Malta artist’s painted rocks and generosity brighten countless lives
Story and photos by Dianna Troyer
As she paints river rocks in her informal kitchen studio, Amber Elliott sometimes recalls her late grandfather’s remarks.
“He liked to tease and would tell me, ‘What are you ever going to do with art as your major,’” says the Malta resident, who earned an art degree from Brigham Young University-Idaho in 2007. “I wish he could see what I’m doing.”
Sitting at her counter, Amber deftly paints with acrylic pens on a smooth rock, quickly bringing to life a tranquil scene—mountains topped with snow and dappled with pines, awash in a gold and pink sunrise.
To brighten people’s lives, especially at their work, Amber often gives away rocks or magnets she paints with nature scenes, inspirational or comical messages, or cartoon and video game characters. Her small, generous gestures have a big impact.
“The rocks make people smile and put joy into their day,” she says. “Art can be expressed in many ways and mediums and doesn’t have to be on a canvas or in a museum to touch someone’s life or to make a connection. I really enjoy doing this.”
She finishes her pieces with protective epoxy, allowing them to be placed outdoors.
Amber has also participated in the Kindness Rocks Project—a movement introduced on the internet—and has painted pebbles and randomly left them in public places for others to find and collect.
Her artwork is sold locally at Hansen’s Hub and nationwide on Etsy, eBay and YouTube under the name, @Idahoartist2006. People also place gift orders for weddings, family reunions, birthdays, anniversaries and other special events.
“I get a variety of requests for all kinds of characters,” Amber says. “Other times, I get ideas on the internet for sayings and designs. Some people buy them to put in geocaches. I’ll paint holiday themes, too, so people have affordable gifts.”
For Easter, Amber painted rocks with spring flowers, cuddly rabbits and brightly colored eggs.
She says she probably gives away as many rocks as she sells.
“Watching people react when they get a rock is as enjoyable as painting them,” Amber says.
Last fall during a trip to DisneyWorld, she tucked a few rocks with Disney characters into her bags to give to employees.
“Our kids had a great time deciding who should get them, workers who went out of their way to be helpful,” Amber says.
“Most said something like, ‘For me? Really? Thanks.’ They were kind of shocked and surprised and grateful all at the same time.”
When she goes to Burley, Amber packs a few rocks or magnets in her purse in case she sees someone who needs a pick-me-up.
Amber’s love of art extends beyond making gifts. She has taught paint-and-sip classes and participates in a popular local bazaar, Christmas in the Country.
Along with art, Amber embraced another passion when she enrolled at BYU-Idaho.
“I never get tired of seeing the natural beauty of Idaho,” says Amber, who grew up in Corona, a city of 160,000 in southern California. “We love living in Malta and being near mountains and forests.”
She and her husband, Travis, moved to Malta 10 years ago, when he was hired to teach math at Raft River Junior High School.
Amber credits Travis with inspiring her painting projects.
About five years ago, he noticed painted rocks were popular on the internet.
“I told her it’s something that would be perfect for her to do,” Travis says. “To make a rock stay upright, I grind a flat area on the bottom of each one.”
Amber has an ample supply of rocks, with many gleaned from a town landscaping project. Many rocks were unsuitable for the project, so workers invited residents to take them.
For Amber, art is a family collaboration, especially with her dad, John Allen.
“He does a lot of epoxy and woodworking,” she says. “Last year, we made a lot of Christmas ornaments. And he’s always giving me ideas and encouraging me to do new projects.”
Amber encourages her children to be creative, too.
“Growing up, my mom always made sure we had art supplies,” she says. “We made paper dolls, drew and painted. I love doing art projects with our kids and putting their drawings on our art wall.”
Her daughter Doreen, 10, paints with Amber. Justin, 7, requests rocks with video game characters for his room. Dillon, 13, asks for animal paintings.
Amber also paints illustrations inspired by her children’s drawings.
“Sometimes, I expand on their sketches,” she says. “The colorful illustrations in children’s books have always appealed to me, so I’ve done paintings in that style, too.”
Although Amber and her grandfather had different ideas about art, they shared a love of rock collecting.
“Wherever he traveled, he would hike and haul home huge heavy rocks that caught his eye,” she says. “He decorated his yard with all kinds—petrified wood and obsidian, or rocks with unusual shapes, like bowling balls.”
After he died, family members picked their favorites as keepsakes.
“I love seeing his rocks in our yard,” Amber says. “He’d laugh that some of his favorite rocks have become my canvases.”