Testing Yupo – A Synthetic Paper & its Uses

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Yupo is a new synthetic paper with an incredible versatility, available in loose sheets and pads. You can use it with almost any dry and wet media which makes it great for mixed-media artists and experimenters like myself. I got excited when I heard Yupo is suitable for watercolour – I couldn’t imagine how this glossy, cotton-free, tree-free paper takes water – and I couldn’t stop there! I conducted a series of tests with watercolour, gouache, acrylics, Indian ink, pencil, alcohol markers and charcoal to find out what this paper is capable of – have a look at the results!

WATERCOLOUR
Materials used: Old Holland Watercolours

This was the medium I was most interested in testing – naturally, as I mainly paint with watercolours. Most low weight watercolour papers – including my current favourite Saunders Waterford which is on the thin side being 145gsm – would buckle under a lot of water so I was curious to find out how an 85 gram weight paper would behave, especially as it is advertised as waterproof.

First I laid down a thin wash and as the brush touched the paper I found Yupo really smooth! I added drops of water to see how the pigments behave and it resulted in lovely feathery edges and also the different pigments in my Caput Mortuum paint to separate (see the grey shadows inside the circles). As it dried (see 2nd image), the water ‘bleached’ out the middles and the edges thickened into a zig-zag.

Dropping water into Caput Mortuum wash – wet (image 1) and dry (image 2)

Next I tried creating an even wash with some red paint. Because of the non-absorbent nature of the paper the water sits on the surface and it takes a while to dry completely. While I waited I went back to a drying wash of the Caput Mortuum to see how I can manipulate the paint. To my surprise, it wasn’t evening out the wash, it only pushed the pigments around and created streaks. I could not get it flat again so rather than forcing my way onto the Yupo, I played along with this property and ended up with some cloud-like shapes instead, which I can imagine would work well for skies.

Red wash drying (image 1) and manipulating a drying layer (image 2)

Variegated wash magenta – green gold

I wasn’t done with washes so next I tried to create a variegated one with Magenta and Green Gold, two colours that create a lovely gold mixture. I realised that this wouldn’t be as easy as it would be on a regular watercolour paper. There was some mixing (mostly at the edges) but because I didn’t keep the paper still enough, the water collected in one corner pulling along a lot of pigments and creating less colour mixing on the surface.

 

For the next experiment I wetted the paper in a circle and started dropping colour in. The spreading of the different pigments was mesmerising to watch and it seemed like I was finally doing what the paper was designed for. I kept adding colour and the shapeless blob soon turned into a fish which happens to me an awful lot! While the fish was drying the different colours sat next to each other, floating on the surface rather than mix together, creating a marbling effect.

As the painting dried, the fish kept it’s vibrancy and the colours changed very little. The crisp white colour of the Yupo shines through and illuminates the pigments. I also really liked the hard edges that occurred when two colours met and where the pigments gathered.

Watercolour Fish wet (image 1) and dry (image 2)

Next I tried layering. I painted a simple leaf in Green Gold and for the second layer I used Green Umber. As you can see on the pictures, I had trouble with a pool of water collecting in the middle – I couldn’t get an even wash and it took a long time to dry. The second layer felt quite sticky to paint which may be because of the watercolour binder – that too sits on top of the paper rather than get absorbed – but even then the result was lovely. The gold colour shines through as if it’s metallic paint and the second layer looks like it’s raised – I absolutely loved this effect!

Watercolour leaf layer 1 – Green Gold (image 1) and layer 2 – Green Umber (image 2)

The last thing I wanted to test was colour lifting which is one of the unique points of Yupo. I used a wet brush and I did not have to scrub at all – the pigments wiped off and the paper was completely white underneath, no staining at all. Scratching with sharp objects (I used the edge of my scissors) proved to be easy too, although like with any paper, you need to pay attention to find the right angle and pressure to not damage the surface (see the mess I made in the middle of image 2).

Watercolour lifting and scratching on Yupo

To sum it up, Yupo will never replace cotton paper when it comes to watercolour, but it does have many unique properties that you would have trouble trying to recreate with anything other than Yupo paper. I enjoyed the marbling effect the most and the glossy glow shining through even the darkest layers and the easy lifting was also very useful.

 

GOUACHE
Materials used: Lukas Gouache

Gouache is an opaque watercolour so after my previous tests it was quite a surprise to me that it behaved somewhat differently from watercolour and very differently to how it normally would on an absorbent paper. Sure, the paint stayed on the surface and the thicker the mixture I used, the streakier the application looked but the similarities ended there. The pigments hardly moved when dropped onto the wet paper and the layers were much harder to build. Instead of a flat, even red colour, it built up into a darker shade, looking dirty, which I think was due to the fact that it was blocking out the white glow of the paper underneath.

Gouache on Yupo – Wet on wet (image 1) and Layering (image 2)

Next, I tried painting a cactus in multiple layers and while the greens came out nicely, the yellow I used for highlights were barely showing through. This may be due to the paint being less viscous which is not really a requirement for gouache as it is generally used on an absorbent paper. This particular colour is more transparent which made it harder to show up on top of the darker layer. The finished painting still looked luminous.

For my final test I painted a cat. I wanted to see if adding darkness gradually and if other light colours such as Titanium White have better results. I noticed that because of the glow of the paper all the imperfections in the paint such as pigments stuck together or particles of dirt and lint show up even more. Once the first layer dried, I painted another layer of brown and added details in lighter colours. The results were much better than the cactus and I did achieve full opacity. In the end all the pieces dried to a matt finish which was completely different from the glossy shine of the watercolours.

Gouache cat on Yupo – layers 1 and 2

Overall, I found gouache less impressive than watercolour on the Yupo paper, however, the matt finish and quicker drying time was definitely a plus and may be desired by some artists.

 

ACRYLICS
Material used: Pebeo Studio Acrylics

After my previous experiments I was excited to try this medium because I knew the high shine of the paper will make my satin-finish acrylics even more vibrant.

I squeezed out some Cadmium Yellow Deep and Turquoise and started mixing them on the paper. Of all the surfaces I tried before with acrylics (canvas, acrylic paper, watercolour paper, clay, etc) I found Yupo the easiest to use. Perhaps I like smooth surfaces more than texture but every single brush stroke felt like I was spreading buttercream on a cake! The colour was mixing so beautifully, it lit up the paper as if I had placed it on a light box.

Now that I knew Yupo was perfect for acrylics, I wanted to test how transparent and opaque colours behave on it. I used a transparent red (Vermillion) and I was able to achieve a thick coat without hassle unlike with gouache. The viscosity of the paint helped a lot! As the paint thinned in the brush the transparency started showing and it looked as if the paint was diluted with white, it was almost pink! For the opaque colour  I selected a lovely Cadmium Orange which, regardless of the thickness of the paint, resulted in a very even coverage. I tried the dry brush technique with both colours and the results were really nice despite the lack of tooth to the paper.

Transparent Vermilion (image 1) and Opaque Cadmium Orange (image 2)

I really liked using acrylics on Yupo and I can see it as a great alternative to (textured) acrylic paper or canvas. It doesn’t absorb water which makes it workable for a longer time.

 

INDIAN INK
Materials used: Winsor & Newton Indian Ink

I had this in my repertoire so I thought why not try it? I expected it to behave similarly to watercolour as Indian Ink is made of Lampblack (soot) and water but the absence of the binder made it easier to dry and the dry ink was matt rather than glossy. And the granulation: I loved it! I will let the pictures speak for themselves this time.

The black was opaque and thick and because it was heavier than the water, it didn’t mix unless I manipulated it with my brush. The particles granulated in the most interesting patterns and it was a joy to watch it happen. I also tried a dip pen just to see if the paper is strong enough not to get punctured by it and Yupo had no trouble at all. If you are planning to experiment with this paper, I can highly recommend getting Indian Ink too to create the most amazing, flowing shapes and to really make use of it’s experimental possibilities.

 

ALCOHOL MARKERS
Materials used: Winsor & Newton Promarkers

I had really high hopes for this medium because of the smoothness of the Yupo and because it’s bleed proof. I was proven right but not the way I expected it! As it turned out, mixing alcohol markers on the paper is not as easy as it is on Bristol board or Layout paper (my usual suspects). The ink dried super quickly which made blending and creating a gradient fairly hard.

Alcohol Markers on Yupo paper – blending

Once I got past my initial shock I tried applying the colours in multiple layers but that also didn’t help. The streaks got worse and I could not get a smooth blend. It was time to abandon this idea completely and try something new like layering. Finally I found something impressive to play with! I found that no matter what colour I used for the second layer (dark or light), it always overwrote the previous one. The wet ink re-wetted the bottom layer and pushed the pigments to the side, leaving only the new colour visible, almost without any blending. When applied in a single thin layer (see second picture), it overprinted the bottom layer without diluting it. The third picture shows the same colour layered in a lattice pattern which was my absolute favourite – it looked almost 3D!

Layering markers on Yupo

I wanted to capture how the ink spreads on the Yupo so here is a short clip:

Finally, I wanted to try a light layer on top of a dark one and the result was similar to lifting watercolour from a particularly forgiving paper. I used a light blue over a dark one and the light blue acted like bleach. When using this technique you will need a paper towel to clean the nib every so often to avoid contamination – or use this as on-the-nib blending technique and create something unique!

Alcohol Markers on Yupo – Light on Dark – don’t forget to wipe your nibs!

While markers did surprise me, I really enjoyed layering them on Yupo and I imagine a true marker artist would be able to mine the unusual properties of the paper to their advantage.

 

PENCILS
Materials used: Faber Castell 9000 range

This was a short test to see how light and dark I can go with the pencils and to test if I can effectively use a rubber on the Yupo. Both HB and 2B pencils tested well, the paper allowed for the lightest to the darkest of the graphite without any damage. Similarly, all the marks erased well without a problem.

Pencil on Yupo paper

 

CHARCOAL
Materials used: Faber Castell Charcoal

For the last test I selected charcoal and it tested ok, however, it did not demonstrate the best properties of the medium. The tooth of the paper was missed here and I can imagine it would be the same with other porous media such as pastels. I could not get the darkest darks as the harder I pressed the more the tip scratched the surface without any results. Smudging with my fingers was easy though, but unless you want to use charcoal as an accent, Yupo will not be the paper for this purpose.

Charcoal on Yupo – the paper proved too smooth

And that’s all! I hope you enjoyed this experiment and consider trying Yupo. In conclusion, I loved how differently most media behaved on it compared to any other surface I tried previously and it certainly has unique properties you won’t get elsewhere. My favourite parts were wet-on-wet watercolour and anything to do with acrylics. I would not recommend it for porous media such as charcoal. What I really loved is that the paper stayed flat and did not buckle under water which is something a watercolour artist is always on the lookout for. Have fun experimenting with Yupo!

All products, including Yupo Paper, mentioned in this article can be purchased in our Hove Shop at Portland Road, at www.lawrence.co.uk or by calling us on 01273 260260 ext 1. You can also follow Judy on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/judycsiky/