Born in Marylebone, London, he studied fine art at the West of England College of Art from 1972 to 1975 and then studied printmaking at postgraduate level at the Slade School of Art 1975–77, where his teachers included Barto. Dos Santos and Stanley Jones. He was employed as research assistant at the Slade from 1978 to 1981.
He was appointed Subject Leader MA Printmaking at Camberwell College of Arts in 1997 and 1998 took over as project leader for a research project The Integration of Computers within Fine art practice developing his interest in the use of digital technology within Printmaking. He curated Computers & Printmaking with Tessa Sidey, for Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery 1999 and has further developed these concerns through an AHRC funded project The Personalised Surface within Fine Art Digital Printmaking.
In 2001 he was appointed professor at The London Institute (now The University of the Arts London). His curatorial practice includes Digital Responses for the V&A 2002–03 and Morandi’s Legacy; Influences on British Art for the Estorick Collection London and Abbot Hall Cumbria 2006, which explored his long-term interest in this Italian artist. His interest in working with collections and other artists is further evidenced in the installation of his work in the house, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, 2008 entitled "I called while you were out". In addition to his teaching and studio practice, he worked with Paula Rego on all her etchings between 1985 and 2005, including the Nursery Rhymes and Peter Pan. He wrote the catalogue Paula Rego Printmaker 2005 to accompany her traveling print retrospective and authored a chapter on her printmaking technique in Paula Rego-The complete Graphic work, TG Rosenthal, Thames & Hudson. His book Printmaking: A Contemporary Perspective provides a broad overview of the history of printmaking with a focus on contemporary approaches to both new and old print technologies.
Coldwell's practice embraces printmaking, bookworks and sculpture. He has exhibited widely, solo exhibitions include Kafka’s Doll & other works, Eagle Gallery London 2007, Case Studies, London Print Studio and Queens Gallery, New Delhi, By this I mean… Arthouse Dublin,1999 and Freud’s Coat, Freud Museum London 1996. He has been selected to represent UK at the Ljubljana Print Biennial in 2005 & 1997, selected for the International Print Triennial, Cracow 2000, 2003 & 2006 and included in the exhibition Prints Now V&A London 2006. His bookworks include, Freud’s Coat, With the Melting of the Snows (with text by the then BBC War Correspondent Martin Bell) and Kafka’s Doll with text by the poet and author Anthony Rudolf. His work is held in numerous collections including Tate, Imperial War Museum, V&A, British Museum, Arts Council of England and New York Public Library.
He has contributed to numerous conferences and symposia, including key note speaker at Reflections on Contemporary Printmaking, Portugal 2013, Impact 7 Australia 2011 and Password, Lybijana 2014.
In 2013 Ben Thomas curated a retrospective exhibition of his graphic work, Paul Coldwell A Layered Practice Graphic Work 1993–2012 staged at University of Kent and University of Greenwich. Also in 2013, continuing his work from collections and archives, he showed a new body of work as a result of researching at The Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, Re-Imagining Scott Objects and Journeys.
- Paul Coldwell A Layered Practice Graphic Works 1993–2012 University of Kent ISBN 978-1-902671-81-9
- Coldwell, Paul (2010) Printmaking: A Contemporary Perspective, London, Black Dog Publishing ISBN 978-1-906155-43-8
- Coldwell, Paul & Rauch, Barbara (2009) The Personalised Surface: New Approaches to Digital Printmaking, London, Fade Research ISBN 978-0-9558628-9-2
- Coldwell, Paul (2008). I called while you were out, Cambridge, Kettle’s Yard Publications. ISBN 978-1-904561-30-9
- Courtney, Cathy. (1999) Speaking of Book Art: Interviews with British and American Book Artists. Anderson-Lovelace Publishers, 13040 Alta Tiera Road, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022. ISBN 0-9626372-5-4
- Miles, Rosie and Saunders, Gill (2006) Prints Now-Directions and Definitions, London, V&A. ISBN 1-85177-480-7
- Coldwell, Paul (2006). Morandi's Legacy: Influences on British Art. I.B. Tauris. ISBN 0-85667-620-9
- Coldwell, Paul (2005) Paula Rego-Printmaker, London Marlborough Graphics ISBN 1-904372-25-2
- Coldwell, Paul (2005) Finding Spaces Between Shadows, London Camberwell Press ISBN 0-9536395-8-4
- Art in Print journal
- A Layered Practice
- Review of Morandi exhibition/book
- Essay on Paula Rego
- Digital Surface research project website
- University of the Arts London - FADE Research (Fine Art Digital Environment) website
- Official website