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

How to draw dot-to-dot

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Pattern created with black and blue felt tip pens

This fun line drawing experiment is easy to get started and has endless creative outcomes. As an art-making beginner it can be hard to know where to even start. Setting rules and constraints gets you to go from being paralysed by choice, to taking clear action immediately. Making something is always a better than making nothing when it comes to your creativity.

Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire in Wired to Create explain “Because of our natural adversion to uncertainty, there are very few things in life that we enjoy more than a sure thing or a tidy solution! But in order to think differently, the fear of uncertainty has to go.” This experiment is great because it starts you off with a clear objective, which will keep your mind from being paralysed about what to do next. But once you start drawing lines, there’s no one solution so you start to tap into your creativity. In a way it’s a safe kind of uncertainty.

You will need: paper, pen or pencil. Optional: felt tip pens, crayons, coloured pencils and ruler.

  1. Add dots randomly on your paper. Do this quickly, don’t overthink it.
  2. Join the dots using a pen or pencil freehand.
  3. Optional: use a ruler if you want a straighter line.
The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection
Left: using pencil lines. Right: red pen creates a more minimal outcome

Ways you can approach experimenting:

  • Change the quantity of dots: make lots or a little to get a different starting point.
  • Change the quantity of lines: make lots of a little.
  • Change quantity of colours: use multiple colours to draw the lines.

Let your instincts guide you where you draw your next line. There is no ‘wrong’ line you can make, only 100’s of possibilities. In a 1991 speech on creativity, John Cleese suggested, “it’s also easier to do little things we know we can do than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about.” Start with little and as your confidence grows with practice, you can gently push yourself to create more ‘complex’ or unusual patterns if you wish. Or continue to keep things simple and enjoy the process of making patterns from the random dots.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” — Steve Jobs

The ripple effect to spread light

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Making your own art can have some wonderful side effects that might just inspire others to embrace their own creativity. By embracing your own creativity, the ripple effect can cause small positive changes for others in your life. Jonathan Fields in How To Live a Good Life explains “It’s the path of the ripple. Simple actions, movements, and experiences. Created, offered, and delivered with such a purity of intention and depth of integrity and clarity that they set in motion a ripple that, quietly, in its own way, in its own time, expands outward.”

Dr Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire in Wired To Create encourage us to embrace our strange messy selves and our creativity: “When we embrace our own messiness – engaging with the world with our own unique imagination and artistry – we give others permission to do the same.” We could all do with giving ourselves permission to regularly be more creative because tapping into our creativity allows us to create more connection to ourselves, and subsequently to others. “We help create a world that is more welcoming of the creative spirit and, it is hoped, make it possible to find a greater connection with ourselves and others in the process.”

Just by practicing your art making, you may be inspiring others to do the same. The creative force – the light that shines out of us when we create – may be reaching people in ways you could never anticipate. Don’t underestimate the small, silent ways you may be effecting others because as Marge Piercy advises, “You never know when your poem will come to someone’s rescue.”