Interview with Donna Kleinman, Decoupage Artist

Donna Kleinman

Donna Kleinman

Many years ago, before I started making things by hand, I became fascinated with the art of decoupage when I read an article about how to do your own in a woman’s magazine.  I clipped the article and have held onto it all these years.  Later when I really started to explore the world of crafts and handmade art, I started reading up on decoupage and learned that it was started centuries ago to meet the public demand for Venetian furniture decorated with hand painted drawings.  Enterprising artists started printing out their artwork and selling them to furniture makers, who would then hand apply them to the furniture they were selling.  This was the early beginnings of decoupage, or l’arte del povero, poor man’s art.

Well fast forward to a few years ago when I learned about Etsy, the online handmade marketplace, I decided to do a search for decoupage art and came across the work of Donna Kleinman of Donatellak.  I immediately fell in love with her glass plates and platters and purchased two of her pieces.

Imagine platter with Botticelli's Venus

Imagine platter with Botticelli’s Venus

Mademoiselle oval plate

Mademoiselle oval plate

I fell in love with her collage style and appreciated the fact that she decoupaged the old fashioned way, applying the different individual images layer by layer to create a harmonious whole.

I contacted Donna recently to see if she wouldn’t mind doing an interview for this blog and was thrilled when she said yes.  She was very gracious and as you will see, has an interesting story to share that I think will inspire other handmade artists.

Donna Kleinman's work space

Donna Kleinman’s work space

Q:  You mentioned in your Etsy profile that you have been creating for most of your life.  Were you creative as a child?

A:  (I) loved art class but was not super creative.

Q:  Was creativity something that was encouraged in your home growing up?

A:  Not really.

Q:  In addition to decoupage, what else do you enjoy doing and making?

A:  I have always been interested in art and loved art class in school growing up.  I’ve taken art classes in drawing, water color, oil and acrylic painting over the years but I’m not that great in it! Decoupage/collages have been good for me as you don’t need to have that drawing/painting talent but it’s still a form of artistic expression.

Q:  Would you kindly please explain what the art of decoupage is, and more specifically, what is reverse decoupage?

A:  Decoupage is taking images from paper formats (magazines, clip art, favorite images or designs) and applying them on to hard surfaces (glass, wood, etc) and even canvases with glue.  If making a collage format, you start with the background papers first and then the central image(s) last.  On reverse decoupage, it is exactly the opposite.  You start with your central image first and then your background papers last.  That is why it is called “reverse decoupage” because everything is done in reverse from the “normal” decoupage procedure.

Q:  How and when did you learn the art of decoupage?

A:  I used to collect decorative plates; painted ceramic plates, vintage plates, etc.  I had purchased two different glass plates that had been decoupaged over 20 years ago and just got curious about them one day.  I took one off of the wall and really looked at the way it was constructed, etc.  I then bought a book on the art of decoupage (can’t remember the name; was so long ago!) and between reading the book and trying to peel off the paper off one of my plates and totally ruining it, I learned how to do it.  My first plate was a disaster, but I got better.  My friends started requesting plates for their homes and then I started selling them at local craft fairs here and there.  I’ve enjoyed doing it ever since.

Man Balance - front

Man Balance – front

Q:  Starting with the inspiration, would you please describe your creative process?

A:  Inspiration can come from many areas.  Sometimes there is a certain image of a woman’s face or a beautiful image of a flower that seems to need to be on a plate or canvas.  Other times, I just start going through all of my images and papers (I have A LOT after 20 years!) and something just hits me.

Q:  How do you decide what images you will use in your collage work?

A:  The central image is the one deciding factor.  That’s the easy part.  The background images are actually the hardest part, deciding what goes with that central image and what doesn’t.  Depending on colors, feel of the central image is it too busy? too plain? etc.  Sometimes I have to walk away from it and then come back as nothing seems to work.  Other times, I can finish in an hour as everything comes together so quickly.

Q:  Do you try to tell a story or convey a message, or is it more about putting images together to create something that is aesthetically pleasing to the eye?

A:  Most of the time, I try to tell a story, especially if there is a word on the plate like “balance” or “fly”. Occasionally, I just use images with backgrounds that I think look good together.

Q:  You sell on Etsy and also at craft fairs and to local stores.  When did you decide to start selling your work?

A:  When there seemed to be an interest from my friends and family in purchasing some of my plates.

Owl with crown - front

Owl with crown – front

Q:  Which venue did you sell in first?

A:  (I) sold to friends first, then occasional home boutiques, then local craft fairs, and then Etsy.

Q:  How did you get started selling in each venue?

A:  One thing led to another through mainly “word of mouth”.  Someone would see me at a home boutique and want to share a booth with me at a craft fair or tell me about one coming up that they think I would do well at.  Etsy was just a natural progression.  I don’t sell a lot on Etsy as there are so many creative crafts to try and find on that site, but it’s fun to see my things on a website! Two years ago, an art manufacturer contacted me (through a friend of mine) and I signed a 3 year contract to make specific (per their trend direction) collage art for them.  They sell to large retail chains and a couple of my collages have been sold to Pier One, Home Goods, and Gordmans.

Q:  Do you create full-time?  If not, what do you do for a living, and do you have any plans to make creating a full-time thing?

A:  No, I do not create full time.  Would not pay the bills at this point for sure!  My title is VP of Sales & Marketing for a company called Main Street Décor.  It is a privately owned manufacturer of picture frames with a factory in Indonesia.  I work for the family that owns this factory and business.  I work with our customers making sales presentations and working on developing products for them with our designers in Indonesia.  Our main customers are Hobby Lobby, Michaels and Aaron Brothers.

Q:  Decoupaging is a centuries old craft.  With the prominence of contemporary decoupage artists such as John Derian, have you noticed an increased interest in it over the years, or do you find yourself having to explain what it is?

A:  I don’t have to explain what it is except I DO have to explain what “reverse decoupage” is as most people don’t understand that the images are on the BACK of the plate.  I always get asked how I get the images “so smooth”.  They don’t realize that everything is done on the back.

Square bird plate with blue stamp

Square bird plate with blue stamp

Q:  As a decoupage artist, you must be a collector of images.  Where do you find your images? How do you stay organized?

A:  I’ve purchased some images from my travels over the years, but also get them at local flea markets, online (even Etsy has great images to purchase from different sellers).  I use some copies of old, famous art work (like Fornasetti, Botticelli, etc) as well.  A blog site that I subscribe to with great images is www.thegraphicsfairy.com.  She posts new images every day and has a great eye with great subjects. Highly recommend this sight for images.  I stay organized because I have a lot of file folders and cabinets to put them in!  I have file folders or boxes labeled with the subject matter.  Otherwise, I would spend my time trying to find what I was looking for!

Q:  I see a lot of reverse decoupaged plates being sold in which the collaged images have been pre-printed onto one sheet and then adhered to the backs of plates, instead of the traditional method of cutting out images separately and then arranging and gluing them individually onto the plate.  How do you feel about these short-cut methods being used for decoupaging?  Have you found yourself having to explain to your customers what you do differently, so that they appreciate the value of what you’re doing and how it makes your work stand apart from those they may find from other artists/manufacturers?

A:  No, I don’t mind as everyone has their own method of doing things and everyone is different in their approach.  I DO tell everyone that my plates or collages are one of a kind.  I also make cards that are also one of a kind.  That seems to be a strong selling feature.

Q:  What has been the response to your work?

A:  Response overall is okay honestly.  The thing about art is that it either speaks to you or it doesn’t.  A few of my customers have over 10 of my plates (I’ve made Xmas, Easter, Valentines plates, etc, and they collect them for each holiday), but most have one or two and that’s enough.  You can only buy so much and I understand that.  I heard the comment from one of my customers recently that she gave one of my plates to her sisterinlaw as a gift and her sisterinlaw asked what she was supposed to do with it? Some people don’t see these as decorative; they want to be able to use them as a real plate so some just don’t get it!  My customer was offended and wanted to take it back!

Q:  What has been the most rewarding thing about what you do?

A:  It’s a creative outlet and that’s satisfying to me.  Also, when someone truly admires what you do.  I had a great day just before Xmas.  A customer of mine is not well and she came by a home boutique that I did in December and was commenting that she would love to learn how to do reverse decoupage.  I told her to come over to the house and bring some friends and we would have a “decoupage day” and learn the procedure.  She did come with 4 of her friends, and it was so rewarding.  Everyone was so appreciative and it was fun teaching them how to do it.  They all walked away with their own creations.  I’ve always liked to let everyone know how to do this.  I’ve come across a few artists in the past that didn’t want to share anything on where they got their materials, procedures, etc.  My feeling is that everyone has a different eye and viewpoint and everyone’s art is different so I never feel threatened about it.

Large platter featuring Botticelli's Venus

Large platter featuring Botticelli’s Venus

Q:  You had such a great experience teaching.  Do you see yourself teaching on a regular basis in the future?

A:  Yes, I love to teach as it’s a lot of fun sharing, but I don’t see me doing it as a regular type of job.  There’s not a lot of retailers around here (Redondo Beach, CA) that offer classes on various craft procedures.  French General is a store I just discovered outside of downtown Los Angeles that does teach different art/craft classes.  I’m taking one this Saturday on “encaustic” collages.  I could teach in this type of venue but I don’t know of very many of these.  When I teach from my home, it’s more of a casual setting and I don’t charge for it since it’s been for friends or customers (like the example I spoke about) that seem to really appreciate this type of craft and really want to learn.

Q:  In addition to your Etsy store, are there any other places people can find your items?

A:  No, not unless they come to my house or visit the occasional craft or home boutique in Redondo Beach!  I do make decoupaged boxes for a small store in Redondo Beach called Harmony Works, but they would have to live nearby!

As you can see, you never know what can happen when you just follow your curiosity, especially when it leads you down a creative path.  What I particularly like about decoupage in general and Donna’s work in particular is how paper images, when artfully arranged, can transform an everyday object like a glass plate into a beautiful work of art.  It may be “poor man’s art,” but it takes the skill of an artist to take something humble and make it look beautiful and more expensive than the sum of its parts.

Thank you, Donna, for graciously sharing your story and work with us!  To see more of her work, please visit her Etsy store, Donatellak.

Have you ever tried decoupage?  Please share in the comments.

Note:  All images used in this post are copyrighted and have been used with the permission of Donna Kleinman.  I have not been compensated, nor will I be, in any way for mentioning the artist or her work.

About Serena Y Lee

Serena worked in the biotech industry for 18 years before leaving to pursue her life purpose – to live in freedom with creativity and simplicity. Her love for baking, creativity, and story-telling compelled her to start blogging to share her ideas with a wider audience.

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6 Responses to Interview with Donna Kleinman, Decoupage Artist

  1. Hiromi January 27, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

    I have seen plates like them, but never knew what they are called. Great interview!
    It is always fun to learn about different types of art.

    • Serena January 28, 2014 at 8:16 pm #

      Glad you found it informational. Thanks for visiting :0)

  2. Patricia Dwyer January 28, 2014 at 7:50 pm #

    Great interview. Glad to know about decoupage.

    • Serena January 28, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

      Thank you for dropping by!

  3. Linda Gibbs January 29, 2014 at 6:24 pm #

    I have several pieces of Donna Kleinman’s. They are beautiful one of a kind pieces of art. I’m always getting compliments on them! She is a very talented artist and a lovely lady as well! Glad to see you discovered her & her work!

    • Serena January 29, 2014 at 8:01 pm #

      Absolutely agree! When I first came across her work, I told her that I loved her stuff more than John Derian’s. I love how she uses collage in her decoupage pieces. She has a great eye.

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