Thursday, January 20, 2011

Whimsical Paper Silhouettes


These little silhouettes are such a great mix of tradition and whimsy—just like me! I’ve always liked the old-school versions done in black against a cream background, but that look is a little too American Colonial for my taste, so I decided to do it like this instead.


We went hunting for old frames at the thrift store and had no trouble whatsoever in finding them. One of these had a pair of old sepia portraits in it, with “Edward and May Maner” written on the back. After I peeled off the crumbling backing paper and cleaned the glass, I filed the Maners away for some future project. Maybe I will adopt them. You can see some of my real ancestors in the portraits there on the shelf.


This is an incredibly simple project, and the results are so rewarding. Here’s what to do:

1. Go to the thrift store and buy an old frame. Try to find one with the glass still in it.

2. Take off any old paper backing, and remove whatever old picture is in the frame. If it’s cool, save it for later. Carefully wash and dry the glass.

3. Choose two acid-free decorative papers that have good contrast with each other. Using the glass as a template, trace onto the lighter paper and cut it out. This is the backing.

Okay, here’s the tricky part.

4. Get your child to stand in profile against a white wall so you can take his or her picture. (I suggest you ask them to remove the hooded sweatshirt they’re undoubtedly wearing, unless you want their silhouette to look like a head bobbing inside a giant bucket. Also, pointedly ignore any complaints they may have about what their noses may look like in profile. Tell them they’re beautiful, because they are.)

5. Resize the photo if necessary (I just looked at mine in print preview until I felt like it looked right—sorry, that’s not very helpful) and print it. The size you choose will depend on how big your awesome vintage thrifted frame is, so this is all up to you.

6. Using very sharp paper scissors, cut slowly and carefully around the edges of the profile. Don’t cut away the details of wisps of hair and eyelashes, those add personality.

7. Now place the cut-out printed photo on the darker of your decorative papers and carefully trace the image. Use a sharp pencil. Cut out the image, again being careful not to lose details. I traced mine on the back of the paper with the printed side of the photo facing down. If you trace on the front of the paper with the printed side of the photo facing up, be sure to cut inside the pencil lines so they aren’t visible in your finished product.

8. Using an acid-free glue, stick the silhouette image on the backing paper.

9. Frame it up and hang it!

Really, the hardest part was getting my kids to stand there, not wear the hoodie, quit complaining about their noses, and hold still while I took several photos, experimenting with different lighting. After that, it was a piece of cake.