Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Up Side of Negative Space

Did you do leaf rubbings when you were little? Tucking a leaf underneath a paper, then rubbing the flat side of a crayon over it, watching the edges and veins and stem appear on the paper? Or a penny? Rubbing the crayon over a penny hidden under the paper and Abraham Lincoln appears?

As a  fun art lesson, my friend Jane took rubbings to a whole new level. The challenge of walking around the house and yard looking for things with texture or raised design is a lesson in observation skills. Everyday things took on a new perspective. Embossed book covers. Buttons on a shirt. Labels on toys. The grill of the car. Designs on a bed frame. Coffee mugs with molded shapes. Basket weave. What other textures could you find in your house?

We used colored pencils, well sharpened, with the pencil held at an angle close to the paper and rubbing along the edge. The idea is to create a composition, to combine all the random designs in a way that creates an interesting-to-look-at piece, the only rule to completely fill the paper. By using a variety of colors, and by discovering a wide range of textures and shapes, old familiar things can be seen with fresh eyes.

A rubbing uses negative space by bringing out the up-side, by causing the high points to stand out in strong contrast to the low points. The pencil catches the raised parts of the texture or design, skimming over the valleys, bringing out the sharp lines of the object.

I love this painting of Jane's. In her art blog, she says, "I love the lines of old classic trucks, and I like to paint the patina of age because it’s interesting. The sagging corrugated shed roof emphasizes the atmosphere of ‘out to pasture’ and also creates an interesting negative space. I like to believe that age adds patina and interest to me as well. Mantra: stay active, keep walking, keep painting."

Creating a composition with the rubbings is like the overlaps in our lives as skills we have learned for one purpose are re-applied to something totally new, different and unexpected as the texture of our lives unfold. When directions change, when people around us grow and change, when the location of our house changes, what we take with us, what we bring with us forms a new composition. How we decide to combine the colors and the layout and the overlaps of design will be the art created by our lives. As we rub over different objects, like the rough spots in our lives, we unwrap a whole new way of seeing.

This holiday, maybe you would enjoy creating some rubbings, either with the children that are around, or on your own. I am going to take colored pencils with us on our trip, to do this with our grandchildren. Choose a Christmas theme, or anything else you think of that would create a pleasant, colorful design. Find raised designs, textures, imprints or shapes, like a treasure hunt. Creating art is never a waste of time if it helps you to see, really see, and appreciate and use all that we have, even the negative space.


  1. Wow! You saved all these rubbings! That brings back memories. Judging by the intensity of color, we probably used crayon, although chalk works well too. It's nice to see my truck on your blog. Who knew...? FYI: My blog is on Facebook and janethorpeart.com.

  2. How cool is this?!?! As a car lover, I am really impressed with the Dodge emblem!

    "...uses negative space to bring out the up-side..." Oh, there is a life lesson in there, huh?