N HIS LONG CAREER as a silhouette artist Charles Burns has cut many notable portraits, including two silhouettes of the Queen. He is the UK’s busiest silhouette artist, working at a huge variety of events at home and overseas.
Charles has appeared at all kinds of venues and cut nearly 200,000 profiles. These include three portraits of the Queen, President Clinton (while visiting the National Portrait Gallery) and an ever-growing number of TV personalities, writers, artists and sporting celebrities.
“I’ve worked with Charles for many years and he’s simply the best silhouette cutter in the UK and possibly the world!”
How did he learn to cut?
Charles was born in London in 1961 and educated at Ampleforth, a Catholic boarding school in North Yorkshire. He was taught to draw in the classical tradition by the sculptor John Bunting, himself a student of Leon Underwood. Charles attended art colleges in Exeter, Wolverhampton and Lyon, France, graduating with a 1st-class Hons degree in Fine Art (painting) in 1984.
On leaving art college he worked for many years as a street artist in London’s Covent Garden. He started by drawing 10-minute portraits in pencil and later began cutting silhouettes. He moved naturally from Covent Garden into corporate events, where he found a very different audience to the world of fine art.
Charles Burns currently lives with his family in Reading, where he has converted a small eighteenth-century barn for use as a painting studio. Mays Barn doubles as an ad-hoc gallery and is opened to the public on various occasions each year.
Charles attended our wedding reception back in July and we still cannot stop talking about how amazing he is… and neither can our guests!
This man is a genius! Everyone loved him at our wedding! Thank you so much for everything!!!
“In one way or another I’ve spent my whole life drawing people. Growing up as a shy and awkward 1970’s teenager drawing seemed to be the one thing which connected me with others. Somehow it allowed me to express my fascination with their varying characters and my own relationship to them. Thus from an early age my ability to draw enabled me to make friends and defined my sense of self. In many ways, it still does.
The activity of drawing can take many forms. For instance my favourite (reflecting the way I was taught) is to use a 3B pencil on paper. Today, after many happy years spent cutting silhouettes, this is followed by a pair of scissors. Whether drawing or cutting I begin by looking and then allow my hands to respond naturally to what I see. When working fast with scissors this approach can sometimes produce unexpected results!
When my busy career as a silhouettist allows I still like to find time to draw for its own sake. So for many years I ran life-drawing sessions for local artists in my Reading studio. I did this because regular drawing is an enormous help in keeping my silhouettes fresh. In drawing, as well as in cutting, one never really stops learning. Today, I feel fortunate that my ability to draw has taken me all over the world. It has given me a chance to meet – and cut – many wonderful people!”
Charles Burns, 2018
Some cuttings by Charles Burns, including full-lengths, half-lengths and a variety of party-goers holding glasses. Charles’ signature cut (centre) is a double face-to-face portrait cut from a single sheet of paper.