Khawla — Darling of decoupage

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Gargee Chakravartee I [email protected]

Published — Wednesday 10 February 2010

Last Update 10 February 2010 3:00 am

Art is often termed the best form of self expression a person can have. It acts as an outlet for feelings that want to come out and be noticed. And interestingly, that self-expression can happen to anyone, at any stage of their life.

Such is the case of Khawla Al-Khamiss, a mother and homemaker in Riyadh, who became interested in art and craft rather late in life. It all began very slowly for her. She had always had a flair for design and color, so when she put together beads and silver trinkets to produce a piece of jewelry for the first time in her life, she realized her hunger and potential for venturing further into the expressive world of art and craft.

Over the next few years she trained herself by reading magazines and watching TV shows about an almost forgotten form of art called decoupage. Derived from the French word decouper, meaning ‘to cut out’, it is the creative art of assembling, pasting and varnishing paper or cloth cutouts for decorating objects. The end result is visibly stunning and bears a close resemblance to the lacquer art of Japan and China.

Decoupage actually began as a copy of oriental art in the 18th Century, when cabinet-makers, in order to keep up with rising demands, began to produce fake lacquer work, which came to be known as ‘Lacca contrafatta’ or counterfeit lacquer. This is perhaps one of the few instances in history when the art of copying became an art in itself.

It gained in popularity all over Europe and fashionable ladies spent countless hours amusing themselves by pasting pictures and fabrics on hat boxes, wig stands and toiletry objects. Marie Antoinette, Madame du Pompadour, Lord Byron, and even artists such as Matisse and Picasso were known to have dabbled in the craft. With the influence of two major wars in the twentieth century, other artistic styles achieved prominence and decoupage failed to keep its place and faded from popular awareness.

But thanks to artists such as Khawla, decoupage is enjoying a hearty revival today all over the world with active guilds in America, South Africa, Australia, England and Japan. The lost art is finding expression again with evolving techniques on a larger and more modern scale.

For Khawla, this has been an ideal opportunity to give vent to her creative urges. Her patience and sense of beauty also find expression in her craft. She works mainly on wooden trays, boxes and thermoses, producing sets of aesthetically designed decorative items. The beginning of a piece starts with a concept or an idea of what she is trying to achieve. She sometimes finds an image that she really likes and the concept develops from there. Once the background has been colored, she puts together the cutouts she wants to use. These could come from any source such as motifs or shapes from wrapping paper, wallpapers, fabrics, napkins, greeting cards, post cards, photographs, brochures, ribbons, posters, dried flowers, tissue papers and many more. These are then pasted on the surface with glue and left to dry for hours. Proper varnishing and sanding is very essential. Other than giving it an even, smooth finish, this ensures that the surface is heat and water resistant. The finished product gets a shiny or glowing surface, making it hard to say whether the image has been painted or glued.

Khawla’s collection is varied and eye-catching. It takes up a lot of her time, but she’s not complaining. She loves her work and thus the effort she puts into each piece is apparent. She has also not given up on her love of accessory designing. In fact, her designs are getting more innovative by the day. She uses Swarovski crystals, semi-precious stones and silver to produce unique pieces of jewelry.

Within the span of a very short time, Khawla has made rapid progress in the realm of decoupage and jewelry design. One hopes that she continues to find newer challenges in other aspects of art and craft which, undoubtedly, she might meet with similar talent and skill.

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