How to do a rubbing

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Rubbings taken from a deck: turning the paper to create lines in different directions

Rubbings or frottage is an old technique of printmaking where you take a rubbing from an uneven surface to create a textured piece of art. It’s a very quick method of mark making that has a bonus element of mystery because you can’t predict what surfaces will work best until you have a go. You become a kind of creative detective, hunting out patterns and testing them collect results.

Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire in Wired suggest that some common strands in creative fields are “the ability to extract order from chaos, independence, unconventionality, and a willingness to take risks.” Margaret A. Boden explains that exploratory creativity, one of the three types of creativity,  “can produce highly valued (beautiful, useful, interesting…) structures or ideas.” That this approach “can often offer surprises that are rather deeper than merely seeing the previously unseen.” Surprise marks may emerge with each movement of your hand so you don’t always know what you’ll end up with.

You will need: paper and a pencil. Optional to use crayons, charcoal or chalk.

  1. Find some textured surfaces or objects.
  2. Place paper over your chosen area.
  3. Use side of pencil to rub over the paper to reveal the hidden pattern.
  4. Repeat the process with a different surface.
The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Experimenting with different surfaces: some rubbings are more unsuccessful than others

Some of the rubbings in the image above hardly show the pattern beneath so weren’t as successful as the clearer pattern created by the decking. That feedback helped scout future rubbing subjects so no “failed” attempt was actually unsuccessful. This experiment is perfect to take with you on the go so if you ever spot an interesting wall texture you can quickly take a rubbing. The more you do, the more you build up your knowledge around what surfaces work better than others. Because it takes so little time, the focus becomes more on quantity and testing than perfecting which is a much freer (and fun) way to make art.

“The most expected thing you can expect is what’s unexpected.” – Dick Allen, Zen Master Poems