Painting Rocks Vs. Rock Art

Rock painting has become hugely popular in the last couple of years. If you’ve ever walked along a public area and seen a painted rock with colorful designs on the floor, chances are you’ve probably picked one up and cracked a smile at the whimsical, cute, and inspiring designs that often adorn these tiny rock masterpieces.

And in some painted rocks, artists often write down messages of positivity and inspiration in order to spread a little joy and kindness to strangers. This is called a kindness rock and is part of the global kindness movement that has been exponentially growing in popularity in recent years.

Painting Rocks Vs. Rock Art

As much as we’d like to think that the painted rock trend is a modern invention, made viral through the help of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and the power of the internet, the truth is, humans have been painting on rocks since the neolithic times! So, the reason why rock painting is so fulfilling is probably that we’re actually doing an activity that our earliest human ancestors used to do!

We list down the differences, and the similarities between rock art, and painting rocks below.

What is rock art?

Rock art is a blanket term that refers to art that is created on natural rock faces. The methods of rock art include engraving, painting, and shaping, with each method requiring its own specialized tools and techniques. It has been estimated that humans in communities all over the world have been creating rock art for over 40,000 years.

Rock art can be found in caves, and rock formations like cliff faces and boulders along the landscape. What did the people before use to paint? Well, some of the most sophisticated artworks in those times were mainly images of animals, objects of interest, and of people. The Lascaux cave in France, dated to be 15,000 to 17,000 years old is known to hold the world record of having the largest animal rock art discovered so far – a painted bull that stands at 17 feet long!

Another popular form of rock art that is known all over the world is the artwork that adorns the tombs of Egyptian kings in their pyramids. These highly detailed artworks were painted on slabs of rock acting as a canvas and depicted numerous scenes that usually sing praises about the life of the deceased residing in the tomb.

What is painting rocks?

Painting rocks, in a modern sense, refers to the act of using a small rock as your canvas and painting all kinds of designs that suit your fancy. It could be as simple as a small cartoon character and a colorful background, or as complicated as a multi-layered and multi-colored mandala with intricate webbing and shapes cast all around it.

Because it is so simple to pick up, adults and children of all ages and all over the world enjoy this activity so much, and thanks to the internet and the ability to share your creations to the world through social media, it’s become so much easier than ever to inspire others to pick up this activity in another far-flung corner of the world. All you need are rocks and some basic painting tools like acrylic paint, paintbrushes, sealer, and paint pens (optional)!

Differences and similarities between Painting Rocks Vs. Rock Art

When talking about rock art and painting rocks, the biggest difference is most probably the scale of each individual art medium. Rock art is more often than not a lot larger than a painted rock, because of the size of the medium itself.

Most prehistoric and even relatively modern rock art are drawn to be instantly recognizable – whereas painted rocks aim to create a beautiful design on as small a rock as possible, which is why it is so interesting to see and is sure to crack a smile on the face of anyone who picks one up after finding it on the ground.

Another difference would be the tools used in rock art vs painting rocks. Prehistoric rock art was usually done using very rudimentary tools, like spears, sticks, and even hands and fingers. The paint was made from natural sources like plants, charcoal, or other natural dyes found in the wild.

Painting rock uses modern tools, and modern acrylic paints, making it definitely more advanced than rock art of the prehistoric ages. The addition of brush-on or spray-on sealer as a finishing step, as well, adds to the contrast between painting rock and rock art, as the early humans before did not have access to such waterproof sealers for their cave and rock art masterpieces!

If we were to dive into the similarities between both, however, we can actually see that they are more alike than we think. The act of painting on the rock itself is prevalent in both – in fact, it is the method that is used to create the artwork in the first place.

This means that whether we paint on small rocks with acrylic paint and fancy paintbrushes, or we find ourselves in front of a large cave wall accompanied by a fire and painting images of animals or everyday life using natural dyes and our hands, fingers, and elbows, we are tapping into an almost primal instinct that our human ancestors had – the instinct to create, share and tell a story.


The best part of painting rocks is the fact that it has been adopted to become a large part of a kindness movement – in which artists all over the world paint rocks and write down inspirational and kind messages for strangers to find, making their day with the beautiful design and the boost in confidence from the written message.

Rock art is all about telling a story, as it was the only way for our earliest human ancestors to tell the future generations of humans their own stories about how they used to live – and who knows, maybe our painted rocks with our mandalas, cartoon characters, and handwritten messages of kindness will be discovered 50,000 years from now as artifacts of a long-gone era – just like the rock art of the past we’ve only recently discovered!