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Secret life

“The glass works with the etching in a subtle way”

While trial lenses are functional objects for optometrists, they are a tiny canvas for artist and treasure hunter, Andy Poplar

lenses with 2020 etching

My background isn't in optics, although my sister is an optician. When she was at university, she would test my eyes with an old set of lenses. It has been on the periphery of my life.

I was out taking my daughter for a walk one morning in Harrogate and I had this idea about etching on to glass. I taught myself how to etch and it went a little bit viral on the internet through social media. My company, [vinegar & brown paper], grew from there and it has now been going for eight years.

I’m based in Yorkshire between Harrogate and Leeds. I used to write commercials and I liked the idea of taking a piece of glass and imbuing it with meaning. Because you can see through glass, it is almost as if you are writing a message on the world. I spend my life walking around looking at things that I could etch. I especially like working with vintage glass. The optician lenses are perfect.

I have made Christmas decorations with the lenses, which have been popular, but I also turn them into lapel pins. I created a whole range around job titles. As a maker, people never really know what to call themselves. I came up with a range that is like a name badge for artists, as if you are working in a supermarket. I have had quite a few commissions from optometrists asking for name badges.

My job is perfect. I spend half my time going around treasure hunting and half the time etching


I find the lenses all over the place, in vintage shops, at antique fairs and on eBay. I pick them up as and where I can. When I exhibit at shows, I do have quite a few optometrists come up to me. I think they can see the lenses from a distance, and they’re drawn to them. I have had offers from optometrists to source sets of lenses for me because they no longer meet the criteria of what the practice needs.

Everything I make, I always think I could make it a little bit better. I guess I am a perfectionist, but that drives you on as well. You keep improving incrementally.

I generally work on lenses up to about +8D or -8D. As you can imagine, after that the lenses can become difficult to work with because they are so concave or convex.

Glass is beautiful to work with. How the light hits the glass can give totally different effects. The glass works with the etching in a subtle way. From having no background in glass, I am now absolutely obsessed with it. I work with both old and new glass but old glass is infinitely nicer. It has so much character with it.

I have collected things since I was in my teen years but now I make my living from it too. My job is perfect. I spend half my time going around treasure hunting and half the time etching it and selling it on. It is circular. I give one piece new life and then find the next one to work on.

• As told to Selina Powell. To view more of Mr Poplar’s work, visit his Instagram account or website.