How To: Stipple

What is stippling?

Stippling is one of the oldest styles of art, and has a lot of versatility. Seen in art from the 1500s, this technique never died out, but has been played upon with half-tones, and pointillism. The use of positive and negative space within the drawing can be really captivating. The art of stippling is very technical, which leads to very detailed works. From a certain distance, the dots are not readily apparent as dots. But upon closer inspection, the individual marks reveals themselves and their own entities, working together to create an image as a whole. 

Stippling requires individual dots in a pattern, where the gaps are filled by the viewers’ mind. When stippling, different effects are created by the volume of negative space in the piece. You can use stippling to create shadows and dimensions, as well as texture.

Tips on Stippling

This technique works for any type of subject, whether it be a landscape of nature, or a portrait of a woman. While this technique can be used on types of engraving, this post is focused on paper (or digital) drawings. And the technique is about as easy as it sounds – you make dots, over and over. With today’s technology as well, there’s even brushes and presets on programs that do the stippling for you. If you want to know how to fast stipple a photo on Photoshop, see this post.  But there’s always more feeling and texture when done by hand, it allows for more creativity and variation. A good rule of thumb for anyone who has never stippled before, is to compare your hands darkest dots, to your lightest dots. Some people have ‘heavy hands’ and have a hard time creating light strokes (vice versa for ‘light-handed’), so it’s a good idea to see how much range you can get in tonal value. Pay close attention to the darkest darks in the subject, and the lightest lights. I like to do these first, as it sets a base for the piece, and allows me to ‘fill in the blanks’ after, with how dark or light the mid-tones should be in comparison. It’s very important to pay attention to the tonal values as you go, as this is what gives the piece it’s positive and negative space relationship. Objects which need to feel closer, or are in the foreground, should be more detailed and more textured, while objects in background tend to be less detailed, and have more negative space. Each dot reduces the value, or brightness, of the surface, creating an impression of shadow. So, a high concentration of dots implies a dark shadow, where your darkest darks are. A surface with few dots, where your lightest lights are, should have a lot of negative space, implying a highlight. In summation:

  • Figure out your darkest darks and lightest lights
  • Foreground should be more detailed, background features should have more negative space
  • Fill in darks with highly concentrated dots, then fill in lights with very few dots
  • Fill in the midtones accordingly

Stippling is a technique that never goes out of style, and is a really great way to create beautiful pieces of art.