What is rock hiding?
Quite simply, rock hiding is the placing of decorated rocks around a local area for others to find.
Ordinary, natural rocks are found in the natural environment, or alternatively bought, then decorated with paints, pens, chalks, glitter, or other materials. Finally, a protective varnish glaze is added to preserve the artwork and prevent it from coming off when found.
When did the rock hiding craze begin?
There doesn’t seem to be an exact date when the latest craze began, and indeed decorating rocks in itself is nothing new.
However, around the summer of 2018 is when we first noticed local groups in the UK springing up to facilitate decorating, hiding, recording rocks and stones.
What is rock painting/rock hiding?
Rock painting and hiding is a free, fun, family-friendly, community activity designed to bring out the artist in anyone, using freely or cheaply available materials. It’s a game of rock hide and seek anyone can play.
Anyone can take part in any or all aspects of the ‘game’, from painting and decorating rocks, to hiding them, finding them, photographing and sharing them online, and hiding them for others to find.
Many local areas have online groups where people can show off the rocks they have created, hidden, found and re-hidden. That said, there are no geographic boundaries, and it’s common for people to find rocks from one area in another miles, countries or even continents away.
How can I start rock painting/hiding?
The beauty of rock painting and hiding is that it’s so simple to get started.
In fact, many people start almost before they’ve realised, by finding a painted rock somewhere while out and about, seeing some writing on the back which directs them to an online group (often on Facebook), being curious and then getting hooked!
You can play the game without creating a thing, simply by hunting around you for decorated rocks and stones, photographing them, posting them online. then hiding them again for someone else to find.
If you decide you’d like to have a go at creating rocks, you only need a few materials – a rock (obviously), plus suitable paints, pens or other ways of marking the rock, and then some sealant to protect the artwork and stop the paints and inks coming off on the hands of anyone who finds it.
The next two sections will help you gather the materials you need and explain the five stages of the rock painting/hiding lifecycle.
The five stages of rock painting and hiding
1. Find your rocks
The concept has always been to use natural rocks found in public spaces as the basis for painting artwork on.
To begin with, simply hunt around public spaces such as footpaths, parks, river banks and the like to find reasonably sized stones and rocks on which to paint.
It’s illegal to take stones and rocks from the beach in the UK. Don’t take items from cemeteries as they may be memorials. Don’t take items from private property, or where the rocks are obviously being used for an important purpose, such as protecting paths and roads from landslips.
Check the laws in your own country to be sure you’re not taking rocks from places they shouldn’t be moved from.
It’s also possible to buy bags of rocks in certain DIY stores, builder’s merchants, even pet shops. They can also be bought online but do factor in the cost of delivery — rocks are HEAVY!
Buying rocks tends to be the best option if you really get into rock painting/hiding, or if you’re organising a community painting event.
Whichever you choose, make sure the rock is a solid one, and then give it a clean.
Some chunks of material which look like rock are in fact made up of old building materials, or other naturally occurring elements which are just not strong enough. If you can break or chip the rock with your hands or with just a gentle tap, it is unlikely to survive for long.
Wash the rocks – a garden hose spray is perfectly adequate to clean off any mud and muck so you have a nice clean surface to begin working on. Make sure they are nice and dry before decorating.
2. Decorate your rocks
Rocks can be decorated with most materials, but those more permanent in nature, and designed for outdoor use, tend to be best.
Seasoned rock painters have their own favourites, which can include masonry paint, acrylic paint, Sharpies, Posca paint pens, chalk, glitter glue, and more.
There are no rules as to how to decorate your rocks, although as this is seen as a family and child-friendly activity, it would be best not to paint anything too rude or risqué. Everyone’s tastes differ, but popular rocks often feature bright colours, hearts, butterflies, flowers, creatures, inspirational messages, geometric patterns, dots, or endorsements of certain causes/charities.
The main thing is to enjoy being creative. It really doesn’t matter if you don’t consider yourself to be artistic – everyone from 3 to 103 can paint or scribble on a rock!
The experience of actually painting on a rock will vary depending on how smooth it is. Very smooth stones, such as those which have been gently polished in a stream, may be easier to draw and paint on, particularly with markers, but the paint or ink may not adhere quite as well. Nobbly/pitted rocks can make painting and drawing feel like a bit of a roller-coaster.
Slightly rough stones can be made to look and feel a bit smoother by applying one or more base coats of an acrylic or other exterior paint first, paying attention to fill in any holes.
If you’re going to use Sharpie or other markers, it’s worth applying a base coat of one or more paints (preferably lighter colours or white) to make your artwork zing and pop out more.
3. Seal your rocks
Sealing a painted rock is vital if it’s going to spend any time out in the wild.
Not only does it protect the artwork itself, but it protects the hands, clothes and furniture of anyone who finds your rock.
Stones sitting outside will be subjected to the elements, which certainly in the UK will include significant amounts of rain, wind, possible salt spray when near the coast.
For this reason, using a varnish or other sealant specifically designed for external protection is a must.
Experienced rock painters swear by yacht varnish as the pinnacle of sealants.
Others use spray sealants.
Most definitely DO NOT use PVA. It sounds as if it should work, and even looks OK when first applied, but it won’t hold up when outside. (Think about what PVA glue does on your hands when dry – fun but not protective).
Here are some of the options which can be used as a sealant, with pros and cons:
Tinned Yacht Varnish
- Relatively inexpensive
- Quick to apply
- Generally needs only one, possibly two coats
- Gives a glossy shine (if you like this)
- Takes a long time to dry
- Smells very strong and must be used in a ventilated area
- Can be messy
- Requires good cleaning care of brushes used, or a supply of replaceable foam rollers etc.
Spray Yacht Varnish
- Quick to apply
- Dries quickly
- Gives a fairly glossy finish (if you like this)
- Slightly more expensive
- Smells quite strong and must be used in a ventilated area
- Not easy to use on windy days
- Can be hard to tell if rock has been completely covered.
Spray Acrylic Varnish
- Quick to apply
- Dries quickly
- Doesn’t smell so strong
- More expensive
- Lack of a significant shine/gloss can make it seem as if the rock hasn’t been sealed.
4. Hide your rocks
Unless you can’t bear to part with your rock once you’ve decorated it, the next step is to hide it somewhere in the great outdoors for someone else to find.
You can hide your rock pretty much anywhere, so long as you use common sense and don’t break any laws.
Stay on public land unless you have the permission of a land or property owner to hide a rock.
Don’t put rocks high up, in the middle of paths or steps, or anywhere else they could pose a hazard to anyone walking by or trying to collect them.
Putting rocks in higher traffic areas, particularly where there are already many people hiding and finding rocks, gives a greater chance of your rock continuing its journey with someone else. Think about school runs, parks, shopping centres and town centres.
5. Find other people’s rocks
If you want to hunt for other people’s painted rocks, try going to popular places in your town or county, or further afield. As stated above, this can be popular venues, outdoor spaces, school runs and town centres.
When you’re lucky enough to find a rock, take a photo of it and post it to the relevant group’s online page (you may have to search and request to join the page if this is the first rock you’ve found from a particular area).
Don’t assume just because you find a rock in a town or county that it originated from there. Take a look on the back for clues as to its origin. Many rocks have the name of the group which it ‘belongs’ to.
Once you’ve found a rock, it’s good etiquette to hide it again as soon as you can. If you really love a rock and want to keep it, generally that’s OK, but consider replacing it with one or more of your own creations.
If you find a large number of rocks in an area, that most likely means it’s a popular area for rock hunting. Etiquette suggests that you should re-hide the majority of the rocks you’ve just found in the same area. Many parents now take their kids to particular areas specifically to hide and seek rocks, so don’t spoil things by removing a whole load.
What materials do I need to start rock painting and hiding?
Rock decorating and hunting doesn’t need to be an expensive hobby, which is one reason why it’s so popular with families. Here’s a list of things you might need, and where to get them.
Rocks and stones
Find rocks in your local area (bearing in mind the guidelines above) or buy them in local hardware stores, builders merchants, DIY, garden centres or pet shops.
Rocks can be any size, but as guidance think about stones which can fit comfortably in the palm of the hand.
If buying stones online, be sure of what you’re buying. Don’t purchase imitation stones, as the general idea is to use natural stone/rock that you’d likely find outdoors.
Very small stones may be difficult to decorate and write enough information on the back, and hard to spot when hidden.
Very large stones may prove a hazard to smaller children trying to handle them due to their size and weight.
Which art materials can be used is up to personal choice, but many people prefer using acrylic paints, Sharpie pens, Posca paint pens, chalk, and glitter glue.
Acrylic paint can be bought fairly cheaply in a number of value/’pound’ style shops in any town, as can Sharpie pens (or own brand equivalents). Look out for deals on packs of paints and pens.
Posca paint pens can also be bought in some stores, although they are generally a Japanese import and it can be easier to buy them online from a reseller, or even have them imported if you don’t mind waiting. Again, look out for deals.
Chalk, glitter glue and other art materials can be bought in most home and craft stores.
For base coats of paint, any external acrylic paint will do well. It may be easier and less messy to use a water-based acrylic paint, as it makes cleaning up easier. Paints in a variety of colours should be available from most hardware/DIY stores.
A very important part of the process is the sealant.
Yacht varnish in tins can be picked up from most hardware stores, home stores and the like. You’ll need to consider what types of brush or roller to use with it, and you’ll also need white spirit or other form of brush cleaner when you’ve finished varnishing.
Spray yacht varnish is available in home and DIY stores and online.
Acrylic varnish spray is available in art stores and online.
Camera and Internet access
So you can join in with the local online rock hiding group, you’ll need some kind of camera and the ability to upload photos to the group.
Any modest camera will do, be it in your mobile phone, tablet, or a digital compact or DSLR camera.
It’s up to you whether you want to take photos of the rocks in situ where you found them, with you or your children in shot, or with clues as to where you’ve re-hidden them.
The main thing is to get a decent picture of the rock on to the relevant online group so there’s a better chance of the rock’s creator seeing it on its travels.
Where can I find rock hiding groups near me?
Do an Internet or Facebook search for something like “[town] rocks” for starters and see what comes up.
Not every area may have a group, but they are springing up all the time.
Below is a list of the ones we’ve found. Do contact us if you run one that isn’t mentioned here.
- Devon Rocks & Stones
- Dorset Rocks
- Essex Rocks
- Kent Rocks
- Norfolk Rocks
- Nottinghamshire Rocks (Notts Rocks)
- Somerset Rocks
- Staffordshire Smilestones
- Suffolk Rocks
- Surrey Rocks
- Sussex County Rocks
- West Midlands Smilestones
Towns & Cities
- Andover Rocks
- Appleby Magna Smilestones
- Bolton/Bury (Pebbleart Rocks)
- Bournemouth Rocks
- Bristol Rocks
- Cambridge Rocks
- Exmouth Smilestones
- Hitchin Rocks
- Leicester Rocks
- Oxford Rocks
- Sidmouth Smilestones
- Sutton Coldfield Smilestones
- Swindon Smilestones
- Walsall Smilestones
- Weymouth Rocks
Towns & Cities
- RCT Rocks (Rhondda Cynon Taf)
Towns & Cities
- Cardiff Rocks
- Caerphilly Smilestones
- Merthyr Rocks (Merthyr Tydfil)
- Newport Pebble Art (NPT Rocks)
- Porthcawl Rocks
- Rudry Rocks Smilestones
- Swansea Rocks
Is rock hiding and rock painting just for children?
It’s true that many kids love creating, hiding and finding rocks, but it’s a great activity for anyone to get more creative, more exercise, more fresh air, and more community spirited. Try it!
Is rock painting and hiding expensive?
It doesn’t have to be.
- Rocks are free if you know where to look.
- Paints and pens are relatively inexpensive.
- Sealant can be bought fairly cheaply and lasts a long time.
You may choose to spend more on materials if you get bitten by the bug, but generally it’s a cost-effective hobby with plenty of benefits.
How to stay safe when rock painting
Always supervise children when using paints, and avoid having them doing anything with volatile paints or varnishes.
Use varnishes in a well-ventilated area and keep kids and pets away from the rocks while they dry.
How to stay safe when rock hiding
- Observe normal common-sense when out and about, just as you always would.
- Don’t try to collect rocks which are inaccessible, on private land, or otherwise in dangerous places.
- Don’t hide rocks in daft, private, or dangerous places.
What should I remember to keep rock hiding fun for everyone?
- There is no way to force people to take part in the rock hiding/finding game, so everyone needs to remember that as soon as they release their rocks into the wild, they may never see them again.
- Hopefully, they will, but there are already hundreds, maybe thousands, of rocks which have disappeared into the great outdoors and have not been seen again… yet.
- If you create a rock which you love so much you can’t part with, keep it.
- If you find lots of rocks in one place, by all means take photos, but don’t remove or keep them all for yourself. Share the love.
- If you find a rock you love, you can keep it, but it’s good etiquette to create one or more of your own to hide to take its place.
- Don’t be a pain on online rock hunting groups. Don’t break their rules or do things you’ve been asked not to. Be a friendly, considerate person.
- Don’t post photos of other people’s kids etc. online without their permission.
Is rock hiding illegal?
There have been erroneous reports circulating that the pastime of rock hiding is illegal or unlawful.
This is not directly true, however the usual laws and bylaws of a country or region need to be observed when participating in this activity.
Some councils have expressed concern that the rocks are being misused, or are being placed in such a way as to create a hazard to other people.
Sadly, there are people who wish to spoil innocent activities for others, and will use any found objects to vandalise property or otherwise cause problems. This isn’t specific to rock-hiding, but it’s worth bearing in mind.
One of the most important things to remember is to seal rocks properly so the paint or ink is not easily washed or rubbed off, either accidentally or on purpose.
Go! Paint. hide, find and share rocks!