Charles Burns, Roving Artist

Just Paper and Scissors

Roving Artist promo video, 3′ 17″

A SILHOUETTE PORTRAIT should be both accurate and quickly made. I’ve been cutting them for nearly thirty years and believe I can achieve both. When performed well, silhouette cutting is fun, fast and incredibly entertaining.

I’m Charles Burns and people book me as their Roving Artist for weddings, corporate dinners and a host of other events. I’ve written the book, made the film and always love to speak on the subject of the silhouette. It’s an art which to me like an oft-overlooked niche in the artistic and cultural life of this country.

Silhouettes for the modern age

Most people associate silhouettes with the Regency period: think Jane Austen. However, I’ve been working hard to bring them bang up to date. Working over Zoom, I can cut portraits of anybody in the world (the silhouettes being sent out by airmail) while those I cut live at events are mounted into smart folding wallets for guests to take home (often branded with a logo or event details). I really enjoy the interaction and amazed reactions of the guests.

“How on Earth did you discover you could do that?!” they tend to ask.

How did you discover you could do that?

I’ve taken what many see as a musty old art and reinvented it for the twenty-first century. My equipment – a pair of scissors and a pocketful of paper – hasn’t changed since Jane Austen’s time. The presentation, on the other hand, is deliberately fresh and modern.

People say that watching me cut a silhouette is an object lesson in hand-eye coordination.

The Eighteenth Century Selfie

A video of my recent TEDx appearance in Arendal, Norway. Title: The Eighteenth-Century Selfie.

The talk is 15-minutes long and features me cutting a live portrait of an audience member.

Please watch and like! Every upvote helps bring this video to a wider audience.

My Story

After leaving art college, with a degree in Fine Art, I spent the next twelve years working as a street portrait artist in London’s Covent Garden. It was while working there that I taught myself the then-vanished art of cutting silhouettes. If you visited Covent Garden in the 1990s, perhaps you remember me there?

In my early 40s I was diagnosed with autism-spectrum disorder. It explained a lot, yet was an oddly empowering experience. Following this, I made a conscious decision to embrace my strengths and allow my growing obsession with silhouettes to take over my life. It worked! Focusing on this obscure artistic niche has enabled me to become an author, entertainer, film presenter, historian, blogger, speaker and online artist. This website showcase the many applications I’ve found for the modern art of the silhouette.

These articles in my blog will add more detail to the story:

Two white and one black silhouette arranged on cards

My Puroland Silhouettes

WHEREVER I TRAVELin the world, I always try to meet other silhouette artists. There are not many of us and I’ve always felt it’s important to make a connection…

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Edo period Kawagoe building

Typhoons and Silhouettes

MyJapanese mother in law was 96 years old when she passed away in the summer. She was fond of telling everybody that she was born in the same year…

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Comparing old and new silhouettes

Can a shadow survive a fire?

IF YOU’VE EVER SEEN my film, or heard me speak, you will know the story of how I taught myself to cut silhouettes by studying the duplicate albums of…

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Self portrait caricature as Roving Artist


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