How To- Vintage Silhouettes

Silhouette portraits were popular in the mid-18th century and continued to be through the early decades of the 19th century. Traditionally, profile portraits were cut from black paper. To make things a little easier, the technique described here uses ink and brushes, but could be done with black paper and a precision knife following the same steps.

Take a profile photo of the subject. For best results, have the subject stand against a plain wall or curtain. Flip the photo horizontally before printing. Then trace the outline using tracing paper and a pencil.

Flip the tracing paper over and retrace the outline onto the desired paper; the pencil on tracing paper acts like carbon paper. I couldn’t decide whether to use a rustic looking brown paper, or a fancier paper, so I traced the image onto both.

If you are cutting your silhouette instead of painting, trace the image onto black paper or card stock, and then cut using a precision knife or fine utility knife.

If you are painting your silhouette, use a fine brush and black ink, like india ink, to fill in the image.

I searched high and low for some oval, fancy frames to frame my portraits, but I couldn’t find any at an affordable price, so I opted to use the fancy paper with a plain black frame. The portraits were going to be snug in my frames, so I flipped the frame over and traced the opening to make sure the portrait didn’t get cut off.

Because I needed the paper to be a little larger than the frame opening in order to fit the frame properly, I used the glass as a template so I could cut the paper to the proper size.

Then, I erased the inside, frame opening line because I didn’t want to see it once the portrait was framed.

Cut the paper to size.

Before reassembling the frame, clean the glass and stack everything—the backing, the portrait and glass—to make sure all the dust and eraser bits have been removed. Once everything looks clean, reassemble the frame.

Hang in a favorite spot for an old fashioned look. These portraits make great wedding gifts or birthday presents. Just don’t let the subject know what you’re doing when taking the initial photo, so it will be a surprise.

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Rachael Ray