Why Do People Paint Rocks?

From the rock art paintings of our earliest human ancestors to the more modern activity of rock-hiding found today, it’s safe to say that putting paint on stone is an activity that has stood the test of time. But what is it that makes people want to paint rocks? Is it to share their culture and beliefs, or maybe it is a spark of creativity at the spur of the moment that needed to be put down on a blank canvas?

Why Do People Paint Rocks

Whatever the reason is, there is no question that using a rock as a canvas for your painting is a powerful activity that harks back to a more primal human instinct. In this article below, we explore all of the reasons why people paint rocks, from the cavemen to the modern humans of today, in order to gain a deeper understanding of this simple yet enjoyable artistic practice.

Reasons Why People Paint Rocks

To communicate with the spirits

 Our cavemen ancestors were no strangers to painting rocks and cave walls with vivid art made with the belief in a kind of spiritual force. Much like how the frescoes of the life of Jesus Christ made by Michaelangelo in the Sistine Chapel evoke a sense of spiritual oneness with God, these primal artworks by our earliest human ancestors were made to communicate with the unseen forces that were believed to coexist together with mankind during those times. 

To write down their history 

Much of what we know about the lives of our human ancestors in prehistoric times was kickstarted by the discovery of rock and cave art. These early paintings depicted scenes of the daily life of a paleolithic hunter-gatherer, with one of the most famous being the wall paintings found in the Lascaux Cave in southwestern France – it holds the record for having a 17-foot long bull painted on the stone wall. It is the largest animal ever discovered so far in the form of cave art.

Even today, anyone who picks up a brush – or even fingers – and some paint can transfer onto any blank canvas, be it rock wall or stretched parchment, a snapshot of the present moment that may very well be captured and preserved as an artifact for future generations to look back upon. 

To mark territory 

Painting on rocks to mark a particular tribe’s territory was common during the paleolithic and neolithic eras. Our human ancestors had to ensure that their territory was off-limits to anyone else who was coming in to get some resources or forage, and rocks were the most natural canvas to do so that was clearly visible to the visiting party. 

As a punishment? 

In the military, “painting rocks” holds a very different meaning than the others listed here. During non-combat times, military commanders will always have to give their subordinates something to do – whether it be cleaning the grounds, or ensuring the maintenance and repairs of the military base is kept to high standards. Painting rocks has also been a regular non-active duty for those stationed at the base – so much so that it has become a moniker for “down-time menial camp duty”.

But when it comes to punishment, painting rocks is also one of the ways a military commander might punish minor infringements that happen in the base without being too harsh (court-martial, etc) on the personnel in question. Case in point, painting rocks for a week straight is hardly enjoyable as an artistic endeavour! 

For spiritual wellness 

By tapping into the primal and spiritual rock painting activities of our human ancestors, we learn to focus our energy in a more mindful way, benefiting on both physical and psychological levels. If we take a rock or a pebble and visualize the kind of artwork that we wish to imprint upon it, it allows our mind to keep out any distractions and relieves any current anxiety that we may be suffering.

This, coupled with the increased secretion of serotonin and dopamine that occurs during a highly creative activity, can truly bring out your spiritual side and help you with a sense of accomplishment after you’re done with your rock masterpiece.

 As a fun get together activity

 What’s better than engaging in a creative activity? Well, the answer would most probably be to get together with friends and family while doing so. Rock painting is an activity that can be enjoyed by anyone of all ages, and is a great bonding activity for families to showcase each individual’s creativity while also spending some quality time with the family.

To bring joy to others 

Rock-hiding is a relatively new movement that aims to bring simple joys and a smile to someone’s face on any given day. In this movement, rocks are painted with simple yet attractive designs by people and are often painted with small messages of encouragement and appreciation. These rocks are then left around the neighborhood, in high traffic areas such as a park bench or outside a bus or train station where it is likely that someone will pick it up, and smile at the random act of kindness they’ve received from a stranger.

The concept is growing strong, with initiatives such as kindness rock gardens, where rock painters can plant their painted rocks in their local neighborhood and “grow” the kindness in the form of their words of encouragement, which will increase as more and more people join in painting rocks and leaving their encouraging words.


Rock painting has been something that we humans have done for a very long time. It is just something that connects us to nature in an intrinsic way, and while we may have built skyscrapers, manufactured highly complex machinery and produced rockets that can get us to outer space, the very act of sitting down and putting paint to a pebble or a rock just feels like the most creatively human thing we can do, even in this modern world today.