for now choose one you are the most comfortable with. I recommend starting with ink as it is easier to get consistent dots and allows you to focus on your colors and layering. I prefer to use Micron 005 pens for my work. These pens do not bleed and come in a variety of colors. For a beginner I would recommend starting with a larger nib than 005, 05 would be a good beginners size.

Exercises So it is time to set all the theory aside and start putting pen or brush to paper.

Exercise 1 Just start creating dots on the page, doing your best to keep them evenly spaced and uniform. Don't worry about trying to make anything specific yet just get used to your tool and get a feel for creating dots.

Exercise 2 Look up examples of pointillism and look at how the artist layered dots to achieve a specific color. Try and replicate that color in a small square using the same colors as the artist. Pointillism is all about layers, so this exercise will get you to start thinking about that without worrying too much about color theory.

Exercise 3 Practice creating dots with various spacing. Do a section of dots very close together and another farther apart. These techniques will be important in shading and color intensity later on.

Note: Remember to take breaks, if your hand is feeling tired take a 30 – 60 min break then return to your work. Pointillism can be a strain on the hand and learning to not overdo it is important.

This concludes your introduction to pointillism. In my next lesson Pointillism 101 I will cover the primary colors and color theory in pointillism.

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