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DIY Layered Wall Art

Life (and UPS) handed me lemons, but here’s how I lemonaded a broken mirror into wall art.

The original mirror I’d ordered for my guest bathroom showed up broken, so after letting Amazon know and getting a refund, I had this broken mirror lying around. I liked the frame and so kept it in the back of my mind until some way to use it came together. I saw a couple of cool ideas on Pinterest of art I wanted to mimic, and once I finally had the time (bathroom finished!) I got to work with what I had.

BEFORE: Broken mirror frame.

Now, if you’re going to do this, obviously don’t go smashing a mirror solely for the purpose of doing this just like me. You could use any frame, really! And have you held onto poster frames for years like I have? Then you’ve already got the basics!

BEFORE: Old poster frame.


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  • Large frame
  • Poster frame (with cardboard back and acrylic front)
  • Joint compound (preferably fast-drying)
  • Paint pen
  • Clear caulk
  • Wooden beads
  • Paint

Step 1: Cut the poster frame’s cardboard backing. I did absolutely no measuring for this project and instead just traced around my frame onto the cardboard. Since the cardboard backing already had a hook for hanging, I was able to position my frame around that so I could use the hook again!

Positioning the cardboard.

I gave myself a little bit of extra space as I used a utility knife to cut along my line. From there, I lay the cardboard on top of the back of the frame, lightly taped the bottom to hold it in place, and then shaved it down with my utility knife to the exact size. This way, I could be sure I had the right sizing without the cardboard sliding on me as I cut.

Trimming cardboard.

Side note: This “exact size” depends on your specific frame. My frame had a 1/4 inch lip that ran around the front to cover and hold in the original mirror. That gave me a little wiggle room in my cuts because the edge didn’t have to be perfect. But basically, you want the cardboard piece to sit inside the frame without being too loose (falling out) or too tight (bending the cardboard to fit).

With the cardboard cut, I carefully did a test run to make sure it fit when pushed into the frame’s sides. It worked!

Cardboard backing ready.

Step 2: Cut the poster frame’s acrylic sheet. Knowing this acrylic was far more temperamental than the cardboard, I followed the same basic plan but much, much more carefully. Setting the acrylic down first, I traced the frame. Then I used my utility knife and slowly cut the bottom line at exactly the right size – I didn’t want to touch up too much for fear I’d rough up the edges.

With that bottom line cut, I lay the acrylic over the back of the frame and taped the bottom edge like I’d done with the cardboard. Then I very carefully went around the frame with my utility knife to cut the acrylic.

Cutting the acrylic.

Once I’d cut all the way around and removed the scrap acrylic, I removed the cardboard again and set it safely aside for later. Then I carefully tested to see if the acrylic fit…and one little corner broke as I squeezed it into the frame. 🤦‍♀️ But it wasn’t too bad, and I knew I’d be able to cover it with a later step. Again, you really want to be sure you’ve cut everything to the right size.

Step 3: Make art with joint compound on the cardboard. Setting the acrylic and the frame aside, I lay my cardboard out, backside down. Using some leftover joint compound, I spread it all over the front side of the cardboard and used my fingers to make swirls and circles. The idea is to make the grooves deep enough that they add a 3D look to the piece.

Side note: One thing I’d do differently would be to use some of the fast-drying joint compound (NOT the kind pictured below). First, because it obviously dries faster. But also, the stuff I used was quite wet and warped the cardboard a bit. This I fixed later by setting heavy things on the cardboard to flatten it back out, so if you have this warping problem, that is a way to fix it!

Joint compound ready.

Once the joint compound was dry and flat, I used a little white paint to cover the edges of the cardboard just in case they’d be visible. You could paint the whole piece too, in any color, if you wanted! I just liked the natural, slightly off-white color anyway.

Touching up edges with paint.

Step 4: Use paint pens to make art on the acrylic. You want to draw on what is going to be the front side of the acrylic. If it’s on the backside, it might touch the rough grooves of the joint compound and scratch off. Plus, the paint will catch the light and be really pretty if it’s on the face of the piece.

My first inspiration for this artwork that I saw on Pinterest had fish, but I decided to do birds instead. You could do anything! I found a few pictures of herons for inspiration, and then I drew them onto the acrylic. The gold paint pens I used left a cool metallic shine, and I made sure my strokes were smooth to make the feathers.

Step 5: Insert and secure the acrylic. After the paint dried, I lay the frame face-down and then replaced the acrylic into the frame, making sure the painted side was down. To make sure the acrylic stayed in place at the front of the frame (which was down on my table), I took some clear caulk and squeezed it out all around the edge of the acrylic where it met the inside of the frame. I didn’t bother smoothing the caulk line too much because I didn’t want it smearing across the acrylic, plus it won’t be visible inside the sides of the frame anyway.

Acrylic in place.

Step 6: Insert and secure (if necessary) the cardboard. Now it was the cardboard’s turn! I carefully placed it, backside up, on top of the back of the frame. Pushing the edges gently into the frame, I was relieved that it fit without any damage, and it fit so nicely that I didn’t have to caulk or tape or anything! (So, again, it’s important to get the right size from the start.)

Cardboard in place.

Optional Step 7: Decorate the frame. I could have stopped there, but my frame was wide and I didn’t like seeing the gap between the acrylic and the cardboard deeper in. I also had that cracked corner to cover, so this is a great step if your cuts weren’t quite perfect. (I was lemonading this project a lot! LOL)

Taking a bunch of wooden beads I had leftover from other projects, I fired up my hot glue gun and glued them all around the inside edge of the frame where it met the acrylic. This was time-consuming but unique and exactly what I was hoping for. You could also do feathers around the edges, or jewels, or stones, or rope – anything, really.

Glueing on beads.

With the beads on, I again could have stopped there. But, I decided I wanted them to blend into the frame a bit more to let the golden herons be the focal point. So, I painted the beads black. This again was time-consuming, but I really like the end result.

Beads painted.

Once that was dry, I realized it needed one more bird for balance… and then it was time to hang the artwork in place! 😜

AFTER: Layered wall art.

I really like how this turned out. It’s cool how the light reflects off the golden birds, and the gap between the acrylic and cardboard layers means the birds have slight shadows. The grooves of the joint compound add a 3D effect, and the beads around the outside add depth too.

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