Who was Paul Signac?
Paul Signac was an Impressionist painter who, along with Georges Seurac, developed pointillism. Pointillism is a painting technique whereby thousands of tiny dots of pure colour are applied to a canvas very close to one another. One of the main ideas behind pointillism is to use only two to three colours of dots in a particular area. The basic idea behind pointillism is that your mind and eye blend the different-coloured dots together to create the image when viewed from a distance. There is no set subject matter - pointillism is all about the technique.
Have a look at his paintings
To understand just how pointillism works, take a look at some of Signac's most famous works. Some of these include The Dining Room (1886-87), Sunday (1888-90) and The Women at the Well (1892) among many others. The Dining Room depicts a Parisian family at the dining table having breakfast, while Sunday depicts a typical Parisian couple at home on a Sunday morning. The Women at the Well is a seascape painting which shows two women working at a well, with the sea in the background.
It is important to understand that Signac's style is all about technique. The subject matter can be whatever you want it to be. Signac painted many landscapes, seascapes and paintings depicting daily life. He also did some more abstract paintings, such as Portrait of Félix Fénéon. This particular painting depicts Félix with an abstract background consisting of swirling patterns with loads of different colours. There is no limit to what the subject matter can be - it's entirely up to you.
The size of the dots
When you look at these paintings closely, you'll see how they're composed of thousands of tiny dots. The effect created by this particular style of painting is really quite marvellous. The dots blend together to form a cohesive image. Some of Signac's paintings, such as Sunday, have clearly defined areas and there are lines clearly separating one area of colour from another. Take a look at Capo di Noli and you'll see the lines aren't as clearly defined. The effect is still the same when viewed from a distance, but Capo di Noli was painted with much larger, more noticeable dots. The different colours that make up a particular area are a lot more noticeable.
Line definition and colours
Some pointillist paintings such as Sunday have two or three colours in one particular area. This helps create more clearly defined areas of the painting. Compare The Papal Palace, Avignon to Sunday to see how differently colours are used. Notice how The Papal Palace, Avignon doesn't have clearly defined areas and colours - take a look at the water and notice how loose the reflection of the palace is. Now look at Sunday to see how clearly defined all of the lines and different areas of the painting area.
Before you get started, you should understand the basics of colour theory and the colour wheel. The whole point of pointillism is letting the mind create new colour by fusing two colours that are on the canvas. So, for example, if there are red and blue dots, from a distance these will blend together to form purple dots. If you're creating a primary colour on the canvas, simply use dots of that colour. If you're creating a secondary or tertiary colour, use different coloured dots that will blend together to form the colour you want from a distance.
Paintbrushes and colours
First you should decide whether you are going to have small or large dots. Then buy a paintbrush that corresponds with the size of your dots. A round point brush should work just fine for doing a pointillist painting. As for colours, having a lighter and a darker shade of each primary colour is a great start. For pointillist paintings, you shouldn't need black paint because black and shadows can be easily created by using other colours, such as blue and darker shades of colours.
Do a light sketch of your image on the canvas. Load your palette up with your white, the three primary colours and any extra shades you want, but make sure they don't mix. Start applying dots to the canvas, but try to do one colour at a time and always thoroughly wash your brush in between colours. Apply dots densely if the colour is the main component of that part of the image and apply them lightly if the colour is only a minor component of that part of the image. Make sure the paint doesn't mix on the canvas and only use a single layer of paint.
Is it OK to overlap dots?
It's OK to overlap dots or have them barely touching, but remember that pointillist paintings lack depth and texture. If you have too many dots overlapping, especially if the dots are large, the painting's going to appear to have more density and texture than the typical pointillist painting should have. This density will give the painting less of a brilliant effect, which is a characteristic of pointillist paintings. The more overlapping dots there are, the less merging of colours there will be. The occasional overlapping dots shouldn't create too many problems, but try to avoid them if you want a painting in the classic pointillist style.
The act of applying thousands of small dots to a canvas can be monotonous, time-consuming and quite tedious. Take a break every so often to refresh your mind and relax your painting hand. When painting a pointillist painting it is very important to keep stepping back to see how the painting looks. When you look at your painting up close, you should see nothing but dots. You have to keep stepping back so you can keep track of exactly what it is you're painting. Before you get started on your painting, practice on a spare bit of canvas or paper so you can see how the pointillist technique works. It may take a while for you to get the hang of this different technique, but it's definitely worth trying out.
Joanne Perkins is a Berkshire-based artist with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art and specialises in painting Berkshire landscapes. She is happy to accept all queries and questions. For more information about Joanne, her work and her current projects visit: http://joannesberkshirescenes.com/default.aspx