After seeing a few artists on WetCanvas forums playing with Yupo watercolour paper, I decided I wanted to try it myself. Since I wasn’t sure whether I’d like it or not, I just bought one of the smallest pads I could find to start with.
I haven’t come across many places in Australia that sell Yupo. The only place I did find was The Art Shop, which is where I bought mine. The Yupo pads start at $8.50 for the small A5 ones and go up to about $35 for the largest size (I forgot to check the exact measurements but they’re about the same as A3, maybe a little smaller). They seem to be a bit more expensive on average than regular good-quality watercolour paper, but the A5 ones are cheap enough to try if you’re just curious about them.
For those who haven’t heard of Yupo, it’s basically a synthetic paper with a smooth, non-absorbent surface. Painting on it is almost like painting on plastic or glass, as instead of soaking into the fibres of the paper, the paint just ‘floats’ on top of the surface. For loose, abstract painting or impressionist-type work, this is probably great. However, if you’re trying to make controlled, tight brush strokes, you’ll find it pretty difficult to get Yupo to cooperate. The surface doesn’t like holding brush strokes, so you’ll find the paint ‘flattening out’ and spreading across the surface, ruining any fine details. The first pale green layer of my tulip field painting was supposed to have the texture of grass, but where a normal paper would have allowed the strokes to show, the Yupo surface meant they all just merged into a flat carpet of pale green. Once I mixed up a thicker wash than I normally would and used it with a mostly dry brush, I found it easier to get darker, more defined colour strokes. It’s also pretty much impossible to sketch on the paper – unless you use a permanent marker – as pencils and other dry mediums will just skate over the surface without leaving a mark.
Watercolour takes longer to dry on Yupo than on regular paper, which means a lot more waiting between working on layers. When attempting to glaze or layer paint, the brush will usually lift the bottom layer off rather than laying down a new colour. I also found that even once the painting is dry, it can still smudge if you touch it, so be careful when you move a finished piece. Even before painting on Yupo, you need to be very cautious when handling it, as it seems to hold oil from your fingers even more aggressively than regular watercolour paper. I have found that if I accidentally get a fingerprint on normal watercolour paper, I can scrub at it a little with the brush and then the paint will go over it without any disturbances. Unfortunately no amount of scrubbing could displace the few thumbprints and other random imperfections in the Yupo paper, resulting in a number of areas that paint just would not adhere to.
Yupo does have one redeeming feature. The non-absorbent surface makes it very easy to lift paint out if you make a mistake. All you have to do is wet the area and dab it or wipe it with a tissue and you can restore the surface back to a clean white. I did this a few times when I realised I hadn’t left any space to paint the white tulips in my sample painting below. It would probably also be well suited to textural watercolour techniques, such as adding rubbing alcohol or salt to your washes to push the pigment around in interesting ways.
I don’t want to say outright that Yupo is bad, but it’s definitely one of those things you will either love or hate. While I can see how some artists may enjoy using it for its unpredictability, I disliked Yupo intensely my first time using it and frankly I don’t hate myself enough to try using it a second time. If you do a lot of abstract or experimental painting, you might like to grab a small pad just to see if it works for your style, but if you like to paint very detailed work and want at least some control over where the paint goes, you will probably not get along well with Yupo.