Graphite frottage example Graphite 2B - 20B on Arches 185gsm HP
1 Art the technique or process of taking a rubbing from an uneven surface to form the basis of a work of art.
• a work of art produced in this way.
The word frottage is a somewhat fancy term for taking a ‘rubbing’. With paper – the artist places a blank sheet of paper onto a textured surface – tree bark, old floorboards, gravestone, etc., and rubs a pencil over the paper thereby obtaining a replica of the texture beneath it.
There are two techniques that I use with this procedure. One is relating to paper and one to canvas.
Paper: I use paper in the weight range of approximately 90 – 185 gsm (40 – 90 lb). The heavier the paper the less sensitive it is to the frottage technique. At the moment I am using Arches 185 gsm Hot Pressed (Hot Pressed is a very smooth paper), 56 x76 cm and achieving very satisfying results. This is primarily a watercolor paper. I am using 1/8 and 1/16 sheet sizes as, at this present time, I am enjoying creating small, intimate pictures. I have also created drawings using an archival photocopy paper (90gsm) in a lovely cream off white. This paper is extremely sensitive to frottage. At some stage in the future I intent experimenting with Xaun (Chinese) paper which is, I think, about 27gsm. Also Double Xaun and Triple Xaun.
I use graphite sticks about the thickness of ones index finger – snapped off to an appropriate length. The softness of the graphite ranges from 2B – 9B in the sticks, and upwards to 20B in pencils. I normally measure off an appropriate distance from the edge of the paper, and use masking tape to quarantine a border around the finished work. With the 2B sticks I can achieve very suble grey effects. With the 9B the results are far more dramatic.
Over the years I have been using one particular frottage board that measures approx. 610 x 450 x 5.5mm. This is a piece of Masonite that I had cut from a larger sheet. To create texture onto the board I have cut into it with a Stanley knife, cutting slightly at an angle so that one of the edges of the cut becomes raised. Added drops of PVA glue, glued down bits of paper and other materials such as found bush land materials gathered when walking. Seeds, pieces of fern leaves, small bits of twigs etc. I have found that it is important not to have the texture elements sitting too high on the board. When I rub the graphite over it I want to achieve a mark that is subtle and not to pronounced. The board I am using is like an old friend. I have created many, many drawings over the years on this board, and it has ‘matured’ beautifully, accumulating many additional bits of texture from accidents such as paint droppings, cuts etc. Creating a frottage board is really only limited by ones imagination. A section of this board can be seen as the title photograph to this blog. The photograph was taken of a small more open section of the board.
I also use a ¼ sheet of Gatorboard as this gives me a very smooth surface to work over if I need to add tonal qualities to the drawing over its entirety. Or smooth tonal areas in the drawing at some stage.
OK. I have my paper masked off. My pieces of graphite stick. My frottage board – both smooth and textured. I also have a range of mechanical pencils containing graphite in varying sizes (0.3, 0.5, 0.7, 0.9, and 2.0 mm. – mostly in 2B). And a most important tool that I have yet to mention and this is a Sakura Electric Eraser. With this I can erase into extremely heavy layers of graphite, something that would be impossible otherwise. This is just a brilliant tool for these techniques. And lots of hand wipes, the kind that pull out of the top of a plastic container. Sometimes called Baby Wipes, these are also very important in keeping ones hands clean as the work progresses.
I work in layers with this technique, and normally start the first layer with the paper on the smooth Gatorboard, in order to get a tonal layer down and remove that beautiful off-white paper color. I will then start working over the existing layer with a softer graphite that gives me a more intense tone. And so on until
I use the graphite stick on its side and just move it gently (at this stage) over the paper to create a lovely tonal layer. Even at this stage and on the smooth Gatorboard, I am picking up texture from the board. I generally start with a 2B stick and then move up to 9B stick. At some stage I will move onto the more textured Masonite board. All the time using the graphite stick on its side. It is possible to make marks ranging from a light grey to very intense blacks. To achieve very dark marks I used a plasterer’s scraper to scrape off graphite from the end of a stick onto the paper. I then use the scraper to press the graphite scrapings into the paper to fix it so to speak, to create a graphite ‘blot’ of varying sizes and shapes, and also to scrape the excess pigment if the blot and then impress it some more to expand the mark in whatever direction I choose. During this process I will make marks using the stick on its pointy end like a pencil. I will make dots, linear markings, darker and suble tonal masses, use a mechanical pencil to bring to the fore shapes that have emerged as the work progresses, erase with the electric eraser sometimes subtly, sometimes more dramatically, gently fill in some of the erased areas to create a different type of mark. Essentially my work in graphite is intuitive mark making, working in layers, and ending with a picture one could describe as a hybrid abstraction.
One of the reasons that I am so obsessed with this technique has to do with the quality of the mark. It is almost as if the mark is embedded within the paper, and for me at any rate, this produces a 'naturalness' to the mark making that also has an 'indigenous' feel about it. I can produce very mechanical marks alongside gestural mark making that 'sit' beautifully.
Of course, there is also soluble graphite in stick or pencil form. In varying degrees of softness. There is powdered graphite. There is also a graphite paint called Derivan Liquid Pencil which is available in varying grades of light to dark, and in a sepia tone.
It is all very fun, and can be a meditative process and very relaxing. It can also, like any art making, be extremely frustrating.
Untitled 101011, 2011, Graphite on paper, 28.7 x 19.3 cm (variable)
The work above is unfinished and has yet to be signed, titled and probably a short piece of my poetry added to the lower clear area. The drawing was complete using only a 2B stick and only using Gatorboard as a frottage board. The white 'sun' in the upper half of the picture appeared from an area on the Gatorboard that has suffered a ding. The spots originated from what appears to be an accidental light sprinkling of acrylic polymer (Binder Medium) that I use as a glue for numerous applications. The parallel lines were created by slots cut into the side of graphite stick. There are numerous faint mechanical diagonals that always seem to appear when using this technique with Arches HP. This must be something inherent in the paper that the graphite is picking up I think.
I am heading in an interesting direction at the moment, gravitating to a more minimalist aesthetic. I have been reading Wes Mills, Alan Mitelman, and early Brice Marden, all of whom, at one time or another, embraced a minimalist ethos.