Works on Paper
‘Work on paper’ usually applies to drawings, collages, artists’ books and prints, though it is difficult to define drawing (for example) as distinct from painting. Paper here is the support on which marks are made—marks usually involving the application of ink, watercolour, acrylic, charcoal, chalk, crayon, pastel or graphite—or heavier items glued on, like paper, photographs or objects.Read More
Works on paper are usually lighter than other works, and can be rolled up, put in canisters and easily transported to be framed and put under glass later, if desired. Arguably, they can also be photographs—though these prints are often made of plastic too—or (rarely) seen as sculpture, because paper sheets technically have a thickness, and their images can represent items in the space of the real world.
Paper—the material or substance—has many weights, thicknesses, absorbencies and granular textures, depending on how it is made and the properties of its source material—for example, wood chips, recycled rags or parchment. Such variations suit different types of media, be they liquid or dry. Some artists are particularly focused on working with paper as a drawn- or painted-on support—rather than making works of paper, where paper is an additive medium (as applied liquid or cut and folded sheets), or a subtractive one (where shapes and representations are cut out and removed). Even when flat, paper can add a sculptural and textural dimension beyond merely functioning as an under-layer. Handmade paper itself, with no marks added, can be seen as a satisfying visual statement.
The term ‘works on paper’ is often allocated by certain art institution professionals, such as the conservators and curators who specialise in researching this variety of art production and the history of artists interested in these materials. It is a separate category from other media like sculpture, video or painting, though it may include working drawings that show the ideational and formal development of pieces in other media. Often the reason artists are attracted to white paper as a support is because when the paint or ink is transparent, the colour glows, creating a delicate intimacy even when the paper is large. Contemporary artists who work with watercolour on paper include Marlene Dumas, Stephanie Tuckwell, Alf Löhr, Carol Robertson and Barbara Nicholls. Makers of more linear drawings as visual research for sculptural or painting projects include Claude Heath, Edward Allington and Julie Mehretu.
Modern printmakers are varied. Examples include Paul Coldwell, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Lynne Allen and Zakee Shariff. Printmaking has greatly changed over the last two decades and now utilises advanced digital technology alongside traditional methodologies.
Some artists—such as innovative bookmaker Meryl Perloff—work with bound wads of sheets rather than framed single ones, sometimes moving into freestanding cardboard-covered sculpture. In such practices, the distinctions between working on paper and working with it are blurred.