It started with a rock.
We were on vacation down in Florida, visiting my father-in-law, when we stumbled across a rock hidden in a planter near the boardwalk. It was round and painted to look like a watermelon. A couple of paces farther, I saw another rock: oblong and painted to look like a chili pepper. A woman and her children were walking several yards ahead of us carrying a bucket full of rocks and stopping every so often to carefully place them along their path.
Perplexed, I turned the rock over carefully in my hands, examining it, and found a tiny Facebook address written on the back. After doing some quick “research” on my phone, I discovered that this rock was part of a widespread social movement that I was entirely unaware of.
The concept is simple: when you find a rock, you pay the kindness forward by hiding it again in a different location. Or, if you choose to keep the rock, you are encouraged to paint a new rock and hide it instead. Many people choose to “tag” their rocks with a Facebook group or web address in the hopes that they might even be able to follow their rock’s journey online. People often post photos of rocks that they find or rocks that they’re about to hide, leaving clues for anyone who wishes to embark on a scavenger hunt.
I was surprised to discover that this is not just a movement localized in the Cocoa Beach area which we were visiting; people are also hiding rocks in Knoxville (and all over the country). Some of the painted rocks we’ve since found have clearly been decorated by children, while others are truly astonishing works of art hidden in bushes and window frames and the least-expected places.
There was no way that my toddler son was going to agree to relinquish his new watermelon rock, so as soon as we returned home from vacation, we set out to paint and hide some rocks of our own.
Here are a few tips if you’d like to join in on the fun:
1. Find the Right Rocks
It seems like rocks are everywhere until you start searching for stones that are just the right shape and size. We wanted to use large, palm-sized rocks with a smooth surface that would be good for painting, but we also didn’t want to mess with the ecosystem by stealing a bunch of rocks from a local river or state park. There are many landscaping companies out there that will sell good quality rocks for a reasonable price. We live on the north side of town, so we visited L & M Landscaping Materials and Gift Shop on Washington Pike. They sold us a large gallon bucket (of more rocks than we’ll ever be able to paint) for just $1.
2. Use the Right Paint
Acrylic paint works well for painting rocks. We found a set of tiny tubes of various colors at Walmart for just a few dollars. I’ve also seen some beautiful designs online created with puff paint and gel pens or Sharpies. I recommend splurging for a can of spray shellac to use as a top coat to protect your rocks from the elements once they’re hidden.
3. Make it a Play Date
We invited some friends to paint with us. It was double (or maybe even triple) the mess, but so much more fun together! There are even several locations around town that periodically host rock painting parties (advertised on Facebook) if you’re interested in meeting new people while you paint.
4. Pick a Busy Location
It’s a good idea to hide your rocks in a place that gets a lot of foot traffic, not too far off of the beaten path. We hid ours in Market Square and the playground at World’s Fair Park, and we were able to walk past our hiding spots later on and see that our rocks had been taken! We also found a brand new rock outside of the Union Avenue Bookstore, which was great for my son who was feeling a little bit sad about leaving “his” rocks behind. Just remember to avoid hiding your rocks inside of a business or on anyone’s private property.
5. Tag It
Tag your rock with a Facebook address if you’re interested in finding it later. It can also be useful to tag your rock in case a new person stumbles across it and wonders what it is, like I did on my vacation down in Florida. There are several different Facebook groups devoted to painted rocks, including Knox “Rocks!,” FtnCityKnoxRocks, and even Rock Painting Fails if you’re looking for a laugh.