I stumbled across a surprising tidbit today while gathering information on famous pen and ink artists. The wonderful thing about this information is that it puts to rest something I’ve been wondering about for years; where did the pen and ink technique of stippling begin? From what I have been able to gather from teachers and personal research over the years is that the term came from photography as a way of explaining how small dots could be put together to form an image. Well, actually that’s just how my high school art instructor explained it. While in college I further learned that Georges Seurat along with Paul Signac, developed what has come to be known as “pointillism”; a painting technique using dots of paint to form images on canvas. So it was from these two sources that I assumed the drawing technique of stippling emerged but my wondering never really felt resolved. The issue became something that got filed away in the back of my mind behind random, odd things like what if the earth is just a part of a cell that’s inside a huge organism.
Then today, while I was looking up pen and ink artists for a dose of inspiration, I came across Giulio Campagnola. Campagnola was an Italian painter and engraver who it turns out, developed this technique of creating smooth graduations of tone and nuances by using a delicate touch of tiny dots and dashes with his engraving tool to create engraved images. This became known as stippling. And voila! That question that got filed away was finally answered. Of all things, I wouldn’t have thought that stippling came from engraving, especially all the way back in the early1500s. Engravings typically employ lines of hatching and cross hatching to form images but Campagnola devised a way of using dots to create variations of tone and hence stippling was born. It wasn’t until the 18th century before stippling developed into a distinct technique but by then other artists had tried their hand at the technique which lent to its growing use.
Campagnola left behind few examples of his work, some of which I’ve posted here. If you look closely you’ll see that sometimes he used only stippling and at other times he used a mix of hatching and stippling.
After learning this I can now also put to rest another question that I have been wondering about for years; should I be referring to my work as stippling or pointillism? Over the years I’ve used them interchangeably but then when you get into the nuts and bolts of it, my work is more in the stipple camp rather than pointillism. If I was creating my artwork using dots of paint, then it would be more accurate to call it pointillism. But then there is that gray area; what if I use colored ink? Oh the complexity. Either way I now have a better understanding of my craft. 🙂