These university grads started a business painting doodles on mirrors

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“I’m amazed that this is my real job”: These university grads started a business painting doodles on mirrors

Ava Matin Nejad and Eden Frymel are best friends who share a love of art and design. Last spring, they got some paints and doodled on an old mirror that was collecting dust in Eden’s apartment. They posted a picture of the finished piece on Instagram, and were instantly flooded with requests from friends wanting their own hand-painted mirrors. Ava and Eden now run Mirror Doodles full time, and make custom pieces for people across the country. Here’s how they did it.

As told to Haley Steinberg

Ava: When Covid hit, I was in my third year at U of T studying psychology and art history. I was also working part time as a receptionist at a mental health clinic. Outside of high school art classes, I don’t have any formal training in art. I taught myself how to paint, and I used to do it in my spare time. I met Eden three years ago through mutual friends at school.

Eden: Last spring, I was in my final year, also at U of T, studying visual art and architectural design. I’m a decor fanatic. When I moved into my new apartment in Trinity Bellwoods in April 2020, I went crazy decorating. Every one of my pieces is vintage, either thrifted or handed down from my grandparents. The previous tenant had left a few pieces behind, including two mirrors that were just sitting in my laundry room. One day last April, I said to Ava, “Why don’t we do something funky with these?” I thought we could draw and paint on them, and maybe I’d hang them up on my wall. We painted freestyle on one of the mirrors with acrylic paint from Dollarama, and it turned out really cool. It was like a bigger version of the doodles I’ve been doing since I was a kid, with funky, squiggly shapes and lots of bright colours. We painted about eight hours. We ordered dinner and blasted music and made a night out of it.

Ava: Eden posted a photo of the mirror on Instagram, and right away we got five or 10 messages from friends asking, “Where did you get that? How can I get one?” We looked at each other and thought, This could be a fun project for us. We’re both creative people, and making these fun designs gave us an opportunity to play around and express ourselves.

Eden: We felt privileged to be safe, healthy and housed during the pandemic, so we came up with the idea to sell a few painted mirrors to raise money for local organizations, like the Encampment Support Network. It was also important for us to up-cycle. Customers could either supply their own mirrors, or we would source them through Kijiji, Facebook Marketplace or thrift stores. Once we’d completed three or four mirrors, we created our Instagram account, @mirrordoodles. There was instant traction. We sold off our stock quickly and started getting requests for commissions. 

Ava: By August, we were spending most of our weekends sourcing mirrors. Some people supplied their own mirrors, but the majority just gave us the dimensions they wanted and asked us to source a mirror for them. We would send some options over, and they’d tell us which one they liked best.

Eden: Initially, our designs were totally freestyle. It was like, Do you think this shape would look good here? Would this dot look good there? But with commissions, we’re doing more custom designs. People will have an idea of the colours they want, or they’ll tell us the style of their home decor and ask us to match it. A few people have asked us to match mirror designs to plants they have in their spaces. One person asked for a jungle-themed mirror, so we added a monstera leaf and a cactus. Other people give us free rein to do whatever we want—those pieces are the most fun. In general, though, it’s a collaborative process.

Ava: Our turnaround between receiving a commission to completing a piece is about three or four weeks. We break our pricing down by the amount of time we spend on a piece, including time spent driving around the city sourcing mirrors; for people who supply their own mirrors, we just charge an hourly rate for the painting. Smaller pieces take three or four hours to paint and cost about $250. It’s $350 to $450 for a mid-sized piece, and our largest pieces cost up to $700 to $1,200. The biggest piece we’ve ever done took 15 hours to complete. It was three by nine feet, and it was completely covered with doodles. The client said, “Just make it as funky as possible,” so we went for big, bold shapes. Sometimes we do partial coverage if a person wants to be able to use part of the mirror. 

People submit a form through our website. They’ll tell us their budget, the colours they’d like, and any other design requests. Then Eden will do a sketch of the mirror design, and we’ll send it off to the client. Once the client has approved the design, we’re ready to paint the piece. We also do mirror drops, where we post about 10 vintage mirrors on Instagram at once, and people can claim them on a first come, first serve basis. We then collaborate with them on the painted doodle.

Eden: For most of last year, we were working out of my apartment. There were half a dozen mirrors scattered everywhere—even in the bathtub. Early in 2021, we came to a crossroads. We were getting a lot of interest from across Canada, especially on the west coast. We realized that we could either expand and do this full time, or stay small and keep our business local. If we decided to expand and start shipping pieces across the country, we knew we’d need a bigger space. It wasn’t feasible to keep working out of my apartment. 

Ava: I was still working at the clinic, and Eden just graduated. We were painting and sourcing on weekends. Sometimes I’d be painting during breaks at work. We were already spending so much time on our mirrors that we thought, Let’s give this a shot. I quit my job, and we moved the Mirror Doodles operation into a new studio space in the Junction. We have two tables, so we can work on pieces simultaneously, plus a little desk area and a space to store our materials. I’d been working at the clinic for two years at that point, and it was anxiety-inducing to contemplate such a major life change. But as soon as I made the decision, I knew it was the right call. We have a shared vision for this business.

Eden: We’re in the studio Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. We try to complete 10 to 15 commissions each week. On Mondays, I sit down and get the sketches done for all of the pieces we’re working on that week. We send them out to clients for approval, and then spend the rest of the week painting. Ava is good at painting details, whereas I do a lot of the prep work. I’ll do the sketch on the mirror and get the shapes down, and then paint the first and second base coats. Together, we’ll plan out the details—what and where we want to paint on the shapes. Then I’ll pass it off to Ava, who does all the detailing and fixes up any imperfections. While she’s doing that, I’ll get started on the next piece. If it’s a larger piece, we’ll work on it together from start to finish.

Ava: I’m so lucky to do what I love full time with my best friend. We’re passionate about this work, and we put our souls into every piece that we make. We’ve made over 150 mirrors at this point, and I still remember every single one. We refer to the pieces by the names of the people who commissioned them, like, “Okay, here’s Emily. We’ll do Amanda on Friday.” 

Eden: I think there’s a lot of opportunity for expansion beyond mirrors, too. I’m obsessed with  Chiaozza, a New York couple who make the weirdest, funkiest little pulp and paper sculptures. Ava has been interested in getting into home goods and interiors—making rugs, pillows and other homewares. Since the beginning, I’ve wanted to paint murals. It would be my dream to paint a funky wall in a kid’s room, or a wall-sized doodle at a local shop or cafe. 

I’m surprised every day by how many people are interested in our mirrors. Clients from as far away as Vancouver and Saskatchewan send us pictures of our mirrors hanging in their homes, which is awesome. I’ve been doodling my whole life—someone told me recently that she remembers me doodling on my classmates’ agenda covers at school. I have imposter syndrome sometimes in the studio. I’m just amazed that this is my real job.