Summer break is over and DIYs are back! Kicking it off with a doozy: some ancient Japanese wisdom etched onto a mirror.
Asai Ryōi, a 17th century Japanese writer, explained the time’s prevailing obsession with impermanence and fleeting beauty with the following:
“Living only for the moment, turning our attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maples; singing songs, drinking wine, diverting ourselves in just floating, floating; caring not a whit for the poverty staring us in the face, refusing to be disheartened, like a gourd floating along with the river current: this is what we call the floating world.”
I figured what better way to reflect the floating world philosophy (a crushing appreciation for beauty in what’s ephemeral, flecked with doses of indulgent vanity and the pending corruptibility/doom of everything) than to etch this text into the mirror I check myself out in before walking out the door every day.
- A print-out of the text
- Vinyl letters (I needed 2 packets of 1/2” letters)
- Glass etch cream
- Foam brush
- Tweezers or small pliers
- Painters or artists tape and scotch or masking tape
- Some old plastic bags (for protecting parts of your mirror)
- Old rags/t-shirts/cloths/towels (that you never want to see again)
- Handkerchief or medical mask
- Rubber gloves
Costs = $30:
- 1/2” Helvetica vinyl letters = 2 @ $4.25 each
- Glass etch cream = $16.64
- Foam brush = $1
- Painters or artists tape = $3.99
- Everything else = free or already available around the house
Want to see the steps?
- After cleaning your mirror well, tape off what you want to protect from the glass etch cream.
- I cut up some plastic bags to help protect my nice frame during this process.
- You need a life-size print-out of whatever text you want to use so you can be sure that spacing works. In order to get the dimensions that fit my mirror I had to do some literal cutting and pasting onto a background sheet. I messed around with font size until figuring out that Helvetica Neue (bold) 46 pt font is very closely equivalent to the 1/2” lowercase Helvetica vinyl letters I bought on the internet.
- With the print out as your guide, tape off the upper boundary of where you want the etching. I used more plastic bags to protect some of the upper part of the mirror, just in case.
- Ok! Time for adding those little vinyl letters one-by-one. A tweezer or similar tool is critical for accurate placement (or maybe I have exceptionally clumsy digits?). Let your print-out guide you — within word letter spacing, the spacing between words, the spacing between lines, etc. I kept stepping back and looking at it from afar to double check myself.
- Now for the sucky part. With gloves on and a mask/handkerchief protecting you, pour a thick layer of glass etching cream over the mirror surface. Use a foam brush to even it out. Try to get it as thickly even as possible for best results. Leave on for 5 minutes (per bottle instructions). There’s no getting around it: etching cream is smelly and toxic, so hold your breath and be careful not to make skin contact.
- At this point I used old cloth scraps (messed up socks, t-shirts, towels) to scrape off the thick cream, then discarded them in a trash bag which I immediately removed from the apartment. The easiest way to remove etch cream is to wash the surface with water, but I opted for the mop-up because: a) I was worried a full-on shower would ruin my mirror frame, and b) I felt bad putting the cream in the water supply (any better off in a landfill? prob not).
- And here’s how it looks hanging in the hallway. The top edge turned out unintentionally wavy — but for me it was a happy accident since it’s so reminiscent of Japanese rice paper.