Rubbing People Up the Right Way. This article is the first in a series that promotes the creation of professional-looking art without the need to be a professional artist. Or, better still, without the need to even be remotely artistic. Yet, as some of the images in this article dem
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Rubbing People Up the Right Way.

By Paul Dunwell, writing for EasyFrame
© Copyright EasyFrame 2019

Brass Rubbing

What This Article is About

This article is the first in a series that promotes the creation of professional-looking art without the need to be a professional artist. Or, better still, without the need to even be remotely artistic. Yet, as some of the images in this article demonstrate, amateur brass-rubbers can create artwork which is so remarkable that only a seasoned snob would turn their noses up at it!

NArtefacts suitable for brass rubbings

Brass- rubbing is an almost-uniquely British enthusiasm for acquiring copies of monumental brass plaques, stonework and woodwork on paper or similar using wax crayons, chalk or another medium. It is akin to tracing, something that virtually every child used to routinely do in school (rubbing pencils placed on paper above coins) before we went all digital. And it has the benefits of giving anybody the opportunity to create something that:

  • Is a piece of artwork that emulates the work of the original artist
  • Is not subject to copyright
  • Presents an arresting and intriguing image
  • Is often on a scale which can be quite imposing
  • Can be done economically
  • Is so inexpensive that it allows you to spend more liberally on a decent frame.
  • Cheap art in the form of brass rubbings

    I should explain, by the way, that sometimes rubbing is confused with ‘frottage’. The latter is essentially undertaken to capture a texture whereas the former is to capture detail.

    Hitherto hidden materpieces

    The Educational Process

    It is indisputable that brass-rubbing has an integral educational value that would be termed as ‘cross-curricular’. In the process of creating images a brass-rubber will pick up a lot of information on history that spans dates and events, geography, culture, clothing, language and much more. The mere task can bring history alive for people who are often disconnected from it in every other sense.

    The Brass-Rubbing Process in Brief

    It’s simple. Which is why little kids can do it. First you need to lay a sheet of paper (it would be possible to use something else such as linen) on top of the brass (what we refer to as brass is often an alloy of brass and nickel, but this can be done on stonework or woodwork anyway). You then rub the paper with wax, chalk, graphite or some other medium, bearing down on the underlying image in order to capture the detail.

    Brass rubbing is childs play

    Historically rubbings were often made using materials such as ‘butcher’s paper’ and ‘heelball’ which was a black wax used on shoes. Today you can buy rolls of purpose-made paper as well as bronze, silver and gold crayons. See sources such as

    Huge range of material available

    Having said all of this, it is worth thinking outside of the box and using one’s imagination when it comes to media. But remember not to use anything that could be corrosive or which might somehow harm the underlying work!

    Top Tips

    The following tips could do a lot to make life easier and improve your outcomes:

  • Make sure that individual sheets or rolls of paper or similar, or whatever medium you use, are big enough to capture the entire image. You want to avoid joins in the finished work that could be hard to hide
  • Take masking-tape or similar with you to hold the medium in place
  • Don’t automatically exclude backgrounds; they may merit inclusion
  • Take a cushion if you’re going to be kneeling down for ages!
  • Wear warm clothing and fingerless mitts if you’re working in a church or graveyard
  • You should take a brush and pan or similar to clean the site afterwards. Don’t leave bits of wax or other materials all over. Wax flakes during use!
  • Capturing images for brass rubbings from churches

    Locations and Sensitivity

    Many churches and museums will let people make brass rubbings without charge (though it is always a nice gesture to pop something into the collection pot!) But be aware that some brasses and monuments have been rubbed so many times that wear is visible and the authorities have either banned brass-rubbers or only allow them to take rubbings from duplicates (some of which are on a smaller scale than the original). Yet many authorities recognise that brass-rubbing is an activity which brings youngsters into churches and museums, pricking their interest. Examples of venues that extend a heartening welcome to brass-rubbers include Exeter Cathedral and Durham Museum (see which actually gives out free the materials that brass-rubbers need to have a go. In any event seek permission please. And, always, if you’re in any religious setting you should demonstrate decorum and behave respectfully – controlling noise and language in particular.

    Brass rubbings from Exter Cathedral


    Brass-rubbing (and don’t forget that this extends to ornamental stonework and woodwork) is an affordable way to fill your walls with something that has involved you and, possibly, your kids. Its monetary value is irrelevant if it fills space and engrosses those who see it.

    Brass rubbings from gravestones

    To find out more about brass-rubbing go to The Monumental Brass Society whose website is at and the Feltmagnet site at There are many places that encourage brass-rubbers including families with children. Seek them out. St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London has over 100 replica pieces from British churches and cathedrals. For as little as £4.50 its staff will give you all you need and get you started on any free piece.

    Top Tips

    If you make (or buy) brass-rubbings then you’ll need them framing and it’s best to have them framed by just one supplier. Unless you know your stuff when it comes to picture frames and mounts, and the size of many brass-rubbings means that you need large frames, it’s always worth going to experts. EasyFrame is an obvious and affordable supplier, whether you want to source all you’d need to do the job yourself or have them do it for you.

    Any good framers will be able to show you a vast range of different solutions and advise on what might be the most suitable given the work and its proposed location.

    EasyFrame is on 01234 856 501 and / or and they’ll always chat even if you don’t want to buy!

    Article Posted: 29/08/2019 13:28:57

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