Artist Behind School Rocks Tells How It All Began
When school opens this week, Mom will start rockin! As students report to their classrooms at North Mecklenburg schools, Debbie Silver Lauder’s business of painting school rocks will pick up dramatically. After a predictably slow summer, she’ll begin accepting orders—mostly from parents—to paint the big rock that sits in front of their child’s school building.
Debbie has been at it for the past five years. She moved to Davidson from New York state, where the tradition of school rocks was unknown. But when she saw other parents painting rocks here, she saw a business opportunity. She reckoned she could paint rocks not only for her own children, but for others’ children, too.
She got started, and the business — Mom Rocks! —took off.
During part of the day, Debbie is on the phone with a job in marketing. Then in mid-afternoon she packs her van with a rainbow of spray paint cans, acrylic paints and brushes and heads out the door to exercise her second job as painter of school rocks near and far.
Most schools have an online or office sign-up list for parents to reserve the rock for their child’s birthday. Parents may then make contact with Debbie to obtain her services and discuss the proposed design — though some leave the design entirely to Debbie. It takes about two hours for the average paint job, and depending on the size of the rock, she charges $50 to $150.
Some paint jobs stay up for a few days, while others are up and down in a single day. Another challenge can be the sheer number of jobs. She never denies a request, and therefore has ended up doing five rocks in a single day. She will work on location up to an hour away, but does charge extra for travel time on distant jobs.
Debbie studied dance and theatre in college, sings in a local band, and loves to exercise her creativity on these unusual canvasses. But the job can be physically demanding. The Bailey Middle School rock is shaded by crape myrtle trees, but most rocks sit there totally exposed to the weather. The heat, paint fumes and time it takes can leave Debbie as a sweaty mess by the end of the day. On the other hand, she prefers heat to the rain and cold she left behind in migrating here from New York.
She figures she has painted at 20-25 different schools in the Lake Norman area. Her designs celebrate students’ birthdays, graduations, the beginning and end of school years, favorite cartoon characters, and super heroes. Debbie said the most popular requests last school year were mermaids, unicorns, and the Golden State Warriors. She has also done Taylor Swift’s face, and a mad scientist! One client at Pine Lake Prep requested the simple message, “Choose Kindness and Love.”
Some clients ask not only for a particular design, but even a particular type font. She hasn’t yet been unable to meet a font request—even for one customer who challenged her to spell out a message in Braille.
She photographs every rock she’s ever painted, and displays them on her “Mom Rocks” Facebook and Instagram sites, which are publicly accessible. Last week she reached a milestone—her 500throck ever, which celebrates her 12-year-old-son Dylan’s birthday. She decided long ago that she would paint a rock for each of her six children on their birthdays, and has maintained that promise. If you can’t drive by to see them in person, view them on line.
Bill Giduz was the son who followed his father’s footsteps into journalism. He has been involved his entire life with news and photography in schools he attended and jobs he’s held. He believes now that he’s got a few good years left to devote to The News of Davidson.