The Key Difference Between Stippling and Pointillism


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Stippling and pointillism are art forms that often get confused with each other, as both focus on using small dots to create your artwork. That said, stippling and pointillism are not the same thing and there is a very key difference between them.

Stippling and pointillism both utilize small dots for creating art, but stippling is completed solely in black and white, while pointillism uses color. If a piece of art is made out of black and white dots, it is stippling. If a piece of art is made out of colored dots, it is pointillism.

The use of color is the key factor that differentiates stippling from pointillism. 

Even though color is easy to notice in a piece of art, it makes sense that these two art forms are so easily confused. Who would’ve thought there would be two separate art forms that use dots, of all things?

Not me, but I’m happy about it. Both stippling and pointillism are so flipping cool. 

Let’s dive into both of these awesome art forms and see what makes stippling and pointillism so uniquely special.

What is Stippling?

Stippling is an art form that uses small black dots in various concentrations to create shapes, shadows, and definition in a piece of art. Nothing but black dots are used in stippling art, which makes it important to understand where to place each dot to create the effects you’re looking for.

When you only have black dots at your disposal, how do you make a zebra look like a zebra and not a blob? How does a face look like a face and a mountain look like a mountain?

When making stippling art, the placement and concentration of your dots is critical. 

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If your dots are in the wrong place, you may end up with shapes you never intended.

If you get the concentration of your dots wrong, it will be hard to add dimension to your work by utilizing shadows and highlights. The closer your dots are together, the darker that area of your piece of art will look. The farther apart they are, the lighter that area of your piece of art will look.

Which leads us to a VERY important part of stippling: negative space

The black dots you lay down on your paper are very important for your stippling art. Equally important are the black dots you DON’T lay down. 

Negative space is the space around and between what you’ve drawn on your paper (source). In this case, around and between your black dots.

Because stippling art relies on only one color, it’s really important to use negative space to your advantage. Take a look at the example below.

stippling example

The only reason why we can tell what the shapes even are is because there are intentional gaps between the dots. The negative space works together with the dots to create the piece of art you’re looking for.

This interplay between the black dots and the negative space in your stippling art makes it extremely important to place your dots in intentional concentrations with gaps in between.

If you’re wanting to dive into stippling, it’s really important to get a strong foundation in negative space and shading. While shading works differently in stippling than with other types of art, the same principles apply.

Skillshare has a great collection of classes about stippling that are a HUGE help in learning the tips and tricks you need to know to be successful with this medium.

You can take these stippling classes for free with a Skillshare free trial.

Concentrations and gaps are NOT important with pointillism. Let’s dive into pointillism and you’ll understand why.

What is Pointillism?

Pointillism is an art form that uses small colored dots to create a piece of art. Nothing but dots are used in stippling art, but they can be in any multiple colors that an artist chooses. This differs from stippling, which only uses black dots when creating a piece of art.

If you want to be fancy, there are two other words for pointilism: divisionism and chromo-luminarism (source). Take that to your next trivia night!

Pointillism began in the late 1880s with the Neo-Impressionism movement (source). Today, it’s still an awesome art form that artists use to create their work.

Some artists may restrict the colors they use in their Pointillism pieces, but if you want to use the whole rainbow, go for it. The color world is your oyster.

With stippling, we talked about how negative space is SO important for differentiating between your black dots to create shapes, shadows, and definitions.

With pointillism, colors are used to create shapes, shadows, and definitions. No gaps are needed. Unless you want gaps for artistic purposes, pointillism does not rely on negative space in the same way that stippling does.

Look at the example below.

There are only a few gaps between the dots, yet we can still tell what this beautiful piece of art is trying to convey. 

This example doesn’t have any gaps at all, yet the colors tell the story.

Instead of using varying concentrations of dots to convey highlights and shadows throughout the piece of work, different shades of colors are used.

The colors do the work in pointillism and play a key role in creating your piece of art.

Experimenting with stippling and pointillism can be a great way to stretch your creativity in a different way. 

With stippling, how can you vary the spacing, placement, and concentration of your dots to achieve the shapes and effects you’re looking for?

With pointillism, how can you properly pair colors together in a way that makes sense and leads to a cohesive art piece?

Even though stippling and pointillism both use dots, the techniques used for each art form are very different. Not to mention the results. The art that’s produced via stippling and pointillism look very different from one another.

Have some fun experimenting with both stippling and pointillism and see what style of dots resonate the most with you and your artistic side!

Diana Fitts

Diana has been an artist for over 25 years and has training in drawing, painting, digital drawing and graphic design. Diana's latest obsession is digitally drawing with Procreate and creating t-shirt designs with Canva. Diana has experience selling her art across a number of platforms and loves helping other artists learn how to make money from their art as well.

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