Homegirl London pays homage to Vinegar and Brown Paper which is usually spelt like this – [vinegar & brown paper].  The business started life in September 2011; a couple of years after Andy Poplar left his advertising creative career behind.  He’s now content sitting in his garden shed sandblasting ideas onto vintage and iconic glassware.  His witty words adorn British glass milk bottles, apothecary jars, retro sweet jars, ink wells and wall mirrors.  These make unique gifts which can also be personalised with your own choice words.  I caught with Andy to find out more about Vinegar and Brown Paper.

vinegar and brown paper ammunition ink well

Ink Well – Ammunition

Meet the Vinegar and Brown Paper Designer

Andy Poplar is the man behind this venture.  Before setting up his own business he’d spent over a decade working in advertising as a creative.  He reveals – “I was burnt out after years of writing advertising campaigns so resigned from my job with no plans.”  The idea just came out of nowhere, he explains – “At that period in my life I was at home looking after my daughter and loosely working on a book.  When I took her out in the pushchair, the initial thought came to me which was based around etching caffeine related quotes onto cafetieres.”

vinegar and brown paper andy poplar

Andy Poplar

Andy set about researching a technique, he tells me –“I started off experimenting with acid etching which wasn’t ideal because of the materials I was using.  I then discovered sandblasting which involves designing a mask which I apply to the glass.  I then sandblast which takes away a thin layer of the glass to leave the design etched onto the surface of the item.  At first there was a lot of trial and error and I’m continually perfecting the process.  It’s also a particularly noisy and messy thing to do, but the results are much better than acid etching.”  It wasn’t long before Andy was sandblasting vintage glassware, he explains – “I had several etched apothecary bottles on my bookcase when I was a teenager.  The final piece fell into place when I realised that by etching onto vintage glassware I could make pieces that became more than just words on glass and instead a creative medium.”

vinegar and brown paper alarm clock

Alarm Clock – Don’t Stop Dreaming

His work was lapped up by independent shops, he tells me – “It’s one of the most nerve wracking things in the world showing your work to strangers.  I can vividly remember approaching a shop and timidly asking if they’d be interested in seeing some of my work.  Luckily, they loved it and became my first stockist which was just one of the most amazing feelings of validation I’ve ever had.  I’ve been extremely lucky ever since, with virtually all my stockists approaching me directly asking to stock my work.”

vinegar and brown paper milk bottle

Milk Bottle – Human Kindness

This business has been rewarding for Andy, he tells me – “I spent my entire career being paid to come up with ideas for other people.  It’s only now though that I genuinely feel creatively fulfilled by what I do.  I guess this is because these days I spend my time coming up with ideas for me.”  The name of the company is taken from the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill.  Andy reveals – “At that point in my life (stay at home dad, recovering from a breakdown) the line ‘… went to bed to mend his head with vinegar and brown paper’ seemed fitting.”

vinegar and brown paper cabinet

Cabinet – Work Life Balance

Andy now has a nice set-up living and working in a small Yorkshire village.  He tells me – “There are fields and a view across the valley from behind my studio.  Once upon a time I used to commute to London every day, now I just walk into my back garden.  I usually work alone but sometimes dad helps out.”

Vinegar and Brown Paper Collection

Andy’s idea is very simple – he takes vintage or iconic items of glassware plus other objects and sandblasts words onto them.  He explains – “This could be anything from a set of Edwardian apothecary scales to the humble British milk bottle, an old ink bottle to a beautiful piece of laboratory glass.”  He matches words with the bottles, he elaborates – “I see myself somewhere between a writer and a designer.  My work is text based, but also three dimensional.  It revolves around correlations between physical objects and their inherent or imposed meanings.  I guess common themes in my work are wit, wordplay, self- reflection and hidden connections.”  He’s certainly been busy and has amassed quite a body of work.  Andy tells me –“My key collections are grouped by item and are continually being added to.  I have several, but these are probably my favourite ranges …”

vinegar and brown paper mirror

Mirror – Remember Everyone Else Is Making It Up As They Go Along Too

Chemistry Experiments: “This features an ever expanding range of glass apothecary bottles.  Based on traditional etched labelling common in chemistry labs, these promise contents such as Creative Juices, Acidic Wit and Solution For Everything.  There are currently seventeen designs in this range with three more coming this autumn (including possibly my favourite one so far).  After a visit to the National History museum in Venice last year, I’m currently planning a book of photographs set inside a museum housing this collection.”

vinegar and brown paper creative juices bottle

Chemistry Experiments – Creative Juices

Use Your Ink Well: “Very few people use fountain pens any more, but the ink well as a physical object will always resonate for authors.  This collection features vintage Parker ink bottles with a range of writer based phrases on them.  As with all my work the titles of the pieces are as important to me as what is etched on them.  Hence the ‘Ammunition’ ink bottle is titled Mightier Than The Sword.  The Stories Yet To Be Written bottle is known as There Are Countless More.”

vinegar and brown paper ink well

Use Your Ink Well – Stories Yet To Be Written

Bittersweet Jars: “Imbued with nostalgia, the traditional glass sweet jar can bring a smile to anyone’s face.  I find it great fun to build on this and play around with their contents too.  My favourite in this collection is called Gob Stoppered.”

vinegar and brown paper sweet jar

 Bittersweet Jars – You Leave Me Speechless

Alcohol Research: “One of the very first pieces I did when I started etching was a conical flask with H2O on it.  This led me into an ongoing obsession with vintage lab glass and what they could be used for.  The round bottomed GnT flask is actually one of the hardest of all pieces to etch due to the curvature of the glass.  I generally reward myself with a GnT whenever I have to do one of these!”

vinegar and brown paper chemistry bottles

Alcohol Research – GnT Flask and Beaker

Andy’s work is all about the connections he makes, he explains – “Ironically, even though a number of my pieces are based around inspiration, I tend not to be in thrall to it.  The majority of my ideas come from little more than noticing a connection between one thing and another.  To me this is simply the joy you get when you look at the world from a slightly different angle.”

Buy Vinegar and Brown Paper Products

If you just have to have one of these sand blasted glass objects, you can buy from Andy direct at www.vinegarandbrownpaper.co.uk.  He has plenty of bubble wrap to hand so is just dying to dispatch to my overseas readers.  Prices start from around £12.50 and go up to £300.  Andy also offers a bespoke service; you can request your own wording onto one of his pieces or provide him with a brief to create something totally unique.

Author: Homegirl London.  Photographs and Thanks: Andy Poplar.