Exploring rubbings

rubbings in London

Hello again and good morning wherever you are (or maybe good afternoon?). In the past two blog posts I’ve written, I talked about staying creative while travelling. We discussed taking loads of photos, carrying a sketchbook or notebook and creating a travel journal, writing poetry if that’s your thing, and lots more.

There’s another way to bring back memories from travel. It involves a few more materials, and it’s entirely dependent on weather conditions but it’s possible. It’s all about making rubbings using wax crayons or oil sticks such as Paintstiks. What you’ll need:

  • Fabric or paper
  • Masking tape
  • Paintstiks or oil pastels
  • A large ziplock bag
  • Tissue paper
  • Gloves
  • A few pieces of paper towel

Look down, look sideways, look up. What do you see? If you look down to the floor you are walking on, chances are you’ll be stepping on sewer covers, water mains and all kind of interesting textures. And what do you see when you actually pay attention? Interesting features such as squares, circles, words … usually one of those will have the name of the town you are visiting.

These are wonderful textures to bring back with you. You can use a pencil as a simple tool and a piece of paper to make a quick rubbing, but you can also use a piece of fabric and a paintstik to bring home a piece of your travels.

What you’ll do is to tape down the fabric on the cover you’d like to rub to keep it in place. Think details and not the whole cover … and then with a paintstik to which you’ve already removed the skin, gently rub to get the texture of the cover. Rub in one direction and overlap your “strokes” to get an even surface. Once finished, remove the masking tape and discard in a trash can (or take it with you to discard in your hotel).

NOTE: if you are working on a large piece, take the time to tape the fabric/paper to the floor/wall. It is important to keep the fabric stretched and in place. As you can see from the image in the middle, I did not tape the fabric and it shifted, so I ended up with a less-than-clear rubbing (I’m OK with that as it’s all part of the travel experience. :)

Place a piece of tissue paper on the painted side of the fabric, and carefully fold or roll up. Place in a plastic bag and put it in your luggage. Once you get home, make sure your piece is dry, and heat set it with a piece of parchment paper to protect your iron. It is now ready to be used in your work.

I hope you will consider giving this technique a try. Start small. The image on the black fabric is a huge sewer cover in Banff, and it took some time to tape the fabric in place on a windy day, and finish it properly as I used almost a whole Paintstik. If you are travelling in a group and short on time, consider rubbing a piece of the cover with some interesting lettering and textures.

Above all, have fun creating memories! Until I write again, keep creating.


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  1. What a great suggestion! I’ve used paint sticks on quilts but never thought of public rubbing, thanks.

    1. Glad you liked the idea! It’s a great – and fun – way to bring a piece of your travels back with you. Enjoy!


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