Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Gilding the Mirror

I've wanted a great mirror for quite some time.  A big, round one to hang either over a console table or a fireplace mantle.  Shiny.  It seems that every mirror I found seemed to cost a fortune.  Really.  I don't want to spend $200 on a mirror.  It's a mirror... not the crown jewels.  I have a difficult time justifying such a purchase on my wee student budget.

In anticipation of moving to rural Pennsylvania, I have been frequenting my local HomeGoods store in the greater Orlando area.  It is a 30 minute drive in traffic... but since the closest HomeGoods to 1868 Pleasant is more than 70 miles away, I'm getting in as much eyecandy as I can before I leave in a few weeks.

Imagine my delight when I spied a large round wall mirror in the clearance department.  I may have squealed.    Okay; I totally squealed.  The markdown was extreme:  from $89 to $19.  NINETEEN bucks!!! I examined it for any chips or breakage... found none... and it was mine!

Alas... it was also fugly.  The shape was great, but it was an ugly, ugly shade of brown.  It attempted to mimic a shade of hardwood.. mahogany, maybe... or pecan... and it failed miserably.  One person's fug is another person's DIY adventure.  I didn't get a picture of the "before" because I really didn't ever want to see this particular shade of poo brown again.

My plan was to apply silver leaf to the mirror.  That'd fulfill my "shiny" component.  First, though, I'd have to get materials:

1- 2oz. bottle of black matte acrylic paint  $1.97 (JoAnn Fabrics)
1- 2 oz. bottle of Speedball Mona Lisa metal leaf adhesive size $4.63 (
1- 2 oz. bottle of Speedball Mona Lisa water-based sealer for metal leaf $6.61 (
2 packages of Speedball Mona Lisa Sterling Silver Genuine Metal Leaf* (25/pkg) $13.56 ea (
*there is a lower-priced composite metal leaf available

Items I had on hand:
3 packages of sterling silver genuine metal leaf
petroleum jelly
brushes; I used 3 one-inch acrylic brushes, and one fluffy makeup brush meant for blush application (for burnishing)
Lint-free soft rags (such as from an old tee shirt)

A word about working with metal leaf:  Metal leaves are extremely thin sheets of hammered or pressed metal.  It is extremely fragile and tears very easily.  It also folds up on itself when you exhale in its general direction.  Purchase an extra package, as you're bound to require much more than you'll think you need to cover whatever it is you're trying to cover.  It'll arrive placed between sheets of tissue paper, bound into a book of sorts:

You'll want to keep this book in the package until you're ready to start applying the leaf to the tacky size.

The first thing you have to do is rough up the surface with fine-grit sandpaper.  Then, apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly around the mirror edge, just to the point where it meets the wood/resin.  This'll keep the mirror free from paint and adhesive sizing.  If using silver leaf, paint the entire surface to be gilded with black matte acrylic paint.  If using gold leaf, use a red matte paint.  Leave this coat to dry thoroughly.

Once the paint is completely dry, apply the adhesive size in a thin, even coats.  It'll go on white, and when it dries, it'll be clear, shiny, and tacky to the touch.

Look at the area around the edge of the mirror (it's dry and tacky), and compare it to the four sections on the bottom that were just painted in size, which are white and still wet. 

If your item has grain, brush in the direction of the grain, so that all of the little nooks are covered with the size.  Allow the size to dry until it is clear and tacky; about 30-40 minutes.

Now, you're ready to apply the leaves.  Professionals use a wide, thin, soft paintbrush to apply leaves.  I've found that this works quite well, but I didn't have such a brush on hand.  I had a stiffer sort of brush, and was afraid the bristles would puncture the silver leaf... so I just used my hands.  I've done this several times before, and I've learned to move very slowly in order to keep the leaf from folding up on itself.

Pick up the silver leaf gently.  See where my thumb is in that photo?  I'm barely pinching the leaf between my thumb and finger.  Slowly touch one edge of the leaf to the tacky surface, and slowly slide your fingers/brush out from beneath the leaf.  If this is done too quickly, the leaf will tear.  All is not lost, however.. since all bits of leaf will be useful.  If your leaf does tear, simply stick another edge to the tacky size and start again.  Once you've placed a few leaves next to each other, gently tamp them down with the fluffy blush brush, or a really soft, lint-free rag.  Continue applying leaves, brushing "crumbs" onto a piece of paper and storing them in a bowl.  These can be used to fill in tiny gaps that haven't been covered.

When your entire surface has been covered, it'll look something like this:

See how the whole surface looks somewhat uneven and bits of leaf are sticking up?  Once you have the surface covered, the leaves have only been tamped down.  They need to be pressed with some very gentle pressure, while being rubbed in a light circular motion.  This is the burnishing step.  It helps to adhere the leaves completely to the surface, and it polishes the leaves as well.  It'll help clean off any parts of leaf that have folded upon themselves (they don't stick to themselves) and reveals any missed spots.  Fill in the missed spots by brushing and tamping on either leftover leaves or the crumbs you have reserved.  Tamp and burnish until the whole surface is covered and shining.

Apply the sealer according to the directions (it basically consists of painting it on, but different brands may vary on this step).   Allow to dry completely.  With a paper towel, wipe the petroleum jelly off of the mirror surface and clean.  That's it!  Now it's ready to hang!

Here's the finished mirror, sitting on top of a bookcase in my hallway for now, since we're moving in a few weeks.  I still need to clean the dried sealer from the mirror and spray it with some glass cleaner.

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