In this easy step by step acrylic painting lesson learn how to paint rocks to add your next river painting, beach or landscape picture. This tutorial is good for beginners as well as more experienced artists. Learning how to paint these rocks are much easier than you would think so give them a go now!
First take some photos for reference. ( And don't forget to sign up for my newsletter and never miss painting tips on this blog.)
Visit a river, do some painting there if possible, this helps a lot in getting your colours.
I actually tested my colour on a rock at the river while I was painting there to make sure I had the right colour.
Decide on a design for you rocks, don’t get too detailed, you just want an overall shape and where you are putting your centre of interest. Sketch it out if you need to.
Paint colours that I use are: cadmium yellow light, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, raw umber, burnt umber, French ultramarine blue, pthalo green, permanent alizarine, tinting white, titanium white.
I use Atelier interactive acrylic paints which make blending so easy compared to other acrylic paints. The paints highlighted in red are available on amazon. You can just click on the paint colour if you wish to purchase.
Step 1: Mix your base colours.
Mix up a base colour for you darkest dark paint using alizarine, burnt umber and ultramarine blue.
Mix two med-range lights using some of your base colour, adding tinting white or titanium white and blue to one mix and tinting white or titanium white, yellow and ochre to another.
Step 1: Colour Palette for rock painting
Step 2: Have Fun with a Sea-sponge.
Using a damp sea sponge, dip your sponge into the dark and blue light colours. Just a little paint at a time so your sponge patterns show through. Sponge on lights and dark paint around where your rocks will be. Keeping in mind where the light is coming from. This adds texture and helps rocks look less uniform. Let dry.
Step 3: Finding your rock shapes.
Stand back and look, pick out rock shapes keeping your overall design in mind. Make irregular rock shapes or clusters, you can draw these with chalk if you wish. Mix into some of you dark colour paint, some tinting white or titanium white to make a mid-toned paint mix.
Then two more piles, mixing some blue in one and some burnt sienna in another. Paint in rock shapes, thinking about shadow side and light sides of rocks when putting on the above colours. The blue mix will be more on the shadow side and the burnt sienna mix on the sunlit side. Use irregular brush strokes as this helps form the different planes of the rocks.
Now using your light blue shade you mixed earlier put in highlights to help form rock shapes. You should be able to see some rock shapes forming. Should be looking pretty ugly at this stage. Don’t worry, all paintings go through the ugly stage. Dry.
Step 4: Adding Highlights
Use your yellow light (That you mixed at the beginning) now to put in more highlights, thinking about where the sun will hit the rocks. Bounce back and forth between lights and dark's until you are happy with your rock shapes. Try to keep brush strokes choppy and keep some hard edges.
Step 4: Putting in the sunlit highlights
Rocks in the distance will be smaller generally and have less detail than those at your centre of interest. Clean up around edges. I also added some water to these ones.
Now to go in and add your final highlights. Don’t use just plain white, use a touch of you base colour and titanium white. Here you can be fussy about where the light will be coming from. Careful, don’t get carried away, a little highlight goes a long way. Step back and look a lot.
Redefine your darkest dark's if needed. Where your centre of interest is you want the strongest contrasts and sharpest edges.
If you don’t like a rock just paint over it with your base colour and do that rock again.
Remember its only paint!
Watch for parts of the painting that you like and leave those areas alone.
Step 6: Little Details.
Finally take a liner brush and some watered down red-purple colour very sparely define some dark areas and cracks.
You don’t have to use the colours I used. Different rivers will have different coloured rocks. You can also push the colours if you want more colour and a less realistic look.
If you would like more details on how to paint rocks then Lee Hammonds book Paint Landscapes in Acrylic is a good source.
I have this at home and as well as lots of other landscape tips it has a section on painting rocks. Later on it shows you how to paint flag stones on a garden path. How to paint rocks on a rocky lake scene and also a rocky stream. So really useful information. Click on the book title to purchase.
Picture tutorial showing stages of painting rocks.
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