Silhouettes - methods and materials

Full length silhouette of a silhouette artist facing left cutting a full length silhouette of a manThe popular public concept of the silhouette artist at work is of someone using scissors to cut out a profile from a piece of black paper. This technique was widely employed but other production techniques and media types were also common. Some artists would use alternative cutting techniques, others would draw and in-fill profiles on paper, some would work in this way on glass, ivory, or plaster. Of course, silhouettes also appeared on other materials, china, metal, etc. but works of this type were generally not intended to be framed and referenced as portraiture.

Set out in this section is a description of the different silhouette production techniques and media used, along with images of historic work and photographs of artists working in the different genres.

Cut from paper or card
Painted on paper or card
Painted on glass
Painted on plaster
Painted on ivory
Painted on porcelain

For further informaqtion about silhouette production techniques, we recommend the recently published 'Mastering Silhouettes', by the contemporary silhouette artist, Charles Burns, this volume provides expert instruction in the art of silhouette portraiture.

The full-length picture to the right is a self-portrait by Charles Burns. The work is made with reference to the self-portrait by silhouette artist August Edouart who, in the Regency period, cut himself in the act of cutting a silhouette portrait from black paper.