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Rock Painting

Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission. Read the full privacy policy here.

This is one of my son's favorite activities to get him out of his mind and honestly one of mine too. It's inexpensive and requires very little prep and materials. Art is therapeutic; creative outlets are helpful ways to express emotions. You do not need to be an artist! In fact, let go of the perfection with this. Relax and have fun! Some of our best designs can come from just creating what comes to mind. Enjoy the process and let your body relax. Afterward, you can create a sanctuary rock garden with your painted rocks and use it as a place to reconnect with nature.


First, you need to collect rocks, of course! My son and I always like to look for ones with character. If you are feeling up to a short walk, rock hunts can be great bonding experiences. I often find taking my kids on a one-on-one walk really gets them talking. It also helps us connect with nature, stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system. Make sure to bring a bucket or strong back to collect your treasure.

A quick note on rock selection. Smooth river rocks are popular choices because they are the easiest to paint, but really any rock can make a great piece of art. Sharp ridges can become mountains, and rounded circular rocks make great emojis. Some rocks are more porous than others which will affect how much paint it absorbs. Also, note that paint will appear differently depending on the color of the rock.


Next, you will want to prep the rock surfaces. This is a very important step that protects your hard work. I like to use dish soap and a scrub brush (or an old toothbrush that works very well) and let dry, followed by a swipe of alcohol.


After the rocks are nice and clean, you can begin to design. You can either etch your painting in pencil first, or you can jump right in. Acrylic paints are nice if you want to paint the rock with a solid background. Black is a favorite choice of my son's for really making the colors pop. It may take 1-3 coats to fully coat the rock. Darker colors take less and some lighter colors like yellow may take more.

Note: If you paint the rock a solid color first, make sure it is fully dry and no longer sticky before using paint pens. This can be 1-4 hours depending on the thickness of the coats. If not, you may ruin the tip of the paint pen by mixing colors.

Design Options

Acrylic Paint Pens

When dry, acrylic paint pens are the way to go for the design. This standard set includes metallic colors which make fun details easy to design. An extra-fine tip makes detailed designs easy. This set should last you for a while and are non-toxic and water-based so in case there's an accident, you can still clean it up. Wet Q-tips make excellent erasers!

Oil-based Paint Pens

Oil-based paint pens are also a great choice, and these pens are non-toxic and acid-free. Oil-based paint is absorbed differently than acrylic and is more durable. Mistakes can still be erased using rubbing alcohol and q-tips. You may get away with skipping the next step, sealing. However, if you are placing it outside and want to ensure the painting lasts, I still recommend sealing it.


If you have a Cricut machine, you can also experiment with vinyl designs. Make sure to purchase permanent vinyl for outdoor use. You can purchase vinyl at Walmart, Michaels, or Hobby Lobby, but I find the best bang for your buck on Amazon. I love this pack of assorted colors for a third of the price.


Once you are finished painting, you will want to seal your rocks, especially if you plan to put them outside, or where they may get wet or exposed to the sun. Make sure the acrylic has fully dried, 24-72 hours depending on how thick the paint is before sealing. If not, the acrylic may crack.

You have a few different options for sealers depending on how you want the finished product to look. Also, you need to consider the amount of weather exposure. Here in Arizona, the UV rays are more damaging than water, so finding a sealer that won't yellow is important.

Types of Sealers

There are many different options for sealers, so here is a list of what I personally use.

Makes the rocks super shiny and glass-like. This is the strongest seal for maximum weather protection. The upfront cost is a little more, but resin goes a long way so it will last a long time. Eventually, the resin can yellow, so if you live in a very sunny place as I do, just be aware if your rock garden gets a lot of direct sunlight. All you need is resin, an old medicine cup or these cups, mixing sticks, silicone mats, and gloves. This kit contains everything except the mat and gloves. A little bit goes a long way with resin, so make sure you have more than just a few to do. I like to have at least 10-12 smallish ones. Check out this quick instructional video on how to resin your rocks.

These are by far the easiest option, aside from finding the right weather conditions and covering the ground to protect from overspray. They dry quickly, only need a few coats, and hold up really well against the elements. The Behr water-based polyurethane I used is found at most Home Depot stores and is also available in semi-gloss, satin, and flat/matte for different finishes.

Water-resistant but not waterproof. Easy to brush on and comes in many different varieties depending on what kind of look you want. You will need 6-7 coats. Modge Podge is also available in gloss, super gloss, and satin.


You can either start an at-home rock garden as we did, or you can leave them around for others to find. We leave them around our mailbox and local nature trail. Sometimes as Spoonies it can feel as if we aren't contributing anything to society. Stuck in bed, our lives can start to feel meaningless. Rock painting reminds us that it doesn't take much to share a little joy. Sharing our creativity and expressing our emotions help us connect with others at a fundamental level.

This rock garden in Sterling Heights Michigan at the Public Library was an Eagle Scout project idea provided by the library council. Visitors to the library can take a rock or leave a rock for others to find. What a great idea for kids to get involved in their community with art & connection!

When choosing a location in your own yard, be mindful of things like sunlight and irrigation. Even the best sealers may not be any match for regular watering and direct full-day sun. You also want to find a place you will be able to enjoy them. Or, if you are creating a swap garden, you'll want to choose a busy location like mailbox lockers. If you are limited in outdoor space, create an indoor garden!

Repurpose a cardboard box, or crate, lined with artificial grass. Zen or fairy garden accessories can be added in.

Once your garden is full, which can happen quickly, be sure to spread the love around. Leave rocks along sidewalks, near entrances to buildings, or wherever else it might catch someone's eye. This tradition started during the pandemic, and I think it's a great way to pass along the kindness.

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