Starting an Art Collection? Start with Prints, Photos, and Drawings

Artwork Archive | March 30, 2017 (Updated September 20, 2022)

"She Never Told Her Love",1857. Albumen silver print from glass negative. Gilman Collection, Purchase, Jennifer and Joseph Duke Gift, 2005. Courtesy of the Met Collection, Open Access. 

You've decided that instead of just buying art, you want to have a well thought out art collection that can be admired by others and you can take pride in for years to come.

But where do you start? What types of art will you purchase?

Drawing, prints, and photographs are the perfect start, or addition, to your art collection because of accessibility and entry-level price points. These mediums offer an affordable way to collect bigger name artists as well as an intimate look into their process, life, and story.

We have put together a brief guide to the types of two-dimensional artworks you can purchase on paper and how to add them to your collection. For more great tips on collecting art, see also our Essential Guide to Collecting Art.

Common Types of Two-Dimensional Art on Paper

Drawings: Because many artists start their works with sketches, drawings can be a great way to get a piece of an artist's brainstorming and creative process. They are also widely available from many types of artists and popular among many cultures, making them a great fit into any art collection.

Drawings are also a great way to get a piece by a well-known artist for a low price. Price can range quite a bit, but drawings tend to be less expensive than say, a finished painting.

Prints: Prints are, most simply, an artwork art made into multiple iterations created through a transfer process. Prints are made using ink, paper, and the matrix. The matrix is the tool used to put the image on the paper. Imagine that the matrix is to the printer, as a paintbrush is to the painter. Common matrixes used are woodcut, etching, lithography, and screenprinting.

Fine Art Photography: Fine Art Photography is the use of film to fulfill an artist's creative vision. Fine art photography is more than just capturing a subject, it is used for expression. The prevalence of this medium has increased in popularity for art collectors recently and is another great option to find high-quality pieces for your collection at a reasonable price point. "Great art is great art, whatever the medium” and photography offers the opportunity to own great art at a lower price range. Plus, photography easily fits into many collections and homes as there is a range of subject matters and styles.

How to Buy Two-Dimensional Artwork on Paper

An artwork's condition, rarity, and provenance are important when considering purchasing any art piece you add to your collection.

Condition: Condition, as always, is important. Ask sellers about the condition of the colors and paper. Keep in mind older pieces are likely to have some aging, but the age of the piece could also make it of more value to you.

If you are buying online, you might want to only consider pieces that already have been appraised or follow some of these tips.

Authenticity & Rarity: To check for authenticity, look to see that the signature on your work matches with other works signed by the artist. Sometimes there is not a signature. In this case, you will want to consider asking a specialist to take a look at the piece before adding to your collection.

If the piece you are buying is said to be an original and not a print, check to see that the edges of the paper resemble edges that have not been cut from a larger sheet of paper. This would indicate the piece is a printed copy of an original.

With drawings, prints, and photographs the number of editions will be important in determining the value of the piece. The fewer the editions, the more your piece will be considered rare. If the number of editions isn't clear, which is often common with photos, consult an art specialist to help find out how many editions may be out there.  

ProvenanceThe history of artwork is extremely important and is what sets you apart as an art collector versus an art buyer. An accurate provenance can prove the work's authenticity as well as increase its value.

Plus, most likely, there are some interesting stories about the pieces you might want to buy. Things that should be documented in your collection include facts about the artist, creation date, any galleries or museums the work has shown in, previous owners, and places of origin.

Additionally, print shops can hold historical importance that should play a role in collecting prints. Printers and artists often form creative relationships while creating printed works. Knowing about the creative process and production behind the print is something that should be included in the provenance and help guide your decision in determining how collectible a piece is.

Drawings, prints, and photographs can find a way in any great art collection. Once you start purchasing pieces that fit your style, documenting them for your collection will be key.

Artwork Archive offers an easy-to-use platform to help you keep track of your collection that you can try for free for 14 days, no strings attached. 

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