Category: Art Titanics

Ilia’s Adventures with the Looking Glass

I’ve had a fixation with working with mirror for a few months now, and it’s slowly but surely shuffling me closer to the brink of insanity. (They told me I was already there, and now I’m convinced they’re right).

Ever since I took my dogs for a walk and saw a piece of mirror waiting for the regular council curbside collection, I’ve been (dare I say it) reflecting on how this might work. That morning I raced back with my car and grabbed the glass and did a trial run. I knew there would be challenges, but I wasn’t really sure where I was going to take this idea. The image to the right with the terrible photographer is the prototype.

IAirbrushing-mirror-genesis discovered that I only had to breath in the same room and the airbrushed ink would flake off. Knowing my cat’s propensity for lying on most of my artwork, I knew this experiment would be short-lived, so I hastily applied a coat of clear acrylic to protect it while I tried to get my head around this issue. I loved the luminescence and the transparency of the ink, and the concept of every viewer having an altered experience by being involved in the work excited me.

So I contacted my good friend and glass artist Ken Bartlett, and we threw some ideas around. Ultimately I went to his place, masked out a lovely round mirror and got him to sandblast in the areas I wanted to paint. This solved the paint flaking off issue, however there was something a little lack lustre about the result and the process lacked spontaneity and made the image a little contrived in my eyes. I was happy, but not convinced.

Uncertain Principles by Ilia Chidzey

The next step was to push the technique to the point where I had the luminosity and radiance of the original prototype, but had eliminated the risk of scuffing while maintained the integrity of the mirror’s surface.

The obvious solution was to paint behind glass and apply mirror behind the paintwork to act as both reflector and protector simultaneously.


I guess this is where things got a bit silly. First I invested in a couple of cans of ‘Looking Glass Mirror-Like Paint’. Let me assure you – you may be able to look at it – but there aint nuffin mirror-like about it! It may be my technique – perhaps there weren’t enough layers to it, maybe my hand wasn’t steady enough – who knows, but the result was musty, uneven and not terribly reflective. My next, rather dopey thought was to try the material shop fronts put on the back of windows to reflect heat – lovely and reflective, however fraught with danger. There was the risk of paint smudging and the knowledge of how terrible I was at laying down adhesive vinyl – I couldn’t even get my phone screen protector on without sections bubbling up! I bought the material, but saw sense before it was too late and hid the roll before I did anything stupid.

So then I thought perhaps a piece of mirror affixed to the back might work. I quite liked this idea, so set about painting a piece of glass. I normally do my airbrushing first, and line work second, but this time I worked backwards. I painted my enamel linework on the top of the glass.

Airbrushing-disaster-beginningI then flipped the glass over and airbrushed my design on the back. An interesting process as I couldn’t see what was happening on the side that would eventually be seen – a little bit of guess work as I airbrushed the colour on.

I left it for a couple of days as I ummed and aahhed about the mirror – too scared to lift the glass up to see how the work looked. I finally decided that the best technique would be to silicone in the areas where the black ink was painted and place a piece of mirrored acrylic in place. That way the acrylic wouldn’t move, would be slightly raised so it wouldn’t scuff the painting and serve to protect the artwork. Oh foolish me. I was asked later what had possessed me to use acrylic instead of glass mirror. Possibly because a fellow artist had mentioned it, possibly because I have a perverse nature, and probably because it’s lighter. Whatever the reason, thats what I did. Naturally when I positioned the piece of acrylic onto the back of the painting I got it wrong. So, not only did the middle of the acrylic slump and touch the artwork, but the position was incorrect and I had to nudge the image across. No problem I thought and tipped the piece over so the enamel line work was facing me and I could finally see my handy work – I could add line detail where the blemishes were and they would only be noticed under close scrutiny.

This worked well in theory. Until the morning I took it to the framers – it needed to be framed to hold the pieces together.  As my son and I manoeuvred Airbrushing-disasterthe cantankerous beast towards the car, I could see a terrible bubbling of ink in progress where my subjects hair flowed over her hand. It looked quite reptilian and disturbed me immensely. Undeterred I decided I would still frame it for posterity anyway – it could hide in the back of a cupboard, but at least I had a record of my foolish adventure.

By the time I got to Diane from Framed Just for You the damage was irreparable. Diane fortunately had a plethora of excellent advice and knowledge to share with me. For example – regular silicone tends to emit chemicals and when confined in a space (sandwiched between glass and acrylic for example) will result in pressure buildup and a mini explosion. Good grief – what kind of monster had I created! I should use something called Neutral Cure – apparently it will not react. Anyone wanting to try this at home – don’t use regular silicone! The next piece of advice (which was a conclusion that I had come to the minute I started positioning the acrylic – don’t use acrylic!!! It flexes way too much… And finally – the pièce de résistance – Diane had an adhesive rubber silicone seal approximately 2.5mm thick in both black and clear that she could run around the edges that would hold the sheets apart. So now I feel just a weeny bit wiser…

So those were my trials and tribulations with my latest Art Titanic… It certainly isn’t the first and it definitely wont be the last!

Oh – and for those of you that are curious – this is how my beast turned out. Photo taken a few days before it went to seed…