Skink lizard painted on a rock amidst a bed of river rocks

Skink lizard painted on a rock amidst landscaping river rocks

Recently a lovely lady who bought one of my rocks on my Etsy site said she would love to see a tiger rock. As I began the process of choosing the right rock for the task, I realized that quite a lot goes into the selection process. So I’ve made a short list of things that I take into consideration while picking the perfect rock.

Painting Subject

While I sometimes reverse this whole process and find a rock that I imagine being a certain animal, I usually decide what sort of animal I want to paint first and then choose a rock   that fits it. When I’m pursuing my rock pile, it’s helpful to know what my painting subject is so I know what shape of rock to look for. Round rocks for lady bugs, triangular rocks for frogs, round or oval rocks for cats, and so on. This time, it was a tiger. But tigers can take several shapes based on how they’re posed, so I also need to decide what the tiger is doing.

Sometimes the animal’s pose drastically effects the shape of the rock. A curled cat is more round than a crouched cat, and a rock painted fully as a frog works best triangular while a rock with a frog perched on it need not be any particular shape at all. Tigers tend to be oblong in most cases, but how oblong, exactly, still depends on the pose.

I did a general search for tiger images to find some inspiration for a pose. I found a few that I liked, and decided that the tiger is going to be lying on a rock, leaving some natural stone coloration on the bottom. Sometimes I paint the entire rock as the animal, but recently I have found that leaving some natural on the bottom allows for more expression in the animal’s pose, and gives more individuality to each piece.

With my chosen pose in mind, I did a few searches on Google and Pinterest for references on different body angles and shapes and narrowed down the shape of rock I am looking for. Then I could go to my rock stashes and search for the right oblong rock.


A lot of people ask where I get my rocks. Most of my rocks come from landscaping rock and indigenous rocks I find on my family’s property. I have been meaning to call the local landscaping companies to see if I can hand-pick rocks from their supply, as I have heard other rock painters find their rocks that way, but I haven’t yet.

Right now I have a limited rock garden with me and a bigger one still at my parent’s house that I haven’t relocated yet. This limits the rock choosing possibilities, so I factor this into my selection. Sometimes with a little tweaking, I can shift an animal’s pose to accommodate a rock I already have. Other times, I go in search of a new rock. Luckily, as I love painting big cats, I keep a good number of big-cat-shaped rocks on hand.


Snow Leopard rocks of different sizes

Snow leopard rocks of different sizes (and shapes)

Do I want to paint a pocket rock, a paper weight, or a door stop? The size depends largely on how much work I want to do on a given project, and whether I want to keep it for my own collection or put it up for sale–and if so, how much someone might be willing to pay for my art. Bigger rocks allow for more detail, working room, and impact; but smaller rocks are easier to maneuver and less expensive to purchase and ship. In the case of the tiger, I wanted something with some good working room that wouldn’t cost eight toes to ship.


This is an important one to consider if the painting will have lots of detail, less important if the painting subject is more simple. Rough, pock-marked surfaces make details broken and sloppy, as it’s hard to paint fine detail on a constantly changing surface. A smooth rock surface lends itself to unbroken base coats and crisp details. As a general rule, I tend to avoid granite, as the granular composition prevents a good smooth surface (see the light rocks in the top photo). I use lots of basalt rocks, a native rock in my area that can be rough or smooth depending on where you find it, and other smooth rocks found in landscaping river rock. For the tiger, which would be very detailed, I wanted a very smooth rock.


In the end, I chose this rock:

Viewing Angle of rock

Viewing Angle (The shine is a coat of clear sealer)

It’s oblong, a good 4.5″ long, and smooth.  Click on the pictures to zoom and see the surface texture. The viewing angle is the angle the rock will be best viewed; this is where the majority of the detail will be. This usually involves the animal’s head/face, and the general form of the pose. It is the most important shape of the rock, but the top and side views also go into consideration.

Side view of rock

Side view

I always double-check the chosen rock for stability on a flat surface; I don’t want the rock to wobble horribly or roll away. If it is an animal that will be standing up, like an elephant or horse, I make sure the rock can stand up on its own. This rock does shake some, but is stable enough to stay still when poked rather than wobble forever (like it does when It’s upside-down).

Tiger sketches

As you can see, they don't have to be fancy.

Now that it’s passed the other criteria, I run a few quick sketches to make sure my subject will work on the rock. Here I’ve drawn a few on some scratch paper with the pen that was closest.

I drew my intended pose in several different ways, testing it out. Given the shape of the rock, I liked the head on the left of the rock better, as there’s a flat area there that would be best for the head. The right side is more rounded and better for a tail.

After exploring a few poses, I think I will go with pose # 5. It will be tweaked somewhat once I start drawing the form onto the rock, but the sketch is the general idea of it.

God Bless,



My Question for You:

Have you ever considered trying to paint rocks? What would you paint on one if you did?