How To Paint Rocks

How To Paint Rocks

Harmonized similarities. Contrasts can consist of lights and darks; large areas and smaller areas; and sharp edges, lost edges and all edges in-between. Then there are the textural contrasts of the paint itself and the manner in which it’s applied. These textural contrasts add dimension to a painting and please the eye.

Painting Rocks: Thin to Thick to Thin Again

To a large extent, I achieve textural contrasts when I paint rocks in oil by progressing from thin washes to thicker applications to final thin layers. Here’s a more detailed description of my process:

I begin my oils with transparent color washes, using either Martin F. Weber Turpenoid or Gamblin Gamsol as my diluting medium. With Nos. 10 and 12 Richeson Signature bristle egbert (cat’s tongue) brushes, I apply these washes with broad strokes and a sense of abandon, varying from light to dark and warm to cool colors.

After establishing this transparent underpainting, I address the center of interest, usually the most eye-catching area. Using flats and brights, I apply colors from dark to light, paying special attention to proportion, placement, relative local color, value relationships and lost and found edges. I don’t rush to leave the center of interest but paint it very close to its finish, if not its actual finish. Then I paint from my center of interest out, relating everything to what I’ve already established.

At this point, I start working with a painting, which allows me to apply paint thickly, as if with a trowel or, by turning to its side, to create the most delicate and sharpest of lines.

Eventually, I must marry the initial transparent color washes with the added applications of opaque paint. To harmonize them, on top of the transparent colors I apply opaque colors of the exact same value as the transparent colors. I firmly believe in selective finishing, so I don’t complete all areas of the painting to the same degree of intensity or focus.

Painting Rocks: Merest Wisp of a Scumble

While standing on a ledge by Amicalola Falls, in Dawson County, Ga., I was taken aback by the rainbows formed by sunlight on the sprayed mist. I wondered how I could paint the effect and, back in the studio, I started experimenting (see Painting Rocks: semi-opaque scumbling, above).

With large brushes, I applied transparent paint mixtures to the entire surface. The rich greens at the upper right set off the grays, mauves and warmer tones of the cascading falls. With more opaque paint I began the falls and then added the rhythm and movement of the water as it swirled around the rocks and moved on. When the surface was completely dry, I tackled the rainbow. I quickly learned that less was more, yet even when I painted as lightly as possible, the rainbow looked artificial. It lacked luminosity and appeared to be pasted onto the surface of the painting. I repainted the area of the rock face beneath the rainbow so I could try again.

This time I added a little Liquin to Naples yellow, “beating” the two components together until the paint was semi-opaque rather than opaque. I scumbled (scrubbed paint thinly over a dry underlayer) this mixture on the rocks on the right so that the stone showed through as if under a veil or mist. Then I lightly repainted the colors of the rainbow (see detail, above), bringing A Misty Moment at Amicalola Falls (above) to resolution.

Painting Rocks

The center of interest of Simply Granite (above) is the variety of strong grays in the granite on East Beach of St. Simons Island, Ga. I like the sense of weight conveyed by these arbitrarily piled rocks, and the tracery of shrubbery sets off the rough-hewn texture of the stone. To achieve the effect of lacelike branches, I loaded the edge of a painting with bright yellow and swiped on the color.