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  • Writer's pictureMonika Matusiewicz

ABC Decoupage - PVA and wax vs decoupage glue and varnish

Many years ago I was a member of groups dedicated to renewing furniture with chalk paints, where I was persuaded that cheap PVA glue is just as good as (according to some) too expensive adhesives dedicated to decoupage. Also, the wax as a decoupage finish is just as good as varnish. As a lover of traditional decoupage, I did not agree with these theories, which is why I decided to do a comparative test.

Let's start with the basics: what is decoupage? by wikipedia: "Decoupage or Découpage is the art of decorating an object by gluing coloured paper cutouts onto it in combination with special paint effects, gold leaf and other decorative elements. (...) Each layer is sealed with varnishes (often multiple coats) until the "stuck on" appearance disappears and the result looks like painting or inlay work. The traditional technique used 30 to 40 layers of varnish which were then sanded to a polished finish"

As you can see, decoupage is a laborious technique, but today we have access to many materials that make it a bit easier. In addition to the classic decoupage papers, which really require very accurate cutting and many varnish layers, we have access to soft papers, rice papers and (most popular, because the cheapest) napkins. Today, we will focus on the so-called "napkin decoupage technique".

Back to the topic. I usually use glues dedicated to decoupage in my works. After many trials and tests I found ones whose consistency suits me best and the work is just a pleasure. Unfortunately, good glues, ones that do not turn yellow, are not cheap. That's why on many forums about decorating furniture you can find advice that the cheapest PVA glue mixed with water is good enough (although it turns yellow very quickly)

So, I prepared a napkin, separated two back layers and tore out around motive.

Seriously? I've never seen so many wrinkles on my beloved napkins ... and I am not a newbie in this matter. But this time I wanted to cry seeing these wrinkles and bubbles Chapeau bas for those who can stick a napkin without wrinkles with PVA, and compassion for beginners who are trying  PVA first...

Then I tried the glue for napkins ... One layer, a few moments of work and ready (and much less wrinkles ... phew)

I waited until both pieces dry. First one I covered with next layer of PVA, on the second I started painting around the theme with chalk paint to blend decoupage into surface.

I sanded first piece (the PVA one) to eliminate wrinkles. Now it looks tolerable but still below my standards. Here's how to at this moment look both works

Now I covered PVA work with first layer of wax, and second work with satin varnish.

When you work on a large surface (eg table top) is very tempting to use glue only over decoupage, and not on the entire surface. In the end, the whole surface will be protected with wax, right? I have a habit to cover the entire surface with glue before varnishing , but in the "PVA project" I decided to see how it would look if I cover only a paper napkin with glue.

After 24 hours, two coats of wax and buff you will still see traces of glue (halo effect)

At the same time, the second board was covered with two coats of satin varnish. Each layer after drying sanded with sandpaper.

After more or less the same time spent on each project, they are both waterproof and they look like this (still not perfect, but it is only a test): and... a final "touch" test: on PVA and wax surface you still feel paper, you still feel edge. On napkin glue and varnish you feel one smooth surface...

At the end I came up with another idea. What if after some time you want to improve your work? I wanted to add dark shadows (I used brown paint and blending medium). This time I started from the work done with glue for napkins and satin varnish

Now it's my attempt at work with wax finish - paint does not stick to the wax. Game over :/

I hope you found this tutorial helpful.

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