Collecting Works on Paper

Kourosh Mahboubian Fine Art
Mar 14, 2018 2:55AM

The lowly sheet of paper is the starting point of many creative endeavours. Whether referring to an artist’s sketchpad or a child’s drawing, this material is the first to come to mind when we think of making art. However, it has been my experience that when we think of buying art, we’re more likely to conjure images of canvasses and sculptures than of works on paper. The truth is that works on paper are a vital and thriving part of the art market. Aesthetic issues aside, they provide us with a wonderful way to assemble a collection of original art in a small space, for a fraction of the cost of other media.

In the broadest terms, works on paper generally fall into one of four categories, paintings and drawings, prints, photographs, and constructed pieces like collages. There are many variations, subsets and overlaps within these categories. For our purposes here, I will only talk about two-dimensional, non-photographic, original artworks on paper.

The photography and print markets are specialty areas that merit dedicated articles of their own. For more information on photography, please look at my article, “Photography, the Accessible Darling of the Art World”, in the second issue of this column. I will be covering the print market separately as well, in an upcoming article.


Artists use sketches as notes or as studies to experiment with or illustrate ideas that will ultimately be produced as a finished product in a larger scale or in a different medium. Sketches are also artworks in their own right and often provide insight into an artist’s process. Bill Gates famously paid nearly 31 million dollars in 1994 to buy Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebook, the “Codex Leicester”. It was the highest price ever paid for a book, but still a bargain compared to the 450 million dollars that were recently paid for his Salvador Mundi painting. That logic can be applied to the lower end of the market too. Sketches are original works that cost less than full-scale finished artworks by the same artist.

Direct Line To Heaven, 2015,  

by Michael Hafftka  

Oil on canvas 198 x 157 cm.

Neo-expressionist painter Michael Hafftka’s canvases command high prices and can be found in many museums.

Here, Michael Hafftka shows some of his smaller works on paper, watercolors that sell for a fraction of the cost of his oils on canvas


The difference between a drawing and a sketch is that a drawing is intended to be finished product, not a study. Drawings may be made in graphite, charcoal, colour pencils or similar materials. They may also be made in ink. The main distinction between a drawing and a painting is the technique the artist used to make it.

Book of Hours, 2013 by Saul Chernick.

Ink, watercolour, opaque white and collage on paper, 53.3 x 45.7 cm.

Saul Chernick’s beautiful works on paper consist of carefully executed line drawings that combine elements of medieval coats of arms iconography with landscape and biological imagery.


Stylistic choices notwithstanding, there are two common reasons to paint on paper. One is that the artist is using watercolor, gouache, ink or a similar water-based paint that does not work well on other surfaces. The other reason is that, even with oil or acrylic paints, working on paper is convenient, costs less and can be sold for a lower price.

Untitled, 2016 by Sky Kim

Watercolour on paper, 152 x 107 cm

Sky Kim’s large photo-like biomorphic watercolour paintings are a testament to both her creative vision and her unbelievable technical mastery of the medium.

Collages and constructions:

This hybrid category presents a broad range of possibilities. The main points to consider are that even when there is photography or print making involved, each collage is a unique original. If a construction is three-dimensional it’s considered a sculpture. Still, a work on paper will often be smaller and cost less than works in other media by the same artist.

Spirit Chair, 1979, by Tyrone Mitchell,

Cloth, paper, ink and leaves, 61 x 53 cm  

Tyrone Mitchell’s works on paper provide collectors with wonderful but less expensive alternatives to his sculptures.

This month’s artists:

I make a point of illustrating my articles each month with works by contemporary or emerging artists. This month I’m including a collage by the sculptor Tyrone Mitchell, a multimedia drawing and collage by Saul Chernick, a highly detailed biomorphic watercolour painting by Sky Kim and a comparison between an oil on canvas and a watercolour on paper, by the neo-expressionist painter Michael Hafftka. These artists’ works never cease to amaze and impress me. I hope you enjoy them.

Finally, I would love to hear from you. I’m always happy to answer my readers’ questions and comments or to be of service if you need advice. Please do not hesitate to contact me through trough Artsy.

Kourosh Mahboubian Fine Art