I am often asked about the tools and techniques I use when painting dots and stars. These tools can be used for both oil paints and acrylic paints.
Finding the right tool to paint stars and pointillism can be tricky; ordinary brushes always bend after a while, rubber tips are never fine enough, and things with a point often wear out. In addition, covering an entire painting with dots can be tiring and tedious, and if the tool you use is too finicky, the result will be a canvas covered in imperfect points. In studying the work of great Pointillists such as Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, I noticed that in even their work many of the dots turned into dashes- I wonder if this was intentional, or simply the result of a worn-out brush and tired hand?
I used to use extra-fine, extra-short spotter brushes, and these produced a nice, tiny, even dot at first, but they easily wear out (halfway through a painting) and become very unmanageable; the bent tips create dashes instead of dots, resulting in messy-looking, uneven stars.
(Also pictured is my cat JubJub, who insisted on being in the shot)
(Click to read the rest of the tutorial!)
I used regular wooden long toothpicks for a while; these, too, produced a fine dot for a little while, until the nibs became logged with paint (easy to do with acrylics) or wore down and became bigger. The toothpicks shown are (L-R) brand new, worn down, and worn down and caked in paint.
After searching for a better solution, in a tool that would hold a small circular dot without wearing out over time and warping the shape of the dot, I found one while looking at nail art online: dotting tools designed for nail art. They are meant to produce even dots that are small enough to decorate a nail, which makes them perfect tools for pointillism and painting stars! They usually come in packs and are much cheaper than brushes. I like that I can use them for hundreds of paintings without worrying about them wearing out at all.
(I actually have one more of these, but I lent it to a friend! It has much larger tips than the ones pictured, so I don’t use it much.)
These continue to produce a round dot even as they run out of paint; they don’t wear down at all, which is what I love about them. Unlike a tool with a sharper tip such as a pin, they won’t poke through the canvas, either.
You can see the difference in the following two paintings that were painted about a month apart.
In the first picture (painted in September 2011), I used that bent brush you saw earlier in the tutorial, and it created unsightly, messy dots.
In the second picture, I used dotting tools to paint the stars, and the overall effect is much neater. Both of these paintings are attempting the same thing, but the smaller, neater dots are much better at it.
Another big factor in painting good starfields is canvas size; the first image is 8″x8″, while the second is 30″x30″. If you use a larger canvas, the dots you make will look much smaller and cleaner overall than the same sized dots will on a smaller canvas, and you can use many more dots, creating a denser effect, which works well for globular star clusters.
There’s a nice trick to using dotting tools to paint stars: as the amount of paint on the tool decreases, the dots get smaller while maintaining their shape. You can take advantage of this by spacing each consecutive dot randomly and far apart on the canvas, getting closer together as the dots become smaller. This allows to to get a randomized placement of stars on your space painting; stars in real life come in a vast variety of sizes, and you don’t want your starscape to be too even. Dots should be randomly spaced out, and there should be more tiny dots than there are large ones.
Create depth by using dots of different colours, as stars vary in temperature in nature; using a mixture of greys, blues, yellows, and oranges with white works the best. Use a range of values to get the most depth; ideally, you want stars that are mostly darker yellow and orange mixed with white, with a few blue stars and a few white stars. Large stars look best in white; tiny stars look best in blues and greys.
Thank you for viewing my tutorial!
Do you have any different techniques that work well for you? Please share them in the comments below! Feel free to ask any questions you may have- I will answer them as soon as I can.