Thumbnail graphic by Kim Jao / North by Northwestern

The Northwestern Mock Trial team hosted its annual “Mock at the Rock” tournament in early November, inviting teams from around the country to compete on Northwestern’s campus.

Of course, the team couldn’t host an event called “Mock at the Rock” without actually painting the Rock. But before they made their mark on campus, they had to decide: Where would they even get the supplies?

Since students started painting the Rock in the 1940s, it’s become one of Northwestern’s most famous traditions.

For many groups, ARTica Studios is the easiest choice. Located under Norris University Center, ARTica offers a $99 rock painting kit, which includes 1 gallon of base paint, 3 quarts of supplemental paint and a variety of brushes and rollers.

The studio requires groups to book at least 72 hours in advance and offers only a small selection of paint colors. However, due to the preassembled nature of the kit and its proximity to the Rock, it’s a convenient option.

“I think it's a really nice way for student groups to avoid having to purchase all these products themselves,” ARTica student supervisor Jane Clarke said. “ARTica can provide for them and help facilitate the iconic rock symbol.”

This convenience factor convinced the Mock Trial team to go with ARTica, according to social executive Vivian Bui.

“I can't imagine how we would have lugged all that paint from the hardware store to the campus,” Bui said.

However, the provided paint wasn’t enough, forcing the team to buy additional quarts at $10 a pop.

“It was just an unexpected cost, because we thought that that kit would have everything that we needed in one go,” she said.

It’s worth noting that’s not a universal experience. ARTica student supervisor Laila Robinson said many groups don’t even use more than half of the provided paint. Willard Residential College treasurer Jonas Blum said that the kit had enough paint when his dorm painted the Rock.

However, Blum said Willard didn’t have a choice. According to Blum and other Willard organizers, the Residential Experience Team asked residential colleges to use ARTica if they were planning to paint the Rock. Clarke and Robinson were both unaware of such requests, and the Residential Experience Team did not respond to a request for comment.

Robinson estimates that only 25% of all rock painting groups use ARTica.

“Sometimes I don't know if people know that ARTica exists,” Robinson said. “A lot of the times when I'm sitting down here, people come down and they're like ‘Oh, I've never seen this space before. What do you guys do?’”

As for those who prefer to skip ARTica’s kit, there are more do-it-yourself options such as Blick Art Supplies and Ace Hardware. Both are less than a 20-minute walk from the Rock.

Choosing to buy your own materials allows for much more flexibility in color choice and time, but also much greater variance in costs. At Blick, an equivalent amount of paint can cost anywhere from $70 to $105, and that’s before factoring in the costs of brushes. Ace Hardware can be even more costly, especially if groups are looking for non-acrylic paints.

But for groups unsure of when they want to paint the Rock, or who already have some materials, these art stores can help save time and money.

Groups can also use a mixed approach. The Mock Trial team bought materials independently in 2022 and with ARTica in 2023, but Bui recommended groups use a combination of the two.

Painting the Rock is never a completely smooth experience. The Mock Trial team almost painted at the same time as another group, and Willard had to guard for 25 hours due to daylight saving time. But with some preparation and planning, groups can focus less on the procedure behind the painting and more on joining the Northwestern tradition.

Editor’s note, Feb. 6, 2024: A previous version of this article credited Jonas Blum as Willard's social chair, but he is the treasurer. North by Northwestern regrets the error.