Dianne O’Donnelley has always enjoyed going on hikes and walks. It was in spring 2018 when she first started coming across painted rocks on her walks. The discovery delighted her and added a new intrigue to her outings. That’s when the idea of painting rocks and ‘releasing’ them for strangers piqued her interest and awakened her inner crafter. Following some research,
O’Donnelley discovered a painted rock group online, Pacific Northwest Painted Rocks (PNWPR), an organization based in Oregon, but she didn’t find one near her home in San Rafael. After joining San Francisco Painted Rocks and feeling like it wasn’t close enough to home, O’Donnelley embarked on the creative journey of starting a local group to paint and release beautiful rocks for her community to share and enjoy.
O’Donnelley, an employee in the Math and Sciences Department at College of Marin (COM), initially brainstormed the idea of the name ‘#COMRocks’ with the intention of hiding a lot of rocks throughout campus. However, not wanting to limit her reach, she chose #MarinRocks in hopes of being able to spread joy further. So far, the #MarinRocks Facebook group has over 250 members.
Before the stay-at-home order, O’Donnelley took every opportunity while walking around campus to be on the lookout for great places to release rocks. “I prefer saying release rather than hide, because I want people to find them,” said O’Donnelley, who, even now, continues to take walks and hikes every week, releasing one or two rocks per walk, strategically placing them where they are visible but won’t be tripped over. It may intentionally take someone who is a little more observant than average to find the rocks. “Though I really love all aspects of the project, from painting the rocks, to releasing the rocks, to sharing them online. The part that gives me the most joy is when someone finds a rock I’ve painted and posts about it online. While it doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, when it does, the overwhelming response is so positive.”
Thankful that she and her husband have remained healthy and employed during the current pandemic, the drastic changes in day-to-day life have still taken their toll. Crafting has been a stress-reducing, fun, calming, and creative outlet for O’Donnelley during the best of times, but it has filled a greater need during these challenging times. Missing her friends, and COM students and colleagues on campus, O’Donnelley utilizes her newfound free time to retreat to a corner of the dining room table to paint rocks where she finds comfort in the familiarity of these small projects that don’t take up a lot of time or space and have endless variety and possibilities.
“I've been able to respond to what is happening around us by painting messages and pictures I thought others would find encouraging during these tough times, including a series of rocks saying thank you to healthcare workers, and some ‘Stay safe, stay home’ rocks,” said O’Donnelley.
Getting out for regular walks during the stay-at-home order, punctuated by rock releases and sharing the releases through #MarinRocks on Facebook, combines the benefit of being outside and exercising with the fun of finding a nice spot to put a rock, knowing someone else will discover it to brighten their day. “I hope people receive a little happiness, a little smile, or lift when they come across one of the rocks. It seems as if the rocks have a way of finding the right person at the right time. The rocks are different, some just colorful flowers, mandalas, or hearts, and others have a word or a phrase that may be funny, encouraging, or affirming.”
For O’Donnelley, it’s not just painting, hiding, and finding the rocks that is so great – it’s the support and the excitement shown by those who find the rocks. “I’ve never had a finder say ‘who painted this? It’s terrible!’ Even the simplest painted rock, created by an inexperienced person, is full of color and joy. We sometimes, especially as adults, don’t give ourselves permission to do fun, potentially messy stuff that isn’t FOR something. You don’t have to be good at art to paint a rock!”
O’Donnelley provides information about helpful tools and types of paint and pens to use on the #MarinRocks Facebook page to help everyone get started and join in the fun. “Getting in there and getting paint on your fingers, holding the hardness of the rock in your hand, figuring out what you want to put on it, and doing it is just great. It is anxiety relieving. It is fun! And, if you do that and can share it with other people, that makes it even better.” To spread the word about #MarinRocks and get others involved prior to the shelter-in-place order, O’Donnelley hosted workshops on campus to share ideas, techniques, and provide supplies for attendees to jump in and get creative with their rocks. Now, the workshops look a little different being held on Zoom.
Finders of the rocks are encouraged to either keep or re-release the rocks to give them the opportunity to delight someone else’s day and expand the reach of the project. “It’s funny, colleagues have sometimes confessed to me that they’ve kept a rock, as if I’m going to be mad at them. I’m delighted and flattered! I put on the label that finders can keep the rocks or rehide them, and both are great. I love the idea that the design or message meant enough to them that they wanted to keep it!”
If you find a rock, take a picture and post it on social media with #MarinRocks! Happy exploring!