As I’ve been tapping away, laying down small dabs of colored ink on my current drawing “Succulent”, I found myself feeling a bit lonely. Now when I say lonely, I’m not referring to an absence of social interaction or some sort of lack of being understood. Rather what I’m referring to is this loneliness I felt in artistic style. The way in which I create my work is by using a drawing and painting technique generally known as stippling or pointillism. The terms are often used interchangeably but I like to think of stippling as when I use nothing other than black ink and pointillism when I use mostly colored ink. It’s my personal way of keeping the two terms straight in my head. But you see, pointillism isn’t as widely used as a technique in the art world, which I’m sure is probably due to how time intensive it can be. So if I where to go to my local bookstore and pick up a drawing magazine, looking for inspiration, it is very rare that I will flip through the pages and see scores of images of contemporary artistic works done using pointillism. It is in that I felt this bit of loneliness. So for inspiration, instead of turning to contemporary artists, I am led back to the works of Paul Signac.
I first became aware of Signac while taking an Art History course in college. I had already been introduced to the technique of pointillism in high school but I knew nothing of it’s origin and history. (I’m glad that I took Art History instead of some other elective.)
Signac was a close friend and influenced by George Seurat, who also created pointillistic paintings. And although Seurat is more well known for his ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Île de la Grande Jatte’ painting, I’ve always taken a liking to the work of Signac more. Maybe it was how he seemed to focus more on landscapes and natural elements in his work rather than the human world. Being someone who is more oriented towards the world of Nature than man, it’s natural that his work would appeal to me more. But I also find Signac pointillistic paintings more defined, taking on a more realism feel where Seurat’s pointillism feels more diffused and a bit abstract. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Seurat’s work is bad or wrong, I do admire his work especially in regards to pointillism, so I’m not dismissing him. It’s only that if I had to choose between Signac and Seurat as a source of inspiration for my own work, it would be Signac hands down. It’s to Signac I turn when I might need an idea on how certain colors may mix or when I need a reminder of what can and can not be achieved with a pointillism. But it’s also to Signac I turn to quell that tinge of loneliness I feel travelling down the pointillist path.
“Kneeling Man” – 14×17 ink drawing. Reference from cover of Burne Hogath’s “Dynamic Anatomy”.
There is one thing more valuable than gold. Time. Time, once spent can not be bought back. As we get older, or at least from our 30s through our 60s, our bank account of time dwindles with the demands of everyday life, only to be partially replenished once we retire, if we’re so lucky to do so. When I set out to tackle the drawing “Kneeling Man” I had a lot of time, patience and focus to spend at least one hour a day after my second shift job to complete this 14×17 space of stippled ink within 30 days. I had no distractions then. No spouse, no looming bills and no internet. It was just me, my room, a bowl of Rice-A-Roni and my pens. The typical life of a community college student with a lot of energy to burn. For the sake of my art I sometimes long for those days; the days of less distractions and concerns…and no internet.
Here’s a time lapse video of me inking one of my ACEO drawings titled “Phree”. It’s just over a minute long but in reality it was five straight hours of stippling. In the world of stippling that’s really not a long time since larger pieces can take up to more than 36 hours. But to a hiny on a bench with no cushion, it felt like eternity.
Here are a few things I’ve learned as a stipple artist:
1. Before you even begin get into a Zen state of mind. This is not a craft for the speedy and the quick. You really do have to prepare your mind to slow down and be in it for the long haul. Think of it as meditation. If you have to start off with doing it for only 10-20 minutes at at time, that’s fine. Take breaks and then come back to it. Whatever you do don’t force it otherwise you’ll end up hating the drawing and spend the rest of your time just wishing you could hurry up and finish.
2. When you do your underlying linework don’t make the lines too dark. You want your lines to be light but visible otherwise they’ll be a pain to erase after you lay down your ink and you may inadvertently erase some of your ink, dulling your drawing.
3. Don’t tense up. Holding your pen tighter won’t help you get done any faster. You want a slightly loose grip with a moderate stippling pace so that your hand won’t tire quickly.
4. Whenever you’re not stippling put your cap back on your pen or put it away, even if you’re just reaching for a drink. I’ve had one too many mishaps from simply reaching for my phone or moving to pet my cat only to look back at my drawing and find unintended pen marks on it.
5. Work in small sections at a time. I’ve found that covering the portion of the drawing that I’m not working on with a piece of paper keeps me from feeling overwhelmed at how much I have to stipple and focused on the portion that I’m working on. Plus the paper keeps the oils from your hand from getting on the drawing.
6. If you get sleepy go to bed or take a nap. Don’t try to push through it. Trust me, stippling while sleepy is a sure way to end up with mistakes.
7. Most importantly….BREATHE…and always keep a charged up mp3 player or iPod loaded with some good music handy.
Here’s a simple visual how-to on color stippling. This works great when your drawing calls for mostly primary colors but when you get into skin tones and the such you need to be a bit more creative when it comes to choosing the colors to create your shadows. When you need for your colors to be deeper, place your dots closer together. When you need for them to be lighter, place them further apart. A rule of thumb is don’t use black otherwise your shadows will look too harsh. Then again, once you get the hang of this, rules can be broken. Other than that have fun and play around with the colors to see what works for you but if you’re looking for a starting point work with primary colors until you get comfortable and then explore from there.