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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 onto 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.

Another method, if like me, you haven't any artist's transfer paper to hand, 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.