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How to Paint a River Rock

Painting a river rock can give you a fun way to preserve a rock you brought home from a favorite trip. It is also a fantastic hobby, that has become extremely popular. You do not have to take lessons, or be an artist to enjoy painting rocks and the only thing you have to do to start, is find rocks, of all shapes and sizes. Just make sure that they are shaped well enough to be decorated.[1][2]


  1. Image titled Paint a River Rock Step 1 preview
    Clean your river rock. Make sure that no dirt is attached to it and it is not flaking off in any place. An old toothbrush is a great cleaning tool. For tough spots use 100 grit sandpaper, followed by 150 then finally 220 grit sandpaper. After it is completely dry, lightly sketch the design you plan to paint on the surface. Use a light pencil as it may show through under lighter paint.
  2. Image titled Paint a River Rock Step 2 preview
    Assemble your paints. Use acrylic paints from a tube, such as Liquitex, or a paint made for outdoor use such as Plaid paint. (It has a bird house shape on the top to indicate that the paint is outdoor safe.)
  3. Image titled Paint a River Rock Step 3 preview
    Make sure you have a palette to mix paint on. If you don't, you can use an old plate, wax paper, or foil folded around a piece of cardboard.
  4. Image titled Paint a River Rock Step 4 preview
    Use acrylic paint brushes, semi stiff. Get several sizes to use for larger areas, then details can be painted with a smaller brush. Some prefer to use flat brushes to paint bigger areas, switching to a pointed brush for finishing touches.
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    Begin by painting large areas in. A common problem is wanting to start on the fun little stuff and then having to paint around it. Remember big to little. When large areas are finished, let them dry before trying to paint next to or on top of them.
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    Paint smaller areas and add finishing touches. Layer colors or add texture. You can also do this with Sharpie or other permanent markers. When the rock has had at least a day to dry, spray it with a clear urethane finish. Do this outdoors or in a well ventilated area so you do not breathe the vapors. This should be done by an adult or older child under adult supervision.


  • Do not allow brush to dry with paint in it.
  • River rocks have many different shapes. They are a craft for artists, who draw and paint them as another type of canvas. They make beautiful gifts. These are not 'pet rocks', but an artistic craft.
  • Brushes need to be washed well with soap and water when you are finished. While painting do not store brush in water, as that damages the tip. Rinse and lay the brush on top of a wet sponge or small towel.
  • A palette can be made out of an old plate, wax paper, or by folding aluminum foil around a piece of cardboard (as mentioned above.)
  • Find any rocks or large stones from any source. Clean them and decorate them. Use Acrylic paint, sign your name and date, and allow them to dry.
  • Use a palette knife or craft stick to mix paint.
  • After cleaning your brush, use a clean cloth to gently squeeze and reshape. Then wet the brush with your finger tips, and stand up to dry.
  • Remember to have a old cup or something to rinse your brushes off. The paint will most likely be stuck on the brush..


  • Acrylic paint does not wash out of clothing well. Wear a paint shirt, apron or old clothing you don't care about. Wash a spot immediately and you may be able to get it out.
  • If you plan to do this project with very young children use tempera paint and spray varnish yourself or paint with polymer medium. Not as permanent but OK for indoor use.
  • Some colors of tube paint may not be suitable for young children to handle. Always look to see if there is a health label on the tube.
  • Some places have laws about disturbing nature. Also, it doesn't show great respect to the ecosystem to partially or completely destroy it. Make sure the rock you choose won't impact any living thing (plant or animal).

Things You'll Need

  • Smooth, clean rock
  • Acrylic paint, or outdoor craft paint
  • Brushes
  • Palette
  • Clear finishing spray varnish

Article Info

Categories: Nature Crafts