Tuesday Tutorial: Marker Pointillism

Pointillism is a technique (and a movement) in the Art world; developed by Gorges Seurat and Paul Signac in the 1880’s, it consists of tiny distinct dots of color that are applied in ordered patterns to form an image. It is a bit of an optical illusion because those tiny arranged dots of color visually trick the eye into seeing colors that were not actually used. For example putting blue dots next to red will fool the eye into seeing purple.

Back in the day, when I was at university, I took a Humanities class that had us study Gorges Seurat and part of that lesson plan was to dabble in Pointillism. It was a very simplistic version of Seurat’s technique but I did find it a fun little exercise to participate in and it has become a staple in my creative ventures. Paper, markers and an awesome view/subject and you are good to go. It is great if you travel, easy to pack; lightweight and it doesn’t take up much room.

In the class we went outside to the quad and picked a tree to study but since this tutorial is online I will let you be the judge of your preferred subject matter. I will advise that you keep the subject/object simple if this is your first pointillism project. A piece of fruit, a tree in your neighborhood, a leaf or even a bowl/cup. You want simple lines and something that shows the play of light on its surface.

So let’s get started…

Supplies needed for project:

  • 3 Markers in primary colors with a fine nib (blunt pencil nib not mechanical pencil nib). I am using True Red, Canary Yellow, True Blue but you can also use Magenta, Lemon Yellow and Cyan. I will be using Sharpie Markers but honestly Crayola, Arteza, or any other marker brand will work, I have pretty much used them all at one point or another.
  • 1 pad of paper 6 in. x 8in. (15.2 x 20.3 cm). Acid free. Heavyweight (so marker doesn’t bleed through) and smooth surface. I am using Strathmore but again…any brand will work as long as it is a smooth, heavy weighted paper. I have used Camel brand drawing paper while in India and a no name white drawing paper while I was at Chelsea Mental Hospital. Just be aware that you might have some marker bleed through with the drawing paper.

Let’s Begin: Dot in subject matter, roughly, with lightest marker color (yellow). It doesn’t have to be perfect because it is just a simple guide.

Choose a starting point that is small and easily managed (I chose the trunk of the tree) and start filling in the space with dots of your working color. Remember your light source and leave those spaces white (dot free zone or minimal dots).

Take your second color (I am choosing the red) and start dotting in this second color next to your first color (yellow). Start light because as you progress you will go back over areas already worked and intensify the color. We do this because it is always better to go back and darken an area as needed. Rule of thumb: It is always easier to deepen the color later than to try to lighten an area that has gotten to dark.

Repeat with your third color (blue) what you did with the other two colors:

Work the area until you are happy with the result and feel comfortable enough to move on to another area.

I chose to work the tree canopy and the ground at the same time, I just volley back and forth between the two but do whatever you are comfortable with. Just remember to work your lightest color first and add the other two as needed and don’t go dark to quickly.

It starts to take shape rather quickly and once you start to feel more comfortable and it begins to actually resemble your chosen subject it becomes easier to go back and darken already worked areas. If you did work it to dark don’t worry about it…we all have done it…see mine below

This is too dark for my comfort but it still works ok, so don’t fret if your project is dark.

Helpful Suggestions:

  • Work in a well ventilated area…marker fumes can get to you…quickly!
  • Try to work in small segments and skip around. It helps to flesh out the picture and keeps your light source present.
  • Remember to ask yourself: “Where is my Sun?” If sun has shifted or set or if you are working from memory use an object as a mark and place it where your light source would be in proximity to your work.
  • Once your picture begins to take shape, start working it as a whole rather than in segments…keeps everything cohesive.
  • Start with lightest color; always…..then slowly go darker.
  • Don’t be afraid to have white spaces, this helps to show light.

In the Humanities class that I took we worked this project a bit differently, we worked all three colors simultaneously but I honestly found it to be hard on my eyes and had frequent headaches. I found that working the way I am showing you caused less eye strain. Hope you enjoyed the tutorial and trying out marker Pointillism.

This is my finished tree (top) and I am doing a side by side (bottom) of an earlier work from 2006 that I posted earlier just to show the difference between working a subject dark and keeping it lighter.

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