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How to Paint Stones: Cat Portrait

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I've been creating since I was a child. My hobbies include watercolor, drawing, art journaling, painting rocks, sewing and crochet.

Learn how to paint a cat on a rock.

Learn how to paint a cat on a rock.

Painting Animals on Stone

Painting rocks and stones is fast becoming a popular craft activity. The reasons why are clear: Rocks, stones, and pebbles are freely available, acrylic craft paints are relatively inexpensive and other supplies are minimal. Another important reason is that it is quite easy to paint on a rock—much easier, in fact, than painting on flat paper.

The most popular subjects for painting rocks are animals. This is because they lend themselves perfectly to oval and round shapes. In this article, I demonstrate a step-by-step method of painting a cat on a rock, including putting mistakes right!

The perfect cat-shaped rock

The perfect cat-shaped rock

Supplies for Painting Rocks

  • Reference photo
  • Suitable rock (well scrubbed)
  • Pencil
  • Acrylic craft paint
  • Brushes, including an old scuffed one
  • Spray varnish
  • Artist's transfer paper (optional)
  • Uniball Signo Broad white pen (optional)

What Kind of Paint Is Best for Painting Rocks?

The paint I am using is Claudine Hellmuth Studio in 'blank canvas' (white), 'charcoal black', 'sable brown', and the very useful 'traditional tan'. I also use a tiny touch of 'classic teal' and 'dab of yellow' for the eyes. I have a set of 2oz pots but they are also available in mini-sets of half oz bottles.

This paint is the perfect consistency for painting rocks. I have also heard that Folk Art paint is good too. It is possible to use regular heavy body acrylic but you will have to play around with adding water to get the right consistency.

Reference photo: Neska. The photo has been flipped to provide the right aspect for the rock.

Reference photo: Neska. The photo has been flipped to provide the right aspect for the rock.

Choose Your Rock and Subject

The rock I have chosen is a little smaller than an average cat but that's fine—it's pretty heavy as it is. It is oval, with a flat bottom. One end of the rock is fuller and rounder than the other, almost egg-shaped. This shape of rock is perfect for painting a resting cat.

The cat I am painting is Neska. Her owner has kindly shared photos of her on Flickr under a Creative Commons license. This means that anyone is free to make derivative works from the photos. Additionally, the photos are of Neska from several angles, meaning that I can even see her fantastic fat and fluffy tail, which will curl around the rock version.

It's a good idea to have more than one reference photo.

It's a good idea to have more than one reference photo.

Step 1: Drawing the Face

The method I use for drawing my cat face is usually just to copy it right onto the rock with a pencil, but if you want an accurate likeness of a particular pet and aren't confident in your drawing skills, then print out a suitably sized photo of the cat—head only. I usually print out several sizes as I have a tendency to make my cats' heads too small. Decide where you want the head positioned on the rock and lay the photo on top of a piece of artists' transfer paper, tape them in place and trace the main features directly onto the surface of the rock.

If, like me, you haven't any artist's transfer paper on hand, another method is to print a copy of the photo and cut out the head, turn it over and lay on a thick application of a very soft pencil. Tape the image to the rock and use a sharp instrument to trace over the features. The outline produced will be faint but you can go over it with a pencil, using the original photo as a reference.

Use a fine brush and your black paint to go over your pencil outlines. These painted outlines will form the basis of the cat's stripes and shadows. Go lightly, if you can.

Step 2: Undercoat the Rock

Even though Neska is a silver tabby, there is an underlying warm tone in her coat, so this will be my base color. Paint on the base coat, avoiding the black outlines, if possible. Don't worry if the surface of the stone peeks through—cats have heavily textured coats and you will be painting over all of this eventually. You can see mine is still very 'rough and ready'.

Do the eyes early on to give the rock some character—tidying up and fine details will be completed later.

Do the eyes early on to give the rock some character—tidying up and fine details will be completed later.

Step 3: Cat's Eyes

I always go straight to the eyes and complete them to about 75%. In this way, I feel as though the rock becomes more cat than rock if you know what I mean. Neska's eyes are slightly different colors in the photo because the light is coming in from her right side. This also causes some blue-ing around the iris. Those details will be left until later.

It is important to get the eyes right—when looking at an animal rock painting, it is always the eyes that grab your attention first. Notice that Neska has black 'eyeliner' but in the photo, you can't see it all as it is hidden by the top lids. While the eyes are drying, I paint a light pink inside the ears and on the nose.

Step 4: Determining Color in the Face

Neska has a lot of light tan on her face, particularly around the nose area. I block in some of these areas, with an undertone of sable brown. She also has a lot of white interspersed with tiny tan and black hairs. I decided to apply all the white and then later go over with additional color.

Determine the colors of your cat's face and, being careful to pay attention to the direction of the hair, use a scruffy brush to make short fur strokes in the main color. At this stage, you are beginning to build up layers.

Building up layers of white on the face

Building up layers of white on the face

Step 5: Building Layers

Just keep going. Work on the face building up layers of fur, adding detail as you go. Don't paint the ear furnishings (long hairs) or the whiskers until the very end. Notice where there is shadow and gradation of color. It's a long slow process, so put on some relaxing music or a radio play.

The Awkward Stage

There is a stage in all animal portraits where the painting looks pretty dreadful. Nothing seems to be right. This is normal—Lee Hammond, the author of many acrylic instructional books, in her book, Paint Realistic Animals in Acrylic, calls this 'the awkward stage'. It's the point where many beginners lose heart, not realizing that it has to go through this process. This is just a map of the painting. So, don't despair, just keep on powering through. The wonderful thing about acrylics is that you can paint right over many mistakes and adjust color and form as you go along.

Painting fur on the body, following natural growth patterns

Painting fur on the body, following natural growth patterns

Step 6: The Body

When you have had enough of the face, move on to the body. You can come back to the head with fresh eyes later. Work from the back of the head and spine, again, always in the direction that the fur grows.

Don't be afraid to have some strokes crossing others. Use longer strokes to build up layers of fur. There are special brushes for painting fur, but I often hack away at an old stiff brush with scissors until it makes marks that I am happy with. I've yet to discover the perfect fur brush.

Repainting the ear

Repainting the ear

Step 7: Remedial Work

Time for some remedial work to the face. I decide that the eyes aren't big enough, so I paint over the existing 'eyeliner' to enlarge the eyes a little. Paint the dark rims back in and extend the white around the eyes. They are just about finished now. I add more white highlights around the face and use a white pen for the whiskers. Now is a good time to put the cat aside and reassess the following day. It's surprising how time away from the work can sharpen your judgment.

Upon another critical look, it appears that the ears are a tad too small—I can't quite work out how that happened as I used a photo to trace the features. No big deal. I can just base coat around them and redo them. The nose also needs adjustment—I painted over it with a light tan and repaint it a tiny bit smaller.

I want to share these 'mistakes' with you to show that anything can be fixed—it's never too late…well until you spray varnish, that is. As I'm not a perfectionist, if I was painting this merely for myself, I would leave the features as they were…I like a bit of quirkiness. However, as this is supposed to be a portrait of Neska, then I want it to have some resemblance to her!

Finishing touches

Finishing touches

Step 8: Finishing Touches

Time to touch up whiskers and highlights with my white pen. It's finished. All there is to do now is take the cat outside and spray it with about five coats of varnish. You can keep your cat outside but it should be brought in during winter. I have several that have survived all weather really well, but two others have started to peel. I think it depends on the rock itself. Neska is going to be an indoor cat.

Questions & Answers

Question: What color do I use for the nose of a cat portrait?

Answer: It depends on what color your cat's nose is. Some are black or brown. This one is pink; darkened slightly with a little brown.

Question: What is the pen that you used? Also, can shiny acrylic be painted over without smudging?

Answer: I used a pencil for the outline and went over it roughly with black acrylic paint. I use a Uniball Signo white pen for final details. Yes, you can paint over dried acrylic as long as it isn't varnished.

© 2012 Bev G

Are You Going to Paint a Rock?

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on July 05, 2020:

Thank you, Sally. x

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on July 04, 2020:

Love this, can't imagine why I have not seen this article before.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on June 12, 2019:

Thanks, CJ x

cosmicjane on June 12, 2019:

Fantastic likeness! Beautiful eyes.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on September 16, 2018:

Thank you, Ethel!

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on September 16, 2018:

You are very talented. However these clear instructions will help a novice create rock art. Well done and thank you

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on July 16, 2018:

Thanks, Patricia. Appreciated.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on July 15, 2018:

wow if only mine could come out looking like this....I fear I lack the skill. My friend has a large kitty stone that someone made of a beloved kitty that passed on. I admire it every time I visit her place. Pinning to DYI Angels are on the way this evening ps

Gypsy willow on March 29, 2018:

Great how fresh and relevant this hub has remained over the years. It is a great tutorial. Thank you.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on March 29, 2018:

Thank you. They would go well with your fairy door, LM :)

L M Reid from Ireland on March 29, 2018:

I really enjoyed this article on how to paint rocks. Very informative and love your art wort

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on March 20, 2018:

Gracias. Eres muy amable :)

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on March 05, 2018:

Hi Kate, I think the curve of the rock will help you, esp with cats. It will be lovely, I'm sure.

Kate on March 04, 2018:

I did a cat on a terracotta pot for my daughter for Christmas. I'm going to have a go at rock painting next. I found that the curve of the pot was tricky so feel a bit nervous about rocks but do want to meet the challenge. Thanks for the tutorial it's very helpful.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on November 03, 2017:

It's amazing how lifelike they can be, Barb. Hope you pick up your brushes again soon.

Barb on November 02, 2017:

I have done a few animals on rocks. I have done a squirrel, rabbit, cat,cow.But it's been so long I think I would be a novice all over again. The more you do it the better you are. One cute thing I did was a painted dark mouse hole with a little mouse sitting the space. Then I attached it to the wall where people who came in most likely screamed. Oh ya lol lol

Alexis on June 12, 2017:

So talented! Will have a go.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on May 06, 2017:

Hi Diane, yes, there is definitely an ugly stage, but I think all art goes through that stage. Keep going, you might surprise yourself. Thanks for your comment.

nortonsam on May 06, 2017:

Very nice! I have just started doing this, but DID get discouraged. Now I will stick with it in hopes of refining my work. Some of the rocks I did look great but others amateur. Takes patience and sticking with it like you said! Diane

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on January 10, 2017:

Thanks, Sakina. I have that little cat rock sitting right here :)

Sakina Nasir on January 10, 2017:

Awesome hub! Love your talent. This is amazing. It looks so real! ☺ I love it. You're so cool!

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on May 07, 2015:

So sorry, Peggy. Very sad, but you did the right thing - always the ultimate decision that we have to make for our loved pets. {{{Hugs}}}

CherylsArt on May 06, 2015:

Thank you Bev (theraggededge). It sounds like fun, maybe I'll stop by Lowes today and buy some rocks. : )

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 06, 2015:

Good step by step photos. This caught my eye but for sad reasons. We had to have our cat Dusty euthanized yesterday. He was in congestive heart failure and his quality of life was at an end. We did not want him to suffer. We are grieving his loss today. He was such a great cat and had coloring much like the one on your rock only with blue eyes.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on May 06, 2015:

Thank you, Cheryl, Rebecca and Delores. Lovely to see you here. Glad you like the cat rock.

Cheryl, I think it is easier to paint them in three dimensions. If you can paint cats already then these will be a breeze.

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on May 06, 2015:

I remember seeing these a few years ago in a little shop. The also had a fox and a hedgehog. I thought it was so cute. But yours is awesome. Many of us will try this at home. It will be an exercise in frustration if we want them to look like yours. But you make it look so simple.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on May 05, 2015:

Rock painting could be fun for all ages. Thanks for sharing!

CherylsArt on May 05, 2015:

I think so. I've painted cat portraits before, but not on rocks, at least as of yet. I'm looking forward to giving it a go. Thanks for the tips.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on April 23, 2015:

Many thanks!

Colin Garrow from Inverbervie, Scotland on April 23, 2015:

Fantastic artwork - I'll have to have a go at this. Great Hub.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on October 11, 2014:

Thanks, Chazz xxx

Chazz from New York on October 11, 2014:

Beautiful work!

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on September 01, 2014:

Keep practicing, Linda. It's a craft, rather than an art. Have fun!

Linda Jo Martin from Post Falls, Idaho, USA on August 31, 2014:

I'm getting into rock painting, but nowhere near your level of expertise yet. I love your cat rock!!

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on August 26, 2014:

Much appreciated, TamaD.

Tama DeBoer from Wayne, New Jersey on August 25, 2014:

Very interesting. you make it look easy. Beautiful job.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on June 16, 2013:

Thanks, dreamseeker2. Patience, definitely... talent, well I think anyone could do it with practice :)

dreamseeker2 on June 15, 2013:

Awesome! Beautifully done. It has to take talent and patience to make it turn out so well. Found your hub interesting and useful! : ) Thanks for the share.

4wardthinker from Sierra Nevada CA on May 11, 2013:

So funny. Thanks for the laugh! I can almost see the paint brush in hand, and hear the gears a-turning as your saying, "Wait! It will only take a second."

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on May 11, 2013:

That's right - I'm going to start on my children next! Thank you!

4wardthinker from Sierra Nevada CA on May 11, 2013:

Wow! Very clever. Who needs paper or a canvas board? This just goes to show you that everything is a canvas for art.

drosostalitsa from Greece on December 28, 2012:

Awesome! I love cats.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on October 13, 2012:

Gypsy Willow, that's a lovely idea!

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on October 13, 2012:

Very inspiring! I have lost several pets through my lifetime. I am going to try to recapture their personalities by this method. Thank you!

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on October 02, 2012:

It's easier than it seems, Janis. Thanks for reading :-)

Janis Goad on October 02, 2012:

I am a bit of a dud at painting, but I love cats. I might even give this a try one day!

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on October 02, 2012:

Oh.. wilderness, I have heard of saw blade painting! Have you made a hub on it yet? You get that cat of yours to sit still for an hour or three and you will be painting rocks like the devil! Thanks for dropping by xx

Dan Harmon from Boise, Idaho on October 02, 2012:

This is really neat! I love oil painting, and have painted several saw blades, but never a rock. I've got some acrylics - maybe it's time to break them out and paint a rock. I've even got a cat for reference pictures!

sujeet baro from Guwahati, India on September 06, 2012:

nice real one in stand and creative to.......

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on September 04, 2012:

Nooo... it's not difficult if you do it one step at a time. There are so many tutorials on YouTube to paint eyes, fur and the rest, you'd soon pick it up.

Joy56 on September 04, 2012:

I would love to think i could do this, but your cat is soooooo good it looks alive.... It will take so much practice for me.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on September 04, 2012:

LOL! That's it exactly, tanya! It's quite exciting at the beginning when I look at the mess I made of a completely satisfactory rock and wonder if I should start scrubbing off the paint before it gets any worse :D

tanyasays76 on September 03, 2012:

You are incredibly detailed and inspiring! I am a sketch artist and I pick up those acrylics for craft work, but I have never tried to paint on a rock surface! I just never thought about it. I am so glad your hub came along. Thank you. I will give this a go. It looks like a tedious bit of fun ;).

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on August 27, 2012:

Thank you so much, AliciaC. And thanks for the photo suggestion - you fixed my white space too! I really hope you do try rock painting - it's oddly satisfying :-)

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 27, 2012:

I love this hub, theraggededge! The finished rock is beautiful. Thank you very much for the instructions. I like to draw animals and plants, so this is one project that I am definitely going to try!

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on August 27, 2012:

Thank you, MrMaranatha and whonunowho.

@whonunowho - wish I could see some of your painted rocks!

whonunuwho from United States on August 26, 2012:

Beautiful hub and I enjoyed it immensely. My wife and I once had a small business in which we included painted rocks and chose many subjects as our theme. We were quite successful for a long time in this and enjoyed the rock painting especially back then. Great hub.

MrMaranatha from Somewhere in the third world. on August 26, 2012:

I like it!!! Good Work!!!

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on August 26, 2012:

Thank you, for your lovely comments! I've been painting this all weekend!

Now, if I can figure out how to get rid of that huge expanse of white space, I'll be happy!

Judi Brown from UK on August 26, 2012:

That looks really good! The step-by-step photos are excellent. Tempted to say "you rock!" but that would be just too cheesy :D

Pinning it!

anuws from Dubai, United Arab Emirates on August 26, 2012:

A great hub, very interesting! thank you so much for sharing. I am sharing this :)

Brainy Bunny from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on August 26, 2012:

I am in awe of your talent, Raggededge! Just fantastic. . . from certain angles, the rock looks like a real cat!

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on August 26, 2012:

Lovely. Maybe a hobby to take up sometime!