At our last Fine Arts Association meeting, we played with watercolors and Yupo paper. I’ve mentioned Yupo paper before. It’s a recyclable, waterproof, tree-free synthetic paper which was, I’ve been told, originally created for graphic designers. The paper is extruded from polypropylene pellets, and is available in light weight, medium weight, and heavy weight. You can visit the official Yupo USA website for additional information.
I first began using Yupo paper last year when I started playing with alcohol inks. If you browse back to August 2020 you’ll see several of the alcohol ink projects I completed. Even though the paper I purchased states “ideal for watercolor and acrylic painting”, I never tried using them for either of those media, nor did I know anyone else who tried them. In fact, it seemed almost an impossibility. Yupo paper is waterproof. How could anyone paint on it with either acrylics or watercolor?
Artists have been doing just that, however, and one of our club members has recently been doing a lot of watercolor art on Yupo. So, she presented the program at our meeting, handing out sheets of synthetic Yupo paper and demonstrating a few techniques for us to try.
What happens is that the water and color stay on the surface until the water has evaporated. Because the paper is plastic, it’s not going to absorb any moisture. This means there are many opportunities for paints and colors to swirl around, to drip, to run, to do all sorts of things. It means you can also manipulate the paints with a dry brush or with other tools — tissues, toothpicks, sponges, or just about anything.
It’s like this. If you think watercolor is tricky, try watercolor on Yupo. It’s definitely challenging, at least if you’re looking to have any sort of control over the art. On the other hand, if you’re willing to just let go, put down a few colors, let the paints “do their own thing”, and use a bit of imagination, watercolor on Yupo can be expressive and fun.
Here was the 5 x 7 painting I completed at our meeting. I’m calling it “An Enchanted Forest” because … well, just because. It has a fantastical quality, I think. I can see things, or maybe I’m only imagining them.
I did take traditional “western” watercolors to use during the meeting instead of painting with my Japanese gansai. Since I do have Yupo paper in the studio, I will play around a bit with both types of watercolor. I’m also interested in trying my acrylic gouache and acrylic ink. I think there are many possibilities, many different techniques, and many art styles that could work well with watercolor and Yupo.
“An Enchanted Forest” might best be described, I think, as a sort of intuitive painting. I did start with the intention of painting a landscape, but I really had no idea how it would all turn out. No reference photo was used. I just started by adding blue to create a sky. I then brushed in a dark blue-black line. I added yellows and oranges, then played with greens in the foreground. From there I worked back-and-forth between adding bit of dark “shadow” values and lifting “highlights” away as images began to emerge.
Yes, I’d say it’s a bit messy… or maybe it’s just “loose and free.” I think I did have a slight advantage over some of the club members in attendance since I’ve been focusing on loose, free watercolor painting. A few were struggling with lots of details, trying to tell the paint what to do rather than seeing what it wanted to do on its own.
Maybe that’s a good way to explain it. It’s not about painting specific things as much as it is about helping the paint create its own images. I started with a general idea — a landscape — and came away with a colorful, imaginative painting. The longer I look at it, the more things I can see within its curious shapes, and the more I really like this watercolor.
I want to do more watercolor on Yupo now just to see where my imagination can take me. I want to explore intuitive painting, play with colors, and see what fanciful things appear.