Masterpieces from small scraps

Mastering the technique of decoupage opens path to making gifts for friends

By Viktar Korbut

The technique of decoupage is becoming more popular in Belarus (from the French verb ‘decouper’ — to cut out). The decorative technique can be applied on fabric, tableware or furniture, with images cut from wood, leather, fabric or paper, then glued into place. It is time consuming hobby, yet inexpensive. Moreover, anyone can use it to express their creativity, with no training needed. Yelena Pavlyuchenko of Minsk has been enjoying this pastime for several years, so is quite the expert.

The art of decoupage is rooted in the early Middle Ages, being first mentioned in the late 15th century in Germany, used to decorate furniture. The peak of its popularity occurred in the 17th century in Venice, when furniture was decorated with Chinese and Japanese style images, glued skillfully, with several layers of lacquer applied for protection. The idea was to imitate expensive eastern designs. Later this art was called ‘Arte povera’ in Italy (translated as ‘art for the poor’).

Today, those original decoupage works fetch a high price and modern furniture designers are keen to imitate the style.
Decoupage was also popular at the court of French King Louis XVI and became wide-spread in Victorian Britain, with sentimental motifs used, such as flowers and cherubs. America then took up the baton.

This ancient technique has again become popular in various countries, used to decorate handbags, hats, trays, Christmas trees, sun dials, boxes, crockery and packaging, as well as fashionable accessories.

Ms. Pavlyuchenko even uses pistachio shells to decorate objects. “Decoupage is a very simple technique,” Yelena admits. “I’m an engineer and electrician by education and used to work at a printing house. I never imagined that I’d be able to create art with my own hands. I thought I wasn’t born for creativity. However, several years ago, my husband became involved in photography, began to attend courses and chatted with other amateurs on the Internet. Watching him, I decided that I also needed a hobby. However, I can’t draw or anything similar. Then, I found a website dedicated to decoupage and realised that I only needed to cut out pictures, glue them in various ways and cover with lacquer. It’s an easy way to create simple hand-made items. I bought brushes, paints, lacquer, glue and foundation, as well as napkin drawings, which are easy to work with. When you glue the images to plates and cover with lacquer, it seems that the drawings have always been on the chinaware.”

How do you make the images look as if they’ve been painted rather than glued on?

I glue on the reverse side of a transparent plate, with one of them looking like old parchment paper. I once printed some text from Goethe biography onto a sheet of A4, then soaked it in tea to give an old-fashioned look. I even burnt the edges to make it appear ancient. I then used this to decorate some tableware. Do you see the ‘cracks’ here?

Yes, I do, but I don’t feel them with my fingers.

It’s a decoupage effect, made using special craquele lacquer, which should be applied in two layers. After one coating, the second is immediately applied and, within a day, splits appear. The lacquer’s lower coating ‘breaks’ the upper coating and the splits can be intensified with oil paints or eye shadow.

There’s one difficulty though; you can’t eat from such a plate. If you want to do this, you need to buy special porcelain lacquer for chinaware, which is ‘baked’ in the oven to give a protective coating. Afterwards, it can even be washed in a dishwasher.
How much time and money do you invest in your work?

One plate can be made within three hours, if I use a hairdryer to dry the lacquer. I ask just $10 for each piece but currently spend all my spare earnings on my hobby. When you start exploring your creativity, you want to experiment with materials. I recently bought artificial gold leaf to make a key box at someone’s request, which I decorated with pistachio shells. I once made an ash tray, decorated with buckwheat. Decoupage enables you to create masterpieces from the most ordinary materials.

Can I sign up for your courses to learn this technique quickly?

I’ve already conducted a master class at the request of a website: remesla.by. However, it’s easy just to surf the Internet and learn from reading instructions on specialised websites and forums.

How many professional decoupage masters are there in Belarus?

I think many people are involved but mostly for personal pleasure. I haven’t heard of anyone who has turned their hobby into a business venture. I tend to sell items only to friends.

What has been your most unusual decoupage work?

I decorated a notebook with napkins once and I know that others sometimes use characters from fairy tales and cartoons, placing them on old children’s footwear, which they cover with lacquer. Children love such shoes, which are so bright and original. I recommend that you keep old items for experimentation, since they can be turned into small masterpieces.

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