GLADEWATER — Five-year-old Tripp Robinson looked at a rock he painted with a base coat of black, trying to decide what design to add to it.
"I'm going to put little white dots on it to make it look like the stars at night," he said proudly.
His mom, Charity Robinson, asked whether he wanted white or yellow paint for his stars. That was an easy decision as Tripp quickly chose white and began making dots on what once was an ordinary rock.
Charity Robinson and her five children, along with her friend and her two children, worked this past week to paint a variety of rocks with all kinds of designs. Some were meant to look like bumble bees or zombies, but the hope behind all of them was the same: to spread cheer to whoever finds them.
"We make some that look like characters and others that will have a base coat of paint, and then we'll put a word on them, like 'love' or 'hope' or 'peace.' With everything going on in the world right now, we hope these make somebody else smile," Robinson said.
The rock painting trend has taken not only East Texas but the nation by storm. It's all part of the "Kindness Rocks Project," a nationwide effort to inspire other people through randomly placed rocks. Its goal is to spread kindness to others.
Facebook groups help unite people from certain communities as they hide and hunt rocks in their town. In East Texas, there are two Facebook groups for Longview rock painters, as well as groups in Hallsville, Gladewater, Kilgore, Sabine, Upshur County, Rusk County, Henderson, Marshall and Carthage.
"I really hope this gives people something fun and creative to do as a family that revolves around something besides the TV," said Ashley Stanley, who created the "Longview, Texas Rocks" Facebook group. "As a personal trainer, I love to see people getting out and about. I think even the grownups really enjoy painting the rocks and then seeing their kids get excited as they find them. It's something fun that people of all ages can enjoy."
To participate in the project, all people have to do is gather ordinary rocks and paint them with a cute design or a kind message, then hide them for others to find. Rocks can be collected from a person's backyard, around town or by going to a store and buying a bag.
For those who find a painted rock, you can either keep the one you find and replace it with one you've painted yourself, or you can take the rock and re-hide it somewhere else, continuing to spread its joy for someone else to find.
"It's great for parents with kids because there's not a lot of cost to it, and the kids love it. It gets them outdoors and away from their TVs and cellphone screens," Robinson said.
Cost is minimal because all that is required are rocks and a little bit of paint. When the design is finished, Robinson uses a polyurethane spray to seal it in.
Both Robinson and Stanley first learned about the trend during separate visits to Tyler. Each had a child who found a painted rock in Tyler with information about the city's rock painting group on it.
Stanley said she'd seen friends from across the country posting on social media about the trend, but she didn't realize that anybody could start a group — until her visit to Tyler. She connected with the woman who runs the Tyler group for some pointers on getting started in Longview. The Longview group now has just shy of 1,000 members.
"I thought it was coolest thing ever. I love to paint and my kids love to be creative," Stanley said.
Likewise, after researching, Robinson decided to create a Facebook page to serve Gladewater. Then, she and her five children — Tripp, Lincoln, 14-year-old Abby, and 3-year-old twins Asa and Boston — decided to collect their own rocks, paint them and hide them around their town.
"We painted a bunch of rocks, and went out and hid them," she said.
She created a label that she adhered to the bottom of the rocks that had information directing people to the Gladewater Rocks Facebook group.
Robinson just created the Facebook group a little more than a week ago, and "it just exploded," she said. Within days, the group had more than 500 members. Now, it has more than 800 members.
"There's not a lot to do in Gladewater, and this is a cool way to get people outside and bring the community together," she said.
Unlike in larger cities where people aren't as likely to know each other, in a small community such as Gladewater many more people do. So part of the fun, Robinson said, is finding rocks created by friends.
Stores in Gladewater have joined the trend with some offering free items or discounts to those who find rocks created by them. For example, Granny B's Shaved Ice (Gladewater's local snow cone shop) has a painted rock that, if found, allows a person to redeem it for a free snow cone.
Some people in town also started what are being called "quilt rocks." With a quilt rock, the rock is divided by lines into several smaller squares. Each person who finds it is invited to fill in one of the squares. Robinson and her family recently found a quilt rock with only its first square painted; they intend to fill in a second square and then re-hide it.
But people aren't just hiding rocks locally. Some "Gladewater Rocks" stones have been hidden hundreds of miles away, such as in Port Aransas.
"The hope is that people will find it and come to our Facebook page and post about finding it," Robinson said.
The children have their own personal favorite rocks that they've created or found. Tripp, for example, painted a vampire rock then hid it; someone else found it and hid it again, and then Tripp found it. He decided to keep it the second time.
"Some of the boys get proud of their work and don't want to part with it," Robinson said. That's why they paint a bunch of rocks — some to keep and others to hide.
Throughout Gladewater, there are school-themed rocks, Minions, pizza rocks, a creepy-looking bear that the community has dubbed "Creepy Bear" and a multitude of other designs just waiting to be found.
Stanley said she and her family solicit some ideas online, but added that her children are creative and come up with most ideas themselves. Recently, they painted a rock to look like the Texas flag and are about to hide it. But, Stanley said her personal favorite rock that her daughter Caimon made is of a French fry that's covered in gold glitter.
"The gold glitter French fry is probably my favorite. They get really creative and you never know what they're going to come up with," she said.
To learn more about the rock painting trend, visit one of the local Facebook pages or find out more about the Kindness Rocks Project at thekindnessrocksproject.com.
Rock painting Facebook groups
Longview Rocks: www.facebook.com/groups/LongviewRocks/
Longview, Texas Rocks: www.facebook.com/groups/464524247239316/
Hallsville Rocks: www.facebook.com/HallsvilleTXrocks/
Gladewater Rocks: www.facebook.com/groups/1454363308012138/
Kilgore, TX Rocks: www.facebook.com/Kilgore-Tx-Rocks-107771283235112/
Kilgore and Sabine Rocks: www.facebook.com/groups/263587614124584/
Upshur County Rocks — Texas: www.facebook.com/groups/1722855254645975/
Rusk County "Rocks": www.facebook.com/groups/RuskCoRocks/
Henderson, TX Hidden Rocks: www.facebook.com/groups/176994302839736/
Carthage Rocks: www.facebook.com/groups/1110510202364963/
Marshall Texas Rocks: www.facebook.com/groups/124813024738467/