What is stippling?
Stippling is the creation of an image using small dots. Contrary to popular belief, it differs from pointillism and divisionism in that it is done in a single color and with uniform shapes, relying on the density of the dots to convey darkness and light. It was popularized as a means of print illustration because it can be easily replicated with only black ink, and is sometimes preferred to hatching (another popular form of two-dimensional shading using lines instead of dots) because it doesn’t inhibit the rendering of contours.
Tools: You’ll want to use archival felt-tip pens to regulate your dot size and resist smudging. Sakura Microns are fantastic for this: they don’t smear, their tips produce consistently-sized dots, and they come in many different colors and nib sizes. Fineliners, rapidographs, and other technical pens will also do the trick. Avoid fountain pens, which have nibs that rely on line direction and pressure, and ballpoints, which don’t dispense ink with enough volume or regularity to make for a neat stipple piece.
When it comes to paper, you’ve got a lot of options, as long as you make sure to avoid glossy surfaces that lend themselves to smudging. Aquabee actually makes a paper specifically for stippling called Stipple Paper; it has a unique, pebbly texture that adds depth to your art without distorting your images. Cardstock also works well. Watercolor paper can be gorgeous for mixed-media projects, and heavyweight sketchbook papers are fine for practice, though watch your surfaces—if your paper is too textured, you can wear down the nib of your pen faster.
1. Begin by making a vague outline of your drawing to figure out composition: just a dot here or there for reference; doesn’t have to be anything too involved. This’ll help your plot out your picture. The closer your dots are to each other, the more detail will emerge.
2. Create a focal point. In portraiture, eyes work well for this. In florals, the centers of flowers look beautiful when darkened, and highlighting a particular component out of your still life is an effective way to lay down a foundation to work from.
3. Work outward. Delineating the edges of your picture is a good idea if you are confident in your proportions, but otherwise, just let the dots diffuse naturally
4. Try not to cheat! Lines, even small ones, will show up and change the “texture” of your drawing. The best part about stippling is how intricate, careful, and clean your finished product will look. Persevere! It will be worth it in the end!
Don’t press too hard: You only need the barest amount of pressure to create a single dot. Remember that the dark parts of your piece depend on the number of the dots, not the darkness of the individual dots themselves!
Sit back from your artwork: In stippling, it’s easy to focus too hard on the micro when you should be looking at the macro. Remember to lift your head every now and then to see how your work is progressing. You might catch some proportional or compositional errors that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise!
Stretch your hands frequently: Working in 2mm dots can be hard on the hands! Stretch them frequently to avoid cramping.
Relax! Remember that stippling is so cumulative that it’s hard to mess it up irrevocably, as long as you keep checking yourself. Don’t worry about that single misplaced dot. It won’t matter in the end.
Think in tones, not lines: Don’t stipple in lines! That’s what drawings are for! Instead, try to think in tones, planes, and shapes.