My former neighbor had this great silhouette of herself hanging in her kitchen. It captures her six-year-old profile with the upturned nose, plump cheeks, and high ponytail. Her parents had had it made as a souvenir from a trip to Disneyland. I loved the vintage charm of the artwork, conjuring up images of Jane Austen’s famous profile. I have to admit I felt a pang of jealousy. Why hadn’t my parents gotten my silhouette done on our annual excursion to Disneyland? Then I felt a wave of guilt. Why didn’t I stop to have my children’s silhouettes cut to capture those sweet pudgy profiles of early childhood? I wished I could turn back time. I decided to research how to do this myself before my children grew one more inch.
Before cameras were invented, hand-cut silhouettes were an inexpensive way to capture a person’s likeness. The subject would sit with her profile facing the artist, and the artist would cut her profile out on a piece of black paper with sharp scissors. Those who were less artistic simply traced a shadow of the subject on a piece of paper secured to the wall.
I suppose I could have gone the traditional route and used a flashlight (or candle if I really wanted to go old school) to cast a shadow of my subject on my dining-room wall. But I could spare my younger daughter the agony of sitting still by speeding things up with my digital camera. I had her sit on the dining room table (so she would be at my eye-level) with her profile facing me. If your subject is a very young child, you may want to have another person stand in front of her to entertain her while you snap the picture. After I uploaded the picture, I printed it out as a 5” x 7” on plain white paper. Now I was all set to make my hand-cut silhouette. As you can see from the materials list below, this is a very inexpensive project that looks like a million bucks.
Photo of subject in profile
5” x 7” Picture frame
Black acid-free scrapbook paper
Decorative acid-free scrapbook paper
Pencil (preferably mechanical for fine point)
Glue stick (or double-sided tape)
Step 1. Cut out outline of subject’s profile, careful to include wisps of hair and eyelashes. Those little endearing details will give your silhouette personality.
Step 2. Trace outline onto black paper. Cut out black silhouette. Erase any pencil marks with a kneaded eraser.
Step 3. Remove the glass from your picture frame and use it as a template to measure how much decorative paper you will need. Simply trace the outline of the glass with your pencil and cut out the paper.
Step 4. Glue the silhouette to the decorative paper. I used double-sided tape because for some reason I can never find a glue stick when I need one. My kingdom for a glue stick!
Step 5. Place in picture frame.
After studying the finished product for a few minutes, I decided I wanted to redo it. My daughter was slightly turned when she posed for the picture, so you can't see her eyelashes. I took some artistic license and added those. I also didn’t like how the bottom of the picture ended in a harsh horizontal line so I cut an elegant curve instead.
Don't worry, I didn't waste the original. My daughter made one with construction paper and a different frame.
With this method, I can even turn back time. Kind of. I combed through my picture albums and found a motherload of my children at various stages of their childhood in profile! I even found myself in profile half a dozen times at my wedding—the only day in my life when I wore my hair in a chic French twist with curly tendrils. Hot dog! My fantasy of having a Jane-Austen-esque silhouette of myself has become reality. I