14 May 2019
Photograph: Taylor McDaniel
Painted rocks hidden around Scotland are bringing communities together
Sitting on the cold metal bench at Queen Street low level, something caught my eye. On the seat next to me was a rock. Small, smooth, and beautifully painted. On this rock someone had painted an elephant standing on some grass. I was the only person on the bench and I looked around, thinking maybe somebody had left their pretty rock by accident. Nobody else seemed to have noticed it. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. It was a tiny work of art and I felt like it needed a home, but I felt weird about taking it. After some deliberation, I decided to pick it up, and found that there was a message written on the back. “Hide or keep. Fb ‘love on the rocks Scotland’ L.F.M.”
Photograph: Taylor McDaniel
I was intrigued, and took the rock with me on the train that pulled into the station a moment later. Once we were out of the underground tunnel, I searched Facebook for Love on the rocks Scotland, and found a whole group dedicated to painting, hiding and finding rocks. Scrolling through the page’s posts, I also found the rock. My little elephant rock had been hidden just a few days before at Coatdyke station. It had ridden the rails to find its way to Queen Street, and now I was taking it further west to Hyndland. As I made my way home, I decided that, for now, I would choose “keep” and investigate this stony trend further. In the process, I learned a lot about this unique hobby and the thriving communities that come together around beautifully painted “love rocks” worldwide.
Screenshot from Facebook announcing the elephant rock’s first hiding spot.
I soon found out that these rocks have different names. Some call them love rocks, some call them kindness rocks but it seems that no matter what they’re called, everyone who finds one falls in love with the concept. The trend has even garnered attention from some major publications including the Telegraph and the Guardian.
The Love on the rocks Scotland Facebook group was founded by Andrew McVie. Finding a rock in Glasgow started him down the love rocks path and he has now been painting and hiding rocks for two years.
He noticed that Facebook didn’t have a dedicated love rocks page for Scotland, and decided to create one himself. He said: “I saw a Facebook group for UK and they mainly posted about England so I made a Scotland page.”
He hoped that the group would help grow the hobby. “I started the Facebook group to help grow this fab hobby in Scotland. It’s a great way to get kids and adults exploring new areas looking or hiding rocks.”
Started in October of 2017, Love on the rocks Scotland now has close to 2,000 members, and it’s common to see posts come through every few hours. These include people showcasing their painting skills, announcing that they have hidden a rock somewhere and jubilant posts announcing found rocks.
Photograph: Taylor McDaniel
I decided to try my hand at identifying the artist behind the rock I had found. Within five minutes of posting a photo of the elephant rock in the Facebook group, I received a comment: “The wee elephant one is mine!”
My rock artist was Lorna Murray from Airdrie, and she told me all about how she got started creating these little pieces of art. After seeing some more of her posts on Facebook, I expected to learn that Murray had been painting rocks for years, but she told me she painted her first kindness rock in January or February of 2019. She said: “I got started when a girl at work told me about it. I hadn’t heard about it as a ‘kindness rock’ I had drawn on rocks before, but just for fun.”
She is active in multiple stone groups online, including Love on the rocks Scotland and NL hiding rocks, a group based in North Lanarkshire. She said that she now carries around painted stones in her pockets on the off chance that she finds a good hiding spot while she’s out and about. She said that the hobby is relaxing and rewarding. “It’s a great feeling when someone posts your stone and lets you know that it’s been found and that it has brought a smile to their day. That makes me smile.”
Photograph: Taylor McDaniel
Another local group, Orlas Rocks, was started a few months ago in March and now has over 600 members. Erin McGill and her seven-year-old daughter, Orla, started painting rocks together and fell in love with the hobby. She said: “We went out, found rocks, got acrylic paint pens and got started. It’s so addictive!”
McGill finds ideas for her and Orla’s designs by looking online, looking at the latest trends or even letting the shape of a particular stone inspire a design.
Murray’s designs also have a variety of inspirations. She said: “The designs come from different places. Songs I like, favourite quotes or animals. Sometimes things catch my eye in a magazine. I try and mix them so that some are more suitable for adults and some, boats, trains, dinosaurs, [are] for children.”
The Glasgow Sloth’s contributions to the love rocks craze. Photograph: Taylor McDaniel
McGill started the Orlas Rocks facebook group to see how many people Orla’s rocks were reaching. From there, it grew quickly. They now have group members and friends taking rocks with them on holiday and hiding them around the world.
“My friend took rocks to Australia and we were [featured] in a local newspaper there. It was amazing.” She continued, “We have some going to Spain, Florida and Singapore this week.”
McGill pointed out that there are benefits beyond the artistic. “People give me great feedback about how it’s getting their kids off their tablets or TV and getting them outside again.”
After seeing a rock project by a school that allowed each child to have a painted rock in a footpath, McGill decided to bring the idea to her community. “I contacted my local councillor about getting this done in our local park for every child in Penilee. They are working alongside me to try and make this happen. We are so pleased. And what a thing for our community to get to do over the summer.”
The author’s attempt at Scotland’s national animal. Photograph: Taylor McDaniel
Such a simple hobby seems to have immense power to pull people together and provide small moments of joy in everyday life. Murray told me about a touching encounter she had with a mother and daughter.
“One day I was walking around, hiding stones and found one I had left previously of an owl. I picked it up, thinking I would re-hide it elsewhere. I had it in my hand when a woman with a wee girl passed me. I asked the wee girl if she would do me a favour and hide my rock for me. I explained to her mum [that it was] a kindness rock.
“The mum told me that they had just been talking about being kind to one another and it was ‘meant to be’ that they had bumped into me. The mum and daughter explained that the wee girl’s dad had recently passed away and they had been going through a hard time.
“I told the wee girl that she needed to keep the stone, not re-hide it and [that] the owl was a reminder to her to be kind to her mum. I walked away feeling that in a small way that that wee stone had helped someone when they needed it. I think in essence that’s what these stones do, help people or at least bring a smile to someone.”
When I thanked her for painting the elephant rock because it had inspired this story, her response summed up what many seem to think of these painted rocks. She said: “It’s amazing to think that a common thing such as a stone can change a person’s day, give them ideas or give them a wee uplift. It really does amaze me!”
Video: Sofia Teixeira Santos
In the spirit of the hobby, the team here at The Glasgow Sloth decided to get into the rock-painting game. I did my best to recreate our logo as well as trying my hand at Scotland’s national animal, the unicorn. My colleague, Sofia Teixeira Santos, went for a sweet little strawberry, and my girlfriend painted a prickly cactus. I plan to get more of the Sloth team involved in painting rocks in the coming days, because just like everyone I spoke to warned, it is addictive, and I can’t wait to paint more. All the rocks we painted will be hidden around Glasgow in the next few days. If you find them, let us know on social media.