Research & Development
S A SELF-TAUGHT silhouettist Charles Burns has long been interested in historical silhouettes. This page shows a series of experimental silhouettes and miniature portraits, some of which he has been making for years while others were created more recently for his book Mastering Silhouettes.
Many of these styles are explained in the book, while all are available as commissioned portraits. Some are based on cut silhouettes, while others are painted or drawn. Charles always prefers to work from life whenever possible, so commissioning a portrait will entail either a visit to his Reading studio or arranging for him to make a home visit. Otherwise it may be possible to carry out a sitting over Skype.
These silhouettes are based on the eighteenth-century practice of painting details of hair and clothing onto the side of a plain black profile. The silhouette above left is cut from black paper while the other two have been painted in dark grey, embellished in black and, in one case, a little gold and blue. Traditional black cut-out silhouettes, embellished with gold paint, are still the most popular studio silhouettes Charles makes today.
Portraits en grisaille
A set of four miniature portraits en grisaille. These are silhouettes cut from white paper and then embellished with fine pencil to create a portrait miniature. Above centre is a portrait of Michael, by Charles. The example below, left has been mounted on glass over blue paper, which seems to suit these portraits. Alternatively they can simply be mounted on blue-coloured paper and placed in a frame of your choice. In feeling they are a bit like a Wedgewood cameo.
Sitting needed: about an hour
The antiquated term “Conversation Piece” refers to a collection of individual silhouettes grouped together to make a scene, or family group. Charles has carried out a number of theses over the years, and they always make an interesting project. A home visit is required to cut a set of full-length silhouettes and make notes about any embellishments needed (most of the work in arranging and framing the silhouettes is done at the studio after the sitting). The group above has been mounted on glass to create a shadow behind each cutting.
Sitting needed: 3-4 hours during a home visit
Doll's House Silhouettes
One of the more interesting projects to arise in the making of the book was the set of cut and painted 1/48 scale silhouettes created for a doll's house interior. Doll's House enthusiasts might be interested to know that these very miniature portraits can now be created - of their own family - live on Skype.
Sitting needed: 5 minutes
The actual studio is
Mays Barn, a small eighteenth-century barn in Reading now converted to a painting studio. To see more of Charles' studio-based work (mostly life studies and landscapes) please visit his personal website.