Hard Graph

Next in our stationery-based Obsessions pieces, Present and Correct's Neal Whittington looks at artists and designers whose point of reference is the humble sheet of graph paper.

Large 3284d8ed 076c 4b14 9a80 8ca05559885e

Did you ever see a piece of graph paper you didn’t like? Thought not. The love for a grid in a room is directly proportional to the mass of designers therein. Humans tend to adhere to some form of grid – whether it be physical or psychological, and, in a world of chaos, a sheet of graph paper comforts us with its regularity and its nostalgic nod to our school days.

The origins of graph paper are not so regular, to confuse matters the term ‘graph’ was not widely use before the mid 1800s. It is thought that the first commercially produced sheets were printed in 1795, by a Dr Buxton of England. Evidence shows an earlier appearance, but these utilised a hand drawn grid which, incidentally, is a very therapeutic activity for a rainy Sunday.

In the late 1800s a boom in the student population gave rise to a greater quality of maths education, and readily available materials were needed. Modern maths skills included plotting a curve to display a mathematical relationship. So, whilst its source is not crystal clear, the irony is that the graph paper grids always were present – it is no surprise then that they have inspired artists and designers for many years.

Artist Hadi Tabatabi often uses string and thread to create graph paper, gluing each strand down individually and layering them up. Other calming grids are created using acrylic and reference the earlier works of Agnes Martin and Eva Hesse.


Large 35c663df 9575 481d 8837 22acd2459d5f

Large c18fe831 b5ef 47b8 bee7 8657b1848c86

Norwegian artist Tina Jonsbu uses graph paper extensively throughout her work. The drawings are recordings, using the paper as originally intended, but with the hand drawn repetition comes errors and imperfections. What we think we see, a clinical approach, is offset by the very subtle variations that only a human and a traditional drawing implement could produce.


Large b166ca59 0c68 4a0f b899 8858ab9e5a6a

Large e819e7ef 7d28 4b38 ab7e 1a402f2ab55b

Large 11a9ebd5 bbe2 4190 bcf4 fb284cfe3c45

A legendary archive synonymous with straight lines, geometry and grids is that of the Bauhuas. The Met in New York has the best collection to view on the web and the textile sketches display a wonderful use of graph paper.

Search the collection here

Large 539c5d52 a61b 4bf6 9c30 09d1b5684e21

Large 09a26de5 bbb2 4390 92d5 748ef4693cf3

Large 34f20f32 d018 4cde a788 9ebd3709646c

Large f3f2f94f aa18 4c37 9b01 b7240af582a8

Kate Russo enjoys using a pre-determined pattern – originally working with envelope linings, she then progressed to graph paper. Initially using it to plan other work, it ended up becoming the work itself, and since then Kate has not digressed from the medium. Intricate patterns fill in the grids, changing as the work progresses, to create varying textures almost like a patchwork. Her work is testament to the fact that patience is a virtue.

Large 2bed2184 d3c1 4b4d bf8e c561f380b519

Large e40c911a e6f6 472f b563 e80d53a829f9

Meticulously recreated in ink Johanna Calle forms and graph grids are gently broken down, as if a taut string has frayed and given way. So perfectly executed and rather beautiful.


Large e2430475 853e 4971 81dd 1135c5c99109

Large b5afd1a0 1f1e 43c6 ad2d 6b4745e6fc33

Large b9ff5fab 3bcf 486b 80f6 69236e96179d

For graph paper with a little more humour, we turn to the work of legend Saul Steinberg. His architecture series converted pieces of graph or ledger paper into charming scenes of city life.

Large d10a7689 ba93 4a91 8520 d67d1a010f2e

Large 65d3475c 099d 40f1 951c 355ed3075d4e

Finally some graph paper you can introduce to your home, in the form of an excellent rug. Available here, best position it perpendicular to a wall.

Large 5ed4c986 187e 4725 bdff 6ae66570706b

Sometimes its just nice to print out some graph paper, tailor made to your requirements. When the feeling takes us these are the best sites for endless grid enjoyment.



Find out more at presentandcorrect.com