How to Paint Realistic Looking Rocks in Acrylics

Written by elle williams
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How to Paint Realistic Looking Rocks in Acrylics
Using acrylic paints and simple techniques, you can create decorative rocks that look like the real thing. (Rocks image by TAsh from

Whether for model train displays or school dioramas, realistic looking scenery is essential to creating the illusion of a miniature world. Craft stores carry plenty of faux foliage and model buildings that look as good as the real thing, but rocks are another story. Rather than buying sub-par plastic rocks that fail to capture the appearance of weight and weathering real rocks show, create and paint your own using acrylic paint and a few basic household items.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Newspaper
  • One-step plaster (e.g. Plaster of Paris)
  • Plastic knife
  • Masking tape
  • Acrylic paints in umber, yellow, black and white
  • Water
  • Three to five disposable plastic cups
  • 1/2 inch acrylic paintbrush
  • Fine detail acrylic paintbrush
  • Sponge

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  1. 1

    Crumple newspaper into balls of varying sizes. Pack the newspaper balls tightly -- if any don't stay in the shape you like, use a few strips of masking tape to hold everything in place. These will be the base for your rocks.

    How to Paint Realistic Looking Rocks in Acrylics
    Crumple newspaper to create the basic shape for your rocks. (old news image by bluefern from
  2. 2

    Apply a thin layer of plaster all over the newspaper balls. Spread the plaster slowly and carefully to preserve as many of the crumpled paper nooks and crannies as possible. Allow plaster to dry for a few minutes or until rocks can be handled without plaster rubbing off onto your hands.

  3. 3

    Fill one plastic cup with room temperature water. This will serve as your slop bucket, to rinse brushes between colour applications.

  4. 4

    Dilute paints with water. For umber, yellow, and white, use a ratio of one part acrylic paint to 16 parts water. For black, use a ratio of one part paint to 32 parts water. Use separate cups for each colour; mixed and blended colours will be achieved in application.

    How to Paint Realistic Looking Rocks in Acrylics
    Create your colour pallete with diluted earth-toned acrylic paints. (red acrylic image by Andrew Brown from
  5. 5

    Use 1/2 inch paintbrush to stipple colour onto rocks, starting with darker colours and finishing with lighter ones. Apply colour in patches rather than all over to avoid the monochromatic look that often ruins the realism of fake rocks. Add more colour in layers, being sure to rinse paintbrush before switching colours. Use fine detail brush to fill in any sections the larger brush doesn't fully cover.

  6. 6

    Blot rock surface with sponge while paint is still wet to create an igneous rock look. Repeat this step on as many rocks as you like.

  7. 7

    Allow rocks to dry overnight before moving them to your desired decorative location.

Tips and warnings

  • Be sure to use a disposable plastic knife to manipulate plaster, which can adhere to and ruin metal knives.

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