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The Art and History of Decoupage: A Furniture Painter’s Journey through Time and Creativity

Updated: Aug 14, 2023



Decoupage is so much more than cutting and sticking; it's an art form with a rich history that dates back to Eastern Siberia. From tomb art to household items, decoupage has evolved into a beloved hobby and skill that's stood the test of time.


In this blog from TFAC blogger Susan Ruth, you'll discover the fascinating history of decoupage and learn about the methods and styles of our talented furniture artists and upcyclers.

. Feast your eyes on their stunning work and find out why they love this craft so much and what inspires them.


Okay, let’s start with the basics, shall we?….


Qu'est-ce que le decoupage ?

Decoupage is the practice of cutting out and glueing coloured paper and other decorative elements to form a picture, pattern, or decorative enhancement to a surface, like a box or small piece of furniture.

The picture or pattern can be built up by layering, with each layer sealed with several coats of varnish.

In some examples of traditional decoupage, 30-40 layers of varnish or lacquer were used to build up the surface and then sanded down to a smooth finish.


Our members use decoupage to decorate many beautiful pieces, whether it's a tea tray, a lampshade, or a chest of drawers.

There is something almost magical about watching a decoupage artist bring a piece of furniture back to life. Each artist has their own unique method and style, and many create custom pieces for their customers.

Below, you’ll see examples of their work and links to their websites, but before we get into that, let’s go back in time and find out a little bit more about Decoupage.


Est-ce en français?

So, hands up all those who thought Decoupage (as in the craft, not the word), is French.


Go on, all the way up!!!


Well, you'd be wrong.


The word is most definitely French: “decouper”, means to “cut out” in French, but much like “French Fries” (which are actually Belgian, but that’s a whole different blog), the French seem to have pilfered the practice, as their own.


That’s not to say that the French, and France, haven’t played their part in the history of Decoupage. They most definitely have (apparently, Marie Antionette was a very passionate Decoupeur), but we need to go much further East to find its true origins.


The earliest examples of decoupage were found in Eastern Siberia, where it was practised as a form of tomb art. That is to say, roaming Siberian tribes used a very basic “cut-and-paste” form of craft to decorate the tombs of the dear departed!


Now, the fact that these examples were found in “Eastern” Siberia is quite significant because, from there, the art form became very popular in China and Asia.

In fact, this is where we see the first examples of it being used to decorate household items: lamps, windows, boxes, etc.


Bon Voyage Decoupage!

Over the next couple of centuries, as travel and exploration increased, the wonderful art of decoupage spread across the globe. Italy had particularly strong trade links with the Orient, which may be why some of the finest examples of “historic” decoupage seen today hail from Venice and Florence and late Renaissance Italy, and whilst they depict mostly biblical and religious scenes, they are still, nonetheless definitely decoupage.


I wonder if Michelangelo ever considered it for the Sistine Chapel ceiling.......


Decoupage became established not only as a hobby but also as a wonderfully artistic skill. Talented Decoupeurs could make quite a healthy living, obtain celebrity status, and be invited to give talks on the subject.


By Victorian times, young ladies were taught the art of decoupage, along with the essential watercolour, pencil drawing, embroidery, and music lessons that made up the skills and talents of a “truly accomplished lady”.


J'adore le Découpage

There are countless reasons why Decoupage became and remains such a popular craft.

Not only is it relatively easy to achieve results, but it is also a craft that can be enjoyed by anybody at pretty much any age.


Just about anything can be decoupaged, whether it’s something as small as a pill box, a mobile phone cover, or a masterpiece of furniture.


Each piece is completely and totally unique and personal and, perhaps best of all, especially in this day and age, the craft is all about upcycling and reusing.


Voila!

Within the TFAC membership, we have a stunning collection of decoupage items, and many of our artists are also stockists of decoupage paper – you can find out more by clicking on their website links.


In fact, we'll leave the last few lines of this piece to them while you feast your eyes on their stunning work and read a few words from each of them about why they love the art form so much and what inspires them.


First up, we asked Issy Tidmarsh from Little Gecko Interiors, a specialist in decoupage, to share her love for this particular medium.





"I just love the way it can transform a very plain piece of furniture using very intricate detail and design from the vast array of papers currently on the market.


Detail that I find you can’t always achieve with paint alone. Many of the papers are also wipeable, UV resistant and recyclable, so it also fits the bill in being kind to the environment."

Vintage cabinet by Little Gecko Interiors featuring “Elephants on Safari”, a paper by Emma Shipley




Catherine Fay, the talented artist behind Fay Designs, has recently been drawn to decoupage as a medium, especially for smaller projects such as the charming gift box she created.


Her work has a unique fairy tale quality to it that never fails to capture the imagination. Each piece seems to be infused with a magical quality that transports the viewer to a fantastical wonderland.


We are enamoured with Catherine's ability to create such delightful pieces and excited to see what magical creations she comes up with next.


Catherine says, “This is one of my larger gift boxes where I've added a painted background blend and harlequin stencil, then overlayed with some butterfly transfers and some extra paint speckles to add depth and a little mystique.









Michelle from Shel's Shabby Chic is a skilled decoupage artist who takes pride in creating bespoke pieces that perfectly match her customer's décor.


Her attention to detail and eye for design is evident in her work, which includes a range of furniture and home accessories.


One of her recent projects involved creating a stunning co-ordinated tableware set using a William Morris paper.












Michelle's ability to combine intricate detail with functionality is what makes her decoupage pieces so popular with her customers.














Jo Collett from The Crafty Collets specialises in traditional crafts and has dedicated herself to perfecting her art, making it her own. She shares with us her passion for these crafts and how they have become an integral part of her life.


Perfecting my decoupage technique took me a few years, and I've used many different application methods from PVA glue to the iron-on method. I've learned from my mistakes, especially with the coasters, as the heat from a mug can reactivate the glue and cause the mug to stick to the coaster. Through research and experimentation, I've found the best way to prevent this is by using a Non-PVA adhesive and a heat-resistant top coat.


Our slate coasters and hearts are our best sellers, and what makes me most proud of my craft is knowing that numerous customers have purchased them to put on display in their homes. I will never get bored of making our decoupaged products, and I will never tire of all the amazing comments we receive from our customers.


Caroline Cullingham, the talented artist behind Godfrey's Ear, shares with us why she loves to work with this versatile medium.


With so many beautiful designs available on a range of materials such as napkins, wrapping paper, wallpaper, or decoupage paper, Caroline believes that decoupage can really take a piece of furniture to the next level. By following a few simple steps, you can create anything from fun and funky artwork to a masterpiece in no time at all.


Caroline's recent project was created using wallpaper from the end of a roll that would have otherwise been thrown away. The result is a stunning piece that has left many people amazed. They often ask if Caroline has painted it herself, and when she reveals that it's actually wallpaper, their faces light up with surprise and admiration for such a unique and creative idea. Caroline's work showcases how decoupage can transform a simple piece of furniture into a work of art that is not only beautiful but also sustainable by repurposing materials that would have otherwise gone to waste.


And Emma from Beautique Interiors shows us the fun of decoupage with this cute set of MCM drawers.




















Bringing us bang up to date is Michelle Aston from Michelle Aston Designs. In Michelle’s hands, this craft takes on an entirely different look.




Her pop-art-inspired piece just goes to show the versatility of decoupage.


Michelle cleverly combines bold colours and a contemporary design to create a stunning work of art.

She has managed to take a traditional craft and give it a fresh, edgy twist that’s impressive.


Kudos to Michelle and all our talented upcyclers and artists for pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved with the art of decoupage!







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