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What does a Silhouette Artist do?

By C. Sadowska
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A silhouette is the outline of a subject’s shape with the interior of the outline filled in. The most common type of silhouette art is the profile of a person's face cut out of black paper. A silhouette artist is the person who creates this likeness of a person’s profile.

Traditionally, the silhouette artist works freehand and is able to quickly cut out a person's image just by looking at his or her profile. The artist typically cuts the shape out of thin black cardboard known as French silhouette paper. Often, the silhouette is then mounted on a lighter colored background.

While there are still artists that work freehand, some silhouette artists work from a photograph of a person’s profile. Others position their subject against a backdrop with a bright light and trace the shadow of the profile to create a pattern. The silhouette may be completed in various colors and use numerous materials. Also, it may be drawn or painted instead of cut from paper. Purists maintain that silhouettes should be created using French silhouette paper and the artist should be able to complete a portrait within 90 seconds.

The word silhouette comes from the name of Etienne de Silhouette, the French financial minister in 1759 under Louis XV and possibly the world's first silhouette artist. He enjoyed paper art and cutting out paper portraits in particular. In the time before photography, these portraits provided an inexpensive alternative to sculptures and paintings and a more practical way to create a person’s image. His name became synonymous with the paper images. The phrase a la Silhouette also came to mean any sort of cheaply done art.

Silhouettes were quite popular in the second half of the 18th century and first half of the 19th century. In some ways, the invention of the camera brought an end to the widespread appeal of silhouettes. As photographs became more accessible, silhouettes were no longer considered necessary. Many silhouette artists continued to work at fairs and carnivals, creating quick pieces of art for visitors.

Modern silhouette artists may create mementos to mark weddings, birthdays, or nostalgic portraits of children. Silhouette artists often can be found working at amusement parks or fairs. The largest number of silhouette artists are employed by Disneyland®, Disney® World, Tokyo Disney®, and Euro Disney®.

There is no formal training to become a silhouette artist. Many learn the skill on their own or are taught by a relative. Often, a person can apprentice with an experienced silhouette artist to perfect the craft.

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Discussion Comments

By anon274786 — On Jun 13, 2012

I am currently working on a complete history of Disneyland's silhouette artists as part of a tribute to Harry Brice, and an effort to have his name added to Main Street's window tributes. If you have any information--names and dates especially--would you please post. --R.C. Crocker

By anon224952 — On Oct 25, 2011

Silhouette artists have natural talent, some better than others. I noticed that one man gave everyone the same face, beautiful and with lovely details; it's a piece of art, but not a likeness. He travels the country.

I noticed that he could not do groupings. He just pasted them separately. But other artists, such as Kathy Flockhart, Ruth Mansord, Virginia Rice, Cindi Rose, Vincent Tortora do great groupings, and for details, see Charles Burns and Sarah Goddard, I think their work is the best. I think people should read "The Guild of Paper Cutters" and see who they think is premier, but the other artists you mentioned don't appear to get a good likeness; they just give everyone the same face. One makes everyone look older than they are, and one makes everyone look younger than they are.

By anon224886 — On Oct 24, 2011

I could not believe it. I saw Cindi Rose do silhouettes in California when I was 11, and again two weeks ago at a wedding. Silhouette artist Cindi Rose has to be the greatest living silhouette portrait person. She put in the polka dots that were on my grandma's dress.

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