Must-Know Reverse Glass Painting Ideas & Conservation Techniques

Painting Stained Glass Window Pattern

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Reverse glass painting is an art form that began in the early 1800s in France, then later spread to Italy and other countries by missionaries. During the earlier days, its most significant subjects were religious-inspired.

Some of the techniques you should learn about reverse glass painting are adding an ombre effect, water marbling, and perfecting the Tanjore style. You may also be interested in painting reverse art on glass snuff bottles and teapots. 

This blog post will discuss reverse glass painting techniques and methods for conserving and restoring antique reverse paintings.

What is Reverse Glass Painting?

Reverse glass painting is applying paint on one side of the glass, then turning it over to show a detailed image. The magic happens when the artist initially adds the outline and details then fills in the background last. 

In reverse painting, you must be careful when adding and erasing errors as you go since you can't remove them after adding the background color.

While this painting technique is very ancient, it gained a new level of popularity since young artists upload their videos on Tiktok and Youtube. Conquering this new challenge, using a piece of glass and acrylic paints is a way to dispel their boredom and challenge their artistic skills.

Before we go any further, let us differentiate it from two other very similar painting methods on glass.

  • Reverse Glass Mirror Painting

Reverse glass mirror painting resembles reverse glass painting, only that the finished image gets an additional layer of mercury to achieve a mirror effect. It uses pigments and gum or resin to create the artwork.

  • Stained Glass Painting

Though it may look similar to reverse glass painting, stained glass painting uses a very different method of staining the glass in metallic salt, then tracing the drawing before painting. The glass then goes to the kiln for firing. 

The artisans ground off any rough edges they created during these processes by rubbing stone against each side until all sharp points were gone, leaving behind smooth stained glass windows that emitted a soft glow from within when light shines through. The artisans then assemble the individual pieces to create the stained glass painting.

Best Reverse Painting Ideas to Try

Here are a few ideas to try with a piece of glass and acrylic paint. You can frame your drawing to decorate your wall or set it on a mount for your desk display.

Anime Reverse Painting

Anime reverse glass painting - Image by Mikki Days

Anime reverse glass painting - Image by Mikki Days

Anime reverse glass paintings started the craze for this art technique. Because of the younger generation's love for anime, they moved from traditional art that uses paper, canvas, oil paints, and acrylic paints to create art from a piece of glass. 

Glass stays the same over the years, unlike paper that turns yellowish unless you know how to pick the suitable canvas and ink. To preserve the quality of the glass art, place it in a frame after applying a small amount of Mod Podge to the painted areas of the glass.

Silhouette Reverse Painting

Silhouette reverse glass painting - Image by CraftyHanzArt

Silhouette reverse glass painting - Image by CraftyHanzArt

Silhouette reverse glass paintings are probably the easiest to create all reverse painting techniques since you can draw almost anything - human figures, landscape, a lone tree, or nearly any image without getting into too much detail. 

In this example, the artist used glitter paper to make a dramatic background to her silhouette drawing.

Ombre Reverse Painting

Ombre technique on reverse glass painting - Image by Lyca Bacala

Ombre technique on reverse glass painting - Image by Lyca Bacala

Applying the ombre technique to reverse glass painting is challenging but is very doable if you have the patience. When doing ombre effects on reverse painting, add the acrylic paint color you want to combine using a soft brush, then blend them with a hard, firm brush.

Realistic Reverse Painting

Realistic reverse painting of a bison - Image by Jennifer Whitten

Realistic reverse painting of a bison - Image by Jennifer Whitten

Realistic-looking reverse painting on glass is a lot harder than it looks. You have to add the details before making the background, then constantly checking the output on the other side of the glass for precision and opacity.

Water Marbling Reverse Painting

Framed reverse glass painting using marbling method - Image by Happy Gilder

Framed reverse glass painting using marbling method - Image by Happy Gilder

Water marbling is an exciting painting technique that uses either enamel or acrylic paint. But instead of paper as the medium, artists use glass. Start by applying the design to a mirror, sandblast it, then use animal glue to chip off the glass. Marbling is then done as you would on paper. 

It's a lot trickier to do since the glass is rigid, and the marbled side may have air bubbles trapped under it. The artist then applies background paint in areas to make the painted area pop out. Drying time is shorter than with acrylic paint as enamel paint is more volatile.

Modern Art Reverse Painting

Modern art reverse glass painting using sandblasting and etching method - Image by Happy Gilder

Modern art reverse glass painting using sandblasting and etching method - Image by Happy Gilder

Bringing modern art to reverse painting on a piece of glass is a technique you may want to explore, especially with the exciting result. Prepare your design on a sheet of vinyl. Don't forget to mirror your image to look right on the opposite side once the painting is ready to frame. 

Sandblasting and glue chipping are essential steps for this painting technique to create the designs. If you don't have a sandblaster, you can try a rotary tool and diamond bits to etch the design. You can then add enamel paint to the glue-chipped side, then apply the background.

Reverse Paintings on Glassware

A glass plate and glasses with reverse paintings - Image by DecoArt Inc.

A glass plate and glasses with reverse paintings - Image by DecoArt Inc.

Creating reverse glass paintings on glassware is an excellent way to decorate an otherwise bland plate or glass. After painting, most of this glass art becomes decor unless you are sure of the ingredients in your glass paint. Use a good batch of color, especially when doing this technique on drinking glasses since you can't hide the imperfections.

The effect should be pleasing on both sides of the glass. You can achieve this by smoothing a good layer of paint, letting it dry completely before adding another layer to improve opacity. 

Clean the unpainted areas with a paper towel, careful not to touch the painted areas and damage them. Use Q-tips to clean around the painted areas and a precision knife on the lines of the painting.

Reverse Glass Painting in Snuff Bottles

Snuff bottles with reverse glass paintings - Image by Sol Rios

Snuff bottles with reverse glass paintings - Image by Sol Rios

The secret to this painting technique, aside from artistic prowess, is the angled spot paintbrush. Choose the most delicate brush you can find and apply the paint slowly, adding details first and larger areas later. 

Hold the snuff bottle in your hand at an angle, then paint on the inside carefully. Another tricky part here is the proportion since you have to eyeball everything.

Reverse Glass Painting Techniques by Cultures

Every culture has its art style and painting technique, and though we can't find examples for other cultures, we have four of these cultural glass paintings that we'd like to share with you.

Tanjore Reverse Glass Painting

A framed Tanjore painting of peacocks - Image by Naveena Lifestyle

A framed Tanjore painting of peacocks - Image by Naveena Lifestyle

Popularized in Thanjavur in southern India, Tanjore reverse glass paintings are most famous for their vivid colors, intricate designs, and gold foil inlaid with glass beads or semi-precious stones. 

The subject is usually religious, depicting gods or animals that strongly symbolize Hindu beliefs. Ancient Tanjore paintings used real gold as a foil, but later images utilize metallic gold paint instead.

Peruvian Reverse Glass Painting

A tray with a reverse glass painting made by Peruvian artisans - Image by Novica

A tray with a reverse glass painting made by Peruvian artisans - Image by Novica

Peruvian artists are known for their intricate designs, contrasting colors, and superb craftsmanship. The tray and the reverse glass painting are a product of a family of artisans who spent years perfecting their art and passed it down to generations.

Chinese Reverse Glass Painting

A glass teapot with reverse paintings of pandas - Image by Verasine

A glass teapot with reverse paintings of pandas - Image by Verasine

This reverse painting technique on a glass teapot is a testimony of Chinese artistry and an eye for detail. According to many artisans, this particular art form takes at least 10 years of practice before you can perfect it. 

It's also a dying art among the Chinese. Fortunately, because the youth found meaningful reasons to take on this art form, many worked as apprentices to revive it and turn it into business.

Iranian Reverse Glass Painting

Iranian reverse glass paintings - Image by Mare Serenitatis

Iranian reverse glass paintings - Image by Mare Serenitatis

Like other art forms of the Middle East, Iranian art verges on iconography and interpretation of everyday life. The oldest Iranian reverse painting on glass is about 400 years old and well-preserved in an Iranian museum. 

It is another dying reverse glass painting technique, with only a few elderly artists taking on apprentices willing to train and master it.

Tips to Prevent Imperfections in Reverse Glass Painting

A comparative image of defective and good reverse glass painting - Image by Lyca Bacala

  1. Always start with a clean glass. Spray your piece of glass with a glass cleaner, wipe off the dirt with a paper towel, then clean it off with a lint-free rag. Sand the side of the glass to prevent injuries during handling.
  2. Don't use water-based or oil-based markers for several reasons when making the outlines. They cannot withstand working with acrylic paint unless you are very careful. 

You can use acrylic paint directly using a fine, pointed paintbrush or paint pens for the outlines. Paint pens also have better opacity than other materials, though, when applied twice, acrylic paint works well.

  1. If you don't have access to paint pens, try your markers before adding any paint. Adding 5 or more swipes of the brush over the marker may smudge it, meaning it does not work well with acrylic paint on glass. For adding a finer outline, use a fine-point paint pen.
  2. Don't use watery acrylic paint since it tends to run when you tilt the glass. Tilt your glass for 5 seconds. It's too watery if it runs and good enough to use if it stays.
  3. Use a precision knife to remove the acrylic paint that strayed outside the outline. A toothpick is good, but the precision knife is better for obvious reasons.
  4. Always double coat your acrylic paint or paint pens and let them dry before adding more paint. This painting technique ensures that you get the best opaque image on your reverse painting. Hold it against the light to see transparent areas in your artwork.
  5. When drying your painting, do not use too much heat in one location for a long time. Your glass may crack it becomes too hot.
  6. Don't add the background until you're sure of the opacity of your details. You can't correct it once the background is in as it will damage your painting.
  7. After finishing the painting, add 2-3 layers of Mod Podge to protect the back of your artwork.

    How to Conserve Reverse Glass Paintings

    Before and after conservation of a reverse painting - Image by Intach Conservation Institute

    Before and after conservation of a reverse painting - Image by Intach Conservation Institute

    Old reverse glass paintings are part of our heritage, and many art conservators take responsibility to restore and preserve these paintings for future generations. There is a myriad of reasons that cause a reverse painting on glass to deteriorate.

    These include poor paint quality resulting in tarnishing, insufficient drying time before framing, unstable environmental conditions, and similar factors. Over the years, glass paintings also acquire layers of dust and dirt that you cannot just wipe off. 

    Due to moisture on the paintings, it harbored fungal spores that stained the reverse side of the image, eating at the paint. The conservators followed this process to restore and conserve reverse glass paintings:

    Step 1: Mechanical Cleaning

    Before and after conservation - Image by Intach Conservation Institute

    Before and after conservation - Image by Intach Conservation Institute

    The first step is to remove visible causes of deterioration on the reverse glass paintings. This step includes treating fungal presence, brushing off the initial dirt and dust with a soft paintbrush. They also removed the frame but kept it in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight to expose it to environmental stress.

    Stemp 2: Consolidation of the Paint Layer

    The conservators then applied a layer of synthetic adhesive to treat the painted area to stop paint flaking and keep as much original paint as possible on the artwork.

    Step: 3 Cleaning with Solvent

    Conservators also applied solvent to remove the stubborn stains from the reverse glass paintings before applying a layer of an oxidizing agent.

    Step 4: Application of Oxidizing Agent

    This technique is necessary to reverse the visible tarnishing found on the reverse painting on glass. The conservators applied a layer of oxidizing agent to remove the tarnishing and expose the original colors hidden beneath.

    Step 5: Full Consolidation of the Paint Layer

    Before applying new paint layers, the conservators used more synthetic adhesive to preserve the original paint.

    Step 6: Reintegration of the Paint Layer

    This step is tricky since the reverse painting conserved for this particular example has a crack. Hence, the conservators worked extra carefully to reintegrate the paint layer, taking one small area at a time until they were satisfied with the result.

    Step 7: Gluing the Broken Parts

    Some conserved reverse glass paintings have breaks and cracks and conservators glued them, so it looks seamless after conservation.

    Step 8: Restoring the Frame

    Before framing the conserved artworks, the conservators restored the frame, too.

    Step 9: Framing

    Lastly, the team took great pains to frame the conserved painting and used high-quality materials to protect it from deterioration soon and won't interfere with the quality of the artwork. 

    A silicone-coated polyester sheet protects the painting from reacting with the handmade paper used to back the artwork. Then, they added an EPE foam sheet to further protect the image from shocks and vibrations to keep it from cracking and breaking again.

    Conclusion

    Reverse glass painting is a unique art form that you may want to try. Be sure to learn about the techniques for reverse glass paintings before starting your project, and be prepared for an addictive hobby!

    Did you enjoy reading about the different types of reverse painting techniques? Which method is your favorite? 

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