Watercolor Paintings on Yupo Paper

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Time for some finished art! I started experimenting with Yupo papers. These are synthetic papers made of plastic that have very interesting properties. When dry, whatever medium placed on top adheres to the paper relatively well. When wet, the medium can be removed. Typically in watercolor painting, pigment soaks into the cotton paper like a stain on a shirt and becomes difficult to remove or manipulate. On Yupo, it sits on top of the paper and becomes easily removable with water and some paper towel, giving it an erased quality. It also tends to have a permanent wet look even after it has dried. This is the same for ink. This paper has plenty potential for experimentation and reuse in creative ways, but I am initially interested in seeing how it can be used to create a fairly traditional image to compare to regular watercolor paper.

Want to try it? You can grab some Yupo paper by clicking the affiliate link; I also recommend buying some acrylic varnish to preserve the finished painting.

Initially, I bought a small 5×7 inch pad since the paper is a bit more expensive than I’d like to pay for sketching. I made this rose sketch from a photo and I loved how vibrant, moist, and fluid the flower came out. What I immediately learned was that layering and washes will not work on Yupo. Unlike regular watercolor, the color and texture you put down first is what you get. If you try to blend too much or add washes, it will reactivate the paint and ruin the mark it left. This is really great for artists who like to use minimal layers or would like to practice being more gestural and loose. What was really cool was being able to wipe the border clean and remove & retouch the flower as I went along. There’s potential to use some interesting smearing techniques here, and I haven’t tried salt or sprays yet.

mottled rose watercolor on yupo paper
5″x7″, watercolor on Yupo paper. ~2019

I bought a larger pad of 9×12 inches so I can have more to work with. This summer, my fiance trolled me for my birthday and took me up on my bold fantasizing of being a helicopter pilot by buying a surprise helicopter ride. I had some strong anticipation anxiety and a few nightmares, and then I did it and… I would still be a helicopter pilot if I had the extra dough to get the training!

What does this have to do with anything? Well, I got some pretty beautiful shots of the Mont Tremblant panorama and I decided to try my hand at a landscape sketch on Yupo. It was tempting to fix the forms of the mountains and add details, however I saw there’s something special in the way the textures dried that made extra details not worth it. I can always make more paintings with the same references.

yupo mont tremblant watercolor landscape painting by karolina szablewska
9″x12″ watercolor painting on Yupo paper, based on photograph taken from helicopter above Mont Tremblant landscape.

Here’s another test of this paper for plain air painting / urban sketching. Turns out if you need vibrancy, paint coverage and are short on time, then Yupo is great! This was painted about 2 hours before sunset, so the light faded fast. I really wanted to paint this tree, but the way I paint leaves on trees and the many layers I use would have taken much longer. The liberty to use less detail and be gestural creates rich texture. It definitely looks different from what’s usually expected. It’d be interesting to try a cityscape instead of the organic shapes of a landscape.

yellow tree plein air painting watercolor on yupo by karolina szablewska
9″x12″ watercolor on Yupo, varnished with clear acrylic. Plein air painting of a golden yellow tree in a marsh at the Botanical Gardens in Montreal, 2020.

Ink seems to stick to Yupo paper fairly well, while being erasable. It does leave a stain, which can be a cool property for mark-making alike to leaving eraser marks. Aside from the standard subjects, Yupo paper inspires me to try creating pieces which are based on removing and drawing & painting a subject again until it has built up on the paper like a patina. Keep your eyes peeled for an art challenge! I’m thinking of creating an art challenge around the concept of erasing and reworking a piece beyond a point most artist find comfortable.

Here is another watercolor painting from that day I did on regular watercolor paper of Canada geese feeding and bathing in a pond. I sketched them in while there were there as a group, and eventually they left so I painted in the background. I’m quite happy with the simplicity of this colorful sketch.

Canada Geese at Botanical Garden urban sketch watercolor painting by karolina szablewska
9″x9″, watercolor painting with ink lines. Observational sketch of Canada Geese in a pond at the Botanical Gardens in Montreal. -2020

So what do you think of Yupo based on these paintings?

Below are the links for the original artworks of these paintings:

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