History of Decoupage
Decoupage is an easy craft and produces such delightful results that you will want to continue creating wonderful new projects, again and again. The art of Decoupage is basically cutting out pictures and pasting them on furniture or home accessories to simulate painting. This art form was also known as “poor man’s art” because in the olden days those who couldn’t afford to hire an artist to decorate their furniture could obtain quite elegant effects with cut-outs pasted on and covered with multiple coats of varnish or lacquer.
Decoupage flourished in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. Many elaborate decorations on boxes, trays, chests and tables, formerly believed to have been hand painted, and were later found to be merely cut-outs cleverly applied by a crafty artisan.
There are three ways of performing this art form and each has its own name. Decoupage is an original arrangement of cut-outs or paste-ons used on pictures, murals, furniture and accessories to simulate painting. Montage is a mounting of materials that may or may not be cut-outs or paste-ons. Photographs, travel folders, handbills or old postcards might be artistically arranged on a screen or mural and varnished or lacquered. Collage uses various items such as bits of string, wood, shells or romantic keepsakes in a shadowbox type of arrangement. It is often very difficult to decide which of these three designations applies to the finished composition. Usually the word decoupage is used to incorporate all three methods.
Excellent materials for decoupage include Seed catalogues, magazines, old books, wallpaper, gift wrappings, scrapbook paper, foil-covered paper, lace paper doilies (they come in a variety of colors such as gold and silver), posters, travel folders, Valentines and greeting cards. Many materials can be found in art supply stores, thrift and antique shops, bookstores, auctions, attics, garage sales and just about anywhere you can find items to re-purpose.
For making collage or shadow box arrangements try adding beads, sequins, shells, feathers, fans and any other fun small, memorable accents you have at hand. These items may also be purchased at craft stores, antique dealers and thrift shops.
Art supply stores and importers carry decorative papers for lining boxes, drawers, desks and covering telephone books, albums and screens. They may also carry gold-foil medallions, corners, frames, leaves, stars, bells, and other small items for decorating trays, boxes, book covers, picture frames and other accessories. Tiny floral bouquets, as found on vintage Valentines, make stunning designs for small articles. Gold edging placed on a box, picture or tray will enhance its beauty and give and elegant, professional touch.
With a sharp pair of scissors and good eyesight, anyone with a fair sense of composition and a feeling for color can do professional looking decoupage work. As you cut out designs from decorative papers, prints or magazines, the scissors should be tilted slightly toward the right to obtain a beveled edge. A straight up-and-down cut will result in a hard, raw edge which may show the color of the underside of the print. Razor blades, X-acto knives, straight and curved scissors are all held in this manner, slanted as you cut.
When pasting, lay work face down on a large sheet of glass or marble topped table. Some people prefer to use wallpaper paste for large areas, but any of the modern water-soluble pastes, decoupage mediums or glues are effective. These adhesives may be used at full strength, except on glass where they should be diluted. Lay the work face down, dip a brush in water, then in paste. Brush paste on smoothly, working from the center to the edges. It is important to be sure there is enough paste. For large areas, after the cut-outs have been pasted on, a rolling pin may be used to smooth any ripples out. For smaller areas, a credit card or other small plastic card is very effective for removing any air bubbles that might occur. If edges do not stick at first, they may be lifted carefully and a small amount of paste applied with a toothpick.
Always keep a damp cloth handy to press down the edges of the design and to wipe off excess paste. For stubborn places, a small cotton swab dipped in cleaning solution may be used. Painted surfaces and glasses are no problem as they are easily cleaned.
Suggested Items for Decoupage
The type of finish the composition will need depends upon the item’s usage. A frame or wall art would not require a finish, but a serving tray would require six to twelve coats of varnish or lacquer. The more the article is varnished or lacquered, the more the decoration will recede into the background and simulate a painting. Lacquer, which comes in spray cans, is easy to use and effective on large objects. You may also use the prepared decoupage medium available in craft supply stores by following the directions on the container.
A metal tray would need a coat of rust-resistant paint first, followed by two or three thin coats of an oil-based paint in the color of your choice. Trays may be bought with a flat, black finish and sprayed with several thin coats of lacquer before any decorating is done. A tray lends itself beautifully to decoupage and can be made gay and whimsical, handsome and formal, or portraying a hobby or sport.
Boxes are sometimes used and provide interesting results when done with decoupage. All shapes of unfinished boxes are available in craft supply stores. Match, jewel, sewing and various other kinds of boxes made of paper, tin, leather, plastic or wood, may be decorated with paste-ons or cut-outs and a bit of gold edging for flair. A box should be given two or three thin coats of an oil-based paint, and after decorating, at least three coats of varnish should be applied. The final coat is rubbed with a dampened emery cloth for a fine, soft, or matte finish. It can be quite fun to cover boxes with fabric, decorative paper, or wall paper, which has an adhesive back. These items typically measure a yard across and may be purchased in any length you need at a variety of stores. Wall paper is especially excellent for covering large objects and the interiors of desks and chests.
Waste baskets made of wood or heavy cardboard are handsome when covered with marbleized or tortoise-shell papers or small geometric prints. Each side may be edged with gold-striping or medallions applied to the center of each panel.
A Little More Information
When planning a design for a large area it is wise to make a rough sketch on tracing paper, drawing circles and oblongs of various sizes to indicate where cut-outs will be placed. The actual cut-outs should be laid out and different arrangements tried until the best, or most pleasing layout is found. The cut-outs are then pasted and transferred to the object. Penciled guide lines are an invaluable aid in keeping the arrangement in order, and can be easily wiped off after the decoration is applied.
Decoupage can be as expensive or inexpensive a hobby as you desire. The tools required include sharp scissors, X-acto knife or razorblade, pencils, paste and adhesives, varnish and lacquer, thinner, oil-based paint, brushes, sandpaper, and perhaps a sheet of glass for your work surface. Your decoupage materials may be purchase for any amount of money at craft or art supply stores. Or perhaps you find interesting materials to re-purpose in your attic or a local thrift store. Regardless of monetary investment, this vintage hobby will bring many hours of pleasure and compliments for your finished work.