Decoupage (French for ‘cut’) is a simple craft that can create stunning decorate effects. As the name implies, you cut out pictures and then stick them on different surfaces: papier-mache boxes, wooden furniture, ceramics, metal. The art form first emerged in twelfth century China but became very popular in France and the rest of Europe in the 17th century. Marie Antoinette, Madame de Pompadour and even Lord Byron loved to decoupage—in fact, it was considered a hobby of the gentility.
Decoupage is once again gaining popularity among the crafters and the DIY crowd. The materials are inexpensive, and the technique lets you transform even an old shoebox into a work of art. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Get decoupage supplies.
You’ll need glue. It’s possible to just get standard white glue and dilute it with water. However, you get the best consistency from decoupage medium—which is really, really cheap anyway. If you plan to make a really big project, like decoupaging a wall screen or a large cabinet, you may want to use wall paper paste.
The next important investment is a good pair of craft scissors. Look for those that have long, thin tips so you can get into small corners. Craft knives (like the Exacto knife) are also good for small images, or for cutting out parts within the image.
You will also need a tool for spreading the glue or decoupage medium. It’s best to get foam brushes, which will give you the most control and spread the medium evenly. However, paintbrushes or popsicle sticks can also work. For smaller images, or to spot-apply in small corners, you can use cotton swabs. For larger projects you can use brayers.
One optional tool is acrylic spray sealer, which will protect the surface of your project. This is highly recommended if you’re working on something that will be handled frequently.
2. Find something you want to decoupage.
You have many, many options. Practically anything can be decoupaged. Picture frames, shelves, boxes, candles, plates, old chests and cabinets rescued from a garage sale. It’s also possible to decoupage on fabric, transferring old photos to canvas or even sneakers. Recycling has never been this cute or fun!
Once you’ve settled on an object, wash it very well to remove any dust or dirt. If you’d like to give the object a coat of paint first, do this in advance and allow the paint to completely dry. To be safe, wait for at least 24 hours before attempting to decoupage on it—more if you’ve applied several coats or are using a slow-drying paint.
3. Look for pictures.
Now for the pictures. You can use practically anything made of paper. You can cut out patterns and images from books, magazines or catalogues. You can save scraps of pretty wrapping paper. You can hunt for nice postcards, or for a truly unique touch, incorporate your own sketches! It’s also possible to use your digital photos or images from the internet, but print these out on standard copy paper.
If you’re using a photocopy, it’s best to get a colored photocopy even if your image is in black and white. The shadows and hues tend to be richer and more detailed.
Many craft stores also sell really beautiful decoupage images. These are often sold in sets, and represent a variety of themes and styles.
4. Cut out the pictures.
Now for the cutting. If you have a very detailed image, it may be hard to get really precise cuts especially around rounded corners or small crevices. Your best bet is to invest in a really good pair of scissors (see tip # 1). Another tip is to tilt your cutting edge toward the outside, so you cut at an angle instead of straight up-and-down. This avoids the problem of creating a ‘blunt cut’ that reveals the underside of the paper.
Experienced crafters also say that you get a ‘cleaner’ cut if you hold the scissors steady when you cut, and then rotate the paper when you come to a corner or an edge.
5. Place your images.
Now, spread your image or images on the surface you want to decoupage. Go ahead and get creative. You can overlap the images, or create a kind of collage.
6. Stick the images.
All you have to do now is to glue! (See, we told you this was easy.) If you’d like the pictures to have a glossy finish, apply glue to the back and the front of the image. If you’d like to retain the papery, matte surface, just apply glue to the back.
Many crafters recommend applying glue to the surface of the item your decoupaging. This kind of ‘double application’ will help create a stronger bond. However, avoid putting too much glue. It’ll make the paper wrinkle! Mop off any excess with a damp rag.
When you place the image, push out the wrinkles, starting from the center. A popsicle stick comes in handy. (Fingers work, too, but you could leave fingerprints and smudges.) If you notice that a corner is sticking out (probably didn’t have enough glue) use a toothpick to apply glue underneath.
7. Apply the protective finish.
Let the glue dry completely. Then, add a second layer of decoupage medium or diluted glue over the entire surface. Let it dry again. You have the option of putting extra coats—this gives a beautiful shiny, lacquered effect. However, make sure each layer is completely dry before adding a new one. Some crafters recommend putting 10 to 12 coats, but experiment and see what you like best.
You can also use sealer as a final coat, though this can reduce the gloss and can ‘soften’ the edges of your image. It’s a pretty effect, though, which many people compare to a painting. Again, this is completely up to you.