The Silhouettes: Classic Hand-Cut Cameos
A classic cameo silhouette in an oval mount

Either bust-length…

The simplest and most classic kind of silhouette cameo is the bust-length portrait. Originally known as 'shades', these were popular all over England and the New World during the Georgian and Regency periods. The vast majority of party silhouettes cut today are of this kind and many examples can be seen scattered over the pages of this site. It's hard to beat the simple beauty of an elegantly cut profile set into an oval or rectangle mount. In the hands of an expert, such a classic portrait can be cut in as little as 60 seconds.

That said, there are many variations to the theme...

Half-length silhouettes holding a glass of wine or cigarette are a popular addition:

Look, he even got the glass in!

A double silhouette cut face-to-face

Double silhouettes arranged in a variety of poses always go down well, you can go face-to-face or back-to-back:

A Smith & Jones or a Charlie's Angels?

Collars and ties can be cut away - using a technique known as slash cutting - leaving just an empty space to indicate their presence. This gives the silhouette a quintessentially 1920's feel.

A party silhouette of a young man with collar and tie cut away

Some artists even use a side-by-side pose with one head cut out of the back of another. It can all get very complicated!


… or full-length

From time to time a volunteer may be asked if they are brave enough to pose for a full-length silhouette. This traditional form does take a little longer - as long as 3 or 4 minutes sometimes - but the results are spectacular. There are very few living silhouettists who can cut a successful full-length, freehand, in this way.

Take a deep breath before he starts cutting!

The most classic of all silhouettes tend to be cut at period costume balls. Piled up wigs and masks - together with flowing dresses and elegant coats - offer a wonderful opportunity for a silhouettist, who may find himself cutting some very eighteenth-century looking portraits. Silhouette artists have been active in various guises throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries; so a silhouettist can form a historically-accurate addition to a wide range of Georgian, Regency, and Victorian events, as well as to 1920s- and 1930s-themed evenings, and many others.


A set of full-length silhouettes cut in costume at a Jane Austen Festival

A set of full-length freehand silhouettes cut by Charles Burns at a Jane Austen event in Bath


Silhies