Pointillism 101 - Impressionistic Painting




Introduction: Pointillism 101 - Impressionistic Painting

About: Geeky artist. MUST. MAKE. STUFF. More stuff at: rhondachasedesign.com

Pointillism is an iconic form of impressionism that gives beautiful, characteristic results. While it requires patience, it is also very forgiving. Even beginning painters can create wonderful pieces of art.

In this tutorial I'll first give you a bit of art history on impressionism and pointillism. Then I'll teach you how to create your own pointillistic paintings. This project is appropriate for classrooms and individuals, from middle school to adult.

Step 1: What You Need

Acrylic paints or Oil paints - I used acrylics in this project, but impressionists originally used oils. At a minimum you'll need red, blue, yellow, and white (Pointillists traditionally don't use black). But you can can buy more colors if you want, it just depends on how much you want to spend, and how much you want to mix your own colors. I bought my class individual student grade paint sets of 12 tubes. (Class was online, so everyone needed their own supplies.)

Brushes - You may end up only using one brush for your painting, but get a few small brushes. At least one round and one flat, so you can try them and see which you like best.

Canvas - Get a primed prestretched canvas in a small size - 8x10 is perfect.

Paper and pencil to sketch

Cup or other container of water

Paper plate (or similar) or palette

Step 2: A Brief Art History Lesson

Impressionistic painting began in the early 1800's and became prominent around the 1870s - 80s. Impressionist painters moved away from photorealistic paintings and ethereal subjects, and instead focused on everyday life and objects. The impressionist painter also focused more on light, color, and shadow, even if the result was unrealistic.

Another new technique in impressionism was that paint colors were not blended together on the canvas as they were previously. Instead, colors were mixed on a palette and then used on the canvas in bold strokes with no blending, giving impressionistic paintings their characteristic look.

Pointillism is a style of impressionistic painting developed by George Seurat and Paul Signac in the 1880's. As with impressionism, colors are not blended together on the canvas. But instead of the broad strokes of the impressionist, the pointillist paints using dots, or tiny strokes. The dots of vivid color are intended to be blended by the eye of the viewer. The proportions of the colors of the dots and the density of dots change the color the eye sees. Impressionism and pointillism are still popular painting styles to work in and to collect.

Georges Seurat and Paul Signac

Paul Signac was a mostly self-taught, Jewish artist born in Paris in 1863. Signac’s early works followed the tradition of impressionism, but evolved after meeting Georges Seurat in 1884. Georges Seurat was also born in Paris, in 1859. He is most famous for his iconic, enormous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte created from 1884–1886 (shown above). In the mid 1880s Signac and Seurat became close friends and the two collaborated on studying theories of painting and color, in particular how light breaks down into its prismatic elements. They had a scientific approach to painting in which the analytical study of color theory and light were extremely important.


George Seurat: 1859-1891, French A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte - 1884-1886, oil on canvas Over 6’x10’

Paul Signac: 1863-1935, French Place Des Lices -1893, oil

Step 3: Begin the Project - Set Up & Sketch

Pick one or more objects to use for a still life. I used pomegranates. Set up your still life the way you want to paint it and can leave it until you're done painting.

Then get a piece of printer paper and make a sketch. This is the place to figure out your design and make mistakes. Remember the background. Do you want to paint what you see, or make a fantasy background? Don't get too detailed - this sketch won't be saved.

When you have a sketch you like, redraw it on your canvas in pencil. Draw very lightly! The paint may pick up some of the graphite and get muddied otherwise. You can erase on the canvas, but try to keep it to a minimum. You can use transfer paper to redraw your design, if you prefer.

Step 4: Underpainting

Purists didn't do underpaintings in pointillism, but it is a standard painting technique that will help you tremendously, so we're doing it here. An underpainting is like a color sketch that will be completely covered by the end of the project. It uses light washes of thinned paint.

To make thinned down paint, or a wash, put a few drops of plain water on your palette. Then take a tiny dab of a prominent color and mix it together. Try it out. You should be able to see the color and also see the pencil marks through the color.

Look carefully at your still life, especially the light and shadow. Loosely paint in the middle tones, then the shadows, then the highlights. Clean your brush between colors. Remember the background.

Let the underpainting dry.

Step 5: Time to Paint

Observe your still life. Look at one part of one object. Where is the light? Where is the shadow? What colors do you see? Since dots of color are intended to be blended by the eye of the viewer, you need to pick out what those colors are. In my still life, a patch of red pomegranate, when observed closely had various shades of red, as well as other colors like blue, green, and yellow. The proportions of the colors of the dots change the color the you see. Also, the colors don't have to be realistic. But the light and shadow should be accurate.

To begin, try a medium tone of one color (I started with a medium red) and make a few dots or very short strokes with each brush and see what you like best.

Don't let your dots touch (yet). Make them closer together where the color is more intense, and further apart where they transition to another shade or color.

Step 6: Keep Pointing

Use your underpainting as a color guide.

Mix another color or shade. I mixed some yellow to go in the highlight areas. And then brown for the branches and shadows. Only work with one color or shade at a time.

Step 7: More Depth & Color

I then added more shades of red, yellow, and brown for more color and depth. Many of these dots touch other color dots.

You'll begin to fill in the empty spaces between dots with transitional colors. There won't be empty spaces in the final painting.

Step 8: Between Objects

Pointillism has no hard edges so you need to have contrast between distinct objects. Make sure to have strong contrast in the shadows and/or highlights between objects that are the same color. And choose additional colors that contrast well for the background.

I began my background by dotting in the tree using orange and green, and then contrasting the tree and pomegranates with a blue sky.

My tree and sky are very loosely dotted at this point.

Step 9: Continue

Keep adding points of color to what you have painted so far and increase the density of the dots.

I added much more density and detail to the tree and sky. I also added final details to the fruits.

If you don't have the contrast and separation you want, let the paint dry before adding more dots to correct this. You can work on another section while you wait.

Step 10: Details

Here are closeups of my seed design at the bottom of the painting. The seeds are particularly abstract, and I didn't worry much about making all of them distinct.

Step 11: Keep Pointing

Keep painting with dots or tiny lines until your whole design is filled in. Paint the dots close enough in density that you don't see any space between the dots. At least not without looking really closely.

Step 12: Finish!

Add your last details. See if there are highlights that need a few dots of white. Then let your painting dry. If you want it shiny, you can paint a coat of clear gloss acrylic medium over the whole surface.

Then hang and enjoy! Please post your work here if you want to share. I'd love to see what you do!

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    1 year ago

    I was an art teacher and now I paint. I think this is one of the best instructables I have ever seen. I will try your instructions and let you know how it turns out.

    Rhonda Chase Design
    Rhonda Chase Design

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thank You!!! This is very high praise from a fellow art teacher, and greatly appreciated. Feel free to DM me if you have comments or want to share your work directly :-) And of course you can always post here as well. Thanks again, I look forward to your feedback and art!

    Rhonda Chase Design

    Thank you! Pointillism is a kind of impressionism, which means it's hard to go very wrong. You probably did better than you think :-) Always happy to look at what you've got if you give it another try!


    1 year ago

    Amazing!! I no longer have an excuse for not attempting an Impressionistic painting. Thanks for posting! :)

    Rhonda Chase Design
    Rhonda Chase Design

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanks!! Let me know how it goes :-) I love seeing pictures!


    1 year ago

    This is awesome- very well done :)

    Rhonda Chase Design
    Rhonda Chase Design

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thank you!! I hope people find it useful :-)