Between a rock and a hard place: how I found solace in painting

Courtesy of Amaavi Miriyagalla

I step out the back door of my house wearing flip-flops and a tank top and clutching a tiny beach bag with a shovel inside. I tip-toe outside, headed for my first adventure of the day— one hardly beyond my own backyard, but an adventure nonetheless, complete with a quest for (partially) buried treasure. Oh, how I wish I was sneaking out in the same attire to spend senior skip day at the beach with my friends. Instead, solitude in the woods of Cortlandt Manor, New York will have to do. I am immediately surrounded by pine, oak and maple trees, and I look out for any wildlife hiding behind them. Every once in a while, bunnies and gophers scamper across to find a new home for the evening. Then, I walk down a hill to begin digging for what will come to be treasures during quarantine—rocks. 

Not just any rocks, of course. I need a collection of smooth, medium-sized beauties that will graciously accept the bristles of a paintbrush. This was going to be a lot of work, and my mediocre paleontology skills were just not cutting it.

Enter the one and only. Hero of all heroes. Boss of all bosses. My little sister. You know what they say: “Siblings, the only enemy you can’t live without.” This was certainly a moment for me to take advantage of that! Together, we dig up ten perfectly smooth rocks, prime for painting. Once inside, we dust them off and get to work.

I begin by clearing the area on my dining room table and setting down a few scrap pieces of paper to paint on top of. I also set my laptop and earbuds up with one of my favorite podcasts, Unlocking Us or SuperSoul Conversations (highly recommend both!). Once I select the rock I’m painting, I wipe it down again, especially if it is a little wet or muddy. Then, I begin my favorite part—mixing colors to get a shade that I want to add to the collection. I take a thicker brush and coat the rock once or twice with the color; some of the paints have a really lush tone, but others—like orange and red— just don’t ever seem to cooperate. To make it work, I mix white or another color that does cooperate to get a nice, clear tone. 

Then, I wash my brush and allow that coat of paint to thoroughly dry, while searching the internet for “2-3 word inspirational phrases” to later adorn the rocks with. After I’ve found the perfect one, either my rock is dry and I begin, or I just begin anyway because I’m impatient. I pick a few more, matching colors to paint the flowers around the outer edge and leave enough space in the middle for the quote. I usually wait about an hour after doing the flowers to add the quote so that when I lean my hand down to write— I usually use a sharpie for the lettering— nothing smudges. And with that final touch, my rock is complete! Or so I thought. 

Earlier that week, I’d submitted a picture of some of my collection as one of my projects for my high school art class, and my art teacher gave me an idea that would allow me to share my joy with others. She suggested that I order some sealant so I could put the rocks back outside— only this time, with protection from the weather. I searched for good sealants for rocks and headed to Michael’s storefront pickup to get two bottles. 

With those, I was able to finalize my rock collections and place them outside. The first was composed of “inspirational” rocks—after hearing that so many of my senior events would be canceled, I needed some cheering up. These were the ones with the little quotes. After two coats of sealant and a few days of drying, I placed them right along the curb in front of my house. Days later, my family and I saw some little kids walking around the neighborhood to get some exercise and stopping to take a look at the rocks. Some of the kids would read the messages written on the rocks—things like “stay strong,” “spread love” and “be kind”—and pick them up. It was so cute to see one of the kindergarteners who lives three houses down from me coming back every day to see if I had added a new rock to the collection. He called out to his grandfather with delight every time he spotted one. The last few months at home have made me feel more connected to my neighbors than I have ever felt, and these kinds of moments really were the essence of it all.

For my next collection, I sought to extend that feeling of connection beyond my block. I decided that I would give them out as senior gifts to my friends! They each had their own unique personalities, and I thought choosing little symbols for each of them would make it extra-special. Sophie is one of my most musical friends, and she loves playing her cello, so I knew the treble clef would be perfect. The Madisons both love swimming, so I knew the turtle and dolphin were ideal. Not all of them were that specific, though. Why a butterfly just fits Rachel and a hummingbird fits Shannon, I really couldn’t tell you, but I just knew it was right. I mapped out a route and drove around town, dropping my rocks off by mailboxes and sending little texts to notify my friends. It was so nice (and hilarious) to see that, minutes later, they were responding with little pictures of them holding their rocks and grinning. 

This time allowed me to stay connected with my creative side and find a balance between schoolwork and fun when I wasn’t able to leave my house. Even though I missed my art class and connecting to the other art-lovers in the school, I found a way to continue creating and connecting. Looking back on the past three months, the time I spent making different color combinations and painting kept me continually motivated. I was able to balance my time between going out for a run, completing my schoolwork, and relaxing through artwork. 

Rock painting began as a way for me to spend some time alone, but it’s developed into a way for me to connect with my neighbors and friends whom I missed seeing every day. Art has given so much to me throughout my life, from serving as a fun, creative outlet in my elementary and middle school and giving me the chance to learn drawing, painting, and ceramics in high school. However, art has never been as important as it has been for the last few months, and for that, I am grateful.

So the next time you are between a rock and a hard place—choose the rock. You can paint it and brighten someone’s day!

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