Guide to Supplies
Michaels Craft Store
From those I made this shopping list:
fine brushes for details
wider brushes for background
paper to cover table
I then forgot to put out the disposable gloves, but oh well. Acrylic paint cleans up easily while it's wet.
You will hear crafters argue day in and night out about the "best" supplies. Don't get too attached. Buy what you can find and afford. You may discover that some things work better for some purposes. That's fine too. We filled the whole list at Wal-Mart, although I did try a couple other places in search of smaller and more affordable rocks which I found at Big Lots. If you need a LOT of rocks, consider buying a big bag at a garden center or building supply lot. It's cheaper. But I didn't really need 25 pounds of rocks this time. You can also pick up your own and wash them, which is what I would've done if I had remembered this activity earlier. 0_o Plan ahead, folks.
A very nice plastic palette came with the paint kit we bought. We unwrapped that one and put it on the table, but never got around to using it. Instead, we had set out paper plates as extra palettes, and everyone wound up choosing those. They worked great and they are super cheap. The one with the toothpicks and big splotches of green and white is mine. Underneath my palette is a page from the instructions I printed out, in this case a list of positive affirmations. Here you can also see that we covered the entire table with pages from a plant catalog to protect the wood underneath.
This is the Royal Langnickel Acrylic Paint Artist Pack. We got it at Wal-Mart on clearance for $5 but Jo-Ann Fabric still has it. This is a fantastic paint kit. It's affordable. It gives you everything you need to start except a surface to paint. The paint is artist quality rather than craft quality, so it is thick and vividly pigmented. Craft paint is thinner and cheaper, but this set is a great bargain.
Now take a close look at those colors. You will note that there are two of everything except black and white. The kit thoughtfully provides a warmer and a cooler version of each color! I have placed the warmer versions on the left. To mix bright colors, combine warm/warm or cool/cool. To mute the colors, combine warm/cool. This is a slightly different concept than the usual one (warm = red, orange, yellow and cool = green, blue, purple) but it is tremendously useful for blending your own colors.
Acrylic paint typically washes off with soap and water while wet. I had no trouble getting it off my hands and little in getting it off the brushes. Just don't let it dry on your brushes, because once it dries, it's plastic and won't budge. This is an asset in painting rocks. You can just put out your rock and it will last a good while, because acrylic doesn't come off easily, even if you don't pay extra for a can of sealant (which is not cheap).
Something else to consider is drying time. Compared to other paints, acrylics dry fast. I have worked with some that dried so fast they solidified on the palette, which is a pain in the ass when you're trying to do a canvas but would be an asset in painting rocks. Others have a delayed drying time in an attempt to make them act more like oils. (They aren't. If you want oil paint characteristics, buy the damn oils. Acrylic is its own medium and should be respected as such.) The packages don't really say much about that. Jo-Ann's does advertise this kit as "fast-drying" and it performed well for us in that regard. Working in thin coats, mine seemed to dry in just a few minutes. If drying time is a factor for you, read reviews, because some people do test for that. Anyhow, this is a great choice, not only for painting rocks, but also for anyone wanting to paint with acrylics in general.
We also got two big tubes of paint for doing the backgrounds. This is a great idea because otherwise you may run out of your background color(s). We chose white and green because this is a spring project. You do not want to run out of paint. However, these two alone cost as much as the whole kit. Buying all of your paints separately in big tubes will be cost-prohibitive for many folks and also way more than you need. The paint is reasonably colorful, although it took three coats to get a smooth look. I gave it 20 minutes to dry between coats, and that worked well. One complaint: this stuff never did stop being tacky, until after I laid on the sealant. If I were buying again, I might look for a different brand.
Another fantastic buy, this Elmer's Painters set includes 5 fine-tip paint pens: black, white, red, blue, and green. It is much more cost-effective to buy a set than individual markers, although I did consider and discard the idea of getting a yellow one. I would've bought a pink if they had one. Do pay attention to your theme if any and look for a set that fits it. These were a huge hit and most people used them a lot. They are ideal for writing and outlining. It would've been nice to have even narrower points, but that can get hard to read. These were a bit bulky on the smaller rocks but worked great on the larger ones. If you are painting rocks, I highly recommend getting a set of paint pens.
Important note: You have to shake these, and always do that with the CAP ON. Otherwise paint can spatter. I read that it can also spatter if you press hard when drawing on rocks, but we never had that problem -- and I was pushing down to expel extra paint into cracks in the rocks. (That's how you get the paint to run down at first, or if you need more.) So these worked really well for us.
We bought one canister of larger rocks at Wal-Mart for $5. These are really nice for writing longer phrases or painting bigger pictures. We bought two bags of smaller rocks for $1 each at another store. These are ideal for single words, smaller pictures, or symbols like the heart I drew. You want to have plenty of rocks. A good variety lets you choose a rock whose shape matches your intended picture, or conversely, inspires you to paint something particular.
Think carefully about size. Don't make the rocks too small -- we passed over some others that were just gravel size. They have to be big enough to see easily when decorated. But the nice big ones tend to be expensive. The 1-2" size works very well and is more affordable. Generally, you don't want anything too big to carry comfortably in one hand for some distance. If you are working with kids, remember they may have trouble painting on smaller rocks or carrying larger ones, so discuss those issues with your paint crew and let them make their own decisions accordingly.
When painting rocks, you need a range of brush sizes. We bought two packages, a wide flat set and a round detail set. I really like these brushes. They are affordable, come in great shapes, and the synthetic bristles (recommended for acrylic paints) performed quite well. There was also a nice mixed set which might work for some folks, but I wanted a lot of tiny brushes and a few rather wide ones, instead of a smoother spectrum from small to large. Especially if you are painting on canvas or larger rocks, you might like that other set.
First, you need some wide brushes to paint the backgrounds. If you look at my painted rocks, you'll see I did some different things there. I started out by doing base paint in either green or white using a medium-wide brush. Later on, I tried a trick for making gradient backgrounds. It said you needed a brush wider than the rock. That's great if you have one, so consider comparative widths when shopping for rocks and brushes. But if the brush is narrower than the rock, you can still make it work, it just won't cover the whole rock in one go. On the Love rock, I didn't use enough paint to blend effectively, but I liked the crisper striping effect anyhow. Next time, I tried different colors and more paint, so the GROW rock has a nicely blended background. For those I was using the widest brush in the wide set.
Second, you need some detail brushes. Use these for making words, dots, and narrow lines. The short tiny ones are best for dots or writing words. The long skinny ones are liners, and that's what I used for drawing vines. There are also a couple of tiny chip-shaped ones in this set, and I used one of those to make the tulips -- very convenient.
Mod Podge is one popular brand of sealant. None of them are cheap, but this gives you a big can at a reasonable price. The better ones are smaller, more expensive, and not really necessary for rock painting. Rocks and acrylic paint are already pretty durable. (If you are decorating art rocks as part of folk crafts, especially to sell, you might want a better grade of sealant.) I picked the glossy version.
I wound up spraying this in three light coats. If you put it on too thick, it can run. I didn't have a problem with that. The can says it takes 15 minutes to dry. Most of it dried in that amount of time, outdoors in the sun and a breeze, but the sides were still sticky. So I gave the later coats 30 minutes, which worked better. It didn't stop being tacky until the next day -- but in the end, I did have nicely coated rocks that are shiny and smooth. Just make sure to give yourself a day or so for the last coat to dry completely. The last thing you need is to go hiking and find your rocks stuck to the insides of your pockets.
Here are some leftover rocks with just their base coat of green or white. Note that if you have a bunch of people decorating rocks together, it is a good idea to do some base coats in advance, and then have each person choose ONE rock in turn. You don't want someone grabbing all the best rocks before anyone else gets a chance. I made enough for everyone to have two green, two white, and there were lots of natural rocks left over. We didn't use all of them, although someone else took their extras home and I finished mine after the ritual. These are left in case people come back to do more, as several folks said they would like to do.
These are some of the rocks I painted, after I hid the first two. You can see that the top two have green backgrounds, the second row has one with a white background, and the others are natural. I got a lot of different effects with the products we bought, and I'm well pleased with the results. Plus these are all things we can use in other projects later. \o/