Art of surface rubbing

Updated: Jul 14, 2020

Growing up, my mom would bring a couple pieces of paper and a pencil to the graveyard when we went to visit the graves of my great-grandparents. She would kneel in front of the graves and with the paper placed over the letters, start lightly rubbing the pencil so you

could see the words appear through the paper. It was a ritual of art and remembrance.

This is also a great way to collect snippets of textures for collaging by examining the spaces you inhabit.

So let’s dive into a quick art history lesson and then get ready to play!

This is a creative practice simply called “surface rubbings” or “frottage” if you’re a surrealist. It’s funny to think that there is such a deep and rich history of artists who have created work simply by putting a piece of paper on the floor and lightly rubbing pencil or chalk across it to reveal it’s natural texture. And yet, it was!

There are many artists who take these rubbings and incorporate them into larger pieces of work, and some that just frame what they’ve captured. Up to you! One of my favorite examples of these artists is Ellen Rut. A Detroit based artist who lays large pieces of paper down on the street or on the walls of buildings to take surface rubbings of grates, bricks, sidewalks, etc. and then turns them into large pieces of work with other materials and paint. (Check her out for inspiration on how to incorporate this exercise into bigger works of art.)

What You Will Need

  • Something to draw on. Thin paper works better. Printer paper, newsprint, a notecard might work (try it, let us know!).

  • While trying out different places around my house to complete this exercise I ran out of printer paper and found graph paper that I had done my math homework on in the third grade. I used the back of that and will probably continue to upcycle the rest of the pack into some kind of sketchbook. Dig around through your old room, you never know what gems might be hidden!

  • Something to draw with. Pencils, colored pencils, chalk, pastel. All good options. I found I liked using crayola crayons the best. Markers and pens are not good options here.

  • Maybe go outside and find some charcoal from a fire pit. Or use whatever you want, I’m not in charge of your expression of self.

  • Bonus: something to take pictures with. (More on this later)

Alright my friends, here is the fun part.

Look around you. Look at your floor, maybe go stare at the wall outside. If you’re hungover you might already be gazing at the tile in your bathroom.

Now take your piece of paper, put it on one of those surfaces, and rub your utensil across the paper. That's it!

Take out your phone. Or your very expensive polaroid camera. Do not move the paper.

Take a picture of the paper so it aligns with its surroundings.

Take a picture of the paper in a new surrounding.

Contemplate what the deeper meaning behind this might be.

Write all your deepest regrets on the paper and then burn it.

Post your scrappy new creation and tag @sometimesarthouse! Let us see what all of the surfaces in your house look like!