Decoupage, French for “a cutting out,” is the art of snipping, arranging, and gluing pictures to wood, glass, metal, or porcelain. Basic working needs are shears, cuticle scissors, a sponge, brushes, a sealer (acrylic spray or 3 parts shellac to 1 part alcohol), a burnisher or a small spoon, white glue, a brayer or a child’s rolling pin, No. 240 garnet and No. 400 wet dry sandpapers, varnish, and a tack cloth.
Any smooth-surfaced object can be decoupaged: tables, boxes, wastebaskets, trays, and lamp bases and shades. Sources of cutouts include books, prints, catalogs, gift wrap, greeting cards, and seed packets. Look for detailed pictures on uniformly thin paper.
Before cutting, stiffen a paper with 2 coats of sealer. Cut out the basic shapes with shears; trim the details with cuticle scissors. Hold the scissors at an angle so that the cut edge will be beveled.
Preparing the object
Wood should be sanded with garnet paper, then dusted with a tack cloth. Next apply stain, followed by a coat of sealer. If the object is to be painted, apply sealer first, then paint. Metal objects should be cleaned of rust, painted with a rust inhibitor, then sealed before painting.
Use plastic-based putty adhesive to arrange the picture elements temporarily until you get a pleasing design. Remove the cutouts and the adhesive. Apply glue thinly to the object’s surface. Place on it the large pieces, then add the small and overlapping pieces. Squeeze out excess glue and air bubbles with your fingers; clean off excess glue with a damp sponge.
Next lay a damp cloth on the design and roll it with the brayer or the rolling pin; work from the center toward the edges. Allow 2 to 3 hours for the glue to dry, then press down the edges of the cutouts with the burnisher or the back of the small spoon.
Apply 10 coats of varnish 24 hours apart; dust with the tack cloth before each new coat. Then wrap No. 400 wet-dry sandpaper around a small sponge, dip it in soapy water, and sand to a smooth, dull finish.
Apply 6 to 10 more coats of varnish with a wet sanding after every third coat, including the last, and a dry sanding after the others. Finally, rub with No. 0000 steel wool, then a mixture of 1 part pumice and 2 parts lemon oil or linseed oil applied with a soft cloth. Polish with white wax.