How to Paint Rocks

Lots of people have asked how to paint rocks, so, as it’s the holiday season, and a painted rock is a thing of goodwill and good cheer, here goes…

Choosing rocks: 

  • Choose smooth rocks.
  • Choose rocks that are the shape of the thing you think you’ll be painting, OR, if you don’t know what you’ll be painting (I never know) choose a nice neutral shape like an oval.
  • Remember rocks have a chemistry of their own. The best rocks are metamorphic rocks which most basic river rocks are. Be sure to silently respect their age… They could be as old as time.
  • It’s a good idea to wash the rock before you paint it — just with water. Soap has fatty chemicals that can keep the paint from adhering well.

What Paints are Best?

I think every rock painter has his/her own method and materials, but I use cheap acrylic paint, a brush and varnish.



Cheap craft acrylic paint

I paint a base coat of high quality acrylic because I have a big jar of it. The white helps ensure that the colors you use will be the colors you want. I have also NOT used the base coat if the rock is already the color I want. Why paint a gray rock gray if your goal is a mouse rock?


I only painted ears, eyes, nose, mouth and whiskers on this gray rock

Zombie Rock

This Zombie rock was already greenish. The rock was also fairly porous.

There are acrylic paint pens, but I’ve found them hard to use on rocks (even smooth rocks aren’t all that smooth) until the finishing touches and for that — experimenting with acrylic pens and Sharpies — Sharpies are better.


Frankenstein, accent lines painted with a Sharpie

The final step is varnish. The main job of varnish is to make the colors brighter. I am NOT sure at all that the painting on a rock left outside is going to survive all that long. rocks have interesting lives, much of it spent in sand and water. I use Krylon spray varnish but many rock painters swear by Mod Podge.

What to Paint? What if you’re not an artist? 

Lots of people paint a rock and then write an inspiring word on it. Finders of rocks LOVE this, so if your goal is to make people happy with a rock you don’t have to be Michelangelo. People have the idea that there is a “plan” in place for their individual lives so if they happen to find a rock that has “Hope” written on it, they will think, “That’s for me.” It may be human nature to look for signs in the universe, so writing “signs” on rocks is a sure way to make someone’s day.


Happy Face Rock

This simple smiley-face rock has been found twice, and the kids who found it LOVE it! This photo is from the mom of a kid who found the rock. I love the way she set up the picture!

And people just like finding them. No one expects the Sistine Chapel on a rock. What they love most is the surprise of finding one. ❤

Christmas rocks

Reindeer and Wreath by my friend, Lois Maxwell. 

So, go paint a rock.

9 thoughts on “How to Paint Rocks

  1. I was waiting for a “how to paint rocks” directive, although I cannot paint. I do have a few large stones around. I think I will have to get Mr. Swiss interested, he is the one with the painting talent here. I might one day try it myself.

  2. I used to paint on seashells. Boil first, wash with vinegar, wash again let dry completely, paint, then add a substance you could paint over top available to go along with acrylic paint, which is what I used, to make sure the paint didn’t run. I never thought of varnish, that might have worked.

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