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How To Paint Rocks

by John W Walker

I continually get mired down in trying to create realistic rocks. I either overwork them or get values way off so that when I'm finished I have something that resembles potatoes rather than what I tried to paint. I would be interested in seeing how you create rocks, what techniques you use, what colors work best for you, etc. Thank you!

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Oct 17, 2008
painting rocks

I am always telling students to not paint rocks that look like potatoes....but then, I saw a photo of rocks that DID look like potatoes! However, to avoid this look, try using a 1" flat brush. If your painting is small, then use a 1/2" flat. You will see all the difference in the world.

Another approach would be to paint a light wash over the entire area that is covered by rocks. Then look at the individual shapes that you see. Do NOT paint a line around the rocks. Paint the rectangular shadow shapes with another wash. It could be the same wash as used before, as it will appear darker when applied over the first wash. Next look for the next darker shape, and apply another wash. These washes need not be the same color. Adding other colors to the wash will heighten the interest in the subject.

For the final step, look for the tiny shadow shapes between the rocks. They appear to be little triangles, and will have a fine line extending from them which is the shadow cast by one rock over another. Blend this line so that it does not appear like an outline of the rock.
You can then spatter some paint on the rocks to create texture, or when the initial wash is still wet, you can apply some wadded up plastic wrap to create patterns in the rocks.

As far as color for the rocks, it will depend on their location. If they are beside the sea, they might be wet and a bit darker than dry rocks. I use the rule of thumb that you should match your pigment make-up to the subject at hand. Rocks are heavy and opaque, therefore I use more opaque watercolors: French Ultramarine Blue, Yellow Ochre, Indian Red, Cerulean Blue, Naples Yellow, etc. These are also grainy colors. Their pigment settles in a granular way, creating a texture that depicts the nature of the rocks.

I hope this helps.

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