Paper Art: 3 Artists Who Are Using Paper in Unique Ways

Paper has played a key role in artistic practice for centuries, often the first place an artist makes a mark before moving on to canvas or the core material of a finished work.

While modern life is increasingly paper-free with emails, e-readers and apps effecting how we go about our lives, the art world is also affected by these changes. In 2012 artist David Hockney exhibited a series of drawings at the Royal Academy made using an iPad, for example.

In an increasingly digital world, paper still holds its own and artists today use it in unique and sometimes untraditional ways, as evidenced by these artists, all of whom featured together in the exhibition ‘PAPER’ at the Saatchi Gallery.

Freya Douglas-Morris, ‘Dip’, watercolour and gouache on paper, 76 x 56 cm 2020 and ‘Russet’, watercolour & gouache on paper, 30 x 23cm, 2020

Collage art: Freya Douglas-Morris

Freya Douglas-Morris stores a wide range of papers at her London studio. An initial thought for a painting – “a figure, the type of landscape, intimate in atmosphere and scale, or more broad” – helps her choose the right type of paper to suit the idea. She uses heavyweight paper to support the loosely handled water-based media she likes. It is important that the paper is “apparent” in the final work and to this end she leaves areas blank or an edge rough and torn, exposing the fibre and fabric of the paper.

Using paper has opened up Douglas-Morris’s practice; she likes to work with it on the floor as this creates a direct and spontaneous dynamic. Among her materials is a large bag containing pieces of paper collected and bought abroad, mainly in European cities.

She admits these are probably no different to what is available in London, but for her they have important personal associations with travel, a sense of which she seeks to include in her work. This paper is stained, painted, and collaged into the work, torn out if not successful and re-painted. Different materials encourage different approaches and she finds working with paper makes her work more fluid and open.

View more of Freya’s work on Instagram.

Paul Westcome: ‘just food for the midgies’, used paper coffee cup, watercolour ink and acrylic, 2017 and ‘high achievement always takes place in the frame work of high expectation’, used paper coffee cup, watercolour, acrylic, ink, 2018

Art on paper cups and found objects: Paul Westcombe

In contrast to the high regard in which paper was once held, living in a large city today makes discarded newspapers, packaging and other types of paper debris a daily eyesore, rather than a valuable asset.

Working as a car park attendant in London, artist Paul Westcombe dealt with the boredom of his dull job by compulsively drawing on any surface he could find. After trying mop handles and receipts, used paper coffee cups became his surface of choice. He covered them with crazed, intricate designs that are a celebration of the imagination and the need to draw in the face of mundane daily realities.

View more of Paul’s work on Instagram.

Tom Thayer, ‘Crossing the Methane River’, 2012, Paint, ink, pigments, graphite, crayon, collage on cardboard, wire, string, wood, felt, cloth, 156.2 x 123.2 x 6.4 cm and ‘Congregation’, 2010, Corrugated cardboard, crayon, masking tape, string, and wire. Both courtesy the artist and Derek Eller Gallery

Paper sculpture art: Tom Thayer

Moving from the painted surface through collage and sculpture, it is difficult to see which elements are found or made new in Tom Thayer‘s delicate constructions. Pigments, crayon and cardboard combine with found coloured cloth to create storks hung on wires and spindly trees. The versatility of paper makes it ideal for painting, drawing and gluing to make these fragile structures.

View more of Tom’s work on Instagram.


Ultimately, despite technological advances, paper is still the surface of choice for artists, whether for a rapid sketch or delicate watercolour. Paper also plays an important role as an integral source of inspiration for artists, it is often elevated as an object to be admired and it is as much of a tool in art practice as a paint or brush.

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