When I sat down with University of Tennessee junior Payton Miller to discuss her year painting the rock, it came as no surprise when she said she was actually a mathematics major.
…Yeah, that’s a lie.
Just one look at the art she’s done, not only on the rock but anywhere, and majoring in anything other than “art that blows your mind” is a head-scratcher. Nonetheless, Miller has had one heck of a year surprising Vol fans with a new, exciting painting on the coveted “rock” each morning before home games this season.
Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Miss Miller and really get to know who Tennessee’s “rock artist” really is. Naturally, my first question was about her name, which might be spelled a little different, but has just as much significance to Tennessee fans.
“Yeah, it’s definitely not a coincidence,” said Miller. “My dad is a huge Tennessee fan and one day my mom just randomly asked him if he liked the name Payton. I think it was right after THE Peyton had just finished up at Tennessee and my dad jumped all over it.”
Considering her brother’s name is Lyle, it seems only natural for her family’s blood to be orange.
As Miller discussed her passion as a proud Tennessee girl, I couldn’t help but notice the dried spray-paint buried in her fingernails and the giant backpack that easily weighed as much as a baby hippo at her feet.
As someone whose artistic ability is defined as a stick-figure holding a stick leash walking a stick dog, I couldn’t even begin to grasp the amount of work and hours that goes in to each painting.
“A lot of it depends on the weather,” she said with a smile. “It typically takes anywhere between 6-10 hours. When it rains it takes more on the side of 10 though. It does get kind of expensive sometimes though, but I like to invest in my own art. I usually go through like 30 cans of spray paint so it can cost upwards of $150. My savings are definitely hurting a little bit.”
Miller also said she waits until it’s dark to start painting and will work to finish the painting by morning for all the fans coming to campus for the game.
“My family is great. They usually come out and sit in lawn chairs by the sidewalk to keep me company. They are very supportive.”
We continued to chat for a while and I thought back to all the paintings she had done this season: Jalen Hurd, Smokey, the Drum Major, the Tennessee walking horse. All of which were beyond impressive. But when she confessed her very first experience painting the rock, I admit I simultaneously laughed and envied her.
“Yeah, it was actually Lil’ John,” she said as she hesitated to finished her sentence. “Right around the Georgia game last year…and I actually didn’t even know who he was.”
…Ah, the innocence.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy some of his music, but that doesn’t mean the world would be better off without it. Alas, I digress.
While Miller is very selective about who and what she paints on the rock, she said she is constantly receiving ideas from friends, family and Twitter followers.
“I am pretty picky about what goes up there, especially when it comes to putting rivals on the rock,” she said. “I usually like to keep it strictly Tennessee. I did have a suggestion I liked for Eric and Evan Berry when Eric came in and I think that’s something I’ll probably do in the future.”
Miller has received attention from all sorts of local media outlets, but perhaps her highest honor came when VFL Films approached her about featuring her in a video to be featured on the video board during halftime of the Vols’ game against North Texas.
“It was awesome to be on the jumbotron, said Miller. “It was emotional and I was running on like, three hours of sleep. I wasn’t expecting it to be up there until the next week and they had a camera up there on me so I was a little nervous.”
She says she still has at least one more year to go at UT so we’ll have to wait and see if the Kingsport native will continue her rock-painting tradition as next season rolls around. Nonetheless, she has made the University of Tennessee and all of Vol Nation proud.
Oh, and if you’re still wondering who the heck Lyle is, just do a quick search on Butch Jones’ first name.
Be sure to follow Payton on Twitter @PaytonMarie03 and check out some her other incredible projects, including this time lapse of her senior tribute.