Collecting Drawings

We were struck reviewing the 2013 artprice auction data that drawings are commanding an increasing share of art auction revenue. In 2003, drawings were only 13% of auction revenue, by 2012 & 2013 it was more like 33%.

While it is likely that most of this value is from artworks from the modern period changing hands, we have been encouraged by well-attended fairs such as DrawingNow, and major gifts such as that of Florence and Daniel Guerlain of their contemporary drawings to Centre Pompidou, that drawings are increasingly appealing to new and intermediate collectors.

There are lots of good reasons for this, number one being that drawings are compelling, striking, and usually, but not always, more affordable than paintings.

You can see in them the talent and character of the artists that created them, they’re not always merely sketches and studies for a final work product that only hint of the great work to come. They’re great in their own right.

In fact, says reknowned drawings collector Frances Guerlain, “when we consider the old masters’ paintings, we find preparatory drawings that are every bit as beautiful as the final masterpieces.”

Certainly all the important museums have significant drawings collections, including Centre Pompidou and MoMA.

The term “drawings” also represents a very diverse set of materials and techniques. While paintings typically refer to works on canvas/linen, drawings can be made on paper, textured paper, found materials, wood, and yes, even canvas. Many artists create exquisite carnets de dessins, or sketchbooks, that are lovely, collectible art objects.

And works amateur collectors often think of as “paintings” are technically drawings because they’ve been done on paper, for example, watercolors.

When you’re buying works on paper, don’t be satisfied until you know what materials have been used to create them. It’s not enough to say “mixed-media” or “technique mixte” -- for conservation purposes you want to make sure the materials are ones that will endure -- unless degradation over time is an explicit artistic intent and one you’re comfortable with.

English-French Materials Dictionary for works on paper

watercolor = aquarelle

gouache = gouache

pastel pencil = pastel

dry pastel = pastel sec

charcoal = fusain

charcoal pencils = crayons fusain

conté crayons = craies Conté

graphite stick = bâton de graphite

water-soluble graphite stick = bâton de graphite soluble à l’eau

india ink = encre de chine

ballpoint pen = stylo bille

felt-tipped markers = stylo feutre

white-out or liquid paper = fluide correcteur (ou tippex)

water-soluble colored pencils = crayons aquarelles

spray paint = bombe de peinture



Donation Florence et Daniel Guerlain dessins contemporains Centre Pompidou, Editions du Centre Pompidou, Paris 2013 The Art Market in 2013