The Ink and Wash silhouettes of Mr Charles
14.04.2011 by Charles Burns
I sent the first draft of my book to the publishers this morning. It’s been an intense few months, but I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to write about people like Mr Charles and his ink-wash silhouettes.
I’m not sure what the next stage entails, but I’m told it involves refining the text alongside an editor.
Mr Charles RA
I was interested to learn about the watercolour silhoutettist Mr Charles, RA. The two painted silhouettes above are his. He worked from a shop in Strand, London in the 1790’s and claimed to be able to paint a silhouette “in 3 minutes, by the watch”. By all accounts he was something of a showman. He was fond of painting his silhouettes in full public view in the window of his shop. Naturally I took his claim as a challenge and had to have a go…
Painted ink-wash silhouettes
An indian-ink caricature, after Louise Fenne, one of many painted silhouettes in the book
Here is a painted caricature in silhouette. This was painted with indian ink and water, in a little under 5 minutes, after a portrait by Louise Fenne whose work I admire. It’s seems I still have my work cut out to catch up with Mr Charles… I have no idea if there is a market for such work in the twenty-first century but I had a lot of fun painting it, enjoying the interplay between the dark ink and the splashy nature of the medium.
The book has been a lot of work, the last time I worked so hard was while studying for ‘A’ levels! I’ve been neglecting correspondence rather, so if you are one of those who’ve had a hard time trying to get hold of me, many apologies. Normal service should now be resumed.
The newsletter I sent out in January offering ‘free silhouettes’ was well received and I owe a huge thanks to all those who sent photographs of themselves and friends for inclusion. Predictably I received rather more than needed, so just under half have ended up as silhouettes in the book, some as cut and some as painted silhouettes. It will be published on 1st January 2012.
In the meantime, as I mentioned, I’m looking for opportunities to exhibit all the painted silhouettes as a group. I’ve had so much fun making them and they’re all made in a such a variety of styles I feel it would make a fascinating show. If you know anybody who could help with this please do let me know.
The book has been a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the history of the art which I seem to have made my own. I’ve uncovered a host of interesting facts. Did you know, for instance, that in the eighteenth century most silhouettes were painted rather than cut?
Three of the ink-wash silhouettes painting at the SKY Portrait Artist of the Year Competition
Postscript: Portrait Artist of the Year
A year after the book was published I had another opportunity to experiment with Mr Charles’ ideas. In 2013 the Sky Portrait Artist of the Year competition was filmed in Trafalgar Square and I was booked to make silhouettes for the audience. I took the opportunity to make a series of 3-minute, Mr-Charles-style, ink-wash silhouettes. Here are three of them. I didn’t achieve anything like Mr Charles’ level of detail, but then it’s not my usual way of working. Also, there’s no telling how strict he was about the three-minute rule (or even if he had such rule, it was more a claim.)
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