More about hollow cutting

I recently posted some hollow-cut silhouettes by an eighteenth-century English artist called Sarah Harrington. Since then I’ve been experimenting with hollow cutting myself. It’s an authentically antique form of silhouette cutting and so might work well at period costume balls. Especially those with an eye to historical accuracy.

Hollow cutting is an unusual technique whereby the artist cuts the silhouette inside-out from a piece of white paper.  This means that the paper one would normally consider the ‘off-cut’ is actually the finished artwork.  It is mounted over black to create the effect of a silhouette. I’ve been trying them at a number of recent events, mostly corporate drinks receptions. They’ve been generally well received.  So here are a couple of my own twenty-first century hollow-cuts.

A hollow-cut silhouette

A silhouette hollow cut from white paper, made visible by the shadow it casts

The possibilities of hollow cutting

The interesting thing about the technique is that the portrait can be divided into several parts.  This allows me to treat white collars and ties, with a freer and more casual look.

I can present them using my standard backing cards (so I don’t need to carry around a whole new set of kit.)  I can add a hollow cut or two at almost any event, They’ve become a useful addition to my standard repertoire.  After cutting  a few of my usual silhouettes, if I finish with a hollow cut it makes an interesting talking point. People really appreciate their strange inside-out nature.

Hollow cutting a silhouette with a pair of surgical scissors

Hollow cutting a silhouette, working from inside the paper with a pair of surgical scissors

The problems of hollow cutting

The main problem is that the technique is really hard! It effectively involves cutting the silhouette inside a hole. I start by stabbing the paper, then work from the middle, without ever “cutting in” from the outside. It’s difficult to handle the scissors and manoeuvre them in the various holes.

As far as I know no other artist has used this technique on a regular basis for about 150 years. I think there may be a good reason for this!

However, if you are organising a Georgian or Regency event, and care deeply about authenticity, then booking a silhouette artist to make hollow-cut portraits of your guests would be a historically-accurate addition to the event. Do get in touch if you would like to know more.


Hollow-cut silhouette

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Comments on “More about hollow cutting

  1. Annabel Mallia says:

    I think it must be really difficult to cut the ordinary silhouettes. My mind boggles at doing hollow cutting. I’m full of admiration at your skill.

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