What is Stippling? Master This Relaxing Art Technique

what is stippling

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There are many ways to build up dramatic light and shadow. Stippling is a technique where you create depth through the placement of thousands of dots.

Do you miss relaxing while creating art? As a commercial illustrator, I like to turn to stippling to help me relax after hours of work. The meticulous nature of stippling makes it easy to get lost in the flow of creation.

This guide will help you learn more about this drawing technique with visual examples and a beginner’s tutorial.

What is the Definition of Stippling?

Stippling is a shading technique in which an artist gradually uses dots to build up light and shadow. While it originated as a traditional technique with ink, you can also use it digitally.

The only limit to this art technique is your imagination – if you can place down dots, you can achieve this beautiful technique.

This approach is similar to how dot matrix printers work: using several small dots to build an image.

what is the definition of stippling?

Why is Stippling so Appealing?

Stippling is appealing for two main reasons. The first is how attractive the result is – thousands of precise dots gradually forming an image is stunning!

Artists enjoy the subtle texture of stippling, often similar to grains of sand or speckled stone.

Another reason the stippling technique is so appealing is due to how relaxing it is. Since you need to create precise dots individually, it’s easy to zone out in the best way.

A third reason you may enjoy this technique is how forgiving it is to beginners. You get exemplary control over each dot, so you can spot mistakes early and avoid them.

why is stippling so appealing?
(Image Source)

Are There Drawbacks in the Stippling Technique?

All art techniques have their drawbacks, and this technique is no different. For starters, not all artists find the time-consuming nature appealing.

Since drawing using dots is so slow, artists who prefer fast sketching or loose painting may be turned off. While you can speed up stippling with practice, even the fastest artist needs several hours to cover a large surface area.

Another drawback is the difficulty of creating subtle transitions between light and shadow. Just a few misplaced dots can interrupt a smooth gradient, making many beginners feel frustrated.

What is the Difference Between Stippling and Pointillism?

Stippling and pointillism are similar shading techniques due to both needing dots to build up an area. Their main differences lie in their mediums and their color (or lack thereof).

Stippling focuses on black and white or a single color. Compare this to pointillism, which frequently requires multiple colors. Stippling is useful for creating a subtly shaded area, while pointillism can simultaneously create shading and hue changes.

difference between stippling and pointilism
A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat

You can see the similarities and differences in this impressive pointillism painting by Georges Seurat.

Stippling also focuses on ink, while pointillism is usually paint. The latter originates from the Impressionist movement. As such, experimenting with oil painting is a fantastic place to start so you can layer opaque colors on top of each other.

However, artists may prefer straightforward watercolor washes or switch to non-paint mediums entirely, such as oil pastels.

What’s The Difference Between Stippling And Crosshatching?

Both stippling and crosshatching are techniques used in drawing and involve the use of repeated marks to create contrast and texture. Crosshatching is a similar shading technique that shares the same desire to build up depth gradually but with different shapes. Stippling focuses on dots, while crosshatching uses lines of varying lengths and thicknesses.

difference between stippling and crosshatching
The Astrologer by Giulio Campagnola

Notice how the crosshatched piece above uses lines throughout the entire illustration.

You’ll notice stippling is slower than crosshatching, which can get quite fast with practice. Stippling also generally uses ink, while crosshatching can be other mediums like pencils or charcoal.

You can stipple and crosshatch together to get beautiful results. In fact, you may be surprised by how well these different textures complement each other.

What is the History of Stippling in Art?

Giulio Campagnola invented the stippling technique back in 1510. Historians credited this accomplished engraver and printmaker with giving birth to modern printmaking techniques.

Multiple art movements frequently utilized stippling or stippling-like techniques, such as the Renaissance and pointillism in Impressionism. In fact, another artist who liked to stipple is Paul Signac, who turned their stipple technique into pointillism.

what is the history of stippling art
The Young Shepherd by Giulio Campagnola

You can already see the appeal of stippling in this impressive illustration by Giulio. The subtle transitions between shadows make the entire work appear as soft and grainy as a sandy beach.

Supplies You’ll Need for Stippling

The best supplies for the stippling technique are affordable and easy to find. Below is a list to help you create your first work.

Your Paper of Choice

Copy paper, Bristol paper, or a less toothy sketch paper will help you craft crisp edges and smooth lines. Try to avoid glossy or toothy multimedia sketch paper, as these make creating detail more difficult.

Stock up on paper so you can experiment to your heart’s content.

your paper choice

A Basic Pencil

While you can technically sketch with your pen, try to do a basic pencil sketch first. This tool allows you to erase what you don’t like instead of committing too quickly.

A basic mechanical pencil is ideal because it will smudge less when erased. You can also create fine lines, which will be easy to draw over.

An Ink Medium

Try to stay away from ballpoint pens or thicker markers. Ballpoint pens are difficult to create strong dots with, while thicker markers make smaller dots harder.

Go for a traditional lineart pen with permanent ink. I’ll recommend a few of my favorite brands in the next section.

The Best Mediums for the Stippling Technique

If you want a high-quality pen, you can’t go wrong with Sakura Pigma Micron or Copic Marker. Both brands are popular among sequential artists and illustrators for providing bold lines that don’t fade or bleed.

the best mediums for the stippling technique

How to Use Stippling in Your Art

Ready to create one of the most iconic shading techniques? Alongside taking convenient online art classes, the tutorial below will get you started on the right foot.

Step 1: Start With a Gradient Square

A gradient square will help you get the hang of things before committing to a drawing. Inside this square, start shading by layering thicker dots for heavier shadows or texture.

To simulate light, create fewer dots or spread the dots out more.

Step 2: Create a Simple Line Drawing

After experimenting with your gradient square, create a simple pencil drawing to trace over. Starting with basic subjects will let you grasp the basics without getting overwhelmed by all the dots.

A simple shape is best for now. A few subjects for a beginner stippling technique are:

  • A ball
  • A flower
  • An apple

Step 3: Start With Fewer Dots in the Lightest Areas

Simplicity is the name of the game. Keep going down the simple path by focusing more on lighter areas with less dots, then build up from there.

You don’t have to create dots in a straight line, either. You can curve around the shape of your object to simulate depth and vary the texture.

Layer your dots, spread them out, and change the patterns. You’ll be amazed by how confidently your drawing develops.

Step 4: Start Darkening the Shadowed Areas with Precise Dots

As you wrap up your drawing, you’ll build up heavier dots to create heavier shadow. Try not to commit entirely to a fully black area, take things slow so you can fix mistakes

During this stage, try not to touch the darker areas. Heavier areas take longer to dry and can smudge if you’re not careful.

3 Beginner Stippling Tips

Want a few more tips for your growing stippling technique? Here are a few things I remember when I draw with dots.

Experiment in a Sketchbook First

Permanent ink doesn’t allow much correction. Experimenting with different dots and dot clusters in a sketchbook helps you see the result before committing.

I also like creating a smaller version of a larger piece in the sketchbook before starting. While drawing this seems time-consuming, it gives me the confidence to get more minor mistakes out of the way.

experiment in a sketchbook

Relax Your Wrist

Inking is a precise craft, and it can make you tense up. Remembering to relax your wrist will help create more accurate work (and reduce pain in your wrist).

Do Small Drawings For a While

Since stippling is time-intensive, smaller drawings are easier and faster to finish. Once you get confident putting down a bold shape or precise contours, you can create larger works.

Stippling is a Soothing and Fascinating Technique

Creating an image with dots is a compelling process. You’ll soon learn your drawing can be composed of almost anything.

Once you draw a few basic subjects, you can follow the example of classical artists by pushing the envelope. Experiment with darker areas, new subjects, or crosshatching.

If this soothing shading technique inspires you, check out Dot Drawing: A Fusion of Stippling and Ornament.

Featured Image by Pablo Jurado Ruiz

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