design pubs

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.