Elegant Rubbings with Art Foil

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You can create elegant rubbings for your art journaling, mixed media art, or decor.

Note: Most of these examples were experiments with elegant Halloween decorations, or from an Artfest workshop, “Art Shrines from Dark to Light.” (The theme started at the foot of the shrine, with dark imagery – whatever that meant to the individual – and then lead up to light, uplifting images at the top of the shrine.)

You’ll start with metallic foil transfer paper, intended to look like gold leaf (or copper leaf, silver leaf, etc.).

Foil transfer papers are used for interior decorating, and they’re sold in small amounts as “Renaissance Foil,” sold at Michael’s and other art supply stores. (I’m pretty sure you can use Speedball foil from Amazon.com, just as well. I’m testing it in September 2020.)

The following illustrated instructions should help you use it effectively. (These photos are from around 2004, when Internet connections were slow, and images had to be small.)


Above: Rubbings on black tissue paper:
religious medal / gravestone casting / MBTA subway token


You will need paper or fabric for your rubbings.

  • If you’re using fabric, it should be very thin such as a lightweight muslin.
  • If you’re using paper, it should not be stiff. Regular printer paper is fine, and – if you handle it carefully – tissue paper works well, too.

You’ll need gesso, painting medium (gel or liquid), OR acrylic paint and water. (Gesso and painting medium are better than acrylic paint for this project, but it can vary with the brand of paint.) You’ll need a brush to apply the gesso, medium, or paint.

You’ll also need a textured surface as the subject of your rubbing, and a hard rubbing tool such as the side of a pencil.

Finally, you’ll need a gold foil product such as the one sold as Renaissance Foil, that you can find at Michael’s in the same section as their gold leaf products. This foil is sort of like carbon paper, except that the impression/rubbing sticks only to prepared surfaces. (I’m pretty sure Speedball’s foil works the same way.)


1. Paint your paper or fabric surface with gesso, painting medium, or acrylic paint. A thin coat is enough, as long as the surface – where you’ll be rubbing – is fully and evenly covered.

Black gesso

In this example, I’m using regular white printer paper, treated with black gesso.

If you use acrylic paint, thin it with water or painting medium. Paint can thicken the paper and prevent you from being able to highlight as many details.

2. When the prepared surface is fully dry, layer your supplies:

First, place the subject of the rubbing on the bottom.

Then, place your prepared paper or fabric over it. On top, place a piece of transfer foil, shiny side up.

(In the illustration, they’re angled to show the layers. During the actual rubbing process, each layer is centered over the one below it.)

3. With the rubbing tool (I’m using the side of a pencil in the photo), rub firmly all over the area where you expect a design to appear. You’ll probably need to rub more than you expect to.

If you lift the foil to see how it’s working, be very certain not to move the paper from its position atop the subject/rubbing surface.

You can move the foil, but if you move the paper your image can be distorted or blurred.

Continue rubbing until the image has transferred to the paper or fabric.

Save the foil. You can use it several times before all of the gold has worn off.

And now, you’ve finished!

Two examples – printer paper & tissue paper

Two different rubbings are illustrated in the photos below. The left image is on regular printer paper, treated with black gesso. The rubbing on the right is black tissue paper treated with gel medium (matte); you can see a streak of gel medium that hadn’t dried when I began working on this sample.

The image on the tissue paper is clearer, but because the paper is so flexible, it’s easy to rub areas (and pick up gold leaf) where there are no lines or designs. The contrast in image on the printer paper isn’t as clear, but the image is sharper.

Foil rubbings 1Foil rubbings 2





[Note: I  may earn a commission if you purchase something I’ve linked to.]

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