Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Antique Mirror: Mirror Spray and Crackle Paint

Sometimes you need a nice antique mirror to finish off your mantelpiece or over your bed. For us, it's haunted parties. Whatever. With one specialized product (and a bunch of common household items) you can make your own tarnished silver antique mirror with a crackle-paint frame. Clear your afternoon, we're making antiques!

You'll Need:

For a party we did a few years back, we had the mirror off a period dressing table that served as a backdrop for one of our decorative tableau. As it was family property, we felt bad about stealing it so we decided it was high time we made one for ourselves. I'd been reading about the faux mercury glass that has been making the rounds lately (In particular, this article @ April Moffatt Design). It occurred to us that a dark background behind the mirror would sell the pitted tarnish of an old silver mirror.

First up, we needed a donor. We had a look through thrift stores and found a large America-themed motivational Bible verse, complete with soaring bald eagle. Because freedom. But best of all, it had real glass and a decent (if slightly bunged up) wooden frame. We brought it home, pulled the staples and reduced it to four vital components: glass, backing, frame, and hanging hardware. We held onto the hanging hardware in case we ever want this hung on a wall again. Each of the others got special treatment.

The Glass
Clean the back side of the glass thoroughly. The mirror spray seems to be pretty fragile, so you'll want it protected by the glass (plus the directions say so). I used regular glass cleaner and a coffee filter (which are lintless, great for cleaning glass). Then, I wrote myself a note on the back of a Post-It and attached it to the underside of the glass:

The futility of this note will be discussed later.
We had ordered a can of mirror spray online and it arrived promptly. We'd already searched the city for the spray locally, but for us it was a no-go. I have attempted this technique with silver, even high chrome, spray paint and this stuff is a completely different beast. Trust me when I say this paint is amazing.

If you just wanted a mirror, just spray and spray and spray. But we didn't. The technique involves using vinegar's ability to inhibit the paint from drying properly. Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle, give it a shake, and mist the mirror. Immediately spray your first layer of mirror over the top of this. Once you'd laid down a layer of mirror, spritz it with vinegar again. Once the mirror looks dry (it takes maybe thirty seconds), start blotting up the droplets of vinegar from under and over the mirror with a paper towel. I blot directly, some folks online give it a little twist to "rip" the texture more. I wanted the appearance of dark, tarnished water spots, so large and small irregular dots was my goal.

Give it a few minutes and repeat the vinegar and mirror spray pattern as above. You want super thin coats of mirror spray. It won't go all reflective in one pass. Expect to repeat the process maybe four or five times. After lots of vinegar, spraying and blotting, you get a piece of glass with a brilliant mirror finish on there:

Behold our glamorous ceiling.
As a brief aside, you can just barely see the Post-It note from before on there. Later in the process, I removed that note, took some pictures, etc. Noticing the glass seemed really smudgy still, I sprayed some glass cleaner on a paper towel and wiped off the silver backing. Both sides of the mirror finish are highly reflective, so maybe put an X of masking tape across the "front" of your mirror for the entire process and remove it at the end. That way you can save yourself a nightmare of trying to blend more mirror onto your potentially ruined project. I salvaged the mirror at the expense of the rest of the mirror spray can.

My estimate is that under real world conditions, you could cover two projects of this size with one can of mirror, particularly if you avoid errors. The spray is not cheap (best price I could find was $10 a can, and it goes up from there) and is only 6 oz compared to the much larger standard spray size of  11-12 oz.
Protect the mirror before it goes into the frame, both because it's glass and because the spray is very susceptible to scratching.

The Backing
The original image was sprayed with black paint so that the mirror didn't have any stray image peeking through. You could use black acrylic as well. This step doesn't warrant pictures. Imagine a black rectangle.
The Frame
The frame needed a little TLC, and we were planning a sponge and wash thing to age the frame, but I've been interested in at-home solutions for crackle paint for some time. Looking around, people spoke highly of regular white glue as a crackle layer. The first step is the color underneath that you want the cracks to reveal. For me that was a charcoal gray, because it looks a little more natural than straight black:
Let this dry completely before the next part.
The next bit is to coat the frame with glue. You could pour a bunch onto a palette or you could apply it directly to the frame. After the desert sun boiled off my vinegar in the last step while I was spraying it, I decided to eliminate steps on this one and applied glue directly to the frame. This is a weirdly stressful experience, in that on some level you know you aren't supposed to just glue all over a picture frame unless the next step involves seashells and a summer camp.
I might have gotten excited and started brushing before remembering you guys.
Once glued, brush the glue all over the surface with a damp (but not wet) brush. You want glue on everything, but differing thicknesses of glue will vary the crack pattern later, so perfectly even actually looks a little unnatural. For the record, thicker glue means bigger cracks and thinner glue means finer ones. Paint your top color right over the tacky glue, being careful to apply the paint evenly without roughing up the glue too much with your brush. Too vigorous an application mixes the glue and the paint. What you want is a layer of paint on top of a layer of tacky white glue.
It starts cracking almost immediately. Click for bigger.
These pictures are maybe 10 minutes apart. Click for bigger.
Set your frame somewhere to dry thoroughly. The crackle process will continue without you. In fact, fussing with it will reduce the effect.

The Assembly
Take your mirror (glass side out!) and sandwich it with the black backing. Press both layers into the frame together and re-attach the backing into the frame however you prefer. Ours was originally stapled, but we lack a pneumatic stapler. Some folks swear by the framing tack pints. We just use tape and securely tape all four sides to the frame itself. Since our hanging hardware attaches to the frame directly, we don't need to be worried about the tape taking the weight of the mirror. Speaking of weight, this thing is way lighter than comparably sized mirrors. And for our purposes, the slight defects in the rolled glass texture of the frame actually helps sell the antique mirror look. With flatter glass, you'd have a custom mirror that is plenty clear enough to check your appearance as you leave in the morning.

Only shot of it pre-glass cleaning accident. Seems foggy because it's in backwards.

Hi everybody!

The options for this mirror spray are very exciting. A few layers would make for a decent one-way mirror for a haunted house. Examples abound of folks mirroring pretty much any glass object from inside, just pick a vase or what-have-you that you can get your hand and the paint inside easily.


  1. The only thing that would make this post better is if you could have figured out a way to take a picture of the mirror without your reflection. That would be perfect! ;)

  2. Agreed! We'll try to have an update with a new picture by the end of the day. Our craft storage does get a little distracting in these shots...

  3. I think it is spectacular! Does the mirror paint work on other surfaces, say baked fimo clay, or acrylic painted surfaces?