How to Make Painted Stones and Rocks

Rock painted with a smiley face sitting in a fall landscape

Lisa Marder

Rock painting is a great way to get started painting and can be the perfect hand-made gift for someone you care about. All ages, from toddlers on up, can participate in this activity, and it can be as basic or as complex as you want to make it.

Ideal Stones

When out looking for rocks to paint, you do not have to be constrained to any one type of rock. Think about what you might like to paint as you are collecting, or collect all different shapes so that you have some on hand for multiple projects. You can even use bricks and pavers, and other landscaping hardscape materials.

Important Note

You can find rocks everywhere, of course, but be sure you don't take any rocks from protected land, beaches, or private property that does not belong to you. 

As you get more practice, you may get more creative and start imagining ways to add on to rocks or glue rocks together. When you are just beginning, it is helpful to start with easier-to-paint rocks. Stones that are smoother in texture are easier to paint on than are stones that are pitted or rough. Always go with natural stones—stones that have been polished may not accept paint.

If you don't have easy access to a place where you can obtain rocks, you can always buy them. Try landscaping supply companies or garden centers as well as stores like Home Depot, Michael's, and Walmart. Ask for river rocks or stones, or landscaping rocks. Some, like these small gray landscape beach pebbles, are even available online.

Materials and Tools

Preparing Rocks for Painting

  1. Wash stones with soap and water in a bucket. Scrub with an old toothbrush or scrub brush to get the dirt off. Dry stones with a towel or paper towel and let air dry completely.
  2. Sand off any gritty parts or buff any polished rocks with sandpaper.
  3. You can smooth Elmer’s wood filler over a rock’s holes, dimples, or cracks to even it out before priming.
  4. You may also choose to add wood filler to the base of a stone to help it stand up. Cindy Thomas explains how in How to Make Stones Stand Upright and Expand Your Rock Painting Possibilities.
  5. Once your stone is dry and clean, apply a coat or two of acrylic gesso or primer. This will help subsequent layers of paint adhere to the surface and will make the colors appear brighter if the rock is dark. 
  6. When the primer is dry you are ready to paint on and decorate your rock.

Painting Rocks

  1. For best results, follow the preparation steps above to start with a clean, smooth, and primed rock for painting.
  2. Exercise your creativity in painting your rock to match your own vision.
  3. When you are done and the paint is dry, apply a sealer to the finished rock painting. 
  4. Clean up, wash your brushes well with soap and water, put the tops back on the acrylic paints so they don't dry out and you are ready for next time!

Tip

If you leave your brush out too long or forget to clean it you can dissolve the dried acrylic paint in your brush with rubbing alcohol or by soaking the brush hairs in Murphy's Oil for one or two days. 

Inspiration

  • Holiday and Seasonal Stone Art: snowman, Nativity set, Christmas tree, snowflakes, reindeer, penguins, winter scenes, holiday scenes, Santa, elves, words, etc. 
  • Inspirational words: Words from the heart work best, but you might find some inspiration in Gratitude stones or with some common encouraging phrases like, "You rock."
  • Patterns and shapes: mandala designs, abstract geometric patterns, Mondrian stones, abstract paintings, poured paint stones
  • Animals: a beloved pet, cute penguins, curled up realistic animals, bird chicks, owls, plants, insects, ladybugs, fish, frogs, coiled snakes, snails, etc.
  • Inspired by nature: Garden markers, miniature landscape or miniature abstract urban scene, flowers, plants, leaves
  • Traditional art: Famous paintings in miniature

Stone "Easter Eggs"

Some people have started leaving painted rocks out in their communities as a fun treasure for a stranger to find. There Facebook pages dedicated to painting rocks and leaving them for others to find as a way to create community through art. You can start your own local group and public Facebook page or join The Kindness Rocks Project, initiated by Megan Murphy, and use the hashtag #The Kindness RocksProject on the back of the rock you paint to be part of this project. It is a fun, family-oriented activity that gets people outside, helps you meet new people, and can be used to raise money for worthy causes, as Sara Lindberg describes in her article, How About Painted Rocks Instead of Pokemon Go? 

You might incorporate this step into a rock-painting activity for kids, but adult supervision would be necessary so that some basic rules are followed:

  1. Stones should be left where they can be seen and discovered without being tripped over.
  2. Stones decorated with elements that are toxic to wildlife should not be left in nature.
  3. We should always respect rules at national parks and other spaces that ask you to carry out what you bring in. 

If you are lucky enough to find a stone left by someone else, leave it where it is and just take a picture. While you may take it, you should either put it back later, leave it again someplace else, or replace it with a stone of your own.