HOW TO: Make Your Own ‘Victorian’ Pub Mirror

We often find ourselves lusting after the kind of ornate vintage mirrors that cover the walls of pubs. As we can’t afford the real thing we began to wonder… Could we make/fake one ourselves?

Here, after a bit of exper­i­men­ta­tion, is what we came up with:

Finished mirror, close up.

It’s not per­fect. It’s small, for one thing, and doesn’t bear close scruti­ny for rea­sons that will become clear. But it does add a bit of cor­ner-of-the-eye pub glam­our for less than £20.

As a cou­ple peo­ple seemed inter­est­ed when we Tweet­ed about this you’ll find our best attempt at some instruc­tions below.

  • A4 pic­ture frame (£10 in our local craft shop)
  • A4 mir­ror (we used a plas­tic one @ £2.95)
  • A4 print­able trans­paren­cy film (£11.49 for 50)
  • A print­er capa­ble of print­ing on to trans­paren­cy (most laser or inkjet print­ers)
  • A com­put­er with suit­able design soft­ware (we used a com­bi­na­tion of GIMP, InkScape and MS Word)
  • Fine nib gold pen (paint type)
  • Acrylic paints (our set cost £14 at our local craft shop)
  • Detail paint­brush­es (£5.99 for 12)
  • Tooth­picks or match­sticks.

First, you need to work up a design for your mir­ror. We looked at lots of pho­tos via Google Images and in books such as Vic­to­ri­an Pubs by Mark Girouard. With that inspi­ra­tion in mind we gath­ered some suit­able fonts (Cameo Antique, Radi­ant Antique, Spatz, among oth­ers) and worked out a sim­ple but typ­i­cal design:

Sketch of mirror designWe worked this up in Inkscape, a com­pli­cat­ed bit of free soft­ware that takes some learn­ing, but which makes it easy to curve text and neat­ly align objects. For a bit of addi­tion­al detail we added a bor­der and a hop-leaf motif from the pub­lic domain images in the Inter­net Archive, cleaned up in GIMP:

Mirror design from Inkscape

(If you don’t fan­cy tack­ling Inkscape you can use MS Word to make some­thing sim­pler but sim­i­lar.)

Because we want­ed to share the file (PDF) we avoid­ed any real brew­ery names or active trade­marks (here’s where we got Green­leaf) but of course there’s noth­ing to stop you mock­ing up a mir­ror for your favourite brew­ery, defunct or oth­er­wise, as long as you don’t, say, sell it on Ebay.

Next, we print­ed the design on to trans­par­ent film, hav­ing first checked that the film and our print­er (a basic black-and-white laser­jet) were com­pat­i­ble.

Transparency film box.

Printed image on transparency film.

If you frame it at this stage, with no fur­ther work, it doesn’t look bad but we want­ed to add some more colour and sparkle, as is usu­al­ly found on the real thing. So here’s the (not that) clever bit: we flipped the trans­paren­cy paper and used gold pens and acrylic paint to dec­o­rate the reverse side. We got this idea from watch­ing ani­ma­tors work on old car­toon cels.

Painting on reverse.

It is fid­dly work, and requires a bit of care, but because you’re paint­ing behind the print­ed detail, you can get away with more than if you were paint­ing on the front.  And acrylic is quite for­giv­ing so if you do smear or paint in the wrong place you can wipe it away with a cot­ton bud or tis­sue. Even when it’s dry you can scrape away excess using a match­stick or tooth­pick, though this may slight­ly dam­age the sur­face of the trans­paren­cy.

After a cou­ple of test runs we set­tled on dark­er shades which we achieved by mix­ing a smidge of black paint with the vibrant red and blue, with gold to pick out the odd detail and for the bor­der.

(If you have a colour print­er that can han­dle trans­paren­cy film you could, of course, do the colour­ing dig­i­tal­ly, which would be neater and eas­i­er, but per­haps not quite as much fun.)

When it was all dry we put it in the frame with the plas­tic mir­ror and up on the wall with our oth­er bits of bud­get brew­e­ri­ana.

The wall with the finished mirror.

There are scuffs, marks, bits where we went out­side the lines, and so on, but at a glance those just read as the kind of dark spots and dam­age you would find on a real Vic­to­ri­an mir­ror. Over­all, we’re delight­ed with it, and will prob­a­bly make a cou­ple more.