Reading: Reread the section Visual Texture regarding Max Ernst and his invention called "frottage" (page 154).
Premise: Using the same basic technique as Ernst, you can create instant works of art with colored pastels and paper. This process is almost as old as paper itself. It involves the transfer of letters or patterns that are raised or recessed from a surface onto a paper by laying the paper on top of the surface, then gently rubbing the edge of a drawing medium over the surface. Although it is a very simple process, the result can be quite spectacular as an aesthetic image, and (if you're interested) a means of recording history! As an example, the history of a city's foundries might well be traced through a series of sewerhole cover rubbings, or a family's beginning and demise could be traced and recorded in revolutionary or civil war era cemeteries, simply by placing paper over the stones and applying the medium. Possibilities are only limited to your imagination, and the various surfaces you select to "capture."
Time required to do this project: Allow one hour.
*Materials: Large white or light colored construction paper; any one of the followingcolored chalk, conté crayon, compressed charcoal, Crayola® brand crayons, Cra-pas® or oil-based pastels; masking or duct tape; and spray fixative (optional, but useful).
How to start: Find a sewer hole cover that is reasonably clean and dry (preferably on a street with little traffic). Strip any paper wrapping off the pastel or crayon and hold it in the center so you can make a wide line equal to its length (2 - 3 inches wide). Now place the sheet of construction paper over the cover and tape it down at each corner (you my have trouble getting the tape to stick to the street surface, be persistent). NOTE: You may want to start with sewer holes or grates on sidewalks, as foot traffic is often easier to negotiate than auto traffic. After you've taped the paper down, quickly begin with the rubbing.
To begin, move the crayon across in strokes that run the same direction. You will first notice the texture of the concrete, then as you move across the metal cover, the letters, patterns, rings, casting marks, dents, etc. will all appear on the paper. Be careful, not only for traffic, but not to tear the paper as you move over recessed areas of the cover.
As you continue to create these, you'll find that you can affect many variations and techniques. Try using two colors, moving across the surface in opposing directions. A collage technique can also be created by using the same piece of paper on more than one surface. Hint: You might try spray fixing your "drawing" in between colors. If you've done your rubbing with charcoal or chalk pastel, you need to spray fix it to preserve the pigment's position on the paper.
Below are some examples of this project by two Oregon State University students. (To see the works in their larger formats, click the thumbnail images.)
Left: Lyle Ramsdell, Untitled; Right: Jim Kutz, Untitled.
*About materials: Most, if not all, of these materials are available at craft stores, college bookstores, and quite often discount department stores. I suggest trying Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, Ben Franklin, etc. You can also order materials through
Dick Blick, Inc.