Sounds like a cheer, doesn’t it?

My sister who is a fine watercolourist, attends workshops from time to time. She came back from a recent one singing the praises of Yupo paper. We took a trip to Opus Frame, the mecca of art supplies in British Columbia, and came back home with a prized pad of 10 sheets.

Truth be told, we would have to have a definition of paper to decide if that is what this is. It’s one hundred percent Polypropylene, acid free, 74 pound with a smooth finish. Yupo is a manufacturer of synthetic water resistant papers. It sounds like a thin sheet of plastic to me – but somewhat useful for commercial printing processes (it’s original intention) and afterwards, found useful for artistic endeavors.

I know what acid free implies in rag paper or even wood pulp paper; in rice paper, I don’t even think there is a question about acidity, but I’m open to correction on that one. On polypropylene, I have no idea what that means. It’s basically plastic. While I appreciate that it’s acid free and therefore might not discolour with age, I wonder about the longevity of the product. Plastics are well know for their ability to break down into other substances over time, to become brittle and friable. Unless Yupo has done tests on the paper to determine its longevity, then the only test that will tell is time.

Last night, I decided to try the Yupo and a sheet of Arches Watercolour rag paper (yes, made from mashed up bits of cotton rags).

I chose a photo from my afternoon travel to Opus Frame in Langley. The fields along Highway 10 are gloriously coloured in ochres and in autumnal reds, oranges and greens. The sky was grey which might sound rather dull, but the clouds made no dent on the brillance of the leaves and fields of grass which has turned to a very comfy Gamboge colour.

As an aside, a colour field in art has a specific meaning. Color field painting became a “school” of painting in which enormous canvases were painted with only one or two predominant colours.  Barnet Newman and Mark Rothko are two well known artists of this school of artistic endeavor.

The large fields in Langley providing a vast expanse of yellow ochre or Gamboge or new grass green were a testimony to how some of this managed nature can be inspirational source for artistic expression.

Back to my studies with the two sorts of paper –

On a sheet of  Arches 140 rough paper stretched on a block , I proceeded as normal (I’ve described this in detail in other posts) with a light rinse of the paper surface done with a sponge. When that had mostly dried, I lay in the general colours I would want for a background – yellow for the foreground (the field) and a light grey mix of burnt sienna and cerulean blue, very washed out. I sketched in the position of the trees and shrubs and left it to dry

I apologize for the quality of this photo – it was late at night and the fluorescent light does not aid in getting colours correctly. Despite a photoshop correction on light levels, this was the best I could do. It does tell you, nonetheless, how loosely and light those original washes are. I am trying to work without making a drawing first with the hope that I will have fresher, livelier paintings in the final result.

Next I took the Yupo paper.

My sister who has  tried this paper advised me to handle it very circumspectly. She tells me that the slightest fingerprint will render the paper resistant to added colour. Also  the paper has memory. If it gets a bend or a fold, the paper remembers it and will not return to the original with a bit of coaxing like you can do with some other papers.

She also told me that the paper is”washable”. In other words, if you put on a colour that you decide you don’t want after all, you can pick up the paint you have laid down and basically, the slate is clean again. You can continue on painting over the area that has been wiped off. It sound much like using a chalkboard and eraser.  I haven’t tried this yet, but that sounds like an advantage.

This results from the fact that the paper has no tooth. The reverse of the coin is that, even after the painting has been finished, a drop of water could transform the painting into something you didn’t intend, creating a pool of lighter area and a line around the shape of the spot when the drop of water dries. As a cautionary measure, you would want to put the YUPO based paintings away in a safe place with a protective sleeve and frame them as soon as possible.

So –

I took wash of yellow and a large round brush and appied it to the paper. It’s quite different from using rough, toothed paper. It feels like pushing slippery melted butter around. It feels like fingerpainting with a brush.  If you take your brush over a spot already painted, then it lifts the first coat away and blends it in with whatever is on your brush.

Lesson learned? Make sure that the first wash is thoroughly, thoroughly, thoroughly dried before putting on another coat. It still may lift and blend, but if you work with it a while you will find that you get some nice textures as a result.

The painting posted at the top of this blog is what resulted and I’m happy with it.

If you want to keep the colours fresh, work from light to dark, only putting in the dark colours at the end; only putting new colours on after the original has dried.  This applies to both papers.

On the Arches paper, I went back to the soft wash and started to define the trees.putting in firmer shapes for the trees and bushes with a Kolinsky Martin number 5 round brush. These brushes keep a good reservoir of colour and the brush will keep a fine point. Only at the end do I use a number 1 brush for the details indicating  branches and those tenacious leaves that hang on for dear life, twirling in autumn breezes, defying the oncoming winter.

Here’s the second state of the watercolour on Arches paper:

and the third which adds some defining dark tones and a bit more detail:

Finally, I didn’t find the composition satisfactory. It’s rather bland – the shrubs go straight across the page and out the right side. There’s nothing to keep one’s attention rooted in the painting. In the light of day, the yellow field just looks too yellow and a bit pale and the colour was intended to be more ochre than yellow – a winter grass colour, not a sunshiney colour.  The trees and shrubs are freshly described and done loosely enough to not look overworked.

And here’s the final state… unless I ponder for a while it and find something more to do.

I’ve added an ochre mixed with a bit of grey so that it captures a bit (but not too much – I want to keep this upbeat) of grey, to enhance the feeling that this is an autumn day but with cloudy cover.

My advice, after all this? Go play with papers.

The YUPO is an interesting paper to work with and gives such foruitous advantages in texture that it’s worth the effort of getting used to it and creating images with it.


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6 Responses to “YUPO!”

  1. fencer Says:

    In my own watercolour explorations, I’ve played with YUPO, too… It’s very interesting to work with, and frustrating too, since dried paint as you noted will slip off the slick surface with very little moist encouragement. Glazing doesn’t work very well unless done more carefully than I tend to be. And the way paint looks on the surface is different too.

    Your example looks good. Be great to see your further explorations with it…



    Hey Fencer,
    Thanks for the comments. Messing about with paint is fun, isn’t it?

  3. Chris Miller Says:

    I love to look over someone’s shoulder while they’re composing!

    Was the final version an improvement over the previous?

    It feels more dramatic — but — I’m less inclined to linger and taste its balance.

  4. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Hi Chris,
    The final Yupo version is the one on at the top of the post. That’s as good as it gets!
    The bottom picture is the final on the Arches paper.
    Hope that helps.

  5. Stephen Says:

    I really like your painting on YUPO. I suppose it is one of those things that someone could get to know well. I like the rough surface of Arches cold-pressed. The smooth surface of Arches Hot pressed is a challenge for me. YUPO sounds, well, interesting! If it ever reaches us in South Africa I will give it a go.

  6. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Stephen, I looked at your paintings on your site and they are really lovely. I like your loose style very much but your more prepared ones are beautifully crafted also and rich in colour. That technique of adding soft glaze after soft glaze, building up the values bit by bit gives an opportunity to work subtly with colour and transparency.
    Thanks for stopping by.

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