Sunday, 30 November 2014


“A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.”
~Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator)

It’s good to play. Sometimes we get so caught up in life, in the frantic rush to get things done, that we often forget to take a little time out to just enjoy a bit of creative fun.
So with that in mind, I decided to make this week all about play.

Conker set-up- the little bit of silver paper bounces light back up onto the conker and the colour chart helps me select my colours.

 I started with a little thank you gift for a friend. I enjoy painting conkers as they don’t take long to do, and yet they always evoke an emotional response from people. I recently broke a few botanical art rules by naming my conkers in the Law Library exhibition, but sometimes a little bit of humour goes a long way. I was amazed at how many people asked me for “Well Hung”.

As for this one, well, it’s Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered).
Every time I hear about a new product or medium, my ears prick up. I have an insatiable curiosity to try them all out. Needless to say, my art cupboard is full of things that I have bought on an impulse, or rescued and kept. Two of the products that I have wanted to try out are Yupo and the Ampersand aquabords.

First up was the YUPO. Yupo is 100% recyclable, waterproof, tree-free Synthetic Paper. It’s super smooth, brilliant white, stain resistant and very durable. The paint sits on the surface and dries by evaporation. It has what I call Marmite appeal- people seem to either love it or hate it. I decided to paint nice simple gingko leaf.

I began by washing the paper in soapy water to get rid of any oil spots as these can affect how the paint sits on the paper. The first thing that I noticed was that it’s not that easy to erase pencil marks. I usually draw in with a 2H pencil, but the hard lead scratched into the surface. Also my eraser left tiny scuff marks. 

So far so good!
The first wash went on very well. I was surprised to see how well it adhered to the surface, and the colours really retained their luminosity. It was only when I began to add subsequent layers that I ran into trouble. The paint just did not behave. It lifted and shifted into places where it shouldn’t be. It was lumpy and opaque in places and bald in others. Yes, you can wipe it off which is great for cleaning up edges, and I was able to rescue some of the finer lines on the leaf, but it was a battle.

In the end I gave up. In normal circumstances, I would have given this another glaze of Indian yellow or raw Sienna to tie it all together and knock back some of the lurid yellow colour. However, I know that if I attempt to put any more paint onto this, I’ll end up making a big fat mess.

Defeated by Yupo
Conclusions- Keep pencil lines to a minimum. Yupo is not great for multiple layers, so it would be better to get as much pigment down in the first wash. I’d like to try this using wet in wet washes. Be aware that the colours sit on the surface and are therefore brighter than normal. I think ink pen might work extremely well on this surface. I'll try that next time.

Yupo can be ordered here

I had greater hope for the Ampersand Aquabord.  

This is how Ampersand describe it- “Museum Series Aquabord™ is an acid-free textured clay surface that absorbs watercolors like a fine paper. When compared with watercolor paper, this multimedia panel simulates the absorbency and texture of cold pressed, but allows color to be lifted back to white easily while also leaving the richest, most vibrant color possible.”

It sounds very promising! As luck would have it, I was going out to dinner with a group of botanical artist friends and brought my aquabord panels for them to have a look at. They were all very curious but weren’t impressed with the rough surface. In fairness, I think that this can be sanded down to suit your needs, but I wanted to try it as it is.

The dark shadows on the aquabord (right) are where the panel is still slightly damp 
The first thing that you have to do is to wet the whole surface to allow any air bubbles to escape. Unlike the yupo, pencil goes on very nicely and can be erased without any problems. Painting too is nice. The surface absorbs the paint beautifully.

It's quite a textured surface
 I did notice that the rough surface gave a bit of texture to the paint, so it would be wise to choose your subject accordingly. I was painting an old dry cherry leaf, but if I was after the translucent smoothness of a petal, I think it would be better to sand down the board first.

The first washes go on beautifully and you scarcely need wait before applying another wash
Building up the layers. You can see that the panel is actually quite creamy in colour

 As with vellum, you can scratch back into the paint without doing damage. The paint also lifts very easily so you can pick out details like veins in the leaf.  However, it’s strength is also it’s flaw. I found it a bit too absorbent. The paint sank in and remained quite matt. I could apply multiple layers of paint with ease, but it was hard to get the glow that you would get if you had been painting on vellum.

Cherry leaf on Ampersand Aquabord

Conclusions- This is a nice surface to paint on and is ideal for anyone who struggles to control their washes. The surface is very rough so perhaps for finer botanical work, it would be better to sand it down first. It is very versatile and being able to scratch into it gives an added element of fun. You are supposed to be able to frame this without glass by applying varnish-  something that might appeal to some but not me. I was disappointed with the luminosity and found it hard to retain the vibrancy on such an absorbent surface.
Ampersand aquabord can be ordered here

It was interesting to try these new supports. I still have some left over so perhaps will try them again, but I really can’t see myself using either on a regular basis. I prefer my Fabriano Artistico and my Kelmscott vellum!

“Play keeps us vital and alive. It gives us an enthusiasm for life that is irreplaceable. Without it, life just doesn't taste good.”
 -Lucia Capacchione


  1. i looked at yupo and when i saw it was not absorbent i passed

    1. Haha!! I should have done the same, but there's always that "what if..." element!

  2. thanks for the review! Very helpful and I think I'll stick with my vellum and Fabriano too for now. I've been glancing at Yupo for years now but never tried it. I've seen paintings on it that really look amazing but they were all done by people who work very much wet in wet and don't care for details very much. Love the well hung conker too, BTW ;)

    1. I totally agree, Sigrid. I've seen some amazing works on Yupo from artists who paint in big juicy washes of colour. I might give it one last try, just to see if I can paint wet and loose, but Fabriano and vellum are calling me now!

  3. I always enjoy hearing about materials new to me so thanks for the reviews. The one time I've seen someone paint on Yuppo, they used very juicy washes. Like Sigrid, I'll stick to Fabriano and vellum, at least for now. I'd like to try some different kinds of vellum, although I am very spoiled by Kelmscott so not too motivated to venture elsewhere! Love your conker painting and its clever title!

    1. Janene, your vellum work is superb. You could always try different types of vellum, I suppose. Thanks for the nice words

  4. Great and helpful reviews....and love "well hung" ;) :)

  5. Being able to layer is not something you can do easily with Yupo and I was surprised you got your painting to look as good as it did. I've not tried the Ampersand yet but do go off and buy new things to try once in a while. Of course, I'm not a botanical artist so I can paint looser and wetter. Love your work, always, and it is fun to try new things - you learn something from every material you use. And love the wicked sense of humor with the conker titles - of course, now I have to search to find out what a conker is! Looks a bit like a chestnut?

    1. Rhonda, I should have given you a mention because your blog is one of those that I visited to learn more about Yupo and I was impressed by what you had done. Conkers are fruits of the horse chestnut tree (not edible). Over here we thread them and then have conker battles. Here's a link-
      Thanks for commenting- I appreciate it!

  6. I've seen Yupo used with 'freer' watercolour techniques and it seems to like them. I, however, can't get a handle on the stuff. As for the clay surface board, I found it took ink really well. Those are my humble opinions! Thank you for the review of these materials and your plays on words. Always a joy visiting your blog, Shevaun.

    1. Hi Candice! I think you are right... the yupo needs bolder, braver washes of paint. It's just not me really. I'm curious about trying the ink on the aquabord now. I hadn't thought about that. Thanks for the imput. I like your blog too.

  7. I worked on Yupo a bit when I began and shared it's quirkiness with my students ( who didn't like it). I have since become skeptical about the archival quality of the "paper" and use it only to play. Although, every day I see another artist take it up and use it with acrylic inks or watercolor. I know you can wipe it right back to white and you can't layer easily ithout lifting the underlying layers. You can lift off the acrylic paint with rubbing alcohol.


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