How to Make a Silhouettes

Silhouettes have captivated and intrigued people ever since prehistoric man daubed the walls of caves with the outlines of sacred animals. That these powerful images are instantly recognizable to us thousands of years later is proof both of the skill of those early artists and the wonderful immediacy of profile art. Civilization after civilization reinterpret­ed the silhouette – notably the Egyptians, Etruscans and Greeks – but it was only in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that they flourished as a popu­lar form of portraiture. Before the photograph, the silhouette was the only easy and accessible method of achieving likenesses by amateur and professional artists, and provided inexpensive decorations.

If you like elegant images from the past and can­not afford originals, you can always copy old silhou­ettes to hang on your walls. Creating silhouettes of your own family and friends, however, is much more entertaining and personal. Seat your subject in front a bright light and trace the shadow onto a white sheet of paper pinned to a board placed in the cor­rect position. You can leave the profile full size or reduce it down, and then paint it in with black paint. In nineteenth-century America, two very pop­ular silhouette methods were to cut the image out in black paper or to cut out an image and place the hollowed-out piece of paper against a background. The basic outline was achieved as already described, although some silhouette artists were so skilled with a pair of scissors that they could snip out an accurate likeness freehand in only three minutes. Hollow-cut silhouettes look very pretty placed on a wallpaper or fabric background – silk, satin or velvet are all authentic for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Personalized silhouettes

Apart from bust and full-length vignettes, conver­sation pieces depicting family and friends engaged in various leisure activities were also fashionable in the nineteenth century. Some of the most charming examples are of children either at play or posing with a favourite pet. These were painted or cut free­hand, but it would not be too difficult to achieve something similar today using the photograph and photocopier method described in this project. Silhouettes work particularly well for fairy-tale characters and scenes; these are a suitable theme for a nursery wall, especially if they are made in bright colours.

You will need:

  • Camera
  • White background, such as a white board or a sheet
  • Access to a photocopier
  • Scissors
  • Black marker
  • Sheet of white paper
  • Paper glue Picture frame


  1. Take a photograph of your subject’s profile against a solid white background.
  2. Photocopy the developed image at an enlarged size on good quality paper. (Normal photocopying paper will bubble up when stuck to a background.)
  3. Carefully, with a pair of fine scissors, cut out your silhouette.
  4. With a black marker, colour over the image so that it is solid black.
  5. Glue the silhouette onto a sheet of good quality white paper.
  6. Place in a frame of your choice.

Filed Under: General How To's


About the Author: Bruno Silva is an entrepreneur from Portugal with over 15 years of experience in Online Marketing. He is also a blogger and writes on variety of topics from online marketing to designs, cars to loans, etc.

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