Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Making Art Rocks With The Kids

We first started making these art rocks a year ago, and I don't know why I didn't write about them at the time--they're easy and fun, they look great, and they encourage kids to get out and about in their community.

Some people call them kindness rocks or friendship rocks, but if you do that you have to write supportive and encouraging statements on them, and we just like to make art, so we call them art rocks.

I'd known these were a thing for a while, and had it in my head that we'd try them out sometime, but last March, while doing all the Junior Ranger badges in all the national parks between here and Georgia, the kids managed to find TWO of these rocks, their very first introduction to them, and they were thrilled!

Side note: don't put these in national parks, Friends! The national parks don't like that, it violates Leave No Trace, and it's basically litter. Bear with me, and I'll tell you later some good places to leave these.

Finding the rocks was also awesome, because when the kids were intrigued by them and wanted to know more, and then wanted to make some for themselves, it was *their* idea, not just another weirdo scheme their mother was trying to foist on them for a change, mwa-ha-ha!

The kids actually chose to teach their Girl Scout troop how to make these, and then to make and distribute them as part of their Girl Scout Cadette Breathe Journey, so it was even multi-tasking and productive. Kids after my own heart, don't you know!

To start this project, I bought a large back of river rocks from my local garden supply store. They were something like these rocks. I researched the provenance of river rocks, because you never want to buy something natural and contribute to the devastation of its environment, and it seems like they're pretty much quarried. I'd love to know more about specific commercial sites that gather these rocks, as right now I can't decide if taking them from an already active quarry is better or worse than gathering them in nature from an approved spot, so let me know if you've got an opinion. Anyway, where I live people devastate creeks of their geodes and crinoids but we don't have river rocks, so it's store-bought for us, regardless.

If you want to do your art rocks really right, then your next step is to wash them with dish soap, giving each one a little scrub, and let them dry. This removes all of the surface dirt and oils that can cause paint to stick poorly. Seriously, if you super don't want your rocks to look shitty, then you've got to have a moment in which you literally find yourself standing in front of your kitchen sink, lovingly washing rocks. Breathe through it, and it will soon be over.

The kids and I left some of our rocks natural, and gave others a base coat from regular indoor/outdoor Krylon spray paint. We might be an unusual family in that one of my perennial art supplies that I always have on hand is about ten colors of spray paint, the full rainbow plus black and white and brown or grey. I'm not real fussy about property values, you might say, but the kids mostly don't spray paint things they shouldn't, and it's ever surprising how useful spray paint is! For instance, after I finish this post today, I'm going to walk the dog, eat breakfast, and then go spray paint a rainbow onto a giant pegboard for the playroom.

See? Spray paint!

To do the actual painting of the rocks, here's what you need:

Artist's acrylic is way better than craft acrylic for detail work like this, and the paint pens are the best of all. You won't regret having them, and you're probably going to think of a million more things to do with them afterwards.

I set our work surface up like this the first time--

--and it worked well enough that I've done something similar ever since. Our entire Girl Scout troop painted at our indoor school table covered with newspaper, and Syd and I have sometimes used our outdoor picnic table, the beauty of that being that there's no newspaper necessary!

Like I said... property values. I don't care about them.

This method of making a background for your rocks takes more time, but the results are super pretty:

It's just an ombre effect that's easy to do with two colors of acrylic paint, but look how pretty it looks when you add the foreground embellishments!

I'm also personally fond of making mandalas:

Mandalas are VERY accessible to people who don't consider themselves artistic...

I haven't been good at all about photographing the rocks that the kids have made over the past year, but here's a photo I took of one batch as it was drying out on the back deck one nice day:

It's optional, but I think the rocks do best if you seal them with a regular spray paint sealant afterwards; there's nothing that I hate more than a low-quality piece of art that starts falling apart the minute you're done with it.

So, where to hide these...

The kids were very thoughtful about this, since this was part of their Girl Scout Cadette Breathe Journey, and they needed to come up with ways to make the project sustainable without violating Leave No Trace or site rules. Here are some fair, sustainable, harmless places to share art rocks:
  • built environments, such as picnic benches and playgrounds
  • NOT state parks or national parks
  • inside Little Free Libraries
  • in or on planters downtown
  • hidden near outdoor sculptures
  • on a friend's porch
  • in a community garden
Basically, the idea is to avoid areas that should be kept natural, and objects that should be kept safe, such as art and artifacts. Built environments that are meant to be used are fair game, and if the built environment is a public access site, such that a painted rock can be a little reward for its use and encouragement to stay outside and active, so much the better for the Breathe Journey!

At least, that was the kids' reason for painting rocks for their Take action Project for the Journey. Mostly, they just wanted to paint rocks, and finishing the Journey was their handy excuse!

Since then, I've OF COURSE found ways to incorporate painting rocks into our homeschool curricula. Here's a photograph of Syd's name, written in futhorc runes, when we were studying Anglo-Saxon Europe:

It works for any subject. Science? Kids can make a whole periodic table of rock elements, or a Solar System of rock planets! Foreign language? They can illustrate their vocabulary list! History? Paint castles, or make a rock timeline. Geography? Flags of the world. State outlines, with the capitals marked. 

Or, you know, just paint them. For fun.

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