How To: Oil Paint Over a Decoupage Background

Artist Ora Sorensen uses oil paint over a decoupage background to create a butterfly.

I was recently in the gift shop of a local art museum, and I purchased a roll of beautiful paper printed with gold-metallic inks. I was not sure how I would use it, but it was lovely, and I wanted it.

Once in my studio, I unrolled the paper and thought it would make a great background for an oil painting, but I was not sure how the metallic inks would survive the preparation process.

"Grace," by Clair Hartmann. Used with permission of the artist.
“Grace,” by Clair Hartmann. Used with permission of the artist.

Here’s a recipe for what I ended up doing:


• Decorative paper

• Stretched canvas

• Mod Podge for paper

• Liquitex Matte Medium

• Liquitex Gesso – White

• Soft brushes

• Small bowls for Mod Podge and Medium

• Brayer

• Oil paints

Step One: I cut off a small section of the lovely paper to experiment with, and found a small, stretched and pre-primed canvas in my studio to work on.

Step Two: I cut the paper section the exact size of the canvas and covered the canvas in Mod Podge using a soft brush. It adhered perfectly to the acrylic-primed basecoat on the canvas.

Step Three: I positioned the paper on top of the canvas and used a braying tool to roll out any bubbles and smooth out the wrinkles on the paper, working from the center outward. As the canvas surface needed to be solid for this step, I found a book of the appropriate size and thickness to fill the inside area of canvas between the stretchers. This allowed me to press firmly and evenly on the surface with the brayer, avoiding any stretching of the canvas.

Step Four: After the surface of the paper was completely dry — it took 20 minutes — I covered it with two coats of Liquitex Matte Medium as a protective topcoat. The medium dulled the metallic ink, but happily, only a little.

Step Five: I drew the shape of a butterfly on the canvas and coated the interior of the shape with white Liquitex Gesso to give adherence for the surface to receive the oil paint.

Step Six: I blocked in the butterfly with oils.

Step Seven: I painted the details of the butterfly and added water drops for fun. I varnished the entire surface of the little painting, once it was completely dry, and put it in its frame.

"Nothing Else Can Save Me," by Belinda Maria Longsden. Used with permission of the artist.
“Nothing Else Can Save Me,” by Belinda Maria Longsden. Used with permission of the artist.

I enjoyed this project and searched on the Internet for artists who paint over decorative papers or incorporate decoupage in their paintings. I like the work of Belinda Maria Longsden, who said, “My artwork includes the everyday items and images that surround us. I usually incorporate decoupaged images into my art. These are usually from books sourced at charity shops. I also use ornaments and change them visually. By changing these images and everyday items, I hope the viewer sees them in a different way, making them take notice of the mundane.”

Another wonderful artist I found is Wilmington, North Carolina’s Clair Hartmann. She said, “I like using the patterned paper because it allows me to focus on just the image and feel of the painting. I also really love the vintage portrait feel of the finished pieces on paper.”

Ora Sorensen ( was born in New York but grew up overseas in such countries as Libya, Turkey, Iran, Holland and Thailand. Her paintings are collected worldwide and have been shown in numerous exhibitions.