Crafting for a Greener World:
Découpage Wall Art
by Robyn Coburn
Here’s a project
that will provide you with the skills to rejuvenate and repurpose a variety
of old, and often discarded, household items and architectural pieces – from
old trays and the fronts of old cupboards with the handles removed, to
shelves, old cutting boards that are too scored to be useful, larger doors
such as armoire fronts, or the inside of old frying pans. By the way, if you
have some light weight doors, use hinges to join them in a concertina and,
presto, a folding floor screen.
I’ll show you
how to create gorgeous hand painted figurative art with a technique called “overpainting,”
which allows you to use the basic shape of a photographed figure instead of
drawing from scratch. In this project, we combine overpainting with découpaged
Tools & Materials
Repurposed base item
Protective gloves (if needed)
Scissors – small with a point
White glue and/or decoupage medium
Acrylic paints – non toxic
Black waterproof or permanent marker
Inks (on stamp pads) if desired
Brayer or roller (rolling pin)
Old pictorial magazines
Optional: fabric remnants, lace, ribbon
tool or awl
Hanging hardware & tools
Step1: Prep your chosen surface to accept glues and
I can't stress enough how important it is to have a
clean but roughened surface on which to work. Remove any dirt or oils. Sand
the surface if needed and clean off dust with a slightly soapy damp cloth.
Please use dust masks if you are unsure about the prior paint finish on
older wood pieces.
Step 2 Create your abstract background.
You can choose to paint, perhaps scumbling (blending
the edges while still wet) different colors together. You can paint an even
coat of a single color, or you can stain your surface allowing the wood or
prior finish to show through. You can sponge your paint on, and rag or
scrape some away to create texture. Don't let it get too bumpy because you
will still need to adhere paper over it.
Or, you can create a decoupaged background with strips
or pieces from your magazines. Try to have the white from the torn edges
showing. Adhere with decoupage medium or white glue. When it is dry wash
over it with translucent paint if you like.
Step 3: Choose a face at a nice angle.
Your character will not be recognizable after
overpainting. Tear the page from your magazine.
Draw an outline around the face or figure with your
permanent marker, extending down the the decolletage – so that basically you
have a bust. On the face sketch in the details you want to keep with your
marker. You will be painting over these lines.
Step 4: Overpaint.
Paint over the eyes with white or pale gray. Paint over
the face with whatever skin color appeals to you. You will probably need
more than one coat. Reshape the lips. Add details – the iris, makeup,
eyebrows and eyelashes. Add shadows with a light touch of slightly darker
paint, or follow the lead of the Expressionists and paint your shadows in
purple or green. Remember the hair.
Once the face is dry, cut it out with small scissors.
Step 5: Compose the image.
People tend to follow the gaze of other faces. Usually
the eyes in a portrait should be facing the middle of the page, rather than
off the edge. (Unless you are employing this as a device to draw your
viewer's attention somewhere else). Usually the main image is more
attractive slightly off center (see Sidebar).
Small ephemera like tickets or fortune cookie sayings
can peek out from behind the head. Position these first.
When you are happy with the composition, apply white
glue or decoupage medium to the back of the face with a brush and adhere to
your background. Roll to smooth.
Step 6: Embellish.
Layer on paper or fabric embellishments and borders. Is
your character a circus clown, a fashion model, a witch, a fairy? She might
need a cut out hat, a fancy headband or a collar, some hardware earrings, or
perhaps a necklace. If your bits and bobs are heavy, drill small holes in
the backing and secure them with craft wire.
Run a horizontal border piece across the decolletage.
Crumple then unfold strip of coordinating paper (magazine pages again!) then
distress with ink or paint along the “peaks” of the wrinkles. Layer on some
ribbon or lace, even stitching it to the paper.
I love lettering and words in my artwork. You can name
your character, and use cut out, stamped or stenciled letters in the space
beside the face. Or add a quotation, printed or written. For depth, cut
letters from corrugated cardboard, and cover them with pages of text.
Step 7: Hang and Enjoy!
A word about glues:
I recommend checking your glue to ensure that it is
labeled non-toxic. Fabric glues, decoupage medium and tacky glues stay
flexible when dry while regular white glue dries rigid, and may wrinkle
paper, which is why I prefer decoupage medium for this type of project.
However if you wish to make your own paper glue, there
is always the old standby of cornflour and water. Recipes have varying
proportions, but I put about half a cup of cornflour in 4 cups of water.
Bring to a boil and stir until reduced to a soft gel consistency. The gel
will continue to thicken on cooling. Only cook as much as you will use within a couple of days, and keep
When using this glue please be aware that if it takes
too long to dry, your project could develop mildew, so work in layers
allowing each to dry thoroughly. Some recipes call for adding borax as a
mildew killer. Proper drying between layers should be sufficient, as long as
the finished piece is not hung in a humid area.
The Rule of Three:
Examine any old masters' paintings, book
jackets, or posters and you will discover those that feel balanced
have an underlying structure. The first part of “The Rule of Three”
suggests that a visual page of any kind is more interesting if it is
organized around thirds, either horizontally or vertically (and
sometimes both). A page divided around a two thirds/one third
division is usually more energetic and vibrant than one rigidly
divided in half, which might be formal or static.
The visual elements in the pieces will be arranged either along or around these
imaginary horizons. This underlying structure may be created with
color, shape, line, or scale. Georges Seurat's “Sunday Afternoon” is
a supreme example, as is Da Vinci's “The Last Supper,” which
combines both thirds and symmetry.
The other part of The Rule of Three states that
you should try to create triangles with your embellishments, motifs
or colors. Repetition creates movement and rhythm because the eye
goes from one to the next, so your embellishments visually unify
The other important lines hidden in painting's
structure are the diagonals. Often the angle of the diagonal will be
repeated in roughly parallel motifs. Again Georges Seurat shows this
in “Bathers at Asnieres.” Have a look at Picasso's “Guernica.”
After a long career designing for theater and independent films,
Robyn Coburn finds her joy as an unschooling mother who also writes and crafts.
She has been a confirmed greenie since working for Greenpeace during her college
years in Australia. Robyn is currently working on two crafty books, a fairy tale
screenplay and a TV series about doll making and collecting. A past speaker and
funshop presenter at Live and Learn Unschooling conferences, she contributes
regularly to unschooling e-lists. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her
husband James and ever inspiring daughter Jayn. Contact Robyn by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her at