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How to paint with pointillism

Updated July 20, 2017

Pointillism is a painting technique where small dots of colour are used to create an artistic image. Pointillism relies on the idea that two colours placed closely together or just overlapping will, from a distance, create the illusion of a single blended colour. Georges Seraut popularised pointillism in the 19th century with his post-Impressionistic paintings full of light and vibrancy. While pointillism is a time consuming method of painting, the results can be rewarding for subjects best captured in luminous, pure colours. Any painting medium can be utilised in pointillism including oil, acrylic, watercolour and gouache.

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  1. Sketch the subject of your painting on your prepared canvas, panel or board. Use pencil or charcoal sharpened to a fine point and a very light touch. Do not shade or indicate value, only outline and place crucial details.

  2. Arrange paint on your palette in colour wheel order: Permanent Violet, Ultramarine Blue, Viridian, Cadmium Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red and Alizarin Crimson. Place colours far enough apart that they will not mix on your palette.

  3. Load a round point bristle brush with medium and mix it into one of your paint colours. Begin applying this single colour where appropriate, using uniform-sized dots of paint. Densely apply the dots if this colour represents the primary hue of an object. Sparsely apply the dots if the colour is only a minor component in that portion of the image.

  4. Continue with a clean brush as you move on to the next colour. Use colour wheel theory in selecting which colour dots to place next to each other in order to create the illusion of a blended colour. Cadmium Red and Ultramarine Blue dots will create the impression of purple when viewed from a distance. Place dots close to or barely touching each other but do not layer the paint or allow it to mix on the canvas.

  5. Create dynamic shadows by placing complementary colour dots next to each other, such as Viridian and Cadmium Red or Cadmium Yellow and Permanent Violet. Utilize Ultramarine Blue, Permanent Violet and Alizarin Crimson for dark passages. Continue working until the entire surface of the painting is evenly covered with dots of paint except for areas of bright light or highlights, where the white of the clean painting surface should show through.

  6. Tip

    Try combinations of colour dots on scrap canvas or paper before applying them to your final work. Testing will help you determine which hues will combine successfully to create the colours you want. Step back from your painting frequently to check your progress and determine how well your dots of colour are blending to create a successful visual illusion.

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Things You'll Need

  • Prepared canvas, panel or board
  • Pencil or charcoal
  • Palette
  • Round point bristle brushes
  • Painting medium
  • Permanent Violet paint
  • Ultramarine Blue paint
  • Viridian paint
  • Cadmium Yellow paint
  • Yellow Ochre paint
  • Cadmium Red paint
  • Alizarin Crimson paint

About the Author

Nicole Pellegrini has been writing science, arts and travel articles since 1997. Her work has been published in the American Chemical Society's journal "Macromolecules." She holds a Bachelor of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, both in chemical engineering.

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