What Is Stippling in Art?

B. Koch

Stippling in art may refer to two things. It may indicate that an image was created by very many small, monochromatic dots spaced appropriately to generate the illusion of space, depth and shadow. It is also a technique used to create a sandy, grainy like appearance on the background of images as well as on walls and other surfaces.

Ceilings are often stippled to create the appearance of texture with the paint.
Ceilings are often stippled to create the appearance of texture with the paint.

Most often, stippling in art refers to a type of illustration created by a series of small dots. These dots are strategically placed either close together or farther apart to portray different levels of shading. Dots that are placed very close together depict a heavily shadowed or dark area, while dots that are farther apart create the appearance of a lighter area.

Texture paint is made to hold textured designs such as stippling, even after drying.
Texture paint is made to hold textured designs such as stippling, even after drying.

A fine pen is typically used to create stippling in art. Usually the ink is black and is used to decorate a white background, but any color of ink or background may be used. As long as color is not used to depict the image, the technique is still stippling.

In order to create stippling in art, any fine tipped pen and blank sheet of paper can be used, but in order to generate the best results, special supplies should be acquired. Pens should be extremely fine tipped and should easily generate a clean and clear dot — felt tipped pens are generally recommended. Pens should also be waterproof to prevent the design from smudging or smearing during creation. In order for the artwork to survive many years, the design should be generated on high quality, heavyweight, acid free paper. Textured rather than smooth paper is recommended for stippling, as it is more difficult to create clear dots on textured paper.

The artistic technique of pointillism is often confused with stippling. While stippling is the creation of monochromatic dots to portray an image, pointillism uses multicolored dots to generate the illusion of mixed colors. Unlike stippling, pointillism does not utilize the technique of creating dots in differing proximities to depict space and shadow but uses dots of different colors that are uniformly distributed to create the same effect.

It is not uncommon for stippling in art to also refer to a certain type of texturized painting. Stippling creates the appearance of many small dots close together, resembling a sandy area. It is generated with a stippling brush, which has many stiff bristles that are very close together. This texturized appearance is often used in the background of images, yet this type of painting can also be used to paint walls and furniture and is also referred to as pouncing.

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Discussion Comments


@pastanaga - I'm not an expert, but I'm not sure that you can do both at the same time and still produce something that is coherent. Not easily, anyway. The different colors alongside the different densities of dots would make it more difficult to ascertain where depth is intended.

Color theory in art is actually a fairly intricate and involved discipline.


@umbra21 - I wonder if pointillism or stippling is more difficult? I never realized that there was a difference between the two, although I can definitely see that they would produce different effects. Stippling must be much more precise, while pointillism would be closer to a kind of expressionism and could not quite produce the same detail.

I wonder if stippling always has to be monochromatic, though? I mean, if you used different colors, but still used the distance between dots to signify depth and tone, would that still be stippling? Or would that be something else?


I think you can actually get pens that are meant to be used for stippling if you visit a fine arts store. I would never have the patience to make this kind of art. I mean, I probably wouldn't have the talent, either, but I'd never get to the point where I could be sure, because I'd get sick of making little marks over and over in about ten minutes.

And I've seen artworks online made by stippling that had millions of separate points. It's something I greatly admire, but not something I'm tempted to try myself.

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