Collecting 1.0: Works on Paper

Artsy Collecting
Jul 8, 2013 5:36PM

The term works on paper is both elusive and self-explanatory—it refers the whole range of styles and mediums applied to paper or paper-like support structures, from pen scribbles upon ruled sheets, to charcoal drawings, to collages and paintings where thick layers make it difficult to distinguish the original base. Works on paper generally connotes original pieces, but is closely tied to prints, which are editioned works made through a variety of printmaking processes.

While many artists use paper as their primary image-making medium, some of the best known (and most sought-after) works on paper are preparatory studies for larger pieces. Agnes Martin’s Untitled (1957) was a study for a series of paintings in development, while Sol LeWitt’s paper drawings are explorations of geometry and line that enabled him to envision his renowned wall paintings.

Collectors are often drawn to works on paper since they are more affordable than canvas pieces, often by an exponential amount. While Agnes Martin’s square canvases fetch $1-2 million at auction, her paper works can be purchased starting at $10,000. In addition, works on paper are unique, since they often show a greater freedom of experimentation and the artist’s hand. Often they are sought out by experienced collectors to complement larger pieces and reveal the artist’s creative process and their ideas taking shape.

Certain works on paper require greater attention to conservation, especially watercolors and oil pastels (the latter is why museum galleries containing Edgar Degas’ drawings are often dimly lit).  Since paper is susceptible to humidity, works on paper should generally be framed and kept behind UV-protective glass, but with these precautions the works are as stable as any painting.

Works on paper are a terrific entry point for new collectors, just as much as they are the ideal way for connoisseurs to round out their collection. Browse the Masters on Paper collection on Artsy, featuring works by Robert Motherwell, Ed Ruscha, Gerhard Richter and and Sol LeWitt (all under $5,000) or learn more about works on paper from The Art Genome Project.

Artsy Collecting