Bridging the Gap – Old Art Medium Meets Technology

Sitting in my second year of graphic design school, learning color theory with gauche and elements of design with a ruling pen (that I figured was the same tool used by cavemen in the dark ages) I thought, how is this going to help me in the design world of today? A design world ruled by computers, software and technology and not by paint and pens.

Now today, with over a decade of design experience, I have found that I fall back on those most basic of principles each and every day, because these principals remain the same, no matter what tool you use. Being an old soul deep down, I am constantly looking for ways to bridge the gap of the old ways and the new, a sort of extreme mixing of medias if you will – the X-Games of design and art. Well maybe not that extreme, let us all calm down a bit while I show you how I have taken one of the older forms of art (frottage) and brought it into the digital realm of design.

Max Ernst quote: ‘I was surprised by the sudden intensification of my visionary powers and by the hallucinatory succession of contradictory images superimposed, one upon the other, with the persistence and rapidity peculiar to amorous memories. My curiosity awakened and astonished, I began to examine indiscriminately, using the same means, all sorts of materials found in my visual field: leaves and their veins, the frayed edges of a bit of sackcloth, the brush strokes of a “modern” painting, a thread unwound from a spool, etc.’

What is  “frottage” you ask? It is something we all probably did in elementary school, but something that I still find interesting and so much fun. It is when you place a piece of paper on a surface and rub with some drawing medium, for example a crayon, graphite or charcoal, across it (horizontally), transferring the texture to your paper and creating an instant work of art. The fun doesn’t have to stop there though as the rubbings are often used for art and other projects. Max Ernst and other Surrealist artist incorporated rubbings into their paintings by means of collage.

When I first moved to New York city from the west coast, I was overwhelmed in just about every sense. I have a nerdy curiosity for architecture, typography, color and texture, among other things. Because my limited, practically on welfare, college budget did not allow me such things as a fancy camera to record these things in my new environment, I decided to do “frottage art walks” around the city and explore all the different textures I possibly could. I once discovered over 30 different textures on a single building, and that was just on the outside. There seemed to be art everywhere I looked, it just had to be discovered, even on the dirty sidewalk.


As I made my way around Manhattan, I numbered the rubbings and kept a map, marking where each one came from. It was like a tour guide of textures by the time I was done, except I was seeing the textures instead of feeling them. I also wrote down some snippits about a few of the textures and places that I explored along the way. I made one rubbing on an escalator in Grand Central, I can still picture the looks that one got me. And the one from ‘The Rock” in central park that was actually done by a curious seven year old.

After collecting more scraps of paper and journals full of frottage than would fit in my tiny Brooklyn apartment, I decided that I needed to do something with them. I began scanning them and converting them into Photoshop brushes with which I could create digital art work and collages. I have created a whole library of my own, custom Photoshop brushes and use them to this day, even though I can afford a camera now. For the super artsy people that are still following, below are short instructions on how you can convert your textures and frottage works into Photoshop brushes too.

1. Open up your scanned of photographed image in Photoshop (CS or higher).
2. Select all or part of the image that you want to use for your brush.
3. Go to Edit from your drop down menu and select ‘Define Brush Preset’.
4. Give your brush a name, I used the locations from my walk around New York.
5. Now use this brush to create your new art works!

Download Sample Brush



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