Frottage was invented by Max Ernst in 1925. Find out more about how Ernst and others used this technique.
Born in Brühl in Germany in 1891 to a middle-class family Max Ernst was a German painter sculptor and graphic artist as well as a poet. Max’was inspired to take up painting by his father who was an amateur painter and had an interest in painting and sketching and nature.
Max enrolled at the University of Bonn in 1909 where he studied Philosophy, art history and literature as well as psychology and psychiatry during this time he visited asylums and developed a fascination for the art of mentally ill patients. He became an artist in 1911 and was influenced by the works of Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin.
Max Ernst’s early life was interrupted in 1914 by World War I when he was drafted and served on the Western and Eastern Front. Max was devastated by the effects of war and in his biography he wrote: “On the first of August 1914 M[ax].E[rnst]. died. He was resurrected on the eleventh of November 1918.” – Wikipedia. While on the Western front he was assigned to chart maps for a short time which allowed him to continue painting. World War I was a sad time for the expressionist movement with many of the expressionist artists dying in the trenches.
I recently watched two documentaries about the German Expressionist Movement, BBC’s ‘Art of Germany – In the Shadow of Adolph Hitler’ and ‘Degenerate Art, The Nazis vs. Expressionism’ a 1993 documentary which were both very interesting.
At the end of the war in 1918 Max returned to cologne and started the Dada movement in 1921, he is known as the pioneer of the Dada movement and surrealism.
In 1925 he invented frottage and developed it as a graphic art technique. Ernst got the idea after observing a washed-out wooden floor in his hotel in France on one rainy afternoon, which inspired him to transfer the texture of the floor to a sheet of paper using graphite. He also created textures from rubbing over objects such as textiles, bark and leaves and ‘Through precise selection, combination, control of texture and some discreet additions, he was able to build up delicate, surprising images of fantasy landscapes, plants and creatures.’ – Oxford Art Online.
The English Surrealist Maddox Conroy, (27 December 1912 – 14 January 2005) who discovered surrealism in 1935 and spent the rest of his life exploring its potential through his paintings, collages and photographs was also inspired by Max Ernst and also experimented with frottage as seen here in his Bird in the Hand (Watercolour on Paper).
Have you discovered any new ways of using your drawing tools to depict surface and texture?
Not as much as I wished I had, there were a few things that I couldn’t find here in this part of Bangkok such as a chunky sponge, I would have loved to have tried dripping or splashing ink for the texture of this. However I did discover new ways of hatching for as in the the fur of the teddy bear, hatching with small strokes in flowing patterns. I also discovered new ways of using my putty rubber to show texture such as twisting for the mop rug underneath my composition.
How successful were you at implying form with little or no tonal hatching?
I seemed to use some kind of hatching for nearly everything except the mop rug. The technique that I used to depict the mop strings (as I would call them) showed real depth. This was a mixture of squiggles, circles smudging and twisting with a putty rubber and it worked well.
What are your impressions of frottage as a drawing technique?
I really love the idea of using this as a drawing technique and I love the way that a surface of one thing can give you a totally different result to what you thought it would and how something as simple as the joint of 4 breeze blocks can give you an idea for a drawing of a crucifixion or graveyard scene. The best thing about frottage is that you can use it for texture in drawing you are already working on or it can give you an idea for a new drawing.
For this exercise I was determined to get outside and draw so I took a few objects with different surfaces onto the balcony and tried them in different compositions. Originally I planned to use objects that I used in the ‘Experimenting with Texture‘ exercise and what I had in mind was a reel of red and white string, a Siamese football, a mesh dishcloth, mop mitten and a teddy bear so moved them around in different composition to see how they looked. After much thought I headed down to the shop to buy some money type bags and cotton wool and came up with the following composition.
Because of the texture of the mop mat I chose graphite stick on watercolour paper to complete this exercise and started out with some more experimenting to see how each object would look.
I must have not been myself that day because I did a quick sketch of each objects texture with a soft graphite stick and thought everything looked great so grabbed my drawing board and went ahead with the drawing.
I wasn’t too worried about perspective as it was about depicting the texture rather than anything else. The drawing took me no time at all and when I had finished I packed up, confident that I had done great. I must have been in some kind of trance because when I woke up the next day I looked at again and realised not only did the drawing look awful but was too smudged and I had done a bad job in depicting any texture that was in the composition apart from the woven basket. So I made the decision to change the medium and the paper and start again.
This time I did something I had never done before, instead of drawing everything first and then going over it again with texture and detail the only thing I drew in advance was the shape of the bears head and completed the rest of the picture stroke by stroke, The drawing took me quite a few hours and due to not drawing the outlines of the objects first the perspective was off but again I wasn’t too worried about the perspective.
Medium used: graphite pencil – b, hb, 2b, 4b, 7b and white hard pastel
Paper: A3 Canson drawing paper
Teddy Bear – Small flowing hatching
Bears clothes – cross hatching
Woven Basket – hatching, smudging
Mop Mat – loops, circles, smudging, putty rubber (twisting)
Cotton wool balls – hatching, smudging
Cotton wool in plastic bag – putty rubber (twisting and erasing lines) and hatching
I changed the length of the mat as it did get a bit tedious but I am happy I got to show the depth of the mat, my only regrets are 1, that I didn’t get to do the drawing in a different medium such as pen and 2, I didn’t leave the cotton wool in the plastic bag the colour of the paper instead of trying to use a white medium which got a bit messy as I tried a few on the actual drawing before using fixative and going over in white pastel which still looks cream.
The technique of Frottage was invented by Max Ernst in 1925 and involves placing paper over a rough surface such as grained wood and rubbing with a crayon or pencil. In this exercise I experimented with the technique of Frottage (which I always thought was just called rubbing) to see what kind of patterns and textures rubbing over certain surfaces gave me.
Up until this exercise I had done all of the coursework in my apartment and most of it at night, due to early evenings and work finishing times, this was a great opportunity to get outside and do something in the daylight.
Armed with charcoal and pencils I headed out to the swimming pool to experiment on tree bark, stone-chip floors and wooden sun chairs only to find that the paper in my new sketchbook was too thick or too rough and it wasn’t giving me any patterns/texture whatsoever.
It was another day before I finally got going on this exercise or should I say the next evening (fated to working at night) I took some pages out of my small sketch book, a white paper with less tooth and started with charcoal.
I tried the technique on stone chip floor, my apartment door, floor and even the draining board and then again with different colour crayons before heading downstairs to the lobby,
Unfortunately the bark of the trees outside did not give me good results which was both surprising and disappointing and down to the bark being very smooth (difficult to find great trees in Thailand). I did get some nice rubbings off other surfaces though including the joint of a breeze block wall, which looking at it now resembles a crucifix in the sunshine but the best results using both charcoal and coloured crayon were got from the grain of the wooden door of my apartment with different panels giving me different patterns.
In this exercise I gathered together a a range of objects with different surfaces, some I bought and some I already had. The objects that I used were a takraw (Siamese football), shaggy teddy bear, a towel, mop mitten and Scotch-Brite brillow sponge as well as a woven basket, PVC chair, wire wool, toilet roll and leather Lay-Z-Boy (not the whole thing) plus a couple of other different surfaces.
In my sketchbook I made a series of approximately 5 cm squares and used both pens and pencils to depict the textures in the squares. To depict the surfaces I used several different techniques such as hatching (takraw ball), irregular hatching squiggles and stippling (Scotch-Brite sponge) and very short hatching (towel) as well as some very irregular marks for my leather look PVC chair and the creases in the arms of my Lay-Z-Boy armchair. I also tried stippling with felt tips for a toilet roll tube but I could not get it to look anything like.
One surface that created something of a challenge was the shaggy teddy bear fur and so I chose this as well as the woven basket for the exercise ‘A Drawing with Textures’.