What's up with YUPO

Watercolor Magic Magazine
Creativity 2002

Lifting Out the Whites Ikin began Magnolia III (watercolor on YUPO 26 x 40) "with big washes traveling across the surface, as if blown by the wind." She used tissues to lift out the whites. "I probably take out more of the painting than I leave in" she says.

   Taylor Ikin answers your questions about working on this thrillingly different synthetic surface that invites you to improvise and offers you, in exchange, a new range of painterly effects.
   We first heard about YUP0 in the course of interviewing George James after he'd won the top prize in the 1999 AWS show.  As he talked about the painting process, he praised a Japanese-made paper that was entirely synthetic, originally called Kimdura and lately called YUPO.  Because YUPO has no surface tension, watercolor will stay wet for long periods of time.  Because the paper has no tooth, you can pour or brush the paint and all the wonderful colors will remain clear and bright on the surface.  Even after six months time, you can go back into a painting with a wet brush or tissue and lift out anything you may wish to change.  For that reason, a painting on YUP0 is a painting in progress.
   Soon we began hearing from artists interested in trying YUPO, and we found that James wasn't the only accomplished artist breaking new ground on this interesting surface.  Florida painter Taylor Ikin has been painting on YUP0 for several years now and has developed a distinct technique, as well as many YUP0 survival skills.  We asked her to share her knowledge.  Here she answers your questions and shows you what to expect when painting on YUPO.
   Q.  Since buying YUPO several months ago, I've been so frustrated, but I see such great-looking stuff painted on this paper!  My sister told me that you did a demonstration in the Autumn 2001 issue of Watercolor Magic and that it was also posted online, but I missed it.
   A.  The best way to learn to paint on YUP0 is to keep trying.  There arc so many discoveries in store for you.  One basic tip is to use a lot less Water.  Beginning work on YUPO always looks unfinished because the initial combination of paint and water are so exciting you hate to mess it up!  Fear not...keep going, and you will get better and better!  Good luck!
   Q. I've been having Fun with YUPO, but I wonder about a painting running in a damp climate.  How about a painting hanging in a bathroom where steam from a shower could penetrate under the glass?  In the article on paper in the Autumn 2001 Issue of Watercolor Magic you mentioned fixing the edges with Flair Spray Clear 20 I matte finish fixative.  Why just the edges?
   A. I live Tampa, Florida, and the humidity is pretty tough here during the summer; but it has no effect on YUPO whatsoever.  However, it must he noted that in a high-humidity climate, the paint stays moist longer on your palette, and in a dry climate, the paint on your palette dries quickly.  If the paint is slow to dry on the palette, it will be slow to dry on the paper-any paper including YUPO.  This is one of the grand features of this surface; it's also why I recommend not being too quick to make a judgment call until all the "creating" has ceased.  It is during the damp period-when the paint is still capable of moving on the paper-that you get some amazing things that cannot he achieved by the regular application of the brush.  Here's another reason not to rush the job by standing the board up or tilting it too soon.  The paint may still he damp enough to run unexpectedly.
   Should you hang a YUPO painting in the bathroom?  I have a painting on YUPO in both of my bathrooms, and both have showers; however, I'm careful to keep the room vented as much as possible when the shower is on.  I also have hung the works out of the direct line of the steam.  This precaution would be the same for any artwork in such conditions.  Moisture can build up and cause a reaction on the mat as well as on the painting.  So you can hang a painting in the bathroom; just choose the spot carefully!
   Once you spray the painting, the Blair 201 matte finish is like a resist; painting over it results in beading.  For me, the only reason to use spray is to protect the piece during the handling required for framing.  I like the freedom of knowing I can always go back into the painting and adjust it, if I Wish.  So I spray just the edges which are most likely to come in contact with careless fingers.
   Q. How do I eliminate unexpected happenings on YUPO?
   A. The unexpected happening can often lead to an exciting, passage in a painting.  A thumbprint left when you handled the sheet, a run when you lifted the paper to a vertical position, a facial tissue you floated on the surface: Don't fight them; use them!
   I believe it's more challenging to work through the unexpected, which in turn can take you on a more magical journey.  Follow the painting.  Make more marks ... stir up sonic texture!
   Q. I've found that in adding the second layer of paint, the first layer is picked tip (no matter how careful I am) and is distributed as dried pigment particles floating in the second layer, so that in fact there is one layer, not two.
   A. If you want layers, make sure the paint is very set (completely dry) before you go back into the painting.  If the paint is still mushy and damp, the layering won't happen.  Once there is a lot of dried paint on the surface, I switch from a large round to a 2-inch flat.  I use the flat side (no bristle ends!), filled with water; to drag gently across the paper from left to right and let the water deliver the paint.  As long as you keep the bristles from touching the paper you should be all right.  The bristles are responsible for disturbing the paint and causing particles to float.
   Initially targeted for the graphic arts industry, YUPO is composed primarily of polypropylene resin.  It is opaque, white, with a matte-like finish.  To find out more about YUPO, visit www.yupo.com.  The paper is available in packages of 10 or 25 sheets, in weights of 130-lb. or 250-lb. from Cheap Joe's (800) 227-2788.

10 Tips for Working with YUPO
  1. Have many paintings going on at one time.  Never start a painting on YUPO with the intention of finishing it in the same session.
  2. Use large brushes (for example, a Cheap Joe's #34 or #36 round or a 2-inch sky flow flat).
  3. Wet the brush, wipe the excess water off, and start with a lot of paint.  Another way of starting is to wet the surface or part of the surface first.
  4. Stand as you paint. Tilt the board if you want more movement.
  5. Wait until the paint is set (completely dry), if you want to create layers.  If the paint is still damp, the paint will continue to move.
  6. Once you have a lot of paint on the surface, switch to a flat brush.  To create layers, dip the flat brush in water, drag it gently (on the flat side) across the surface from left to right.  The water will deliver the paint.
  7. With YUPO you don't need as much water as you do paint.  If an area is getting stagnant, take a wet brush and just touch the edges of the paint, causing the paint to spread and creating a more fluid look.
  8. Use facial tissues to create patterns.  While the paper is still wet, touch the surface with a tissue.
  9. To create a hard line or a sharp edge, clean your brush with a paper towel.  Then go into the painting and make an edge that you can either fill with paint or leave alone.
  10. Don't use a hair dryer to speed the drying process.  The paper will expand and buckle.

Each of the images above could be a painting on its own, but each plays an important part in the finished work.  Imagine that the painting is a jigsaw puzzle.  Can you find these details in Wild Flowers in the Hills (watercolor on YUPO, 30 x 40)?

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