Legion Sample Size Paper Reviews

Legion Yupo sample size paper, with a #10 Velvetouch brush for size comparison.

Recently, I tried a bunch of itty-bitty 2”x3” sample-size pads to try various Legion watercolor paper options. I was especially interested in Yupo, a “tree-free” type of paper that’s totally different from typical watercolor paper. Here are my impressions.

Stonehenge Aqua Cold Press 300gsm

Me holding up a tiny painting I did on the Stonehenge Aqua Cold Press sample paper.

This is a typical watercolor paper for me, and it ticks all the boxes – 100% cotton, a nice heavy 300gsm (they also offer the even heavier 600gsm), cold press with nice texture. I was able to do multiple layers and lots of wash with minimal buckling, and got nice vivid colors and soft color-changes. Great!

However, a potentially major downside I found for this paper (not visible on this image) is that I found it nigh-impossible to pull tape off it without damaging/ripping the paper, even when going slowly, gently, and at a bias. To me, this is a bit of a dealbreaker since I not only use tape for holding down paper (which I could avoid by getting a block), but for actually masking, i.e., preserving whites. I don’t really want to have to remember “this is the paper I use for masking, this is the paper I don’t…” I just want one paper that works for all my techniques. 

Bottom Line: Good paper if you don’t use tape or if you’re able to remove it more gently than I do. 

Stonehenge Aqua Black 300gsm

Gouache sunset on Stonehenge Aqua Black paper

I may or may not have showed the cover of this little pad to all my friends to make fun of how overwrought the prose on the cover was (“Day is night. Black is white.”), but working on black paper really does flip your entire concept of how to color! 

I used gouache for this, because watercolor wouldn’t show up (you need your medium to be totally opaque, which watercolor is, by definition, not). I’m new to gouache, so black paper is a good excuse to play around with it. Given the opacity of gouache, it seems to me that black paper is as good as white for a base, and probably better for many applications! I enjoyed picking out the highlights instead of preserving the whites. Even though this is the opposite of watercolor’s luminous transparency (the most paint is in the lightest parts), the fact that the darks are so dark means the light colors are even more offset and look even more glowing.

It’s quite unusual to find black paper in high quality, and the stats here are good: 100% cotton, 300gsm. I used less water than usual because gouache doesn’t tend to use as much as watercolor, and the paper did not buckle from at all from the paint. 

This has the same problem as the white paper with tape. Slowly pulling off my gentle Holbein Soft Tape pilled the paper terribly. Luckily it’s not very visible because the paper’s black.

Bottom Line: While black paper is a bit of a special effect, and not useful with watercolor alone, this is a generally high-quality paper that can provide an interesting alternative to white paper for gouache. Just got gentle on the tape. 

Yupo Heavy

Weird sunset over London sky line on Yupo Heavy sample paper.

Okay, now we get to the weird stuff. Yupo is Legion’s line of “tree-free” (read: plastic) paper for mixed media and experimental art. My first impression is that it feels a bit like cardstock. As I began to paint, I realized how absolutely different it is from any other watercolor paper I’ve tried.

Wild thing #1: It is completely smooth. No texture at all.

Wild thing #2: You can put as much water down on it as you like; it will never curl or buckle.

So here it is; the Paper That Never Buckles. The flipside of that is that the paper also does not absorb. Water sits on top of it until it evaporates. It takes a long time to dry, and a little water goes a long way. 

I tried a wet-on-wet wash to see what it would do, and it gave me the interesting hard-edged blooms you see in the example. (I painted this the way I would a smooth sunset on textured paper.) This is basically Hot Press on steroids. Ultra Hot Press. 

It looks like  I Sharpied in the skyline at the bottom, doesn’t it? But it’s paint – a wet-on-dry layer with Daniel Smith Neutral Tint. It was easy to manipulate and move around while it was still wet. For example, I easily lifted the little window out of the clock tower. 

Another side effect of its plasticky-ness is that oil doesn’t absorb, either. I put my finger down on the lower right to hold the paper steady while painting, and was never able to paint over the oil spot. 

(I don’t know how it handles tape because I didn’t need to tape it down. It’s totally flat, man.) 

Bottom Line: This behaves differently enough from traditional watercolor paper that, for me, it’s a “special effects” paper, not an everyday paper. But it is super interesting to play with.

Yupo Translucent

My copy of Watercolour Painting by Cathy Johnson, along with the small house I traced from the cover on Yupo Translucent paper.

Yupo Transluscent is a version of the Yupo tree-free paper that’s super-thin, to the point you can see through it. It shares the same general properties as Yupo Heavy (smooth, slick, wet-on-dry looks like whiteboard markers). It’s buckwild to be watercolor painting on what looks like tracing paper without it disintegrating, but that’s the magic of plastic, I guess! The special thing you can do with this paper, then, is actually trace, as I did with the small house on the cover of First Steps Series: Watercolour Painting by Cathy Johnson above. 

As with the Heavy, I found wet-on-dry to look like whiteboard markers. Wet-on-wet washes were if anything more erratic, drying very different from the way they looked wet.

I started with this purple spiral against orange and yellow…
It dried as a series of weird, hard-edged cauliflowers.

Bottom Line: An even less controllable, more special-effects-y paper, but it may be your only option if you want to actually trace in watercolor. 

Conclusion

Legion offers some truly out-of-the-box paper which can provide unique experiences you won’t find anywhere else. Their basic paper is also solid, although comparing apples to apples with paper of the same stats, I find Arches overall easier to work with and friendlier to masking (though, admittedly, also more expensive). Of the four paper sample sizes I tried, the only one I’m tempted to play with at a larger size is the black paper, for use with gouache.

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