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Portland pursuits: Hiding painted rocks ‘adds beauty, kindness, and joy’

Rock painting is a budget-friendly activity, fun for all ages, and encourages community.

An open hand holds three painted rocks with the words "Love Hard."

Some of Benson’s favorite rocks were ones she painted during the pandemic with the logos of local bars and restaurants, then gifted to them when they reopened.

Photo by @kb_rocks_pdx

In the spirit of enriching Portland’s vast and vibrant tapestry of talent, we’re starting a new series to shine a light on hobbies pursued by locals like you. You’ll hear from folks who are passionate about what they do outside of work and maybe — just maybe — you’ll be inspired to try something new.

Before you sigh and think there’s no way you’ll ever find time for one more interest… just wait. Our first hobby spotlight is one that requires almost no investment. And unless you’ve been living under a you-know-what, you likely already know about it. Who wants to paint some rocks?

Kacy Benson does.

A hobby with sedimental value

Benson is a long-time member of local Facebook rock painting groups like NW Rocks and Portland Rocks, but her enthusiasm for the activity extends beyond the PNW. A childhood spent decorating rocks for her aunt’s garden evolved around 2017 when she started painting and hiding rocks in public places with her mom in Florida.

“After that I was hooked and started painting my own in Portland,” Benson said. She has since spread her tiny works of art in states like New York and Alaska.

A collection of rocks painted in shades of pink and blue on a table.

“Whether it be in a tree in a city park, on a bench in Mount Tabor Park, or on a gas pump, hiding rocks somewhere that people will be able to find it without too much difficulty is what I do,” Benson said.

Photo by @kb_rocks_pdx

There’s more to rock painting than creating a handheld masterpiece. Stumbling across a painted rock in the wild means someone took the time to paint it and leave it there to bring joy to a stranger’s day, often without ever knowing the outcome.

And for inanimate objects, rocks can travel surprising distances. Benson’s most memorable rock was one she’d painted at Timothy Lake, then hidden in Seaside. It was found and relocated multiple times, with online posts documenting its journey all the way to Southern California.

“This activity is important to the community because it adds beauty, kindness, and joy in places that can otherwise be mundane,” said Benson. “Think of how boring it is to go to the bank or the post office, then finding a beautiful painted rock! It always improves my mood whenever I find one. I just found one at the airport the other day, which helped my flight delay not be so bad!”

Getting started

Painting supplies and painted rocks on a table covered with newspaper.

Don’t be afraid to get creative. Benson likes to try different styles like splatter painting with a toothbrush.

Photo by @kb_rocks_pdx

Benson recommends using basic paintbrushes, acrylic paint, and Krylon glossy seal. She prefers to hide rocks in the city “where a pop of color is welcome and easy to spot.” It’s also worth noting that Benson avoids hiding painted rocks in nature to adhere to leave-no-trace methods, sticking to urban areas or artificial structures at trailheads.

“And always check with businesses before hiding rocks there!” she added.

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