Rubbings in Your Art Journals – Not Just for Halloween!

There are many ways to use rubbings in art journaling, collages, and more.

Nevermore - an altered book for Halloween
Nevermore – An altered book for Halloween. Theme: Edgar Allan Poe.

Start with textures

You can use rubbings in your journals and scrapbooks. When you travel, rubbings are a great way to preserve visual details from your trips.

Try rubbing:

  • Brass plaques and historical markers (make sure that’s permitted, of course)
  • Texturing on benches
  • Braille plaques in many public buildings
  • Chair backs
  • Cobblestones
  • Coins and tokens
  • Doorknobs and related hardware – remember to rub your hotel room key if it’s not a card
  • Floor or sidewalk art – particularly brass art/plaques embedded in some airport walls and floors
  • Interesting wall texturing – created to reduce noise – in subways and other public settings
  • Numbers on houses/buildings
  • Part of a drain cover (manhole cover)
  • Raised designs on walls
  • Seat number tags, if you go to the theatre, ballet or opera
  • Textured wallpaper, ceilings, and door & window trim

Many food packages have an embossed quality, especially tins.

Some rubbing basics

You’ll need thin paper. Everyday printer paper is fine. Tracing paper can be a little fragile, but it’s ideal for delicate details.

You’ll need something to rub pigment onto the paper. That can be anything from chalk to charcoal, crayons to oil pastels, colored pencil, or even foil or carbon paper.

To prevent damage to the underlying surface, start with a very light stroke. Increase as needed.

Once you’ve completed your rubbing, you may need to protect it from smudging, at least until you get home. Page protectors – the kind sold as office supplies – can be ideal, but use one per rubbing. Hard plastic storage boxes (you can find thin ones at some crafts stores like Michael’s) are useful, too.

When you arrive at home, if your rubbing is easily smudged, I recommend using a spray fixative (sold in art supply stores) according to product instructions.

In general, rubbings are best displayed where people won’t be tempted to touch or rub them with their fingers.

For art journaling, you may want to insert or overlay a clear sheet of plastic (perhaps cut from a page protector) or at least a sheet of wax paper, to protect the rubbing.

More ideas

Going to the beach? With very thin paper and soft pastels, you can do a rubbing of the texture that remains in the sand after the tide goes out. Using different colors, you can overlap the wavy lines by moving the paper.

(The paper will be fragile when it’s wet, so handle very carefully. If the sand is moist, you can put plastic wrap or a cheap plastic poncho between the sand and your paper.)

You can also make text rubbings. Get a Dymo (raised letters imprinted on tape) label tool (less than $10 at Wal-Mart, in the stationery section) and print words on the tape.

Use the words for rubbings. (Save them – mounted on dominoes or other small, flat surfaces – to use again later, or to share in a class.)

Idea: This could be fun for art journaling a favorite quotation.

If the rubbing is “backwards”

If a rubbing would be backwards – for example, if you do a rubbing of a rubber stamp – you can rub with a very dark color on tracing vellum.

Then display it “upside down” (the viewer looks through the vellum) with a white or very light background as contrast for the rubbing.

More ways to use rubbings in your art journaling (and more!)

Small rubbings, particularly of three-dimensional art, can be ideal for use in shrines.

You can scan your rubbings and manipulate them, adding more images with your computer graphics program. (In the example at the top of this article, I placed Edgar Allen Poe’s face over an 18th-century gravestone rubbing.)

Or, you could put a rubbing of a historical marker in the center of a collage with photos from that site.

Remember, rubbings are limited only by your ingenuity. Once you start looking at surfaces around you, you’ll find many more ideas.

Note: If you like Halloween and Edgar Allan Poe themes, be sure to see my articles about Halloween rubbings (for art shrines) and my Edgar Allan Poe shrine.

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