Last-Minute Gifts: 5 Surprising Ways to Have Fun Painting Rocks


Got rocks? Then you have the perfect surface on which to create some beautiful and unique last-minute gifts. Painting rocks brings to mind images of detailed animals and these days, mandalas, right? But painting rocks can be even easier (and faster!) than you may have previously considered.

I’m going to walk you through the process I used for one gift project: a super-cute portable tic-tac-toe game and then I’ll share with you several additional rock-painting ideas you can try—each of which can be easily personalized to appeal to your favorite gift recipient (including yourself).

Paint pens work perfectly on rocks, as does acrylic paint. And if you don’t have a backyard full of acceptable stones, you can usually find them in relatively small quantities from stores such as Jo-Ann Fabric, Michael’s and Walmart.

Portable Tic-Tac-Toe Game

Small pebbles—1/2″–3/4″ (13mm–19mm) or so—work best for this project.

tic tac toe painting rocks step 1

Look at your little pile of stones. If you can, separate them into two color families—one will be for Xs and the other for Os. I could spot warm and cool tones in my stash.

Give stamps a try!

tic tac toe painting rocks step 2

You could easily use paint pens to paint Xs and Os on your pebbles, but I’d like to encourage you to kick things up a notch and follow along as we have fun with stamping and embossing powder! And, just as I wanted to make my own paint, I also wanted to carve my own stamps. Feel free to use an X and O letter stamp if you choose. As you can see, I wasn’t worried about making type-set-worthy Xs and Os; I was fine with them being a bit primitive looking.

tic tac toe painting rocks step 3

To emboss your pebbles, you’ll need to gather some embossing ink (I actually used some sticky ink, but a pigment pad, such as those by Colorbox, will work just as well), some embossing powder (I chose a metallic silver) and a heat gun.

tic tac toe painting rocks step 4

Working on just one or two at a time, stamp your pebbles, sprinkle with embossing powder and tap off the excess. Being careful not to smudge the ink/powder, place your pebbles on a heat-safe surface and begin warming them with a heat gun.

Magic! Once the powder reaches the melting point, it will no longer look like powder, but paint! This process delights me every time.

Magic! Once the powder reaches the melting point, it will no longer look like powder, but paint (with a very cool hammered-like texture)! This process delights me every time. It’s like watching a photo develop in the tray.

Add a little paint with a paint pen

tic tac toe painted rocks step 6

When all your pebbles are stamped/embossed, give them some extra love with a paint pen. Simple dots are easy (and the process is meditative!).


Complete your game package with a playing mat and pouch

tic tac toe painted rocks final

To complete the project, you’ll need to make a little playing mat. You could do this with paint if you like. I opted to stitch my grid by couching strips of dark grey jersey fabric onto some raw canvas, then applied blanket stitch around the edge. Keep it simple and don’t overthink it. I made a pouch from the same canvas fabric, but you could use one of those fabric drawstring gift bags or even use a small box.

Other Painted Rock Gift Ideas

OK, if you’re looking for some even easier ways to give rocks, here are some other things I experimented with.

Inspiring Words

painted word rocks

Use paint pens or paint and brush to create messages of hope and inspiration. These little gems can serve as daily affirmations and gentle reminders. Single stones can be placed on a desk or multiple displayed in a bowl. For my rocks, I stained the rocks first with alcohol ink before going to town with paint pens. (Positive words on rocks are also appreciated at the Kindness Rocks Project.)

Magnet Set

Make magnets. These, too, can be super simple. I carved some stamps and embossed the symbols on the rocks using white embossing powder, then wrote my power words with a white paint pen.

Make magnets. These, too, can be super simple. I carved some stamps and embossed the symbols on the rocks using white embossing powder, then wrote my power words with a white paint pen.

painted rock magnets

3/4″ (19mm) magnets can be purchased at craft and hardware stores. Adhere them to the back of your rocks using an epoxy adhesive.

Party Place Cards

painted rock place cards

Perfect party favors! Use paint pens and simple motifs to make place cards for holiday parties. Your guests will love getting to take these with them. (And if they don’t, be sure to wrap them up in a box and give them to them at a later date anyway.)

Pet Rock

painted pet rock

And . . . I couldn’t resist: give a pet rock! There’s not much else to say, is there?

For a different approach to painting on rocks, take a look at the work of artist Kim Anderson, author of Doodle Trees and Happy Bees. My heart smiles when I see her new creations regularly on Instagram. (Follow @kimartwork.) In addition to paint and pens, Kim loves to add magical sparkle to her rock creations using foil. (Something I’ll be posting more about, soon!) Kim says:

“Painting on stones is easy and fun to do, as well as relaxing. Adding a simple heart in foil or glitter gives it an extra special feel, but you can add words or other symbols too! Painting them in different colors and using a variety of sized stones can be the beginning of a wonderful collection. Painted stones are perfect for yourself or to offer as gifts. They can be used as paperweights, as décor placed on top of a picture frame or mantelpiece, in a bowl, or simply on a table, desk or in the bathroom.”

heart painting on rocks

Heart stones by Kim Anderson.

heart doodles painted rock

Heart doodle on stone by Kim Anderson.

And . . . for those last-minute cards you need to send out, check out how easy it is to hand-letter original masterpieces. Your friends and loved ones will be impressed! Last-minute giving? No problem! Enjoy the process.









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