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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Family Fun: Rocking joy into the world with vibrantly painted rocks


For many, it starts with the discovery of a painted rock.

Alla Cornwell, who lives in the Shadle neighborhood, found her first rock on a gas pump while filling her car more than a year ago.

“I thought, ‘This is so cool,’ ” she said. “From there, it just sucked me in.” She now paints rocks with her daughter, grandchildren and friends.

Susan and George Stratman, who live in Spokane Valley, found their first rock in the spring when the pandemic forced their regular gym workouts outside.

“We were hiking and found a rock. It was so cool, we were afraid to take it,” Susan Stratman said.

They picked up the rock, which had a painting of a woman’s face on it, and on the back there was a Facebook page. So, they left the rock and looked up the page when they got home and found out that they were allowed to bring the rock home.

The next day, they went back, “and it was still there, fortunately,” Susan Stratman said.

They still have the rock at home. And since then, they’ve painted and hidden several hundred, said George Stratman.

Kayla Bren was introduced to rock painting at meetings for her twin sons’ Head Start program where one of the women would hand out rocks. At first, Bren thought it was sort of silly, but everyone got so excited about the rocks, she said.

Now, three generations of her family are painting, including her mother and her twins, who just turned 7. “Rocking is something that we love to do,” she said.

You don’t need to be an artist, Bren said. “There are no expectations … and you know you’re making someone’s day if they find a rock somewhere.”

There are no rules when it comes to rock painting, but here are some tips:

Prep your rock. Once you’ve picked a rock to paint, you’ll need to wash it. Then, some use a sealer or a base coat of paint or primer before creating their art, though that’s not required.

Gather your supplies. There are tons of techniques and types of paints that can be used for decorating rocks. Acrylic paints and decent (but not too expensive) brushes are a good place to start. Many use paint pens, especially for the fine details. Bren said her boys love to use nail polish or puffy paint.

Let the rock speak to you – or not. Rocks are a small canvas, and anything goes. Popular designs include inspirational quotes, seasonal images, emoji faces or mandalas. Some artists do elaborate landscapes or faces. And some artists play off the shape of a rock, for instance turning a triangular-shaped rock into a slice of pizza, pie or cake.

“The rock tells you what it wants to be sometimes,” Candace Snider said. “Then you just go with it.”

Find inspiration online. Hundreds of Facebook groups across the country cater to people who paint, hide and find rocks, including several in the Inland Northwest. In those groups, members will offer tips, as well as letting each other know where they’ve hidden more rocks. Pinterest and rock painting websites also have more tips and ideas.

Seal the results. Once your painting is finished, use a spray sealer or resin to protect it from the elements, especially if you’re planning to leave it outside.

Spread joy. Popular places to leave rocks include parks and parking lots, including at grocery stores and medical offices. But be respectful of private property and rules on public lands.

Bryant Robinson, park ranger for Spokane County Parks, says he hasn’t seen a big problem with it in the county’s natural areas like Dishman Hills. But, leaving painted rocks “strays significantly from the ‘leave no trace’ mantra and practices that we encourage all our user groups to adhere to,” he said.

Another place to leave rocks is in rock gardens. Snider hosts one outside her business, Sweet Inks and Cool Peeps tattoo shop at 120 E. Mission Ave. People can bring, trade and take rocks there and at other gardens throughout the city, she said.

Some of the posts on the Facebook pages offer poignant stories of people finding a rock when they needed a lift. One recent post was a “thank you” from a man who found a rock while his wife was battling cancer.

“It brought an instant smile to my face,” he wrote. He brought it home to his wife, who kept it with her until she died. Now, he said, “it’s released into the wilds again to bring a smile when someone needs it again.”

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