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The Papercrafts Guide - Decoupage

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Decoupage is essentially the cutting out of existing designs in intricate patterns and pasting them to simulate painting on various surfaces including wood, glass and metal. Decoupage is traditionally a method of art used to tell a story, depict a scene. It’s a beautiful concept when you consider that the story it is telling is made up of fragments of previous art and of someone else’s ideas.

Around 2000 years later, after invented in China in around 100 BC, Pablo Picasso started using the medium of paper to create art during the early stages of modernism.

Still Life with Chair Caning was the first piece of work he released, which contained a piece of oilcloth constructing part of the image. The idea of using collage as a form of art was becoming recognized and with the birth of the modernism movement it rose to popularity. Propelled by contemporary artists such as Jean Dubuffet and Jacques Villeglé and particularly Henri Matisse collage split off into different forms, decoupage, being on them. Decoupage essentially translates from French as ‘paper-cutting’ and describes an art of cutting out beautiful details from existing prints, paper and art and arranging them into something new. Decoupage first came about in France in the 17th century as a means of decorating furniture. With France leading in trends, the trend naturally spread across Europe and by the 18th century it had become a fashionable pastime for the women in the royal courts. As with anything originating from the upper classes, decoupage was graceful, charming and colourful. Beautiful articles were created with deep vivid colour and flecks of gold and it decoupaged furniture still remains to this day as a staple in a 18th century court when you are recreating the image in your head. According to an article published in the New York Times archives by Thelma Newman in 1975, decoupage was marked as the most ‘popular craft in the country’ and in fact, 3 million Americans were said to take part in. It became so popular that prints and pictures were actually created for the purpose of decoupage, so people could cut them up and create something new.

Gabriela Szulman, one of our Obby decoupage teachers has summarised what decoupage means to her.

"The term ‘decoupage’ comes from the French decouper -to cut out- and the practice arose in the late 17th century as a cheap way to copy the look of intricately painted Venetian furniture. In the 18th century, the craft became such a rage among upper-class French women that they cut up paintings by noted artists such as Watteau and Fragonard for their decoupage projects. Famous ‘decoupeurs’ include Marie Antoinette, Lord Byron and Beau Brummel.

Decoupage is a really accessible craft for anyone to take up: only a small workspace such as a kitchen table is needed, the tools and materials required are inexpensive and readily available, and it is possible to achieve impressive results after instruction from an experienced teacher followed by lots of practice."