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Works on Paper

'Works on paper' is a broad term that today includes any artwork that uses paper as its support such as drawings, manuscripts, collages, and paintings on paper. The world’s first recorded papermaking process dates to 1st Century China when Ts’ai Lun, a court official for the Chinese Han Dynasty, pulped mulberry tree fibres together with used rags and fishnets to make the first paper. Papermaking began to make its way across the world in the 7th Century, when the Chinese Tang army was defeated by the Islamic Abbasid Caliphate and soldiers who had once worked as papermakers were forced to give up their secrets. As a result, the first Arabic paper industry was established in Baghdad in 793 AD; from here, papermaking spread across to Spain and Portugal, and was firmly established in Europe by the 15th Century. Significant papermaking centres were set up in Fabriano and Amalfi in Italy, where paper was made from cloth rags such as hemp, linen and cotton.

Leonardo da Vinci
The Vitruvian Man, c. 1487
Pen and ink on paper
35 x 26 cm (13.8 x 10.2 in.)
In the Gallerie dell’Accademia collection, Venice, Italy

Derek Weisberg
The Alchemy of Unexpected Meetings XXI, 2020
Mixed media, ink, china marker, graphite and oil pastel on paper mounted over fabric
71.8 x 54 cm (28.25 x 21.25 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Trotter & Sholer, New York

With the advent of European papermaking, Renaissance artists like Leonardo da Vinci developed drawings on paper as preparatory works for paintings and sculptures. Paper began to become not just a support, but an artistic medium in the early 20th Century with the development of collage techniques by artists such as Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso who painted directly into layers of newsprint, and the lesser-known Hannah Höch, who was a pioneer in developing complex compositions of found images. Drawing the everyday into works of art, these techniques can be seen to have paved the way for Pop Art techniques like that used by Robert Rauschenberg, and conceptual artists like John Stezaker whose collages follow the formal rules of Cubism.

Works on paper, whether collaged, painted or drawn upon, need to be specially preserved given their delicate nature. They must be protected from natural light, damp and able to breathe, paper conservators specialise in restoring the papers, glues and pigments involved in a work on paper.

Related categories







Photo Collage

Ink on Paper


Lyrical Expression

Watercolor Painting


Ink Painting

Hemp Cloth


Watercolor on Paper

(Inspired by) Cubism


Riverscape / Seascape

Gouache Paint

Blurring Genre Boundaries

Collage on Paper

Soft and Meticulous Brushstrokes