Create your own cave-art murals

Perhaps you have a 'macho' little boy who likes all things primitive, and collects pterodactyls and dinosaurs. Or perhaps you just have a 'difficult' room that you don't know what to do with - it's square, it's small, it's boring. Why not create something truly unique - a wall covered in petroglyphs, also know as 'cave paintings'. These stylized animal shapes and hunt scenes can appeal to the inner caveman in us all.

Petroglyphs are fairly easy to approximate, but you may want to practice a bit first. If you have an airbrush, this would be the ideal tool; otherwise, spraypaint held at different distances can achieve a similar effect. Stencil paint and stencil 'stippling' brushes may work for you as well. For a truly authentic look, use Conte crayon; these colored chalks, usually found in black, white, and various shades of red and brown, approximate the materials the prehistoric painters used, in a much handier form. If you use Conte crayon, you will have to protect the painting with a coat of clear fixative to keep it from smudging.

First go to your library and check out some books on cave art. Lascaux, Altamira and Chauvet Pont d'Arc are all famous sites of prehistoric art; get a book with large color plates to work from. Sketch a few of the animals freehand in charcoal on newsprint to get the feel for the shapes, and relative sizes. Looking at the cave paintings in photographs will calm your fears; the cave painters themselves had a number of false-starts, many of which remain for you to learn from.

After you've made some sketches and selected which animals or scenes you want to duplicate, plan your wall; the caves had animals at a variety of heights, with no sense of perspective - that is, those further up were not necessarily smaller to indicate distance. Plan around the room's furnishings; if a bunkbed is going to be up against one wall, don't plan to put your most impressive bison there.

On the walls you are going to be painting, try a few figures - don't worry about mistakes at this point, since you're going to be painting over this wall later. If you are undecided on which method to use, now is the time to experiment with a variety of tools to see which works the best for you. A can of spraypaint can achieve a variety of solid and stippled effects depending on how closely you hold it to the surface, but beware of drips. Have a cloth handy to 'erase' any errors.

Now prepare the walls you will be decorating. Select a stone-shade, slate or sand or something similar. Texture the walls with special texturing compounds such as are used on ceilings, then paint the selected shade. You may wish to only treat one or two walls - four walls in slate can make for a very dim room. (Of course, if this is to be the bedroom of a small boy of the messy kind - and what other kind is there? - that's not necessarily a bad thing.)

Once the 'rock' colored coat has dried, create your art, using the method (airbrush, stencil-brush) you selected during your experimentation phase. If you have a special 'totem' animal, make sure to include him somewhere. Use blacks, reddish-browns, even white. Depending on your confidence in your painting skills, you may even wish to include a faux 'cave entrance' in one wall, with sun-lit valley beyond. Before you call it 'done', gather all the members of the family and have them lay their hands on a bare patch of wall to be outlined in red, as was found at Chauvet Pont-d'Arc and Cosquer Caves. The ancient artists were thought to spray the paint over their (or another's?) hand to create the outlines; if you do likewise, make sure you've got plenty of rags on hand so you don't have paint drips on the carpet before your models can get to the soap and water.


  • If rock-colored walls just seem to grim to you, use a pale yellow; glyphs in white, reds, blacks and a few dashes of a deep blue would be very cheering.
  • For a bath or kitchen, cover the walls with rough ceramic tiles, then create your art on the tiles. Crossing tile borders can be challenging but not impossible.
  • Don't neglect the experimentation phase, and don't try to make something that looks too much like the actual animal it represents, and you can't go wrong.

author: Jane Harmon

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