How to Paint Rocks: Materials + 10 Great Ideas for Inspiration

how to paint rocks materials ideas

In this post, we’ll look at how to paint rocks. Which paints to use? What other materials are needed? Also: the best subjects to paint on rocks, lots of inspiration and some pictures of the prettiest painted stones!

Don’t underestimate the draw of something as simple and – literally – down to earth as painting rocks. Once you start and really get into this activity, be warned. Outside, looking at rocks and pebbles on the ground, you will find yourself imagining the designs that might look best on them. It’s seriously addictive.

Rock Painting: Art or Craft?

Do you think painting on rocks is rather crafty or falls under art? I wasn’t sure whether to file this post under art or crafts. WordPress allows for both, so both it is.

If the end result looks something like Monet’s waterlilies or the Mona Lisa on a rock, I suppose it would be art. The one below is a pretty good contender, too.

When I paint rocks with my four-year-old, I’m pretty sure that falls under crafting.

On the other hand – just because something leans toward the abstract end of the spectrum doesn’t mean it won’t be considered art.

Ever heard of these gorillas? They paint. And it is considered art. The boundaries between what is and what isn’t art are indeed fuzzy as heck. But that’s hardly new. It keeps things interesting, to say the least.

How to Paint Rocks: Supplies

Rock painting is doable with a very minor investment. If you don’t already have some acrylic paint laying around, the cheapest (think Walmart-bought) acrylic paint will do just fine.

Watercolors are more my jam, and I am the delighted owner of some seriously good watercolor paint and watercolor pencils. (Professional grade, woohoo!) But that won’t do much on a stone.

So, I started a small supply of very basic acrylic paint and sort of re-discovered this type of paint, after a long break. It isn’t watercolor but definitely has some things going for it, too.

These Apple Barrel acrylic paints are commonly sold in department stores and online.

Paint brushes, of course, are the other necessity. If you don’t already have some lying around, be sure to select brushes that have a fine tip to allow for some fancy detail-work. Some larger brushes come in handy as well, to paint entire rocks in a single color.

Unless you’re going for more of an ephemeral art concept, using a sealant will make sure the paint can stand the test of time. (To some extent. Nothing is forever.)

Ephemeral art is the name given to all artistic expression conceived under a concept of transience in time, of non-permanence as a material and conservable work of art. (Wikipedia)

That’s about it. With paint in your favorite colors, brushes in various sizes, and sealant, you’re ready to get creative. Here’s a nice selection of sealant, both in a spray and in a pot, as well as some other fun supplies for rock painting.

These rocks were painted with Apple Barrel acrylic paint.

Obviously, by someone who knows what they’re doing, but still. So yes, basic paint and brushes are all you need.

However, there is one more thing you might want to know if you’re new to painting rocks.

Acrylic Paint, the Easy Way

When I first came across this, it was like discovering the well-kept secret to all those cute little designs on stones, featuring near-perfect-looking lines and dots.

That’s right, up until learning about the existence of acrylic markers, I used to think ‘Wow, that person has an amazingly steady hand and sure knows how to work their paint and brush!”

Tip: To cover the table, a nifty silicone mat like this one works great.

Having a steady hand is a big plus, of course, even when using markers. But an even distribution of paint, as you can imagine, is that much easier when it flows evenly from the tip of a marker.

The existence of acrylic marker pens, by the way, is rather the opposite of a well-kept secret. (Joke’s on me!) The best paint pens for rocks really do make this artistic & crafty activity less messy.

If you’re active on Pinterest in the crafting sphere, you’ve probably come across Artistro video pins showing how to paint rocks. They’re made to heavily promote Artistro acrylic markers, which doesn’t take away from the fact that these mini-tutorials are super fun to watch.

Artistro markers can be found here. Use coupon code DIMENSIONS for a 10% discount on your order. You can also order those on Amazon if that’s easier. Or browse Amazon for other brands, both similar A-list or cheaper B-brands.

10 Fun ideas to paint on rocks

1. Color Blocking

The fun factor of single colors is not to be underestimated. Especially since you can start with this and either end there, or add words or text later.

You don’t have to be “able to draw” to make some very artsy-looking painted rocks that feature surprising color combinations and graphic shapes or patterns.

Even the single colors theme allows for many angles, for example:

  • Bold colors that pop!
  • Make a set of stones in various shades (light to dark) of one single hue.
  • Pastels only. Can be done with ready-made shades of paint, or you can make your own pastels by mixing dashes of different colors into white. You can never have enough white paint… if there’s one “color” to get in the next size up, it’s white. (Not technically a color, I know. Try explaining that to a toddler.)
  • Gold and silver. Metal paints are so versatile. Gold and/or silver pebbles can be virtually anything, from Holiday decor to a pirate’s treasure.
  • Black and white only. I know these aren’t technically colors but experimenting with simple shapes in black and white: graphic results guaranteed.

Tip: Black painted rocks are surprisingly pretty. Black also makes a fantastic background for bright colored lettering and other details, especially something involving gold or metallic paint.

2. Botanicals

Flowers and/or leaves never disappoint, whether it is in wall decor, fabric design, interior design, or any other form of art. Let’s add rock painting to that list.

Are you familiar with the detail in vintage botanical drawings?

Kudos if your skills rival those. But that shouldn’t exclude the rest of us from having a jolly good time painting florals.

These flowers may not be very realistic but they are without a doubt fun enough to brighten someone’s day.

Aren’t these awesome?

To say it with some sixties flair: Flower power. And Don’t worry, be happy. Especially no worries about what kind of flower it is, or how it relates to an actual, existing species. Fantasy flowers are the best ones.

3. Hearts

Hearts are such a great subject to paint on rocks. Let’s say you want to use rock painting to send a positive message to someone you don’t know, but prefer to stay away from hand-lettering. Who wouldn’t want to take a closer look at a pebble with a heart on it? It’s guaranteed to draw the eye. The message is unambiguously sweet and positive. The interpretation is completely open and personal.

Oh, what makes this subject even more fun is that hearts aren’t hard to paint. Simple hearts are cute enough and you can add embellishments only if you wish to take the basic shape in a more extravagant direction.

Bottom line: if you want to play with color and have a blast, without the concern for words, consider painting hearts.

4. Words

Here are some ideas for words to paint on rocks. Depending on the size of the stone and how small you want to make the letters, it can be a single word or an entire phrase.

Imagine if you were to find the stone you’re painting. What would you like to randomly run into in such a case? Probably something with a positive vibe. Single words that convey a feeling of positivity and happiness work great. For example:

  • Imagine
  • Love
  • Peace
  • Strength
  • Power
  • Joy
  • Grace
  • Believe
  • Breathe
  • Beauty
  • Trust
  • Dream
  • Aloha

Very short combinations of words that might inspire a stranger:

  • Believe in magic
  • You are strong
  • You can
  • Love is … (kind, strong)
  • Never give up
  • Dream, explore, discover
  • Be the change
  • You are loved
  • Follow your heart
  • Good things take time
  • Not all those who wander are lost
  • This too shall pass
  • Begin anew

All of the above are huge cliches but they’re popular for a reason. Nothing prevents you from coming up with your own prose, though.

So pretty, aren’t they?!

Adding text means thinking about composition. And, of course, it is much easier to gauge the spacing for one three-letter word than for an entire sentence.

For longer quotes and pieces of text, some prep work is key. Especially if this is the last addition to an almost-done little masterpiece. Even if your hand-lettering skills are above par, it can’t hurt to grab a piece of paper, sketch or trace the shape of the rock and map out the composition of the text. That should give you a better idea of how to size the letters and words.

5. Animals

It is for good reason that animals are so widely used in children’s books and movies. Most kids would be thrilled to find a rock with a little character on it! It doesn’t have to be real, either. Unicorns, fairies, dinosaurs, cute little monsters – it all works.

As for grown-ups, there are some interesting angles to the animal subject as well. How about…

  • Spirit animals
  • Pet portraits (more of an on-demand thing, than the accidental discovery in the neighborhood park)
  • Insects, such as ladybugs, dragonflies, and butterflies are beautiful and have a deeper meaning.
  • Do you know which animals are the most popular across the worls? Aside from dogs and cats, most favorited animals include tigers, panda bears, polar bears, koala bears, penguins, and dolphins. Fun.
  • Let’s not forget the fad darlings. Certain rather odd animals that all of a sudden started being everywhere. I can’t possibly be the only one wondering what started the rise of the empire of lamas and sloths?!

6. Dotted Mandalas / Pointillism

A mandala is just one of the things you can compose with dots. Anything and everything can be built from dots. Pointillism, or the art of creating a visual that consists of dots, is a remarkable and different way to use paint.

7. Retro Favorites

What do Volkswagen minivans, Beatle cars, Vintage campers, old telephones, record players, mixtapes and flare jeans have in common? They may no longer be part of the objects we actually use but they still often make people smile.

Is it the odd looks? The whacky technology that we’re happy to have left behind? The memories? (For those of us who are old enough to have used them!) The mere thought of using them, for the younger generations? Who knows. The important part is that they are crowd-pleasers. To which we should add, super fun to paint and surprisingly doable.

What’s not to love about these:

8. Anything Monochromatic

Design anything (flowers, animals, mountains, hearts, swirls, hand-lettering…) but keep it monochromatic. Using only various shades of a single color will give any little design or scene a flair of artsiness and a touch of elegance. Like these beautifully painted rocks, below.

9. Simple Objects Everybody Loves

Kites. hot air balloons, cupcakes, rainbows, hot chocolate or coffee, bubbles, music, trees, books, seahorses, gnomes, toadstools, umbrellas, dandelions. Just to name a few things that bring a tiny spark of joy to almost anyone.

And sure – actually taking a hot air balloon ride might not sound appealing to everyone. Just like some people will prefer surfboards over books, some prefer tea over coffee, some haven’t had a cupcake in years or decades, perhaps due to food intolerances, some folks like Mozarts while others find the Beatles sound like cat squeel, and globophobia is the fancy word for a fear of balloons, which some people have. But you get the idea.

10. Something Seasonal

Between Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, or other country-specific holidays, adding a seasonal twist to rock painting is yet another perfect topic choice for the rocks laying bare in front of you.

Easter rocks will look the part adorned with pastel colors, and perhaps the compulsory little chicks or bunnies.

Memorial day designs are as easy as copying the American flag, or parts of it.

As for Christmas rocks? You can take that in so many different directions it would demand a list post of its own!

Need Even More Rock Painting Ideas?

Here are a few great books. Remember, those old-fashioned things made with paper, and surfaces that aren’t interactive or sensitive to touch?

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