Paper tole is a fairly easy and popular home paper crafting art. It's essentially a three-dimensional form of decoupage—that is, decorating objects with cut paper or printed pictures. The main difference is parts of the tole pictures are set off from each other at different depths, giving the finished product a 3-D element. It is not generally appropriate for decorating boxes and other things that will get a lot of handling.
Preparing the Picture
Since the parts of the picture are going to be raised to different levels, you should collect several copies of the original flat art you intend to use. If you have a color copier start with a picture from a magazine or book and make several copies before getting started on the cutting and pasting that is most of the work. You’ll want to pick an image that will not be too hard to cut out and that has parts that will stand out or work as background pieces (for instance, a flowering plant or a bird on a tree branch).
Use a heavy weight paper so it will stand up to the silicone and glue without bleeding through. Alternatively, craft stores and websites offer paper tole kits that come with multiple copies of images on an appropriate paper for the project.
Cutting and Shaping
Cut the whole image you want to use out from the background you are discarding, but leave some space around the picture so it will be easier to manage. You will be trimming the remainder soon, so don’t worry about leaving too much. Before you trim the picture down to just the image you’re going to be working with, use a craft knife with a sharp pointed blade to cut out any internal spaces. Do this on a piece of cardboard or a self-healing cutting board to avoid scarring your tabletop.
Now trim the image as close to its edges as possible. You can trace around the image on the back of the paper with a marker if you like to make the trimming more exact. Once that’s done, choose the parts that will be the foreground, middle-ground and background in your finished tole picture. If you choose, you can also crease or fold the image to give it a more sculpted appearance. Carefully cut the different pieces apart. You can use multiple prints to cut each piece out neatly without worries.
Assemble Your Picture
Assemble all the pieces where they go. Apply 1/4-inch dots of silicone cement to several spots on the back of each piece that is going to stand up from the surface. While they are curing and drying, carefully glue the background pieces in place. Use a spray-on adhesive that will let you reposition the pieces. Glue down the middle-ground pieces and add another layer of silicone to the foreground. Protect the finished work with a spray-on fixative and a few fine coats of brush-on lacquer.
Manny Frishberg made his home on the West Coast for more than 30 years. He studied writing and journalism at Portland State University. His articles have appeared in Wired News.com, "Discover," the "Puget Sound Business Journal" and dozens of other websites and magazines and has earned four writing awards from the Society for Professional Journalism.