The turn-of-the-century reverse-glass craft behind the cover of John Mayer’s Born and Raised is a lost art. David Smith, the traditional sign writer, embosser and glass gilder who created the work, won the assignment after the American musician had tried for a year to find a source for the ornamental hand-lettering style he had in mind.
“You can’t see it and not want to bring it closer to your eye and investigate,” Mayer says on this behind-the-scenes documentary, produced by filmmaker Danny Cooke. (See end of post) Smith, based in England, is one of few artisans specializing in the hand crafted reverse glass signs and decorative silvered and gilded mirrors that inspired Born and Raised, and led to a commission for the single Queen of California.
Mayer wanted certain elements – coins, clocks, people’s faces that were significant to his life – for Born and Raised. These were hand rendered at large scale, as were initial sketches of the overall concept. Then each individual element was scanned, a vectoring process that is time consuming but extremely rewarding, Smith says.
The design is then either hand painted or screen printed backwards onto glass. Acid etching – known as French embossing, dating back to the 17th century – causes corrosion and eats away the glass. The printed artwork is cut using stone wheels, and sandblasted.
The glass is placed in a kiln for up to 24 hours until the correct curvature is formed – he experiments at this stage to ensure the correct degree of bending occurs. For Born and Raised, Smith applied 24 karat gold leaf to the acid etched lettering to give it a bright, mirror gilded finish for a sense of opulence.