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Learning Resource: Pointillism


Arts Education Resources

Learning Resource: Pointillism

by Noormah Jamal, CMA Artist in Residence 2023-24, in collaboration with 5th graders at Children’s Workshop School, NYC

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For this lesson, the students will take inspiration from artist Georges Seurat. They will look at 'A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte' as an example of Pointillism - an important artistic technique with scientific principles at its core. Rather than mixing all his colors on a palette, Seurat very closely positioned points of pure color and allowed the viewer’s eye to “mix” them.

Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte, 1884, oil on canvas, Art Institute of Chicago

Students will discuss the importance of color and the role that layering and contrast play when creating depth and detail in painting - much like pixels that make up a photograph. Students will have to draw fruits and then layer on select colors to paint using new tools. 

Learning Objectives:

  • Composition and placement are key to this assignment. 

  • Introduction to single and multiple point perspective.

  • Participants should be able to compose basic shapes into a portrait. 

  • The size of the portrait should also be well composed on the drawing paper.

  • Confidently use and blend oil pastels.


  • Pencil

  • Eraser

  • Tempera paint

  • Paper plates 

  • Cups

  • Scissors

  • Sponges

  • Q-tips

  • Mixed media paper

Material Kit

Looking at examples of Pointillism 

Maximilien Luce (French, b. 1858 – d. 1942) Morning, Interior, 1890, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (LINK)

Paul Signac (French, 1863 –1935), Woman with a Parasol, 1893) Musée d’Orsay, Paris  (LINK)

Chuck Close (American, b. 1940 – d. 2021)  Arne, 2019-2020, © Chuck Close (LINK)

Anna Boch (Belgian, 1848–1936)  Retour de la pêche (Back from Fishing), 1891, Private Collection. (LINK)

Step 1: Looking at history + pop culture

We encourage instructors to share a few moments from the film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986) which provides a fun and insightful glimpse into the many layers of a pointillist painting. The character gazes at “A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte” at the Art Institute of Chicago - he looks closer and closer until the child no longer appears familiar - just a collection of colored dots

Still from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Step 2: Introduction to materials

Demonstrate how to apply paint with Q-tips and pre-cut sponges. The students will draw fruits from reference images. Make sure there is a wide selection of fruits to choose from. Each student will then be handed a paper plate palette that has tempera paint (black, white, green, and primary colors) on the plate. They will dab and build the colors of the fruits paying close attention to how close and far their “dots” of colors are.

Step 3: Exploring application + contrast + color

Students will first need to familiarize themselves with their new tools. How can the pressure of application impact the final artwork? It is also important for them to step back and observe their works from a distance to see how successful the layering has been.  Focus on the color wheel and utilize previous lessons on primary, secondary, and tertiary colors to layer the tempera paint successfully. They will only have a limited number of paint colors to choose from and they should be encouraged to look for the various “mixing” and blending effects they can create through the application of paint dots on their page. Encourage the students to be patient using the small Q-tip too and provide new Q-tips as needed. 

Step 4: Presentation

A critical part of the class is sharing the work we made and sharing feedback. Look at the artworks from different vantage points and use language to describe how the image and even colors change. 

While looking at examples of Pointillism and while creating your composition, consider the following questions:

  • What does it feel like to use dots to make images?

  • What does your artwork look like from 1 foot away? What about 2 feet? 6 feet?

  • What happens when you apply blue dots next to yellow dots?

  • What happens when you apply red dots next to yellow dots?

  • What happens when dots are very close together? And very far apart?

Instructor Notes: 

Students may initially feel intimidated painting fruit with just the Q-tips alone, so provide support exploring this new and small tool. If students are discouraged, cut-up sponges also allow layering and blend the colors so well allowing for more instant results. If students are younger they may take longer to draw so in a time crunch to paint the sponges work well. They can be removed altogether for older students to increase complexity. This is another great assignment early on when working with students to better understand color theory and how to mix/layer colors.

Examples of student work:


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