Monday, December 29, 2014

Making Mirrors

It's been quite a while that I've wanted to experiment with Krylon's "Looking Glass" spray paint, but unfortunately due to some restrictions, it wasn't being sold in Canada until very recently when I found some at our local Michael's store (I looked for it every time I visited the store).

Over the past several years, I've seen some amazing mirrored projects using this product, and I thought it might be an excellent product for use on antique clocks. Some of the projects I had seen included old leaded glass windows turned into mirrors, as well as many imitation mercury glass vases and bobbles. I thought it might also be fun to use old glass clock bezels and turn them into convex mirrors. The uses for this product are nearly endless. The only requirement is that it should be applied to the back side of any glass surface.

One other benefit to this product is that you can apply a layer of "antiquing" to your clear glass before the silvering is applied. If you search for tutorials online (as I did) you might quickly find that most effects simply call for a mist of water (or vinegar and water) over the glass, followed by the spray paint, and then cleaning off the water drops once the paint is dry.

On most of the tutorials, the effect is WAY too exaggerated and it doesn't look real. I wanted something more believable. I decided to try several other techniques and experiments on some scrap glass pieces. All the samples are backed with flat black paint.

In the photo above, you can see the 5 samples I made (and there are endless other variations or combinations you can try). Each will be explained individually below.

Since mirrors are notoriously difficult to photograph, I did my best to catch a few angles.


In this first sample, I mixed some black and brown acrylic paint, and thinned it with water. I then used a stiff bristle brush to "flick" paint onto the glass. This gives a subtle, yet realistic spotting effect.


Sample 2 is one of the most interesting and visually striking experiments I tried. It's simply a very diluted black watercolour wash. Because the water doesn't easily stick to the glass surface, you're left with a very random pattern of shapes. The effect is transparent, but also has a fairly strong "matted" appearance depending on the angle (see reflection photos above). An entire mirror done with this technique would be pretty unusable, but definitely very interesting (and very old/damaged looking).


This is the standard water mist method, using a very fine sprayer. What's so nice about this method is that it creates very realistic "peeling" edges around each "hole". The only problem with this technique is that it's very hard to create a realistic wear pattern. Either there's way too many spray droplets everywhere, or the droplets are too small, or too large. For this technique, you just spray water onto the glass, apply several thin coats of mirror paint, and then you wipe (pat down) the water drops where the paint hasn't adhered. The paint dries extremely fast, so you only need to wait a few minutes to do this, but be careful not to smear the water around. If you do, there's no way to fix it, and you'll need to start over.


Samples 4 and 5 were the least successful of the 5. This one shows how the glass might look with the water droplet technique from sample 3, with just another light spray of mirror paint applied after wiping off the water (to make the effect more subtle). It might be nice to try this effect on a larger surface. It would likely give pale ghostly dots all over the surface.


This sample was trying to imitate mirrors that have a darkened gradient around the exterior edges. I used spray paint for this, but it didn't come out quite as I had hoped. The spray was too wide, and it may have needed to be darker. This effect might work better on a larger area, and using a better spray paint or nozzle.

Armed with these samples, I decided that the most realistic effect would be a simple pattern of painted dots (sample 1). I had one particular clock in mind, and I decided to go ahead and try it out. The glass had already been cut and prepared for the clock (antique glass), and I just had to clean it. Here are the final results.

As you can see, the painted effect looked much better on the smaller samples. The effect is quite foggy, and not quite as reflective as I had expected. The dots also didn't show up as much as I had expected.

Here's a fairly good close-up of the glass. You can clearly see the spots, as well as the distinct "painted texture" that the mirror paint produces.

One of the only other methods I've tried for making hand-made mirrors is the technique that uses actual sheets of silver leaf (it can be fake silver leaf as well). That method gives much better results, but it's also a lot more time consuming, more difficult/delicate, and the main reason I didn't like that method was that all the edges of the silver sheets show up in the finished mirror. This method follows instructions from Tom Temple's "Extreme Restoration" book. It's an excellent book for learning to properly (and invisibly) repair clocks and other antiques. You can also find other tutorials online for this method, so I'm only going to give a very brief overview on this method.

These are OLD photos from nearly a decade ago. I thought I had them already uploaded to an online photo album, but I couldn't find them, so I dug through my old files and found them again.

The first steps involve laying two layers of silver leaf onto the glass using a special sizing/gilding water.

Second layer:

Once it's dry, the back is polished using soft cotton and gentle pressure.

The back of the mirror is then painted to protect it, and to prevent the silver (or imitation silver) from tarnishing or degrading.

The finished mirror is quite beautiful, highly reflective, and gives a realistic appearance of a mercury glass mirror. As I said before, the only drawback is that the lines between the sheets of silver leaf are visible. Also note that this mirror was done on antique wavy glass.

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