Craft Challenge: January — This is how I made it
February 8, 2011 § Leave a comment
There are lots of tutorials out there about how to make a silhouette portrait. I mean really, lots, so I feel a little silly putting up my own tutorial. However, the tutorials that I read all varied in their methods, so I thought it would be worth it to explain just what I did (and what I will do differently next time)
First I found the picture (obviously). You want a simple picture that shows the person’s profile, and if there’s a good contrast between the person and the background it will make your life much easier. A closed or slightly open mouth is better than an open mouth or a really big smile (because those expressions don’t translate well into a silhouette). An interesting hairstyle is a plus. You can take pictures specifically for the project, but you can also look through pictures that you already have and look for good profile shots (especially if you want a silhouette of a child who won’t hold still for a portrait session- -it might be easier to get sneaky profile shots while they’re engaged in something else than attempt to stand them against a wall).
Once I had chosen the picture and cropped it, I uploaded it to Flickr and edited it in Picnik with the ‘pencil sketch’ setting–if you’re using Picnik, go to the ‘Create’ tab, click on ‘Effects’ in the toolbar, then scroll down the menu on the left until you find ‘pencil sketch’. If you aren’t using Picnik then check your favorite picture editing software–most will have a similar sketch tool. Or you could skip this step. It’s not essential, it just makes it a little easier to trace the outline in the next step.
I sized the image to fill a regular piece of paper and printed it out. Now, this made my silhouette large enough to require an 11×14 frame. Then I had to hunt and hunt for a frame that would fit (this would have been easier if I had been willing to settle for a rectangular frame). I really recommend choosing your frame before you cut your silhouette and sizing the image to fit.
I taped a piece of tracing paper on top of my printed image and then just used a pencil to trace around the outside of the picture. This was my chance to experiment with the image–this is when you have to make decisions about what to include. I used Jason’s collar and Sharon’s necklace as handy guides for where to end their necks, but I debated about how much detail to add. Should I try to cut out Jason’s shirt collar and tie? Sharon’s veil? The flowers that were in Sharon’s hair? Her necklace? In the end I decided that keeping it very simple would have the best look. The biggest challenge was Sharon’s shoulder, because of the angle, so I added a couple of tendrils of hair.
I also added their eyelashes–this is something that all of the tutorials I read agreed on. Most people’s eyelashes don’t actually stick out far enough to be visible beyond the bridge of their nose when they’re in profile, but most silhouette portraits include them anyway. Silhouettes without eyelashes look a little strange to me, and have less personality, so I just marked the level of their eyes when I was tracing the silhouette and cut a whisp of eyelash.
When I was satisfied with my outline I removed the printed picture and looked at my traced outline alone, to make sure that it looked okay on its own, before using masking tape to secure it to my black paper. I used black scrapbook cardstock from my local craft store and a fresh exacto knife. And a piece of very thick cardboard as a cutting surface. And a steady hand. I just cut through the tracing paper and into the scrapbook paper beneath, following my pencil lines slowly but firmly (so as not to tear the tracing paper and ruin everything forever). It took about thirty minutes. For some of the details–such as Jason’s hair–it was easier to cut beyond what I needed into the area outside the silhouette (NOT into the silhouette) to get a sharper point, if that makes sense.
When I’d gotten all the way around my outline I removed the tracing paper, and followed the cut lines that I’d made to make sure that they all went all the way through. It was hard to gauge through the tracing paper whether I was cutting deeply enough–it was also hard to make my cuts very clean (a ragged cut means a fuzzy edge to your paper). Next time I’ll either make shallow cuts through the tracing paper just to score the black paper, and then remove the tracing paper and go back to cut the silhouette out all the way OR I will transfer the outline onto the black paper with carbon paper or white pencil, so that I can cut through only one layer and really see what I’m doing.
Also, because my silhouette was joined at the nose, I had to be careful not to bend it. I made the mistake of cutting out one head entirely before cutting the second–I should have left the center of the image, the faces, for last, and cut out everything else before doing their features. It would have made things much easier.
Having the faces joined at the nose also meant that I couldn’t pick the silhouette up–if I were cutting a single profile I think I would pick it up and cut with scissors (one tutorial I read mentioned cuticle scissors, but I think that any small, sharp craft scissors would work). And when it was time to turn the silhouette over so that could attach it to the background, I sandwiched it between two pieces of paper, the way that you would flip a cake.
My background was just a piece of Bristol board, which is like a heavy cardstock. You can find it in the art supplies section of your local craft store, or (if you silhouette is small enough) you could just get a piece of scrapbook paper. Or a piece of fabric, or wallpaper, or anything else that strikes your fancy. I stuck to white, because I wanted this silhouette to be very classic (and to always go with Sharon’s decor, no matter what colors she uses in her home!). I turned my silhouette over and applied double-sided scrapbook tape to the back, then laid the Bristol board down on top of it (instead of picking it up and setting it on the Bristol board) and voila!