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How to Do Pointillism Painting with Cotton Swabs

by Jean Van't Hul
May 21, 2023
pointillism art for kids_feature

Pointillism painting with cotton swabs is engaging and fun art activity that easily incorporates an artist highlight as well.

Updated June 2023

Pointillism art with cottons swabs may sound complicated but is actually super simple and kids LOVE it! We set it up for after school or after nap (back in the day when our kids took naps) or in other in-between times. It’s the perfect art activity for transition times.

We’ve done it with a variety of paints and papers (white on black was especially striking) but liquid watercolors on watercolor paper are perfect for this activity!

Here is a video showing Pointillism painting in action, plus some photos, notes, how-to information, and ideas for variations…

pointillism painting pinterest
Photo by Andrea Martelle

Pointillism Painting for Kids


*If you don’t have liquid watercolors, try making your own with watered down food coloring. Alternately, you could probably do this with watercolor cakes if you add a little extra water to each cake. 

And obviously, you can do Q-tip pointillism with other paints, such as tempera, acrylic, Biocolors, etc.

Time needed: 1 hour


  1. Prep materials

    Set up the activity on a tray or mat with a sheet of watercolor paper and your watercolor paints. We used a paint tray to hold the watercolors and a handful of Q-tips or cotton swabs.

    The paper can be used whole, or you can cut it into smaller pieces if you like. We found that half and quarter sheets work well with Q-tip pointillism.

    pointillism art materials

    Jean often used these paint cups in a base for liquid watercolor paints, too.

  2. Start Painting

    Dip a Q-tip in one of the liquid watercolors, then press the tip to the paper.

    painting with q tips

  3. Repeat!

    Keep going! You can get a number of dots out of one paint dip. When the color is starting to fade, dip the Q-tip in the paint again before pressing it to the paper.

    q tip pointillism art

    Or use a new Q-tip and a different color of paint.

  4. Let Dry

    Allow your artwork to dry. You can hang them up or use them as cards or gifts for someone special.

The Q-tips make great dots, of course, but they also work well as paint brushes for lines and such.

It is so fun to see what kids will come up with. Some use the pointillism technique to paint something abstract, while others love seeing how their favorite animal looks like in dots!

More Pointillism Paint Ideas to Try

Once you have the technique down, you can try these variations on it. The fun is endless!

Connect the dots with pointillism
Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

1. Make dot-to-dot activity pages for each other. Kids love doing this for each other – one paints an image using pointillism and then the other has to connect the dots!

Pointillism Art - Color Mixing Illusion
Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

2. Try the illusion of color mixing by placing dots of different colors next to each other. For example, place many dots of yellow and blue close to each other, then stand across the room to look at the artwork and see if it looks like green.

hearts made with pointillism
Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

3. Add a second round of dot art on top of the first after it’s dried. Or switch papers and add a second round to each other’s paper.

connecting dots with a pen
Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

4. Add pen embellishments to the dot art after it’s dried. Kids love tracing the lines and dots they’ve made and seeing how the picture changes.

You can also use a cotton ball (held with tweezers or a clothespin) for larger dots!

How about you? Have you tried Q-tip pointillism? What kind of paint did you use?

pointillism painting rainbow _ pin
Photo by Andrea Martelle

More Painting Ideas for Kids

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How to Do Pointillism Painting with Cotton Swabs

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