Inspired by nature and animals and "driven by emotions and curiosity," Italian artist Roberto Rizzo, who is now based in southern Spain, paints extremely detailed animal portraits on an unusual canvas—rocks. Rizzo takes on the challenge of creating acrylic animal paintings that curve around the natural shapes of the rock, making each painting a one-of-a-kind piece of art. He also draws realistic pet portraits for pet parents from all around the world who want to honor their furry friends in a unique way.
Roberto Rizzo has been painting on rocks since 1996. From tiny rocks that can fit in the palm of your hand or close to life-size replicas of an animal—this artist is able to transform any lifeless rock or stone into an incredible hyperrealistic painting that could be easily mistaken for a photograph.
We can't imagine a better person to explain painting on rocks than Roberto Rizzo and Bored Panda had a chance to interview the artist about his inspirations and work process, so don't miss that below!
After classical studies and attending IED (European Institute of Design) in Milan and in the 90s, Roberto Rizzo worked as an illustrator for various publishing houses and painted mainly with watercolors. However, his career took an unexpected turn in 1996.
"I first met the magic of rock painting in 1996. Rock painting made me discover and explore the potential of acrylic. Currently, it’s my favorite medium, even when I work on canvas. Since 1996, part of my artistic activity is dedicated to rock painting art and in 2004, I published with Mondadori the book Sassi Dipinti, which achieved remarkable editorial success in Italy. That manual consisted of tutorials and step-by-step instructions on how to paint different pieces," Rizzo admits he has wonderful memories from that period that could only be made thanks to the help and advice of his mother, who unfortunately passed away in 2016.
Roberto Rizzo told us about his inspirations: "I've always loved the many shapes and objects Mother Nature gives us. A variety of life represents my main source of inspiration while I’m painting.
The animal kingdom has especially fascinated me since I was just a child. I firmly believe artists, in their expressive and emotional journey, are bound to get back to their childish feelings and passions, because art has to be first of all pleasure and amusement."
Out of the variety of canvases out there, Rizzo chose the challenging painting on rocks.
"Painting rocks gives me the chance to mix the old and the new (it’s no accident that this fascinating technique was born in very ancient times!). Nowadays I can dress stones with very versatile new paints which guarantee great resistance over the years. In the past few years, I created thousands of creatures of all shapes and sizes. All my artworks are unique, and the rocks I use are not processed at all. I always honored every hole or imperfection Nature has carried out over the decades; moreover, I try to exploit it through drawing with nuances and light and shade effects. In the last period, I have been trying to add small details to the rocks with synthetic pastes to explore new possibilities."
Rizzo invited us to the behind-the-scenes of his workshop so you have a better understanding of how rocks are brought to life.
"The choice of the shape of the rocks is fundamental. I spend a lot of time walking on the beaches and rivers to find inspiration and choose the right stones. Once back in my studio, I clean them and I start choosing a flat base color. Once dried, I start with an accurate drawing of the subject. This is a very important stage of the work. Once I am satisfied with the sketch, I start painting the big areas of the body with medium-sized brushes, slowly going into more and more detail with retouching brushes. To finish a medium-sized piece (5/6 inches) I usually need 2/3 days of work."
"The support is three-dimensional, therefore very different from paper or canvas. Only with experience is it possible to obtain satisfying results and obtain the dynamic illusion of volume. It is important to pay maximum attention to the pencil sketch, placing the eyes in the right way and respecting the proportions of the animal. Then working on the color contrasts and finer details guarantees a good result."
We asked the artist about the challenges he faces when painting on rocks and what brings him the most joy.
"Some of my artworks are absolutely unrepeatable. Unique pieces I will never be able to paint a second time. I dedicate all my attention and skill to them. These unique pieces are like sons, little pieces of my soul. My greatest satisfaction is knowing that they will continue to spread their energy in the homes of collectors and art lovers."
When asked what is Rizzo's favorite artwork to date, he said: "In recent years I have painted on stone really everything: cribs, celebrities, landscapes, flower arrangements, glimpses of small towns, iceberg with penguins, portraits of people, and much, much more. Animals are by far my favorite subjects, because painting them literally helps me bring inanimate mineral matter to life."
Lastly, Rizzo gave a bit of valuable advice for any upcoming artist based on his personal experiences:
"Always use your imagination and work hard every day, because art needs to be trained. A professional doesn't have to wait for inspiration; these are legends that have nothing to do with the daily life of a creative. Take a cue from the artists you love, but don't make the mistake of integrally copying works from others, especially without citing the source or using other people's ideas as yours. It is an incredible lack of respect towards those who created something good. Often behind a painting, there are days and nights of studies and attempts. I know what I'm talking about because I'm one of the most copied on the web ever since I started painting rocks."
The artist told us he plans to dedicate more time to his Youtube channel where he shares video painting tutorials, so subscribe to be the first to see them!