Great DIY Tips for UNIQUE Holiday or anytime gifts: How-to learn to cut silhouette profiles from sight
Story and How to Video By silhouette artist Cindi Harwood Rose
The beauty of a silhouette is passed down from generation to generation. If you are a gifted portrait artist, especially keen with the profile, you have a good shot at being a real silhouette artist. Not one who Photoshops, or traces a shadow off a wall, but a person, who can see features in comparison to other features, and in proportion. You can start by drawing a profile, around 4 inches high, and cutting it out, or taking profile photos and cutting them out. Once you figure out how to draw with scissors, practice with real people and pets. Wrapping paper is a good medium to begin with, or computer paper. If you want to make if official, spray paint one side black, but use the white side to cut from. You can also buy real French silhouette paper on the internet, or at your favorite art supply store. Barber and surgical scissors make great tools to use, but are costly. You want to make sure the scissors you use have a straight edge, so that you can control your cuts. I like to start cutting from the bottom up, which is different than the way I draw. For fun, use colored backgrounds and junk mail. It is wonderful what you can do with the silhouette and your imagination.
Paper-cutting was discovered in northwestern China around 386-586 AD with Chinese embroidery patterns, for the royal dynasties. Silhouette-cutting was associated with the royal courts. It was not uncommon to have a silhouettist employed, capturing every movement of the entire court. Some paper-cutting artists, told stories, such as Hans Christian Anderson.
The name silhouette, is from Etienne de Silhouette, a French minister of Finance, who was dismissed in 1759, after 9 months in office. He had cut out pensions and luxuries, thus, items “cut-out” or minimal in expense, reminded people of him. Silhouettes were the way to have a profile made by an artist, without having to have a portrait drawn.
Oddly, a true silhouette, hand-cut by an artist, is more difficult than drawing a portrait, and all silhouette artists can draw portraits, but not all portrait artists can do silhouettes free-hand. There are only around 25 to 50 real silhouette profilist artists in the world, and hand-cut silhouettes, not computer generated ones, only become more valuable in time. It is not necessary to have little embellishments in your silhouettes. A good silhouette artist, will not give everyone the same hair-do and face, they will make you look like yourself, with the details that express your style.
When I was a little child, I would sit with my talented mother, and cut-out Valentine’s, snow-flakes, paper dolls, flowers, and butterflies. My mother, Doris Harwood, a paper-cutting artist and architectural designer would also draw portraits, front and side-view. Little did she know that this practice in contour would prepare her to be a natural in the fine art of English and French profile hand-cutting, an art difficult to master, that only a few handfuls of fine artists, are prolific at. You can look on-line at The Guild of Paper cutters and see a listing of the world’s best silhouette artists and paper cutters from the past 300 years, and samples of their works.
As a natural artist, skilled in life drawing, I got a job in my early teens at an amusement park drawing portraits. While taking a tour, I saw a silhouette artist—someone cutting out profiles from black paper freehand without sketching or using a light—and said “I can do that.” Laughed at, I was handed scissors, and thin black paper. Freehand, without a sketch, or light, I cut out the manager’s profile, in less than two minutes, and the prior silhouette artist was fired on the spot. What I did most, was compare each feature, the same way I would when I draw. I used my scissors as I would “a thumb” to eyeball the spaces between the features in the subject’s profile.
Silhouette cutting for the Disney art concessionaire became my summer job, throughout high school and The University of Texas where I graduated in fine art and journalism. Later, I worked for Disney World and Disneyland, where I broke park production records doing 600 silhouettes in a day. Soon, I found myself doing silhouettes all over the world, for many celebrities, families, formal affairs, television shows, galleries, department stores, and collections. I made a world speed record in 1982, 144 silhouettes of 144 individuals cut-out in one hour, timed by The San Antonio Express Newspaper.
Rose has done silhouettes for over 35 years, and has done generations of families. She prides herself on her likeness’s and embellishments—the white- cut-outs, when it adds to the profile and the style of the individual subject.
After a busy career, I married my husband who is now well known as Houston Plastic Surgeon Franklin Rose, and had two children, Erica and Ben. I used my silhouette art, as a fund-raiser for their schools, and many philanthropic causes, including Texas Children’s hospital, The Woman’s Hospital of Texas, The American Heart Association, The Ronald McDonald House, The Houston Symphony, and The Holly Rose Ribbon Foundation, a non-profit, I formed with my husband for uninsured cancer survivors.