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What is Stippling?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Stippling is a artistic technique in which the appearance of depth and texture is created with a series of tiny dots applied with a brush dipped in paint or ink, or applied with a pencil. There are a number of applications for stippling, ranging from texturing botanical drawings to bring out notable features to stippling a wall to create a textured look. This technique does require some practice and skill, as stippling can look elegant and subtle or garish and simplistic, depending on how well it is done.

Around the house, one of the most common uses of stippling is in the texturing of walls and ceilings. A wall may be stippled to create an antiqued effect which fits in better with the overall look and feel of the room, or stippling may be used to highlight a textured material such as plaster. Usually, the stippling is subtle, as one does not want to overwhelm people who are looking at the stippled area with textural and visual information.

When stippling in the home, people usually apply a neutral base coat and then stipple a different color over it. The colors used can vary, depending on personal taste. Special faux paint effect brushes can be used to get the desired dotted effect, or people can carefully control a regular paint brush. A glazing paint may be used for a slightly glazed effect which will highlight the stippled appearance of the finished project.

Stippling is also used to create a flyspecked or antiqued effect for furnishings, or to create a more realistic faux wood finish. In this case, hand-stippled paint effects can be used to make a piece seem more unique and original, and can also be used to cleverly hide some flaws which might be apparent if the piece was painted in a single base color. Flooring products can also be finished with this effect, in which case they need to be sealed so that the spotted areas are not worn away with use.

Many hardware and home supply stores sell the tools needed for stippling, including special brushes and glazes. Staff may also have recommendations about colors to use for people who are experimenting. For those who have not stippled before, it is a good idea to practice on a piece of scrap wood before applying the brush to something permanent such as a wall or ceiling. Practice allows people to see how the effect looks and how it can be controlled.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By lighth0se33 — On Nov 11, 2011

I helped my friend stipple her kitchen backsplash. She had it painted a medium shade of hunter green, and we stippled black onto it before adding a coat of clear gloss.

It looks like ceramic now, with those unpredictable dots that you get when you fire clay and the clear glazed finish. It goes great with the black marble counter tops surrounding it.

I think that without the stippling, it would have looked out of place in her kitchen, where everything else has some sort of texture. I love it so much that I plan to stipple my kitchen walls throughout the whole room. The walls are a deep butterscotch color, and I think they will look great stippled with burnt orange.

By orangey03 — On Nov 10, 2011

@wavy58 – Stippling is certainly time consuming, but you get a really unique finished product. Not too many people have the patience to use this method of painting, so your art really stands out in art shows or in galleries.

I was at an art sale last summer, and I saw the coolest stippled ocean scene. It was done in full color, and from far away, it looked like a regular painting. The closer I came to it, the more I could see the thousands of dots that made up the sailboats, water, palm trees, and pelicans perching on pier posts.

I appreciated all the hard work and time that went into making this painting. I bought it so that I could have a unique piece of art in my house. It has sparked plenty of conversations amongst my guests.

By wavy58 — On Nov 10, 2011

I had to do some ink stippling in my college art class. I found it very tedious, but I loved the look of the finished piece.

We used a large sheet of drawing paper, a cotton swab, and a bottle of black ink. We had to stipple the image of a vase onto the paper, incorporating all the shadows and highlights.

I remember putting the dots very close together on the darkest areas and far apart on the lighter spots. It's a neat technique, but I nearly went crazy dotting the page over and over.

By Perdido — On Nov 09, 2011

Though it's not quite the same as the artistic technique, I have heard of stippling liquid foundation. Using a stippling makeup brush is supposed to enable you to layer on your makeup.

I saw my friend using one. The brush has long fibers that reach out past the lower layer of natural bristles. This lets the brush hold two layers of foundation.

When you spread it on your face, it gives you a deeper coverage. The makeup on the long fibers stipples onto your face first, and then the layer held by the shorter bristles gets smoothed across that foundation.

By myharley — On Nov 09, 2011

My aunt is a very talented quilter and likes to make these for her family.

She knows I love butterflies so she made me a beautiful quilt with butterflies on it. The background of the quilt was white, but she finished this with some quilt stippling.

This added so much texture to the material and it looked so much nicer than just a solid background. She placed butterflies all over this background and I absolutely love it.

I wouldn't have the patience for stippling a quilt, or for even making one in the first place, so really appreciate all the effort she put in to this.

By golf07 — On Nov 08, 2011

When I was doing some home improvements, I wanted the walls in my family room to have a different look.

This is when I called up my artist friend for some ideas and inspiration. She suggested I try some stippling on the walls which would add some texture.

She also agreed to paint some elegant artistic symbols in certain places to add an extra unique touch.

She helped me with the whole project, and I was amazed at all the different effects you can do with a paintbrush. It wasn't too hard to get that part down once I learned the proper technique.

What really set it apart was the drawings she added when we were done. Even if she had not done these, just having the walls textured made a big difference.

Stippling is something anybody can do and there are a lot of videos online that show you how it is done. I was fortunate to have a talented friend to help me, but anybody can do this technique.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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