Scientific and naturalist illustration of Butterflies and other insects with stippling.

It has been a real pleasure to do the online class, on using stippling technique, organized by the Museu se Ciéncies Naturals de Granollers.

Thank you very much to all who attended, from this side and from the other side of the Atlantic! I am very motivated to know that there are more and more interested, among illustrators, biologists, nature lovers … in using illustration to communicate science, to admire, understand and preserve species and their habitats, using a technique as beautiful as this.




This is an ink illustration technique, usually using black ink, in which dots are used to create different shades of gray. By varying the concentration of dots, we can create lighter grays (less dots) and darker grays (more dots).

Contrary to pointillism, which is a technique that uses a mixture of dots of different colors to create a new one when viewed at a certain distance, used by Georges Seurat or Vincent van Gogh for example, in the stippling technique only one color is used.


Stippling is a technique widely used in scientific illustration of entomology and botany, among others, helping to show very clearly, and schematically if necessary, the morphology and small details of animals and plants.

We can see many of these ancient illustrations in the plates that the Biodiversity Heritage Library made available as public domain, in their FLICKR albums.

To this day, many artists continue to use this technique, both in scientific and artistic illustration, and the results never cease to amaze. Like the scientific illustrators Pedro Salgado, Julia Rouaux, Carim Nahaboo, or the artists Fer Alcazar, Pablo Jurado Ruiz, Nicholas Baker or Rotislaw Tsarenko, among many others.




For this technique, you can use any ink tool that allows you to make dots, like markers, pens, brushes …

It all depends on the size of our illustration or the detail we want to achieve.

For scientific illustration, I recommend using fiber tip pens that are water resistant if we want to add watercolor on top of our stippling work. I usually use Faber-Castell or Sakura Pigma Micron markers, but there are many other brands.

Therefore, for the final drawing, it is always a good idea to do it on a better quality paper, mixed media (200gr) or watercolor paper (300gr). You can also make beautiful stippling illustrations on tracing paper.


For the preliminary drawing we will need the materials that we normally use to make sketches: paper, pencil, ruler, erasers …
The preliminary drawing is traced (with light table, or tracing paper …) on the paper for the final illustration.

Here you can download the complete list of the materials:







One of the most basic exercises when we start with the stippling technique is to make a gradient. From the darker shade (black) to the lighter shade (white), creating a smooth and uniform gradient.

We can start by dividing the area into several parts to know where the different shades of gray will appear.

With our marker we add equidistant dots, scattered throughout the area and repeat the process as many times as necessary, placing more dots in the intermediate areas, until you reach the desired shade of gray.

In the intermediate gray areas it is important to aim so that our points do not overlap.





This exercise helps us to know the different sizes of points that we can obtain with markers of different sizes. Do not forget to take note of the brand and size of the marker you have used.

By shading the same drawing with different tip sizes, we can see which ones serve us best for large or small illustrations, which serve us for darker and lighter areas, which allow us to do more or less detail …


To do this exercise you can download the template here, and also the finished exercise, for reference:






The Stippling technique requires a lot of patience and, often, many hours of work.


Maintaining a correct posture in the work chair is as important as finding the correct posture for your hand.


You may have to make dots for many hours and therefore, if you hold your tool poorly, you will end up feeling pain in the muscles and joints of the hand. Hold the pen naturally, without grasping it strongly, as vertically as possible and with the wrist resting on a sheet of paper, which is placed between the hand and the drawing. This way you avoid dirtying your illustration.






To start a scientific illustration, we need to do an investigation of the species that we are going to draw:

  • We can observe our species in its natural habitat.
  • Observe a mounted specimen
  • Request information from a specialized researcher
  • Investigate on the internet: collect photographs and information of the species on specialized pages.


In this case, I made a sketch of the butterfly species Melanargia occitanica, common name Western Marbled White, based on photographs found in internet.


Even if we base our illustration on a present butterfly, we can always take a photo and print it, in order to take measurements, write notes, reference lines on top …


Although the scientific illustration requires very precise measurements (which we take from the specimen) and a correct representation of the species, we can and should draw from nature and practice our ability to observe as much as possible. That is what improves our illustration technique.


We can rely on different photographs and texts to find the different details of the morphology of the species. With the help of those measurements and references, we can make our sketch, which we will then trace on the best quality paper for our final illustration. If our illustration is symmetrical, we can make only half, and trace the opposite side with the sketch on the reverse.






After tracing our sketch on a better quality paper (it can be a mixed media paper or watercolor paper, if we are going to add color later) we proceed to make the shadows with the stippling technique.

For butterflies in particular, this technique is excellent for creating the scales texture of the wings.

Starting from light to dark, adding layers of dots until you reach the desired shade of gray.






If we make our illustration on paper:

  • We can erase points, make highlights or details using a very fine nib or brush and white ink, or acrylic.
  • Do not paint very large areas with white ink, as the white of the ink does not always correspond to the white of our paper, and stains may appear.
  • We can also use white acrylic felt tip pens


If our illustration is made in tracing paper:

  • We can make these corrections, gently scraping with the tip of a blade


I hope you enjoy this technique as much as I do !!
Enjoy making dots to the rhythm of your favorite playlist or use the time to meditate, time will fly by.