From the outset of his career Rothko made works on paper in parallel to those on canvas, and continued to do so as his colour field work developed throughout the 1950s. He applied what he learnt from one medium to another, experimenting more freely on paper while testing compositions and developing techniques that could be used when painting on canvas. To some degree he used oil paints in a way not dissimilar to watercolour, thinning the medium and applying it quickly.
Dan Rice, Rothko’s studio assistant at the time, recalls that, while working on the Seagram murals, Rothko also made much smaller works on paper in a room adjacent to the main studio. Though closely related to the paintings, they should be considered as works in their own right, not least as none is a directly preparatory sketch for a finished mural. Rather, they explore a closely linked set of painterly concerns expressed in the shared composition, palette, feathered brushwork, and layering of colour, particularly the way Rothko exposed brighter sections of colour around the frame to highlight its delicate edges.