Artist discovers magic in her tools

Artist discovers magic in her tools

By Page H. Gifford

Artists live by their tools, and the quality of those tools can make or break a project. With watercolor painters, paper is the foundation of any creative endeavor. Whether you are a beginner or a professional, it makes all the difference.  

Local artist and Fluvanna Art Association member Jane Prete spoke to members at the monthly meeting held June 21 about Yupo, an innovative paper that is not exclusive to watercolor but can be used for a variety of mediums.  

Prete started her journey as an artist nearly 30 years ago and during that time explored many different ideas, mediums and tools. The “what if” factor played a role in her creativity, and the behavior of paint and paper are critical to the outcome of the exploration.  

“I had a little bit of everything in my studio: alcohol, gesso, canvas, you name it, I had it all but something was missing,” said Prete. “I got tired of following all the rules, though you have to learn basic techniques and follow the rules, but something was still off.” She found Yupo opened a door to discovery when she learned about it from artist George James. “I loved it; it matched my personality. It was the idea of seeing color and another color and running together.”  

She pointed out that, unlike other watercolor papers where the paint sinks into the tooth, Yupo allows the paint to sit on top. The paint doesn’t sink in, the paper is forgiving and artists can use both sides. Members were curious but cautious, and those who tried it didn’t have a concrete opinion.  

“A lot of it is a fear of messing up,” she said, referring to artists reluctance to try something new. She told the story of a friend who tried it and told her she never wanted to see that paper again.  

“I made the paper work for me rather than me working for it,Prete said. She wore gloves to handle the paper; because of its unique qualities, dirt and oils hinder the artistic process. Absorbing oil from her skin would cause the paper to resist paint in some areas. It is also recommended to remove spots and fingerprints with soap and water before use.  

Yupo is a 21st century marvel, a non-traditional alternative to traditional papers that yields unique effects. It is a synthetic machine-made paper made of polypropylene. It is waterproof, stain resistant, extremely strong and durable, acid-free and recyclable. Prete likes its flexibility. The non-absorbent surface resists buckling and remains flat, eliminating the need for soaking, stretching or taping paper prior to watercolor work. It also comes in three weights: light, medium and heavy. The lightweight she feels is flimsy; she loves the heavyweight but finds it expensive.  

Its effect is stunning. As Prete swiped pure color onto the paper, it remained vibrant and strong, never fading as it dried. She cautioned that washes have to dry before laying down another color on top (glazing), otherwise the other color comes off since color sits on top and does not sink. It dries by evaporation. Using a hair dryer is not an option to speed up drying time since it makes Yupo expand and warp.  

Another advantage is that mistakes can be much more easily erased, as long as the paint hasn’t yet dried. It can be lifted with paper towel or tissue, and these items can also be used for effect within the work. Sponges and squeegees are also an option for certain effects and making shapes. 

Some artists lay out their compositions in pencil. Erasing regular pencil will leave areas that resist paint. Therefore, it is recommended to use watercolor pencil because it can be erased with water, maintaining the integrity of the paper.  

Another advantage is that Yupo is of archival quality and can preserve work for years to come. However, Prete joined other artists in recommending use of a fixative on the work when it is complete.  

“An artist sold a $3,000 painting to someone in Florida but after a while the painting was affected by the humidity and began to drip,” she said. Therefore, it is wise to use a fixative and keep it in its place.” She suggested Krylon for a sealer.  

The paper can be used with other mediums but has drawbacks with pencil because of lack of ability to blend; also, layering is difficult with colored pencil. Watercolor pencils are better but blending and layering is still difficult. Oil pastels and markers reveal interesting effects but inks, watercolor, acrylics and oils are the best media for Yupo.  

After all was said and done, Prete recognized that a tool has allowed her to explore outside the basic rules of art. Though she still obeys them, she is freer to let her inner artist play and have fun without constraints.  

“When artists tell me they can’t draw and are not willing to try and to learn, that tells me they don’t have the passion, she said. Passion is the strength and the drive behind what Prete and other artists like her do. 

“I no longer have the mindset to set goals, she said. She simply experiences her passion for art. 

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