Cherries, Tea, and Pips, George James, 2002, watercolor on Yupo, 26 x 36 inches

Cherries, Tea, and Pips, George James, 2002, watercolor on Yupo, 26 x 36 inches

"George James" by Jessica Raff

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

“My whole philosophy is to work spontaneously, and with traditional watercolor the artist gets about one and a half chances at it,” he says. “With the materials I use, I can keep honing a painting for weeks.” -George James

George James, a watercolor artist, has been practicing watercolor for over 35 years. In the 1980’s James discovered a new technique for painting with watercolors, he was teaching at California State University, Fullerton, when a student was using a plastic surface to draw on. From there James began experimenting with paint on plastic synthetic paper, then called Kimdura now called Yupo.

He uses this surface because he is able to manipulate the paint in ways that you cannot do with paper. When you use the Yupo you can remove and reapply paint many times without worrying about damaging the surface of the paper as with traditional watercolor techniques and processes. When James is working on the Yupo surface he can use many different tools, such as squeegees and spatulas. This new approach to watercolor led James to many awards and recognitions for his innovations including: AWS Gold Medal in 1999, AWS Ida Wells Stroud Award 2000, and the AWS High Winds Medal in 2003 and 2007.

George James’ paintings focus on the interactions of people. He is interested in situating figures in space and depicting the way that people sit and talk concentrating on their body language. The interiors in his work are filled with lights and darks, experimenting with space and decorative objects in a way that allows the values to aid each other.

In my efforts to discover more about the unusual surfaces you can paint on with watercolor I also discovered an artist named Carrie Lin who paints on Yupo and rice paper. Lin is an artist now in her 70’s, which started painting after she retired from computer systems. She became inspired to learn about painting, having no formal education, when she decided to paint a gourd from her husband’s garden.

From there Lin took years of oil painting and watercolor classes. Like James, Lin uses Yupo paper to paint and also uses specific techniques on rice paper. Her technique “produces mostly realistic looking images for forests, leaves, and flowers” stated Lin.

This has sparked a question in me: what other surfaces can you apply watercolor to?

Jessica Raff


Jessica Raff is an Art Educator raised and residing in Lockport, New York.