Decoupage (or découpage) is the art of decorating an object by gluing colored paper cutouts onto it in combination with special paint effects, gold leaf and so on. Commonly an object like a small box or an item of furniture is covered by cutouts from magazines or from purpose-manufactured papers. Each layer is sealed with varnishes (often multiple coats) until the “stuck on” appearance disappears and the result looks like painting or inlay work. The traditional technique used 30-40 layers of varnish which were then sanded to a polished finish. This was known in 18th century England as The Art of Japanning after its presumed origins.
A Florentine-style carved and gilt box with decoupage.
Artisans in Florence, Italy have produced decorative objects using decoupage techniques since the 18th century. They combined decoupage with other decorative techniques already popular in Florence, such as gilt with gold leaf and carved wood designs. These older techniques were already used to produce articles such as furniture, frames for paintings, and even tooled leather book covers. Known as Florentine style crafts, these items are now highly collectable antiques. Decoupage was added to the Florentine artisans’ methods by adding it to the space within a carved gilt frame, or by adding the decoupage to a wooden plaque. Artisans used pasted reproductions of famous artworks, nearly always religious depictions. Florentine triptychs using decoupage images of such Biblical scenes as the crucifiction are a common motif. As society became more secular in the early 20th century, and non-Roman Catholic tourists began buying more crafts from Florentine artisans, decoupage images became less religious in orientation and more reflective of famous Italian artworks in general.
Materials for decoupage crafts
Common household materials can be used to create effects. Here is a short list of supplies:
- Something to decoupage onto. Examples include: furniture, photograph albums, plates, ceramics, shelving, frames, mirrors.
- Pictures to decoupage with. These can come from myriad sources: newspapers, magazines, catalogs, books, printed clip art, wrapping paper, greeting cards, fabric, tissue paper, lace.
- Cutting utensil. Scissors, craft knife (X-Acto) or razor blades can be used.
- Glue. Standard white glue works best if it is diluted with a little water. Specialty glues can be found in most crafting stores.
- Smoother. Popsicle sticks work well. A brayer is a specialized tool like a miniature rolling pin designed to help remove wrinkles, remove excess glue and smooth pictures.
- Glue Spreader. Many things around the house can be use for this: cotton swabs, paint brushes, sponges.
- Rags, sponges, tissue paper to help wipe up glue and other clean up.
- Sealer. Glue or other decoupage medium can be used as a sealer. Alternatively, polyurethane, spray acrylic or other lacquers are usually used.