A Decoupage Artist's Work Evokes Images of the Deep Blue Sea

Susannah Reid’s East Hampton studio is a wonderland of marine life and natural curiosities. Nearly every surface is covered with pages of ocean and animal imagery culled from books, which she uses to make whimsical decoupage and hand-painted table runners, floorcloths, and wallpaper borders. Reid’s veneration for all things aquatic stems from her childhood, when she would assist her father, an Emmy-winning underwater filmmaker, on diving shoots in far-flung locales such as Tahiti and the Gulf of Aqaba. “That world was a constant part of my life,” explains the New Jersey native, who went on to study fabric design at the Art Institute of Chicago. “It’s where my creative vision comes from.”

In addition to her ever-growing reference library, Reid draws on her early diving memories, as well as those from more recent trips off the coasts of New Guinea and the Maldives, as inspiration for her decoupage creations. “I’m attracted to everything, from the ocean’s beautiful animal and plant life to its varied colors,” says Reid, who uses existing imagery of sea creatures “because I can’t reproduce the level of detail I want using paint—a beautiful fish with hundreds of scales requires the hand of a fine artist. Plus, I don’t think these pictures should be closed up in books. I want them to be appreciated and enjoyed.”

A signature of Reid’s is her line of custom floorcloths, made from pieces of pre-treated vinyl that she cuts to size. To begin, she covers the background with acrylic paint, creating a crisscross motif and a contrasting border. Once it’s dry, she begins placing the book illustrations—which she photocopies, digitally enlarges, and then carefully cuts out—on the rug, “moving them around until the composition feels right.” When she has settled on the design, she applies several coats of glue to the images to secure them. After letting the floorcloth dry, she sprays the surface with a clear enamel to seal and protect it.

Reid recently joined her 96-year-old father on his last diving excursion, to the Cayman Islands—a trip that will surely find its way into future works. “He’s finally hanging up his flippers,” says Reid, “but I’ll continue to dive. Nothing beats an underwater view.”

A version of this article appeared in the July 1 2019 issue of HC&G (Hamptons Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Water World.