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Stipple Portraits - Like the Famous Stippling Portraits Created from Dots

Updated on January 20, 2012

Stipple Portrait of Martin Luther King Jr by Darla Dixon

Stipple dot drawing of MLK by Darla Dixon
Stipple dot drawing of MLK by Darla Dixon

What Are Stipple Portraits?

Stipple portraits are created out of many tiny dots of ink. It is often confused with Pointillism. Stipple and Pointillism are similar, but they are not the same thing. Pointillism generally means works of art that are created out of tiny dots of colored ink or paint, and when the various colors are put near each other, they create a new color for the viewer (the colors seem to blend as the viewer moves farther away).

However, Stipple Portraits are only created out of a single color of ink. Areas of dark and light are created by how close or far away the dots are placed to each other. Stipple portraits can be considered as black and white pointillism.

How I Create Stipple Portraits

I create stipple portraits by hand, but I do enlist the help of my computer. The computer is very helpful in separating out all the areas of dark and light. I begin by converting the color photo to black and white. Then, I crop the photo and resize it to the size I want the finished art to be. This is usually the size of a baseball card: 2.5" x 3.5".

I print out the photo in this form, then I work some more with the image in the computer, adjusting the contrast to different levels. I will sometimes print out about 3-5 versions. Each one has a different level of contrast. So this helps me pick out the areas that are darkest, midtones, and the lightest areas. I then draw a basic outline of the person on my art paper. I draw the same size as the print-out. Then I lightly draw the outlines of the dark areas. I place in the dots, beginning with the darkest areas.

It does take a lot of time, and requires a lot of patience. When I find I am getting tired and not paying very close attention, I always stop. Continuing with the art when tired will usually cause me to make an error. I can't afford to make a mistake, because the artwork is in ink and cannot be erased.

But I do think that anyone who has an interest in creating a portrait can do it. Just like doing crochet or cross-stitching requires time and patience.

Supplies Needed To Create Stipple Portraits

A Pencil - any pencil will do for this job, just use it lightly.

Good quality paper - I recommend Strathmore Bristol 300 or 400 series.

A Ruler - to mark out a 2.5" x 3.5" or 3" x 5" drawing area. (I used to think that drawing it larger would be easier, but in stipple portraits, start small. The 3x5 is a nice size, that's about the size of an Index card. Large enough to work, but not so large that it takes you too long to complete the portrait.

Ink Pens - I like Pygma Micron ink pens in different tip widths. These are fadeproof and permanent archival grade inks.

Reference Photo - Photo of the person or a photo clipped out of a magazine for practice.

Computer/Printer - Graphics program is a big help, and ability to print out the photos is a plus. But this is optional.

Eraser - I recommend Staedtler white vinyl eraser. Use gently, preferably several hours after you have finished the ink work. I have rushed things in the past and ended up smearing ink when I erased! So make sure the ink has had as much time as possible to completely dry before you erase out your guidelines.

Wall Street Journal Portraits

The famous Wall Street Journal stipple portraits are said to have been created by artist Kevin Sprouls. The newspaper had contained illustrations since the late 1800s, but they wanted continuity and a format that wouldn't alter the layout. The dot portraits were created to look like the engravings on currency. If you look closely at the Wall Street style portraits, they aren't just created with dots, they also have dashes. This adds to the look of an engraving.


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