This Art appeared in Europe by the end of the 17th Century to imitate
lacquered objects introduced from Far East.
Venetian craftsmen, carpenters and lacquer artists used this technique to realize furniture decorated with oriental prints, which was in fashion at that moment, and called this art "Lacquer of the poor" or "Fake Lacquer" too, in order to distinguish objects decorated using this technique from those decorated using "Venetian Lacquer", or painted and then lacquer finished. There is no need to say that Fake Lacquer was much less expensive than Venetian Lacquer, that's why it was so succesfull.
Later on in France this Art was called Decoupage, from the verb "decouper" which means "to cut".
Decoupage rapidly spread out as a hobby for rich ladies. The subjects most appreciated were flowers, insects, birds and after expecially during Victorian age also pictures of angels, cupipds, hearts, miniature of landscapes...
Today Decoupage is fashionable again thanks to many associations in Italy, England, America and Australia... and it's even easier than in the past thanks to the modern techniques we have: water glue fast and odourless, acrylic colours , special papers...
Many people believes that Decoupage is not an Art beacuse you just cut out pictures made by others and glue them when you are not able to draw and paint yourself. Basic technique truly consists of paper pictures cut out and glued and varnished, but the work is not just this: that kind of decoupage is trivial and anyone who has a little bit of aesthetic sense can manage to do it. The real art is creating something absolutely new and unique, complex and original by using the single cut out pictures.
Your scraps of paper are just what bricks are for architect, colours for painter,
coloured tesseras for mosaicist; they are means to achieve a purpose, your project.
(Hiram Manning, master of decoupage)
Decoration using decoupage may be realized on any material: wood, glass, pottery, metal, plastic...
This is the idea: instead of painting decorations, let's cut out the pictures from magazine, present papers, decoupage papers and let's use them to build decoration. Let's glue the scraps of paper on the object we want to decorate, and then let's varnish it with many coats (drown the scraps).
Let's see what we need, then we'll see steps of the work.
I believe that most of these things can usually be found in the house, without having to buy them.
As I said before, decoupage technique is suitable for almost any kind of surface, but each of them has its different preparation, so let's start from the wooden surface
(wood, plywood...) because this surface is the easiest.
We'll see later how to prepare the other surfaces.
First of all let's check the wooden surface: if it is already varnished then remove the old varnish with a specific product, if it is wax polished then clean the surface using turpentine soaked cloth in order to remove the wax coat, otherwise use directly abrasive paper on the surface. Now we are ready to prepare the base. This moment is very important and must not be ignored for the "hurry of doing", because a well prepared surface makes the next step easier: the gluing of the scraps. Now there are two alternatives.
If you prefer to see the wooden surface with its veins, then just give a coat of primer, there exist many kind:
colourless or the kind that darkens the natural colour of the wood, or coloured. The result is always not covering: the wood veins are exalted.
If the wooden object you want to decorate has nice veins, it could be a good solution to mantain the natural surface.
Whereas if you want to cover the surface perfectly because it's plywood or it's damaged, then you should give a coat of wood filler, then you should fill any holes or damages. Then you can proceed with the acrylic colour of the background.
The turpentine woodfiller is rather toxic, as an option it's possible to use watered down vinyl glue.
I use vinyl glue then one or two coats of water paint, the one normally used to paint walls. When it is dry I use abrasive paper on it to smooth the surface. There exist many specific products such as acrylic plaster, which give almost the same results. I usually avoid buying specific products when I can manage with the ones I already have. Let's see the next step.
We have many pictures to cut uot for this purpose.
Never be content with the mere decoupage paper, look through ladies’ magazine, they are full of beautiful pictures: flowers, jewels, fabrics...
And also the presents wrapping paper often has very useful pictures for decoupage.
Perfumer's and herbalists' leaflets are truly mines of fantastic pictures of flowers, insects and animals.
If you have art books look trough the Flemish paintings: there are beautiful flowers, still lives, fruits compositions... of course you don't have to cut the pages of the book, just make a laser color photocopy.
You can also download from the internet pictures suitable for decoupage, always use laser print. You can photocopy laces on a black background, or dried flowers...
Once you have chosen the picture, you have to cut it out: always use manicure scissors they are the most precise.
Some advice: do not insist on cutting small stems or stamens, or butterflies' antennas... it's better to cut away that parts and paint them with a thin brush.
Another suggestion: some flower compositions are really hard to cut out precisely, because they are a maze of small roots and leaves and petals... Do not insist on cutting out the scraps among these parts, leave them and just cut the border (fig.1).
Once you have glued the scrap on the surface, (Fig.2), then paint the same colour of the background the white areas among the leaves and petals using a thin brush, in this example black (Fig.3).
It's easier to paint the areas inside left uncut, rather than trying to cut out every each one of them.
This is only a general piece of advice, of course there are some cases in which this trick cannot be used. We'll see another time.
Put the scrapes on the surface and assemble them in order to realize a nice composition.
Now you can decide the colour of the background. Take the scraps away, if you are afraid of forgetting the composition you can draw some signs on the surface to guide you. There are many solutions for the background colour: you can choose a dark colour, even black, so that the pictures may stand out like a lacquering, or else you can choose a background colour in tune with the colour of the scraps. You can decide whether to paint the colour uniformely or to shade it using a sponge. This decision depends on the subject you have choosen and which result you are pursuing: a Chinese like lacquering (fig.4)? Or a pictorial effect (fig.5)?
For the shading using a sponge proceed this way: keep the colour quite watered, with a brush spread it on a limited area of the surface, then shade it immediately using a sponge (acrylic colour dries rather quickly, so you can't spread it all over the surface and then shade it with the sponge, it wouldn't work) proceed this way untill you have completed the surface.
Once it has dried up choose a darker or lighter tone of the basic colour and then shade it with the sponge in a casual way. This way you can realize a cloudy effect, like in fig.6. Let it dry, then get ready for the glue step.
How to glue the scraps onto the surface?
Prepare a mush of vinyl glue and water, the mixture should have the consistency of yoghurt and keep it inside a small pot with a lid.
Before gluing the scrap you had better get it wet in the basin you have prepared. This step is necessary expecially for paper which is not specifically for decoupage, in order to avoid any hardness and make it softer. There are some kind of paper, such as the magazine paper for example, which might be water-proof and prevent the glue from sticking.
Dry the scrap of paper and be carefull not to damage it.
Lay it down on a clean surface on which it can't stick, I use aluminium paper (the special paper used for cooking).
Using a flat brush of 2 cm (more or less) glue the back of the scrap uniformely, pick it up and put it down onto the surface where you intend to set it.
Make it adhere perfectly on the surface using the brush and also your fingers soaked with glue and flatten the air bubbles that might appear: start from the center of the figure and drive them out toward the border.
Brush the glue all over the scrap, and don't worry if it appears to dirty the background too; once the glue has dried it will be perfectly transparent.
Now, if you think it's necessary, you can give the finishing touch to the picture as suggested before in fig. 1,2 and 3, for example if you had not cut away the inside areas. It's possible to mix succesfully painting and decoupage to realize decorations which will result almost pictorial or even as real paintings. We'll see these particular techniques in detail later on, in this page I will just explain the base technique.
Once the decorated surface is perfectly dry, you can proceed to drown the scraps of paper inside the varnish.
This procedure is called this way because you have to lay several coats of varnish to eliminate the difference in level between the surface and the scrap of paper.
If you want the colours not to become yellow, then you'd better use a water varnish, while if you want to warm the colours giving an ageing tone, then you'd better use a turpentine varnish or lacqer.
I remind you that water varnish usually dries more quickly than the turpentine one, but always keep in mind what you want to do with the object you are decorating: if it is a tray, for example, it might need to be cleaned with some water, so the last coats of varnish should be laid with turpentine varnish.
Whereas if it's rather improbable the object should come into contact with water, then you can simply use water varnish.
In either cases I use parquet varnish, because it's stronger.
There exist many varnish that are specific for decoupage, but I can't guarantee they have the same strength of the parquet varnish, because I never tested them, and I believe They might be more expensive. You can choose whether to use bright varnish or wax varnish. It depends on your taste and the result you are trying to obtain.
Sometime it happens that after the first coat of varnish some white spots appear where the glue was coated. Never mind: the effect will disappear as soon the surface dries.
Several coats of varnish are necessary to obtain a good result.
This step is very important and must not be ignored: the work is well done when it's impossible to feel the difference in level between the surface and the scraps of paper.
I suggest to proceed like this: give 10 coats of varnish and wait for each of them to dry, change the brushing direction at every coat you lay, for example if the first coat brush is horizontal, the second coat brush will be vertical, then horizontal again...
Proceed like this until you have given 6 or 8 coats.
Then when the surface is perfectly dry, you can start smooting the surface with an abrasive paper (250 for the beginning, then finer).
Take care not to scratch the picture.
Clean the surface with a soft cloth, then give it 2 more coats of varnish.
Once it's dry proceed smooting the surface with finer abrasive paper.
Then another 2 coats of varnish... And so on until the result does satisfy you.
I suggest you should carefully read step by step lesson published in the Examples.
You can clean the object decorated with decoupage using a wet cloth (it's better to wait a month after the work is finished, expecially if you used a water varnish) .
Never wash your objects in the dishwasher!!!