In art, frottage is a surrealist and “automatic” method of creative production developed by Max Ernst. In frottage, the surface texture of an article or material is transferred to a laid paper by rubbing it with chalk or pencil. A continuation of this technique by other means can be found in the nitrofrottage.

Unlike a “Abklatsch”, a Abreib-process to reproduce engraved inscriptions, the technique is not the faithful reproduction of a model, but is itself an artistic stylistic device. For example, colored surfaces receive the structure of fabrics, wood grain, coarse stone slabs, leaves or other. Frother techniques are usually used in combination with other artistic forms of expression such as collage or complement traditional techniques such as oil or watercolor painting.

This technique consists of superimposing a certain support, such as a sheet of paper or a canvas on a surface having more or less marked reliefs, such as stone, wood or anything that is not smooth. Using a variety of soft pencils, crayons, chalks, coals, or charcoal, the support will be spattered, allowing the pads of the underlying surface to gradually rise. The result of this process is to obtain clear and faded designs and textures, and images that are largely random and unpredictable. In addition to being used simply to produce particular graphic images, frottage can also be the starting point and the base for making more elaborate works over a longer period of time. Another way to use this technique is to enrich areas and details of drawings and paintings with plots or graphic motifs.

Frottage was rediscovered as an art technique by surrealist artist Max Ernst. Looking at the wooden floor of his room, he leaned over a sheet of paper on which he rubbed with a pencil and obtained a copy of the relief, from this simple experience he perceived the infinite possibilities that could arise. Ernst first called this grattail technique and later frottage, with it in the 1920s he produced a series of works that had as a recurrent forest image, published in his “Histoire Naturelle”. Using this technique, he performs in the pictorial field the surrealist principle of psychic automation, already present in literary form with the automatic writing of surrealist poets.

The advanced technique is that designed by Max Ernst, it is based on the same basic principle of rubbing but is implemented by different means and with greater sophistication. It consists of scraping through a spatula or other instrument a layer of fresh color, such as oil, leaving the underlying background color to emerge.

Scraping, as in the base technique, always takes precedence over a rough surface, but the results are more pictorial and material.

Already known in ancient China and classic Greece, where it was used to make copies of bas-reliefs on rice or parchment paper, it was rediscovered in modern times by the German artist Max Ernst.

In frottage, the artist takes a pastel or pencil or other drawing tool and makes a rubbing over an uneven surface. The drawing can be left as it is or used as the basis for further refinement. While superficially similar to brass rubbing and other forms of rubbing intended to reproduce an existing subject, and in fact sometimes being used as an alternative term for it, frottage differs in being aleatoric and random in nature.

It was developed by Ernst in 1925. Ernst was inspired by an ancient wooden floor where the grain of the planks had been accentuated by many years of scrubbing. The patterns of the graining suggested strange images to him. He captured these by laying sheets of paper on the floor and then rubbing over them with a soft pencil.