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Raise Your Glass: A Gilded Pub Mirror

Sean Starr showcases his skills



Sean Starr is owner of Starr Studios (Denison, TX).

Although producing it is extremely time-intensive, nothing compares to the luster of reverse-painted goldleaf on glass. In late 2014, a client who was building a beautiful new house on Lake Texoma – as you might guess, the body of water straddles the Texas-Oklahoma border – wanted a centerpiece for his bar area. The client requested a new, pub-style mirror with a patina finish that makes it look more than 100 years old. The customer insisted on including the verbiage “The Lodge on Texoma”; otherwise, I was simply told to “do my thing.” Dozens of hours followed to design and paint a piece that I felt very proud to unveil.

Get the lead out
All of my design work starts with a pencil sketch, with which I sort out my ideas. Next, I scanned my completed sketches into Adobe Illustrator. Then, I started the time-consuming process of digitizing each of the elements into vector format. This serves two purposes: First, I can identify the elements I want to repurpose for other projects.
Second, vectorizing allows me to create my patterns at whatever scale is necessary without distortion. Over the years, I’ve designed and digitized hundreds of border elements, typestyles and decorative elements that I now access as a digital-file morgue, which really helps me design original pieces while using some of the advantages my computer, plotter, scanners and software provide.
I created the text for “The Lodge” with adaptations to Firehouse, a font designed by Tom Kennedy, which I found on; he devised the font based on a typeface he’d commonly seen on early-20th-Century stock certificates. For the “On Texoma” text, I developed my own font, Gilder’s Classic, which was inspired by my collection of vintage photographs, advertisements and typography-related books. Two of my favorites are Joe Davidson’s The Art of the Cigar Label and Geoff Weeden’s Fairground Art.
With increasing regularity, I’ve been commissioned to fabricate projects like this over the last few years. I really enjoy being able to make brand-new pieces that feature a classic style and aged look. Throughout the process, I combined methods from the very old practice of verre eglomisé (the elegant French term for glass gilding), traditional signpainting and surface and water gilding, as well as a handful of techniques we have developed here in the studio to create the finished piece.
The cost of goldleaf does somewhat impact the volume of gilding work I receive, but I still receive regular orders. Glass gilding is labor-intensive, which accounts more for the price than the leaf, but nothing looks more amazing as goldleaf reverse-gilded on glass.

Step 1
Once I’d cleaned up and redrawn my sketch with Illustrator, I cut a paint mask for the outside striping border using Orafol 813 stencil-mask film on our Graphtec CE 5000 cutting plotter. Using Graphtec to draw patterns on the paper, I painted the other items freehand. I based the central cabin scene on a sketch I made that was inspired by a woodblock print made in the late 1800s. Whenever I’m working on projects like these, I draw from my huge archive. I want the artwork depicted in the finished piece to accurately reflect the period.

Step 2
Next, I shaded some of the areas to be gilded with asphaltum. Because the client asked for a mirror that looked “100 years old,” for each step of the process I utilized various methods to age and distress. Other techniques included scribing with a sharpened wood stylus, needles and very fine steel wool to exaggerate cracks and voids later filled by the backup paints.

Step 3
After having applied 1Shot®’s oil-based, fast size, which cures in one hour, I decorated the border with Dutch leaf (imitation gold).


Step 4
I created a stippling process using TJ Ronan japan colors. I really like to use them whenever possible because they contain rich pigments that give the piece an authentic, older look that imparts much greater depth and character than standard lettering enamels.

Step 5
I painted the cabin scene’s centerpiece using Gilder’s Gold Leaf Back Up Black enamel, which I obtained from Letterhead Sign Supply. It dries in 15 minutes, is designed specifically for glass gilding, and held tack long enough for me to return to gild later in the day. I apply most coatings
with Mack brushes; for small details, I use Royal Langnickel angled fitches and Steve Kafka’s outlining brushes.

Step 6
After having applied the 1Shot quick size, I gilded the centerpiece with genuine copper leaf and a gilder’s tip, which I used to apply the loose-leaf metals.

Step 7
I used my water-gilding process to create the rest of the lettering using 23k gold leaf. We created the size by adding gelatin to boiling distilled water, which creates a thick consistency that bonds leaf to the window surface very well.

Step 8
I used backup enamel to protect the gilded letters. This protected the gold during silverleaf application, and also provided a more prominent crackle finish to the gold, in comparison to the rest of the piece. This gives the gold a richer sheen, and makes it look authentically aged.

Step 9
Next came the application of genuine silverleaf, which I water-gilded to the rest of the background to provide the mirror-finish effect. Silverleaf can tarnish, even on glass, but, because the piece was meant to be heavily distressed, I chose to use the silverleaf instead of 12k gold to more effectively age the piece.


Step 10
Once the elements were all in place, I took several hours to closely inspect the piece, make subtle adjustments and create a genuinely aged look. These tweaks included mildly etching the silverleaf and distressing areas that didn’t look like “natural” aging, but would’ve occurred had this mirror absorbed a natural patina over 100+ years.

Step 11
After everything cured, I flooded the background with 1Shot lettering enamel, mixed with mica powder, to create a hazy, neutral color that protects the finished piece and creates tiny cracks on the front side to further replicate an authentically aged mirror. This also provides the secondary layer to the Ronan japan colors, which transforms the stippled border colors from bright and translucent to deep, rich tones.

Now, the piece is ready for handoff to the woodworker who is going to build the customer’s custom bar. Also, he will fabricate a beautiful mahogany frame that will encase the mirror. With all of our modern era’s technological advancements, interest in handcrafted, often distressed-finish objects has been rekindled. Maybe it stems from people’s need to have a tactile connection with their world. No matter how effective, smartphone apps can’t fulfill every need and want.

Equipment and Materials
Coatings: Japan colors, from TJ Ronan Paint Co. (Bronx, NY), (800) 247-6626 or; Gilder’s Specialty Products Back Up Black enamel paint, from Letterhead Sign Supply (Petaluma, CA), (800) 531-3359 or
Leaf: Gold, copper and silver leaf, available from such purveyors as Sepp Leaf (NYC), (800) 971-7377 or
Size: 1Shot® oil-based fast size, from One Shot LLC (Chicago), a Matthews Paint company, (773) 646-2778 or
Mask: Oramask® 813 stencil film, from Orafol (Black Creek, GA), (888) 672-2251 or; Graphtec CE 5000 cutting plotter, from Graphtec America (Irvine, CA), (949) 770-6010 or
Misc.: Wooden stylus, needles and steel wool, available from drug stores, hardware stores and art-supply stores, among other outlets

More About Sean
Sean Starr operates Starr Studios (Denison, TX), a traditional signpainting and design studio. He’s spent more than 25 years as a creative director, designer, fine artist, signpainter and published author (with a short stint as a professional Hollywood stunt driver), and is a leading voice in the world of traditional signpainting. Sean hosts the podcast “Coffee with a Sign Painter”, which is available on iTunes and features interviews with signpainters and other customers and characters Sean encounters while running his studio. He was also featured in Sign Painters, a book and movie written and directed by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon, which pays homage to the traditional signmaking craft. For more information, visit





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