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Surrealist Drawing Techniques

A collection of drawing methods to exercise the mind and the role of the subconcious in art and design

A wide view of a map rubbing
Example frottage work from the Golden Gate Bridge

Frottage #

Frottage from the French frotter, “to rub,” is a surrealist technique developed by Max Ernst. In Frottage the artist takes a pencil or other drawing tool and makes a rubbing over a textured surface. The resulting drawing can be used as-is, or used as a base for further refinement.

A note on surrealism: Artistic, Poetic, and Literary surrealist techniques are characterized by numerous methods and games. These are free of conscious control and utilize the unconscious as a source of inspiration.

The difference between frottage and rubbing (that could be considered a children’s game) has to do with when the artist stops working. When the rubbing process is complete the artist explores the possibilities—finding ways to play with, extend, or highlight the rubbing.

Materials #

Paper is most commonly used for rubbings. Rag and rice papers produce the best results. The thinner the paper the more details will be transferred. In Chinese incised stone rubbing, dampened rice paper is used. The damp paper is tamped down on to the surface resulting in very crisp lines. Pastels, crayons, rubbing wax, or graphite are soft mediums and will work best in this process. Spray fixative may be useful with certain materials.

What To Rub #

Many natural surfaces have 3-dimentional qualities, though some might be fragile. Rubbing needs to be a gentle and deliberate process. The artist should make an effort not to disturb the natural environment or call too much attention from onlookers. You may also find items in your home such as coins, wood, shells and carvings.

The urban environment provides plaques, memorials, and textures. As you walk through the city make yourself aware of things that make a good rubbing surface. These items will not only provide visual interest, but also possess historical significance allowing for further artistic exploration. A surrealist exercise for sure!

Note: Use caution when searching frottage on the Internet. The term can also refer to sexual rubbing.

Automatic Drawing #

Surrealist artists borrow techniques of psychoanalysts used to surface the subconscious. It is hypothesized that inspiration from the subconscious are more powerful and creative than conscious thought. These techniques are most common in drawing and writing but can be used in any medium.

Materials #

Start in a simple fashion with graphite, ink or vine charcoal.

Technique #

During a sequence of drawing do not lift your hand from the page. Also keep your eyes on your subject. Really gestural and energetic mark making can be achieved by working like an atomaton --- that is freeing your mind and drawing like a robot hand that is connected directly to your subconcious mind. In the best cases your result should suprize you by revealing unexpected figures and patterns.


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