Drawing on the Picasso with pencil rubbings

Pencil rubbing on the edge of the Picasso sculpture

Looking for a completely different way to make a drawing? How about making your drawing directly on public art? (video)

Let’s start with one of the most famous public artworks in Chicago. The Picasso. This hefty icon stands 50-feet tall, weighs 162 tons. A quirky figure that can interpreted in many ways: a woman, a baboon, an Afghan dog, the head of a horse, butterfly wings, a flying nun, a vulture, or Ollie the dragon.

The Chicago Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza

Wikipedia describes the sculpture this way:

The Cubist sculpture by Picasso was the first such major public artwork in Downtown Chicago, and has become a well-known landmark. Publicly accessible, it is known for its inviting jungle gym-like characteristics. Visitors to Daley Plaza can often be seen climbing on and sliding down the base of the sculpture.

I was one of those people. Every day on my way to work, I would climb up the Picasso, walk across the base, and hop down (or fall down). That is, before COVID-19 kept me at home.

The drawing experiment

During my daily walks across the Picasso, I came up with a fun little drawing experiment. Use the Picasso’s base as a surface to draw upon. You can draw on the flat surface of the Picasso and pick up the texture of steel base. But more importantly, you can draw on the very edge of the base. Position your paper over the edge the base, rub your pencil along the edge. You’ll get a line. Essentially, a pencil rubbing of the edge.

Using the edge of the Picasso sculpture base to make a pencil rubbing
Yes, yes, this edge of the sculpture’s base would be good to do a pencil rubbing and make drawing lines.

What a fun way to make a line drawing! Picasso helps you make line drawings!

But wait. It doesn’t stop there. For shading just put the paper on the surface of the Picasso, and shade in. The core-ten steel has a texture that shows up on the paper.

My cousin Peter has a notebook that he passes along to people, asking each person to write or draw something creative in the book. In his notebook is the the first time I tried this Picasso pencil rubbing method.

Here’s a video of the drawing being made.

The box of graphite sticks that I use to make pencil rubbings
The box of graphite sticks that I use to make pencil rubbings.

Get yourself a nice graphite stick. I like to carry mine around in this cardboard box. If you buy multiple sticks from the art store Blick, often the cashier will package them into a nice little box like this. My box has a mix of various hardness and softness levels. 6B is very soft. 2B is what you find in regular pencils.

silhouette of the picasso's face
This silhouette of the Picasso’s face makes a nice subject matter. Check out the lines, and the nice large outline shapes.
Use the edge of the Picasso to rub a line with graphite
Use the edge of the Picasso to rub a line with graphite
Using the base of the Picasso to rub the shading with graphite
Using the base of the Picasso to rub the shading with graphite
Holding up the drawing of the Picasso against the silhouette of
Holding up the drawing of the Picasso against the silhouette of
A drawing of the Picasso, made on the surface of the Picasso
A drawing of the Picasso, made on the surface of the Picasso

The challenges

It was so much fun! Also a little challenging since a book has a spine that makes it hard to position book’s page along the edge of the thick base.

I’ll admit, it’s not the best drawing in the world. The temperatures that day in March were just above freezing. Doing a drawing directly on freezing-cold steel proved to be a little bit of a challenge. I worked quickly. Plus, I was having lunch next day with Peter to give him back the notebook. My time limitation was just to one lunch period. But bonus points for creativity, right?

This Moleskine notebook from Peter is all about capturing people’s thoughts and creativity. Notebooks are about being in the moment, writing on physical paper in a real place.

The conceptual weight of pencil rubbings as a medium

Pencil rubbings dovetail with being in the moment. Pencil rubbings capture the very location of where you are. They are touch-to-touch rendering of the physical surfaces and textures.

Pencil rubbing is such an intimate way of capturing a place you’ve visited. We all can take photos, which is great. But pencil rubbings get you right on top of the location. You are constantly touching and interacting with environment. To the point of capturing a literal carbon copy of the surface. Your take-away is an intimate experience with that particular spot.

From my blog post, “I did a five-foot wide pencil rubbing on my last day in the Tribune Tower

Thus, it’s fitting that I would do a pencil rubbing inside Peter’s notebook. This spread in the notebook now captures a moment of urban life through a hefty Chicago icon.

Next steps

One of these days I’ll make more drawings along the edge of the Picasso. I’m excited to see how they turn out when I’m not limited by the spine of a book. Once the COVID-19 virus is done spreading around, I’m looking forward to visiting one of my favorite spots in Chicago, the Picasso.

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