The Proof is in the Paper

By Maureen Bloomfield
Watercolor Magic Magazine
Autumn 2001

   What's the best paper?  It depends on what you want it for.  We asked four savvy artists for the scoop on a variety of surfaces - to help you find the best one for getting your own painting off to a good start.
   Choose a paper by the effect you're going after - that's the old saw.  If you want lost and found edges, for instance, you spring for a cold-pressed or rough surface, because the irregular texture will both resist and absorb paint.  If you want a more controlled effect, you may choose a hot-pressed paper or a watercolor board whose smooth finish will encourage sharp lines.  That formula may help an artist who's starting out, but it doesn't fully describe what's happening in the studio of veterans.  And in talking to master artists , it's clear that choosing a paper is only partly a rational process.  Indeed, when artists talk about paper, they slip into the language of hyperbole.  It's not just something they put paint on; it's something they fall in love with.  It's gorgeous; it's responsive; it's even sexy.  Look at what you've been missing if you think it's only paper.
   It's very sensitive to the touch and very white.  It's the only paper I've used in the last three years.  Everyone needs to try it at least once!  It's an addictive surface, a rewarding surface.  I never know what's going to happen.  I've been using it for awhile, so there are certain things I can count on.  But you never know where the journey's going to end.  Things will happen.  I'll get colors or effects I could never have imagined creating.  I do a lot of layering and then I can dig back through the layers.  The paper itself encourages spontaneity.
   YUPO, en entirely synthetic paper, is composed primarily of polypropylene resin, which is heated, then extruded into sheets.  Because it contains no natural fibers, it's waterproof.  YUPO is acid-free and archival as well as being fully recyclable and safe for the environment.  "I've used YUPO not only in the studio, but also outside," says Ikin.  "I just place it on a support board, like Fome-cor.  You don't have to soak it or stretch it or even staple it.  You just place it on the surface of the board.  Then take little pieces of artist's tape and ball them up so they're sticky on both sides.  Put a little bit of tape on the back of the sheet, near the top.  Mounting YUPO on a board allows me to just tilt the board if I want to make the paint move or run--I don't have to put my fingers on the paper.  The only caution, in using YUPO, is not to get to close to it with a hair dryer.  Because the paper is formed from heat, it will expand if it gets hot, and it won't contract back to its original size."
   "My work is representational, but YUPO encourages abstract or expressive effects.  If you start using it, you may find that your early paintings on YUPO look like everyone else's early paintings on YUPO.  Paintings on YUPO are easy to recognize in shows (they're good enough to get in shows!), but as you work more with the surface, you realize that you can go back and build on top of the original layer.  I never throw a piece of YUPO away.  If I have a floral I'm not enjoying, I rework it and it may end up being a landscape.  At times I wipe the surface and at times I build up the surface.  I can redirect the paint and it will move in unexpected ways.  I'll often take an old painting to class and by wetting it and swooshing the paint around--I'll transform it."
   "YUPO gives artists complete freedom.  What I want to tell them is to have patience.  As long as the paper is damp, something is going on."

"You Don't Lead...You Follow!"
Taylor Ikin Paints on YUPO
   When asked to shoot some demo shots to show a start-to-finish painting in process, I thought, " I know what I'll do."  Wrong!  The more I tried to control the painting, the more frustrating the process became.  After several days of getting nowhere and finally realizing I should practice what I preach, I threw in the towel and YUPO and I together created Sunlight on the Hillsborough.  You can see the process in the following illustrations.
   To start I attached a 26 x 40 sheet of 250-lb. YUPO to a piece of Fome-corboard by balling up small pieces of artist's tape and sticking them to the back of the sheet, then pressing the sheet onto a piece of Fome-cor.

Step One: Painting with Water
The journey starts as soon as the paint and water interacts on this glass-like surface.  Using a 2-inch Robert Simmons Sky Flow brush, I paint part of the design with just water.
Step Two: Brushing in Color
I apply bumblebee yellow and Joe's blue (Cheap Joe's American Journey) mixed with Antwerp Blue (Winsor & Newton)
Immediately the paint starts to flow.
Step Three: Watching the Color Move
I tilt the board to encourage more movement.
Step Four: Adding More Colors
I take my flat brush and dip the left corner in yellow, the right corner in blue and the middle in red.  When I lat the brush down, the paint disperses-making lovely lavenders and green.
Step Five: Two Brushes are Better than One
With one brush I apply paint; with the other water.
Step Six: Creating Pattern and Texture
Pulling the brush through the wet paint creates an interesting mark.
Step Seven: Pushing the Paint
I add quinacridone gold (Daniel Smith) mixed with rambling rose and cadmium scarlet (American Journey).  I use a round brush (#34 or #36 Robert Simmons or a #38 Cheap Joe's Golden Fleece).
Step Eight: Keeping the Surface Wet
As long as the paint and paper are wet, something is happening.  With YUPO you don't need as much water as you do paint.  If an area is getting stagnant, I'll take a wet brush and touch the edge of the paint to make the paint spread.
Step Nine: Using Kleenex Tissues to Create Patterns
I take a piece of Kleenex tissue to the still-wet paper.
Step Ten: Now You See It
I'm forever cleaning my brush with a paper towel; then I can go in and create a hard line which I either fill with paint or leave alone.  Now I have an environment for the egret standing in the water.
Step Eleven: Now You Don't
The bird isn't working, so I eliminate it.  Because the paper has no tooth, I'm able to lift out the form.  Then I just have to swoosh the paint around.

Final Picture
   YUPO gives me complete freedom--to spatter and flow paint and then to stand back and see what happens.  The painting will speak to you, and it you're prepared to listen, it will in fact lead you.  All you have to do is follow!.  Only when the last brushstroke has dried do I lightly spray the edges of the paper with Blair Spray Clear 201 matte finish, which gives a perfectly clear acrylic barrier.
   Sunlight on the Hillsborough is part of a series called Life Along the Hillsborough.  The Hillsborough is a vital waterway in Tampa, where I live.  I frequently paint the Florida landscape, especially the Everglades, rivers and backwaters, to draw attention to the Old Florida, which is constantly being threatened by extensive development.  The experience that lies behind Sunlight on the Hillsborough is a canoe trip that a friend and I took in May.  Three hours of changing light and extreme quiet were broken only by the multiple calls of egrets and herons, the splash of turtles, the widening ripples of huge alligators and the elusive shadow of the swimming otter.

The Painting as a Continual Process
   "I've carried YUPO with me to Antigua, West Indies; to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and to Cape Town, South Africa.  No Matter where I give a workshop, YUPO attracts a trail of believers!" says Taylor Ikin.  "YUPO doesn't need to be stretched and has tremendous lifting qualities that give you the freedom to wipe back to your whites.  If you'd rather not lift color, just grab your brush and swoosh the paint around the surface--to create unexpected patterns and textures, little surprises you could never design or anticipate.  Here is Alafia River (watercolor on paper, 26 x 40), one of the many paintings I've done of the Everglades."

To find out more about YUPO and to order some sample sheets online, visit the YUPO Corporation website at

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