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Sandpaper and crayons create pointillism

Students can make a Pointillist painting similar to Georges Seurat.
Students can make a Pointillist painting similar to Georges Seurat.
Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Pointillism is a part of the Impressionist Period of art, a style where pictures were painted with small dots of paint. Seurat is the most well-known artist in this style. You can see his works at

Georges Seurat painted pictures of landscapes and people doing ordinary things. His most famous work is “A Sunday Afternoon On the Island of La Grande Jatte” which is a picture of people enjoying a day in the park. Most of his pictures are of everyday people doing everyday things.

Pointillism not only affected the art movement, but it affected everyday life as well. In WWI the US military hired Seurat to create camouflage for airplanes. He painted large dots of color on air planes to make them harder for the enemy to see. One of his planes is in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.

Pointillism also inspired offset lithography. This is a printing method that is used to print color pictures on a printing press. If you look at a magazine picture with a magnifying glass, you will see small dots of red, yellow, blue and black. These dots combine to make all of the other colors in the picture. After printers learned how to use the idea of dots in printing, engineers used the same idea to invent the first color television set.

Students in fifth grade and up can make a picture similar to Seurat’s by using the following materials:

Sand paper in several grit sizes

Crayons (the set with all the colors)

Rag content paper

Pictures of landscapes or people doing ordinary things from magazines

Find pictures in magazines that are similar to Seurat’s works. Pictures of prom dresses or bridesmaid dresses will be similar to the Victorian clothing in his art and will allow for a large, simple shape. A landscape of rolling hills, that doesn’t have too much detail, would also work well.

Place a sheet of sandpaper on the work area, and place a piece of rag content paper on top. The paper should be thin and flexible, like typing paper, or the type of paper that comes in a sketch book. Wood pulp paper and thick paper will not be flexible enough for this project.

Begin drawing the scene using the lightest shade for each shape. If the dress is blue, for example, use a light blue crayon to draw the basic shape. Colors can always be made darker, but not lighter, so begin with a light color, and then make the colors darker as you go.

Do not press down too hard. The crayon should glide over the grains of sand to make dots of color. If too much pressure is used, it will create a solid color instead of dots.

In Pointillism, the dots of color are next to each other. To capture this effect, the sand paper needs to be moved or changed to a smaller grit when a new layer of color is applied. If the sandpaper is left in the same place, the next dots will be on top of the first dots. After the first shapes are drawn, change the sand paper to the next smaller size grit, or rotate the sand paper so that the grains are not in the same place. Then, look for shadows, and use darker shades of the color.

Impressionism did not use black to make shadows. Contrasting colors, or opposite colors, were used to create darker shades. If an area is green, for example, use yellow to create highlights, and dark blue or purple to make shadows. Purple has red in it, which is the opposite of green, and from a distance it will appear to be blue black.

Sunshine State Standards

VA.E.1.2.1 Understands the influence of artists on the quality of everyday life.


The student chose a picture that represents everyday life.

The student used pressure that was light enough to make dots.

The student used complimentary colors to create shadows.

The student demonstrated an understanding of Seurat’s style by trying to imitate that style.

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