The practice of painting on the back of a piece of glass is referred to as reverse glass sign painting, reverse glass gilding, or “verre églomisé”. To achieve a flawless, reflecting surface, the front of the glass is meticulously polished after the rear has been painted and gold-plated in stages.
There has been reverse glass sign painting since the 18th century. The method was initially created in Europe, mainly in Germany and France, as a means of producing elaborate company signs and ads. It was especially well-liked by shop owners and artists as a method to market their goods and services visually appealing.
American sign painters utilized the method to construct storefront and company signage throughout the 19th century. In the United States, reverse glass sign painting gained popularity during the Victorian era, a time when elaborate and ornamental design features were in great demand.
Additionally, the method was utilized to produce beautiful artwork for the higher classes, including portrait miniatures and religious icons. Shop signs, pub signs, and house decorations were all created using reverse glass painting.
Reverse glass sign painting was formerly quite popular, but in the 20th century, new technologies like screen printing made it simpler and more affordable to produce signs in large quantities. Reverse glass sign painting is now regarded as a rare and specialist trade, with just a few practitioners remaining active in the industry.
Tools and materials
The following tools and materials are used for reverse glass sign painting:
- Glass – For reverse glass sign painting, the glass used should be flawless and transparent. Depending on the project, it might be different sizes and thicknesses.
- Gesso – A mixture of gypsum or chalk and glue is used to create a smooth surface on the back of the glass for the paint to adhere to.
- Paint – Oil-based paint is used by artists because it is more enduring and fading-resistant than water-based paint. The paint is made by combining pigments with a binder, such as linseed oil.
- Gilding – To add decoration and make the pattern stand out, gold leaf or gold paint is used.
- Varnish – For further protection and a glossy appearance, a final varnish coat is put on the glass’s back.
- Brushes – Fine-tipped brushes are used for details, whereas bigger brushes are used for backgrounds by artists.
- Palette knives – Paint is applied and blended with palette knives.
- Glass cutter – The glass is cut with a glass cutter to get the required size and form.
- Grinding wheel – After the glass has been cut, any unfinished edges are smoothed using a grinding wheel.
- Polishing wheel – On the front of the glass, a smooth, reflecting surface is produced using a polishing wheel.
- Solvents – To clean the brushes and get rid of any extra paint, use solvents like mineral spirits and turpentine.
Reverse glass sign painting comprises the following steps:
Preparation – The glass is polished, and any flaws are taken out. The back of the glass is then traced or sketched with a pattern.
Gesso – To make a flat surface for the paint to adhere to, gesso is applied to the back of the glass.
Underpainting – The artwork on the back of the glass is painted with a base coat of paint. The purpose of this, which is referred to as underpainting, is to set the painting’s general tonal values.
Overpainting – Over the underpainting, the artist adds additional layers of paint, meticulously mixing and building up the colors to produce a detailed and realistic image.
Gilding – To add a decorative touch and make the artwork stand out, gold leaf or gold paint is put to it.
Varnishing – To preserve the painting and give it a glossy finish, the artist adds one more layer of varnish to the back of the glass.
Polishing – The front of the glass has been polished to provide a clean, reflecting surface that makes it possible to see the artwork clearly.
There are just a few artists who still engage in the specialized technique of reverse glass painting today. Reverse glass painting is a specialty of certain well-known contemporary artists, including:
David Alcala has been using reverse glass painting for more than 30 years and is based in California. Collectors are very interested in his elaborate and well detailed artwork.
Reverse glass painting is Diane Wright’s area of expertise as an artist. She draws inspiration from the natural world for her elaborate and meticulous artwork.
American painter and sculptor Mark Ryden frequently uses reverse glass painting methods in his creations. His whimsical and bizarre artwork is well renowned.
Polish artist Bartek Elsner makes detailed and distinctive reverse glass paintings. He is renowned for his superb attention to detail as well as for his talent for capturing motion and emotion in his artwork.
Marek Ranis is a reverse glass painting expert who hails from the Czech Republic. Collectors are very interested in his intricate, realism-based artwork.
These are only a few examples of contemporary artists that use reverse glass painting as a specialty; many more artists all around the world continue to explore this medium, and you can find their work in galleries and art festivals.
Reverse glass painting is a time-consuming technique that demands a high degree of ability and accuracy. But reverse glass paintings are not very common anymore, thus there are not many examples of them around today.