Payton Miller Takes Final Bow as UT’s Unofficial Rock Painter

On a whim during her sophomore year, Payton Miller painted the Rock. Approximately 1,050 cans of spray paint, 300 hours of work, and 30 paintings later, the senior took her final bow as the unofficial painter of the Rock. Her last painting, Smokey holding a spray paint can, debuted the morning of the 2017 Orange and White football game. This week she graduates from UT.

More than 4,000 students, including 3,038 undergraduates, 805 graduate students, 96 in law, and 82 in veterinary medicine, will participate in UT commencement ceremonies this week. For full details concerning security, parking, ceremonies, and speakers, see the Spring Commencement 2017 website.

The Kingsport, Tennessee, native has painted the Rock for game days and other major events on campus for the past three and a half years. Her paintings have been enjoyed by thousands of visitors to campus and were featured in local and national media outlets.

Not only did she spend many long nights creating images of Smokey, Butch Jones, Josh Dobbs, Pat Summitt, and a Tennessee walking horse, she was also hard at work in the classroom as a biochemistry major and a member of the Chancellor’s Honors Program.

“It has been neat to be able to be an artist while also being a student, so I’ve kind of fulfilled that wish for my college career,” she said.

Most of the paintings were done on her own dime. Each one cost her about $125 in supplies. She got a little help this year when Alumni Affairs set up a VOLstarter crowdfunding page and raised more than $5,000 to defray her costs.

While she has enjoyed the experience, Miller said she is officially retired from painting the Rock.

“I finished up my 30th painting and I decided that was the last one. But I am open to possibly coming out of retirement down the road.”

This summer she’ll teach a Kids U summer camp at UT then enjoy some time off traveling with her family.

This fall, she will begin graduate study at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine.

She is excited for the next chapter but will miss campus and the Volunteer family.

“It’s definitely a lot of excitement going to graduate school. I will likely be the only person from UT in my class, so I am looking forward to sporting my orange up there and it being a unique part of who I am,” she said.

“But it is also emotional. I am going to miss this campus a lot and the friends I made here. I am definitely going to miss game days, but I’m sure I’ll make it back for a few of those.”

Although her next chapter takes her over state lines, she knows that she is a Volunteer for life.

“Being a Volunteer is not a new feeling—it’s something I feel like has been part of my identity since I was little. I am named after Peyton Manning, which was my dad’s idea and thankfully my mom was on board. When it came time to choose a college, it was a good decision for me to come here. I have always felt like a Vol.”