How to Paint Ladybug Rocks
A Craft for Children and Other Beginning Painters
Painting rocks to look like lady bugs is a fast and easy project for beginning painters. This is a great project for rainy days when the kids are bored. It's also a great project to add a little color to your garden or potted plants. Bug rocks make nice gifts for just about anyone. You don't need too many supplies. If you already do some crafting you are likely to have some of these already: some acrylic paint, a couple of paint brushes, a water basin, a pencil, a foam or china plate for a palette and of course, your rocks.
Let's Get Our Rock Painting Supplies Together
Water Jar or Brush Basin
You will need a brush basin. You can use an old pint jar, just be sure not to leave your brushes standing in it all day or overnight. Standing on their bristles will give them a permanent kink. If you are going to be painting often, you might like to pick up a brush basin like this one, it has ridges to rub your bristles on to help get the paint out of them and a brush rest so the bristles can sit suspended in water without standing on their tips.
For painting your ladybug rocks you will only need 2 paint brushes, a fine liner or detail brush (I used a #2 liner) and a small synthetic flat brush. I used a #10 craft brush, but you could use a smaller one, especially if your stones are really small. If your rocks are pretty big you might want to use a bigger one to cover more area faster.
If your ladybug rocks will always live indoors then any acrylic craft paint will be fine. However, if you are going to put them outside or in bright sunlight you will want to use either Folk Art's Outdoor Paint or Deco Art's Patio Paint. Both of these brands are especially made for outdoor use and contain UV inhibitors to minimize fading and special sealers against weathering.
For painting traditional looking ladybugs you will only need 3-4 colors, red, white, black and an optional yellow (for an undercoat that makes the red look brighter, but you can use white instead). Of course everyone is different and you can always use orange, hot pink, magenta or any other color that you like, in which case your ladybug will be very unique!
A Palette to Put Your Paint On
You will need something to put your paint on, an old china or plastic plate will work if you wash it off when you are finished. Any bit of plastic you want to recycle from the kitchen, like the lid to the cottage cheese container will work too. If you want to save you paint for later you could put one of these in a plastic airtight container or a ziplock bag with a wet paper towel inside and the paint will stay wet for several days.
I use foam plates because they do not absorb moisture from the paint. I trim the edges and put them into an airtight container with a wet paper towel. If the paint dries hard I just put fresh paint on top and keep going.
If you live where the air is very dry a small spray bottle that will give a fine mist comes in handy during long painting sessions. Just lightly mist the paint occasionally to keep it from drying out too quickly.
Rocks and Stones
You can make your lady bugs any size you want. I usually use a range of rock sizes like these. Small oval stones are great but slightly different shapes work just fine. You can usually find small smooth stones along river or creek banks. You can also buy them at some garden and landscaping centers. Wash your rocks well and leave them to dry.
Divide the Head From the Body
If you do not have a dedicated work surface spread some newspapers or one of those plastic tablecloths from the dollar store to protect the furniture. Wear old clothes, a painting smock or apron so you don't get paint on your good clothes. Once dried acrylic paint is hard to get out.
With your pencil draw an oval on one end of your rock. Go from the bottom of the stone all the way across the top and back to the bottom on the other side. This will be your ladybug's head. On the top side of the rock this oval should equal about one third of the length of your stone.
First Coat; Yellow
Pour a small amount of bright yellow or white paint onto your plate. Using your small flat brush coat the 2/3s of your rock that is the lady bug's body. You don't have to paint the bottom but do make sure you paint around the sides so that no unpainted area shows when the ladybug is sitting on the table. Don't worry about getting a super even coat of yellow. This coat is just to make the red look brighter. If you don't have yellow you can use white. Often this first coat of paint won't go on as smooth as the next one.
In the photo the ladybug on the right is upside down with her head towards the camera. As you can see I'm not that neat about this coat of paint and I rarely paint the bottoms of my rocks.
Most bottled craft acrylics will have just the right creamy consistency right out of the bottle. You should not have to thin the paint. If you are using tube acrylics and they are very thick you might have to thin them with a little water or acrylic painting medium.
Don't stress about your pencil line, just paint right up to it or slightly over it. You can even things out when you paint the head black.
If you are using a water basin with a brush rest you can just put your brush there while this coat of paint dries. If you are using a water jar then you might want to go and wash out your brush so it's not standing in the jar on it's bristles for a long time. Always keep your brush in water when you are not painting, if the paint dries up in the bristles it will ruin your brush. Wipe the excess water out of the bristles when you are ready to paint again so you don't dilute your paint.
Second Coat: Red
How long it takes for the paint to dry depends on a lot of factors, from a few minutes to hours. It depends on thick you painted, how much water is in the paint, the brand of paint and how dry the air is. When the yellow is dry go over the same area with your red. Since I paint a lot of ladybugs for sale I do vary the colors a little. For instance in this photo I used (from left to right) red, magenta and orange with a little magenta mixed in.
Next, Paint the Head
When the red paint has dried, paint your ladybug's head black.
Divide Her Wings
Now you need to paint a line down your ladybug rock's back, to show where her wings are divided. To do this dip your liner brush in water and go to the edge of your puddle of black paint. With a circular motion start drawing some paint out of the puddle and mixing it with the water in your brush. You will probably have to go and get more water several times. You want to make a little puddle of paint that is inky or just a little thicker than water. When it seems the right consistency stroke the brush through the paint, drawing it out to the side while you roll the brush handle between your fingers. This helps draw the bristles down to a fine point.
When painting fine lines set your pinky finger down on the surface to support your hand and only allow the tips of your bristles to touch the surface. Keep your brush straight up and down and move your whole hand while drawing your line. This will help you keep it straight. You might want to practice on paper a little first.
I See Spots!
When the black paint has dried it's time to put the spots on your ladybug's back. I usually use an odd number like 3 or 5 on each side depending on how big the stone is. Take a new pencil and dip the eraser straight down into the black paint and dot your dots. You will probably need to dip it again between each dot to keep them all the same size. If you are making a really tiny lady bug you could use the end of a small paint brush handle to make really small spots. Be sure to wash the paint off the brush handle or eraser when you are done.
When the black spots are dry dip your eraser into white paint and give you ladybug two eyes.
Give Your Ladybug Rock a Personality
I use the end of a brush handle to add a small black dot to the eyes. Where you position the eyes will help give your lady bug an expression. Use your liner brush and thin out some of your white paint like you did the black and give your lady bug some more personality. I often add eyebrows and mouths to mine, to give an expression and sometimes I give them long eyelashes. With this batch I gave one a handlebar mustache. I try to make each one unique and different.
The Book That Started It All!
Lin Wellford's book, Painting Animals on Rocks was a book that I first found at the library. This is the book that kicked off my fascination with rock painting. Lin gives simple and easy to understand instructions for each project with extra photographs of similar animals to inspire you. If you like painting ladybugs I think you will also enjoy painting other animals on stone and Lin's book will certainly help you along.
Let me know how you like this free tutorial and tell me if there is another rock painting subject you would like to learn how to paint!
Questions & Answers
How do I paint houses, gardens, and/or landscaping on rocks?
Check your local library or Amazon for rock painting books by Lin Wellford. She gives very simple and easy to follow instructions for all of those subjects.