Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Adventures in Yupoland

1/24/19 Conte on Derwent sketch paper (5-min. poses)

Adventurous watercolor and acrylic painters know about Yupo – it’s a strange “synthetic” waterproof, tear-resistant paper that’s made of plastic. Its completely toothless, nonabsorbent surface makes liquid media behave in surprising and often striking ways. Years ago when I was dabbling in abstract mixed-media collages, I messed around with Yupo, but it was a novelty more than anything else.

Fast-forward to a couple of years ago when I was preparing to participate in the Women’s March. Rain was a distinct possibility, so I brought along a pocket-size Field Notes Expedition notebook, which is made entirely of Yupo. I didn’t need it that day, but a short time later in Cannon Beach, I happened to have the book in my pocket and discovered what a joy the paper is with soft graphite. It seems counter-intuitive – pencils seem to need some kind of tooth to grab onto. Yet the experience is like gliding soundlessly on ice, and soft graphite leaves behind a rich, dark line that looks almost like liquid.

After that, I sort of forgot about Yupo again – until a couple of weeks ago at life drawing. Thinking it was a colored pencil, I inadvertently picked up a traditional sanguine Conte pencil that happened to be in my case. Using nothing but one fingertip to do the smudging on toothy sketching paper, I had great fun expressing Shawna’s form even on relatively short poses (the ones shown above were five minutes each). I tried soft graphite and colored pencil on the same paper, but it was more difficult to get good smudged effects compared to the chalky Conte (which is a bit messy, though not nearly as bad as charcoal).

1/27/19 graphite in Field Notes Expedition notebook
Something about that delightful experience made me wonder what kind of paper would be best for making graphite smudge as nicely – and the Yupo light bulb went on over my head! I pulled out the same Expedition notebook I had taken to the Women’s March and the beach and sketched a quick garlic with a 10B pencil. Using one finger, it was easy to smudge the graphite, and the darkest shadows came out looking almost like a marker. It turns out that Yupo makes all media behave surprisingly – not just liquids.

I dug out the 11-by-14-inch Yupo pad I still had from my mixed media days and brought it to the next life drawing session. Typically I use an ink-filled brush pen on the one- and two-minute poses because I need fluid to move that quickly. But instead of having a liquid medium, my 10B pencil skated frictionlessly on Yupo as if the support had turned to liquid!

On the five- and 10-minute poses when I had more time to develop Bob’s form, I again used a single finger to smudge the graphite. It was the most charcoal-like experience I’ve ever had – but without the mess, of course! (One black fingertip I can handle.)

1/31/19 2-min. poses

5-min. poses

10-min. pose

10-min. poses

20-min. pose


  1. It looks like the graphite is easier to control than using wet media on yupo. I've tried both watercolors and alcohol inks on yupo but the liquids puddle and move a lot. I like the shading you've been able to get in these figures. Nicely done!

    1. I was thinking of you, Joan, when I mentioned painters using Yupo! I remember you showing some works you did on this crazy paper. I can imagine how hard it would be to control wet media!


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