I am being asked “How do you do that?” quite a bit lately.  People are probably referring to the tiny details, but after hearing the question for the dozenth time I decided to make this explanatory post.

First off, the tools.  I think most how to art books start off that way. Pretty simple really, besides the paint, I use a magnifier headpiece, a sharp exacto knife and a liner brush.

Magnifier, Exacto Knife and Liner Brush


I will share two progression examples, a painted cabochon and a gemstone specimen painting.

A good friend had an idea and asked me to paint a jewelry stone with something from his daughters’ favorite anime show, “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure”.  I was unfamiliar with the show so we looked together at internet pictures and he showed me the character she liked.  I selected a relatively uninteresting cabochon that I had previously cut and polished.  Painting a cabochon is a good way to “re-purpose” a stone that previously did not draw much interest.

Jo Jo Cab (in progress 1)

After the stone and reference picture are selected, I put a layer of white paint in the general shape of the painting.  I use the knife here quite a bit to refine the shape.  The purpose of this is to provide a blank canvas that is easy to paint upon.  Some stones are porous and absorptive and often requires a few layers of white.  Learned via earlier frustration trying to paint direct.


JoJo Cab (In progress 2)

For the next step I put in guidelines for painting.  This doesn’t have to be exact as all of the lines will get redone in the final stage.  This just provides reference before putting on the first layer of color.


JoJo Bizarre Adventure Cabochon in progress 3

JoJo Cab (in progress 3)

This phase is the “underpainting” phase.  Putting in the general color layer that I then paint upon.  Note on “size”.  the painting is a little bit bigger then a US Quarter coin.


JoJo Bizarre Adventure painted cabochon

JoJo Cab (Final)

This is the completed piece.  Afterwards I glued a bail onto the back of the stone for a chain.  Between the “in progress 3” pic and the final piece was quite a bit of work.  Basic painting.  Layer in the shading, highlights and redo the line details.  I’m actually finding it interesting to look back and forth between the two.  Reminds me of those old “find the differences” drawings in the newspapers.


The next example is a painting on a stone slab. I found this to be a beautiful piece of dendrite jasper.  Wonderful color and pattern.  It is a relatively small specimen, 3 1/2″ across by 2 1/2″ in height.  My first process step is to decide if the stone should be cut as  jewelry or be used as a “stone canvas”.  This piece would have made 2 nice gemstones, but I have found that women are generally not attracted to gemstones that are in the brown to red color range.  For that reason plus it is a brittle piece that could crack on cutting and I found the patterns were very interesting, I decided use it for a painting.

Washing Her Hair (stone only)

After selection, the next step is to polish the piece.  I honestly do not own the proper equipment for polishing  slabs, so I do the best that I can with what I have (Diamond Pacific Genie).  It’s the nature of polishing a piece that you have to look at it for a long time.  I try to let my imagination run during this time and visualize how I will “complete” the picture.  This can actually be the most time consuming piece as sometimes the ideas just do not come.  For this piece I began to see a little “pond” (the lighter color that goes across the bottom), a horizon line with trees in the distance, and a tree with a branch going upward from the middle.  I had been recently watching my wife as she brushes out her wet hair while kneeling down in the the bathtub and thought that imagery might work with the stone.  The “bathing woman” has been quite the classical painting subject over the years, so why not, even if it’s slightly risqué.

I decided to go with a Japanese style and located a reference picture in one of my libraries art books.  As with the Jojo cabochon, the first step is to create a white surface on which to paint.  The knife was used to scrape paint away, refining the form.  (one note,  if a stone is very porous or has pitting in it that you get paint in, it is hard to scrape away)


Washing Her Hair (in progress 3)

In this picture I have put in the basic black lines of the figure detail and the first underpainting skin mid-tone.


Washing Her Hair (complete)

This is the final painting.  I am basically using the same painting process that I have used for decades on larger canvases. Drawing – Underpainting – Darks/Shading – Highlights – Final Details.  It is a real challenge to do the tiny detail of the face and fingers.  I find the best way to achieve tiny lines is to thin the paint to an ink like consistency, load the brush, wipe the brush off, bringing the brush hairs to a fine point, pick up a little bit more paint, hold my breath and go.  Finally, one more picture with a coin as a size reference.