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The Art of Découpage

By Eileen Bergen

Découpage is a very accessible craft for beginners but can also be taken to artistic heights. In fact serious découpage artists are known as découpeurs (sometimes spelled "decoupers"). There is a National Guild of Découpeurs (NGD). NGD is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing education in the art of découpage, to encouraging a high level of quality, and to offering an exchange of creative ideas. NGD is worldwide and holds an Annual Convention and Exhibition each April. To see some beautiful examples of découpage, visit their website:

The word "découpage" comes from the French "couper" meaning "to cut". Découpage is the art of permanently decorating surfaces with paper cutouts. The cutouts are glued to the surface and then several coats of varnish, lacquer, glaze or clear-drying glue are applied to give a lacquered finish.

The list of items that can be découpaged is virtually endless but most common are: furniture; wooden boxes and trays of all size and shape; clear glass objects such as plates, platters, bowls, vases, candle holders and paperweights; metal trays and boxes; clay pots; and of course, wall art.

Any theme can be employed but Victorian designs are probably the most popular because modern découpage is a revival of the art that flourished in 18th and 19th century Europe.

The art has a long and fascinating history. In eastern Siberia, cutout felt figures and designs were used to decorate objects found in tombs dating from before the time of Christ.

The art of elaborate cutting seems to have spread from there to China. In 12th century China, paper cutouts were used to decorate windows, lanterns, gift boxes and other objects. After a while, artisans began applying multiple layers of lacquer to make their work more durable and attractive.

In the late 17th century, lacquer furniture from the Far East became fashionable in Europe. Demand quickly exceeded supply and Venetian cabinet-makers and lacquerers began to copy and change the art form.

At that time, the wealthy were in the habit of commissioning master painters to paint their furniture. It didn't take long for the découpeurs to draw copies of masterworks and have prints made for their use. In fact, many antiques formerly believed to have been painted by the masters were later found to have been copies using very skillful découpage.


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