Over 100 rocks with bright yellow sunflowers painted on them now rest across the city, and beyond.
All of them were created at English teacher and writer Kristy Kassie's patio on Ash Street. Though Kassie is partially sighted, she found a way to paint the flowers to show her support for Ukraine through a project launched in Victoria, B.C., earlier this year.
Called ‘Your Eyes My Vision’, the project by the Victoria Society for Blind Arts and Culture invited applications from those who are blind but want to create art, and paired them with sighted facilitators who would like to mentor them.
Kassie, who had been doing rock art since March 2020, decided to apply. Instead of waiting to be assigned a mentor, she asked Donabelle (Belle) Goyengko-Egerton, founder of New West-based Rock Art Canada, to apply to the project as a mentor.
Kassie had first connected with Goyengko-Egerton via Facebook during the pandemic, when Kassie had just started out painting on rocks.
Their applications were accepted in April, and Kassie ended up getting a funding of $500 for her art expenses. “We (she and Goyengko-Egerton) are going rock art shopping next week!” she said, with a note of excitement.
As part of the project, Goyengko-Egerton also gets paid hourly to guide Kassie through the process of creating her sunflower rocks.
When Kassie started painting the flowers in mid July, she was using her fingers to paint. “They looked like blobs,” she recounts.
But thanks to her sessions with Goyengko-Egertonalso, who is a full-time accountant, Kassie is now able to use paint brushes, and apply different shades to give a “3-D effect” to her art.
Goyengko-Egerton also also taught Kassie to paint petals using a fan brush; she would coat the rocks with dark purple, blue or green pattern backgrounds on which Kassie would later paint the flowers — exactly as per Kassie’s vision.
“I'm sure my flowers don't look like blobs to me anymore. So that's good.”
Placing sunflower rocks around New West
Kassie has personally dropped off a few of her painted rocks next to the New Westminster Public Library, and around Vanier Park, where she and her boyfriend (who is completely blind) recently attended the Bard on the Beach festival.
But since she has mobility issues, most of her rocks are dropped off at different locations by other people.
Kassie’s love for rock painting began during COVID-19 lockdown when someone gave her a rock with a ladybug painted on it.
Though Kassie has optic nerve damage that affects her ability to differentiate different shades of colours, and “coordination issues that make things like painting really challenging,” seeing the simple ladybug art made her want to do something similar.
She began by simply painting a solid block of colour on pebbles. A novice, she had used washable paint, and a light downpour had ruined her effort.
So she approached Rock Art Canada for some guidance, and was given a free rock art painting kit — which is also how she ended up meeting her mentor Goyengko-Egerton.
Over time, Kassie moved on to creating patterns — like the Canadian flag and a heart. For her 42nd birthday, she painted a teddy bear holding a heart on 42 different rocks and had them placed by volunteers all across the city and beyond — some ended up in front of a prison, a cemetery, and a walking trail.
This year, she painted 43 more for her 43rd birthday and lined them up in front of her home for anyone to take.
“They were all gone in three days,” she said.
While Kassie has found someone to fulfill her dream of “spreading joy” through rock art, she doesn’t know of any other opportunities in the city that would enable people like her to create art.
“A lot of effort is put into enabling people to do things for people with disabilities. And not a lot is done to empower them.”
Kassie and Goyengko-Egerton have had three sessions together; each lasting about three to four hours. Together, they plan to paint many more rocks.
Besides the fun part of it, what keeps them going is the idea of contributing to the community. “I love how excited people get when they find my rocks," she said.
"It’s so simple… and free.”
If you find any of Kassie’s sunflower rocks around the city, you can send her a message on Facebook. You can find her art through the hashtags #YourEyesMyVision #SunflowersForUkraine #KristyKassieRocks.