Rocks, Stones, Paving and Concrete In Art

I grew up in Christchurch, New Zealand, and occasionally visited The Christchurch Art Gallery. In the viewing room to the left of the entrance hall there was an especially memorable painting. Every now and then I come across a piece of art which takes my breath away, and this was one of the first.

When I say ‘memorable’, I don’t remember what this artwork was called or who painted it; the painting itself was memorable, for its hyperrealistic riverbank of greywacke. Each and every stone had been individually rendered. The entire canvas was covered in greywacke rocks, the iconic rock of New Zealand’s Canterbury plains. I couldn’t believe someone had taken the time to paint each and every stone so lovingly.

Much more recently, I was about to sit down and painting a cliff face and rocky riverbed. At first I wasn’t having much luck, so I tried to find examples of how other illustrators had handled it over the years. When you’re looking for a specific thing it’s always difficult to find.

After a few false starts I ended up with a perfectly serviceable cliff face and dry riverbed.

Cliff face and river bed in progress for Trip Trap, a re-visioning of The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

But now, every time I see beautiful rocks in art, I wish I’d already collected some for quick reference.

Below are some illustrations of my favourite rocks, boulders, paving stones, cliff faces, stone walls and everything related.

  • Watercolour makes for an especially good medium for painting rocks.
  • We’re often told that water takes on the colour of the sky. Well, so do rocks.
  • Sometimes artists choose to give the impression of a rock-filled landscape by drawing just a few then leaving the viewer to guess the rest. In other illustrations, the rocks are highly decorative and almost a character in their own right.
  • Painting wet rocks isn’t all that different from painting metal.

Paving, Cobblestones, Stone Roads and Paths

Those paved paths above are impressive, but if those stones are wet, now you’ve got a picture where the stones are the star.

The Storytellers illustration by Ted Lewin
The Storytellers illustration by Ted Lewin
Edmund Dulac (French illustrator) 1882 - 1953 Portrait of a Woman Eleonora 1907
Edmund Dulac (French illustrator) 1882 – 1953 Portrait of a Woman Eleonora 1907
Sandra Dieckmann penguin rocks
Sandra Dieckmann
GUSTAF TENGGREN for Pinocchio
GUSTAF TENGGREN for Pinocchio
Shoda Kakyuyu Ryokuin 1930s
Eyvind Earle (1916-2000) American artist, author and illustrator, noted for his contribution to the background illustration and styling of Disney animated films in the 1950s
Eyvind Earle (1916-2000) American artist, author and illustrator, noted for his contribution to the background illustration and styling of Disney animated films in the 1950s
The sky was split by lightning as the fisherman called out from the Tenngren Tell It Again Book, Gustaf Tenngren
Stories by Firelight by Shirley Hughes
Bernadette Watts (English, b.1942) – The Enchanted Nightingale
William Keith (1838 - 1911) Yosemite, Sentinel Rock, 1872
William Keith (1838 – 1911) Yosemite, Sentinel Rock, 1872
From The Hobbit (1976) Mikhail Belomlinsky (b.1934). Unlike Peter Kľúčik‘s example of the bridge above, in which every stone is a feature, Belomlinsky gives us the suggestion of bricks by detailing some of the outlines and ostensibly leaving the others in shadow.
Frank Tenney Johnson, A Light In The Night, 1936 cowboy
Frank Tenney Johnson, A Light In The Night, 1936 cowboy
Anna Palm de Rosa (1859–1924) - Högklint Cliff
Anna Palm de Rosa (1859–1924) – Högklint Cliff

STONE WALLS IN THE MIDDLE DISTANCE

William Heath Robinson (English, 1872-1944) from Little Tom Thumb
William Heath Robinson (English, 1872-1944). “They reached the house where the light was burning.” An illustration from the story “Little Tom Thumb” from the book “Old-Time Stories by Charles Perrault” translated from the French by A. E. Johnson, with illustrations by W. Heath Robinson. Published by Dodd, Mead and Company, New York, 1921.
Anton Pieck (1895-1987) 1951 Illustration from ′Geertgen van Leyden to Sint Jans by Jan Verheyen castle
Anton Pieck (1895-1987) 1951 Illustration from ′Geertgen van Leyden to Sint Jans by Jan Verheyen
Cinderella and her Friends (A Little Golden Book) 1950
The ogre was frightful to behold by Gustaf Tenngren
The ogre was frightful to behold by Gustaf Tenngren
from Ty’s One Man Band
Sidney Paget – The Death of Sherlock Holmes (”Sherlock Holmes and  Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls”), an illustration to Arthur Conan  Doyle’s The Final Problem for the Strand Magazine. December 1893
Sidney Paget – The Death of Sherlock Holmes (”Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls”), an illustration to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Final Problem for the Strand Magazine. December 1893
Fritz Hegenbart (German painter and illustrator) 1884 - 1962, Quelle des Unheils (Source Of The Doom), c1902
Fritz Hegenbart (German painter and illustrator) 1884 – 1962, Quelle des Unheils (Source Of The Doom), c1902
The Story of Siegfried illustrated by Howard Pyle (American, 1853-1911)
The Story of Siegfried illustrated by Howard Pyle (American, 1853-1911)
N.C. Wyeth illustrations from The Anthology of Children's Literature, Kraken (1940). Golden Age Comic Book Stories
N.C. Wyeth illustrations from The Anthology of Children’s Literature, Kraken (1940). Golden Age Comic Book Stories. The greenish rocks are quite rounded and almost look like creatures themselves.
unused artwork for The For, illustration by Kenard Pak rocks
unused artwork for The For, illustration by Kenard Pak
Kodomo no kuni (“Children’s Land”), 1922–30 rocks
Kodomo no kuni (“Children’s Land”), 1922–30
Postcard by Tove Jansson (1914-2001)
Postcard by Tove Jansson (1914-2001)
Pan American – South Seas Travel Poster – art by Paul George Lawler – c 1938
The Christmas Legend Gustav Tenggren

I’m tempted to collect only those examples of beautifully coloured rock, where the environment affects the beautiful colour. But sometimes rock is just gray. In the artwork below, the viewers eye is drawn to the spot of warm colour, to the woman holding the lantern. The night-time rocks do not compete.

From Egypt and Its Monuments (1908) Jules Guerin (1866-1910)

In the illustration below, we know that the walls of the booth are made of metal and that the ground is made of tarmac. We know this from life experience, but Dohanos also renders the textures slightly differently. He’s used a grungy splat to decorate the surface of the road, but streaks of subtle reflected light for the metal.

By Stevan Dohanos (1907-1994)–‘Stop and Pay the Toll’ f. Saturday Evening Post cover April 7, 1956

The statue of the old man in the foreground left of the painting by Boris Godunov is a good reference for how to depict old stonework covered in moss.

Illustration for Boris Godunov (1913) by Leon Bakst (1866-1924)
Illustration for Boris Godunov (1913) by Leon Bakst (1866-1924)

WORKING WITH BLACK AND WHITE ONLY

What if you only have black and white to work with? Hatching is key. In the black and white illustration below, Charles Robinson emphasises the atmospheric perspective. The rocky arch of the foreground is black with white detail; the stonework further away is white with black detail. It’s not a great photo of the artwork, but useful as an example of how to depict a stony surface using only linework, no greyscale, no colour.

A Child's Garden Of Verses, the very first book illustrated by Charles Robinson, 1896 rocks
A Child’s Garden Of Verses, the very first book illustrated by Charles Robinson, 1896.
Fritz Hegenbart (German painter and illustrator) 1884 - 1962 Im Streben (In The Pursuite) c1902 etching
Fritz Hegenbart (German painter and illustrator) 1884 – 1962 Im Streben (In The Pursuite) c1902. This etching makes use of the same technique for aerial perspective, with what looks like white on black for the foreground rock, and black on white for the distant rock.

Below is another linework example. Each and every cobblestone of the road has been individually rendered, grounding the artwork for the viewer. The stone walls of the buildings are rendered in graduated flecks; white flecks on black where shadow dominates, and the reverse where there is light.

Dugald Stewart Walker illustrator, Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) writer, ‘Rainbow gold; poems old and new selected for boys and girls’ 1922-6.
Bernie Wrightson, pen and ink illustration, 1983 She died on the first approach of cold weather
Bernie Wrightson, pen and ink illustration, 1983 She died on the first approach of cold weather
Masury Versus Sky 1936 Arnold Wiltz
Masury Versus Sky 1936 Arnold Wiltz
Carlos Neve 'The Tortola of Ajusco' 1915
Carlos Neve ‘The Tortola of Ajusco’ 1915
Carlos Neve 'The Tortola of Ajusco' 1915
Carlos Neve ‘The Tortola of Ajusco’ 1915

HIGHLY STYLISED

Header illustration: William Heath Robinson (English, 1872-1944) Thumbelina

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.