Give it a go: Pebble painting

Brighten up your days this winter with a spot of pebble painting. Artist Nabeela Firdous shares her advice for creating unique and colourful pebbles. 
Nabeela Firdous's pebbles in a bowl made by Kathryn Borg of Highley Crafted

Photo: Nabeela Firdous

Nabeela Firdous's pebbles in a bowl made by Kathryn Borg of Highley Crafted

‘I started with henna art then began looking for different things to work on. When I came across pebbles I just loved them and couldn’t stop!’ Nabeela explains. ‘I’ve tried drawing on pebbles with ink, painting them with pens, and I’ve settled with acrylic in a henna style. I’m mostly influenced by nature, and I work in traditional henna patterns and contemporary designs.

‘I'm a henna tattooist and artist. I like the fact that the pebbles are intricate but small, so you can do a few when you have a creative burst. I find it very therapeutic, like colouring.’ 
In the summertime, Nabeela exhibits her art at festivals and events, and she learns what people are attracted to: ‘It varies every year, but there’ll usually be a massive craze over something – at the moment people are really into bees and giraffes!’ 

In the winter, Nabeela runs pebble painting workshops for children and older people in her local area of Burton-on-Trent. She says: ‘My first workshop was for a weekly craft group. They found it a bit fiddly at first, but I explained the technique, helped them through it and they really enjoyed it. It’s a bit like icing a cake – only you’re icing a stone with paint and the acrylic glides on more smoothly!’

So what are Nabeela’s top tips for beautiful henna-style painted pebbles?

Artist Nabeela Firdous

Photo: Soniya Rehman

Artist Nabeela Firdous

1. Choose your pebbles wisely 

I usually get my pebbles from Wales – I absolutely love Welsh pebbles because you can get a beautiful shape and the perfect smooth texture. There are pebbles on beaches all around, but I’ve not found any as good as in Wales. You can buy them online, so there’s no need to get them from the beach. 

2. Use good quality acrylics 

For colours that pop, make sure you’re using really good quality acrylics. Cheaper ones can be too thin to really do the job. 

3. Prepare your surface

Painted pebbles look much better when they’re well primed – this makes for a nice smooth surface and really strong colours. Take a sponge and some good quality white acrylic and dab it lightly to cover the pebble, leaving it to dry and then repeating to build two or three layers. If I’m decorating with ink, I’ll do three layers. And I work with a batch, so that I have several ready to decorate together. 

4. Use the right tools

The main thing is getting a good quality cone – cake icing tips won’t do the job here! Pre-rolled cellophane henna cones help you create fine detail and can be bought online, which is easier than perfecting the art of rolling a perfect cone. 

While filling your cone, roll it around a little to remove any air bubbles before sealing it up. Air bubbles will splat all over your work! 

5. Practise first 

Practise on card or paper first to get good control of the cone. You don’t have to work quickly – once you’ve got control, you can take your time to decorate the pebble. 

6. Seal well 

The pebbles take 1 or 2 hours to dry, depending on how wet the acrylic is. Once fully dry, cover with a clear acrylic spray seal to help them last.

Painted pebble memorial

Rye Harbour Lifeboat Station in East Sussex is abuzz with creativity. The local community’s immersed in a colourful project to remember the 17 volunteers of the Mary Stanford lifeboat, who drowned in November 1928.

Rye Harbour's painted pebble memorial

Photo: RNLI/KT Bruce

Rye Harbour's painted pebble memorial

The 950 painted pebbles will be cemented into a pavement as a permanent memorial of the lifeboating tragedy that claimed practically the whole fishing population and forever changed the lives of all in the town. 

Decorated in everything from colourful patterns and marine designs to RNLI flags and safety messages, crew pebbles will nestle among supporter pebbles, with crew numbers painted on the back.

Your own designs

We’d love to see what you come up with – send your painted pebble photos to us at lifeboat@rnli.org.uk.

You can help save lives at sea with a donation today. From kit to crew training to kids’ education, you’ll be making a real difference to our volunteers – and the people they save.

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