P39 – Research 5 – Max Ernst and Frottage

The “Experimenting with Texture” notes end with “Frottage was invented by Max Ernst in 1925. Find out more about how Ernst and others used this technique.”

According to Wikipedia: “Frottage (from French frotter, “to rub”) is a method of creation in which one takes a pencil or other drawing tool and makes a “rubbing” over a textured surface. The drawing can either be left as is or used as the basis for further refinement.”


Max Ernst – La Forêt Pétrifiée (1929)

[from Wikipaintings – NOT from Bridgeman Education!]

Max Ernst (1891 – 1976) was a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and poet. A prolific artist, he was one of the primary pioneers of the Dada movement and Surrealism.

It is said that Ernst was inspired by an ancient wooden floor where the grain of the planks had been accentuated by many years of scrubbing. The patterns of the graining suggested strange images to him. He captured these by laying sheets of paper on the floor and then rubbing over them with a soft pencil.

One source suggested that Ernst suffered from “artist’s block” where it was difficult to put that first stroke down on the clean white canvas. So he began to develop techniques such as frottage that would get him over that initial mark.


Les moeurs des feuilles (The Habit of Leaves) from Histoire Naturelle 1926

[from MoMA site]

My own experiments with frottage:

I tried both willow charcoal and an 8B graphite pencil for my own investigations. I found the charcoal gave interesting streaky effect, but decided after a brick wall and a rough Yorkshire flagstone to stick to just the 8B pencil.

Brick wall – charcoal

Yorkshire flagstone – charcoal

Brick wall – 8B graphite pencil

Yorkshire flagstone – 8B graphite pencil

A rough sawn plank of wood – 8B graphite pencil

A cast iron fireplace

An embossed metal plate

Check and log:

  • Have you discovered any new ways of using your drawing tools to depict surface and texture? I used stippling for the surface of the sponge in both my investigation and my final texture drawing. Applying the ink wash with the sponge and the paper towel gave interesting effects which I could use at the appropriate time.
  • How successful were you at implying form with little or no tonal hatching? I hadn’t read this before doing the drawing, so the shadow side of the sponge was darkened with charcoal, and hatched shadows were shown on the table surface.
  • What are your impressions of frottage as a drawing technique? As with all techniques, it’s ‘horses for courses’. I’ve used it in the past, such as one of my gum arabic transfer prints in my Remembrance series where I took a rubbing from a local war memorial. I intend using a frottage border on my natural objects assessed piece.

from ‘Remembrance’ (2009) (Gum Arabic Transfer Print with Chine Colle)

[My print – NOT to be used by Bridgeman Education!]


About notes to the milkman

I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website johnpindararts.weebly.com
This entry was posted in Art, Check and Log, Drawing 1, OCA, Open College of the Arts, Research and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to P39 – Research 5 – Max Ernst and Frottage

  1. Thanks for your inspiration! I have an art docent project for our grade school, and I will tell them about Max Ernst and his frottage.

  2. Pingback: 13: Between Paper Cutting and Bookbinding. | Almofate's Likes

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