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The Eric Carle Museum
of Picture Book Art
  • 125 West Bay Road
  • Amherst, MA 01002


  • Thursday, Friday10 am-3 pm
  • Saturday 10am – 4 pm
  • Sunday 12 pm - 4 pm

Closed Monday,Tuesday, Wednesday

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Making Art Together

How to Make Rubbing Plates with Natural Materials

We use rubbing plates all the time here in The Art Studio to add interesting colors and textures to paper. Some molded plastic sets we've purchased over the years, but the best rubbing plates we have are the ones we made ourselves! I thought I would share the steps here for one way of making a set of rubbing plates with grass and leaves, but you can use these steps with many other natural materials too. 

First, collect pieces of thick chipboard, mat board or corrugated plastic to use as the plate backing.  If you are using chipboard or mat board I recommend sealing the surface first with a coat of Acrylic Gesso (available at art supply stores) before cutting them into your desired size.  Brush it on at least one side and let it dry completely (about 30 minutes). Gesso isn't absolutely necessary, but may help add life to your rubbing plates if you want them to last longer than a few uses.

While the gesso dries, collect natural materials outside like leaves, grass, seeds, twigs or bark or purchase beans, grains, seeds or other materials from the store. Experiment with different materials and see what you like best!

Next, cut down the boards to the desired sizes, ours are in 5-inch or 6-inch rectangles or squares. Spread an even layer of Light Modeling Paste (available at art supply stores) with a thick brush or plastic spatula across the top of the gessoed side of the board.  Above, we are pressing the natural materials into the paste so they aren't peeling away or lifting up. The paste has a consistency like thick cake frosting.

The paste acts as an adhesive as it dries. I recommend attaching leaves with the raised side facing UP so you will get the best rubbing once it's dry. Set the plates aside overnight to dry completely.

The next day, trim any excess material hanging off the edge of the plate (grass, string, etc) and make sure the surface is thoroughly dry before sealing them. To seal the plate I used Minwax Water-Based Polycrylic Gloss (available in the paint department at the hardware store) and brushed an even coat over the top and sides of each plate, right over the leaves, grass, or whatever other texture you have on your boards. You could also use a small paint roller instead of a brush.  We left ours to dry outside in the sun to speed up the drying process. Brush on one or two coats, drying thoroughly between coats.  Two coats usually does the trick to make everything stick down for good.

Here are some more texture plates I made for a workshop I did recently with children in Springfield, MA.

Families used the rubbing plates to create texture squares to paint with watercolors and then combine into paper quilts.

If you're looking for other ways to create textured surfaces, check out my Printing with Found Materials 2 post.

How do you use rubbing plates in your classroom or at home?              



We enjoy exploring materials and ideas in the Art Studio, and we’re excited to share our process with you! Please consider the following factors when adapting these posts for your learning environment: 

We facilitate a variety of programs within the Art Studio for a wide range of age groups. Please carefully consider the age appropriateness of each individual activity in your own learning environment.

Our projects are always done with adult supervision and proper safety precautions. Be sure all of your projects are overseen by adults who likewise follow proper safety precautions. The adults overseeing your project must also be responsible for handling or assisting with any potentially harmful equipment or materials. 

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is not responsible for any damages, injuries or liabilities that result from any activities contained within this website, and we expressly disclaim any responsibility or liability therefor. From time to time, we reference materials that we have found to be particularly important in our projects. We do not receive any monetary compensation for recommending materials. 



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