Recently, artist Michele Banks (better known as @artologica) told me she was trying out Yupo and mylar with her watercolours. I was excited to ask her to share the results here on Symbiartic. Banks has been seen and interviewed here on Symbiartic before, and in addition to running one of the most popular science-art Etsy stores, is a contributor to the wonderful blog, The Finch and Pea. - Glendon


I’ve been creating cells, bacteria, viruses and other microscopic creatures in watercolor for years, usually on paper but also on textured clayboard or specially-treated canvas. One of the coolest things about using watercolor for this kind of work is the amazing patterns it forms as it spreads out and is absorbed by the substrate. The effects are determined by timing and the amount of water you add to the paint – it’s pretty touchy-feely, and I’ve gotten much better at it with years of experience.

For an upcoming show, however, I needed to come up with something that would work when mounted on windows. Obviously, big rectangles of heavy paper or canvas would not do. Another artist, Ellyn Weiss, who is involved in the show suggested painting on clear sheets of mylar. I bought some that was made especially for water media, but my initial attempts to paint with watercolors on it were very disappointing. The surface didn’t absorb the paint at all, so it just sat there in puddles. I reported back to Ellyn, who advised me to try ink. I headed back to the art store, bought some acrylic ink, wet the mylar and went at it with the dropper.

Boom! The interaction of the two fluids, water and ink, created amazing patterns right away. I was so excited I started tweeting out pictures of my first effort, which looked a lot like a ciliate protist, while it was still wet.

Emboldened by my successful experiments, I decided to try working with ink on Yupo, a super-smooth synthetic “paper” made of polypropylene. If anything, I got even better results on the Yupo than the mylar. As the ink and water dried on the non-absorbent surface, it receded, leaving repetitive but highly organic patterns like geological strata or topographical maps. (pic: Yupo 1 ) I also discovered that by placing dots of ink close together, I could create a pattern that spread out to look like a segmented worm. By adding water outside a drop of ink, I could make the ink “reach out”, forming tributaries.

Next I found out about the existence of translucent Yupo. (Yeah, I might be starting to have a little art-supply-addiction problem.) The translucent Yupo, while not nearly as transparent as the mylar, creates a whole different look when hung in front of a light source than when mounted on a traditional white background. Not necessarily better, but it’s very cool to have the two different effects from one painting.

I have listed a couple of my most successful early efforts in my online shop and am continuing to experiment. The major lessons I would pass on to other artists trying this technique are 1) make sure you have a really flat, smooth surface to work on and 2) don’t move the painting until it’s dry, which can take up to 10 hours. Overall, I highly recommend ink on wet Yupo or mylar as a great way to use physics to evoke biology, geology and geography.

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Artologica on Etsy

@artologica on Twitter

The Finch and Pea