How Does it Work? Silhouette Cutting at Your Event

Art as Entertainment

Wait, is that all you do?

You make a living by cutting up pieces of black paper?!

How is that going to work at my event?

Picture the scene: some guests are beginning to arrive at a reception. Perhaps this is one of those business events where most of the guests are unlikely to know each other. The only thing they all have in common is their contact with the company hosting the event, which has invited them all for a chance to get to know them better.

In walks a silhouettist. It is not immediately obvious that he is any different from the other guests in the room, but this is a guest with a rather unique talent. He approaches a small group of people and begins to engage them in conversation. After a short while he produces a pair of scissors and - seemingly in a matter of seconds - cuts an astonishingly accurate portrait of a fellow guest and holds it up to the light for all to see. The cries of amazement from the group quickly attract the attention of others in the room, some of whom gather to see what is going on. The silhouette, now mounted on a card, is passed around the room.

A silhouette artist entertaining at a party

Can I see? It looks just like you.

Where did that come from?

How did he make it? Did he use a camera?

You mean he cut that freehand? Don't be ridiculous!

Meanwhile the silhouettist has found a second volunteer - more willing than the first - and has already produced a new portrait, slightly less rushed than the last. Or is this one perhaps a caricature? Is that nose really quite that prominent?

Silhouette held up against a yellow wall

Seeing that new guests are arriving the silhouettist quietly excuses himself and moves off to another part of the room, where he introduces himself to a new group of people and repeats the same procedure. As before, he meets with some initial surprise and reluctance, quickly followed by delight and astonishment at the sight of the first silhouette. After a little while the whole room becomes aware that 'something is up', and people begin to search the room for the silhouettist, hoping they will be next. Meanwhile, a number of small black-paper profiles, mounted on neat folding cards, are being passed around the room from stranger to stranger. Each compares the other's profile and - perhaps more importantly - they all get to know each other in the process.

The party is beginning to look like a success.

By now the silhouettist is getting into his stride and the effortless speed of his work begins to become apparent. Somebody has the idea of timing him on a mobile phone. Was that really 60 seconds? It seemed shorter somehow.

But what I want to know is, how on earth did you discover you can do this?

Silhouette of a lady with a wine glass

Some people get slightly more than they bargained for. There's the man holding a pint of beer, now forever immortalised with the beer in his hand. And is that a suggestion of a beer belly? Just so long as nobody mentions Hitchcock! That glass of wine, on the other hand, looks surprisingly elegant - almost nostalgic - like a pose from a 1920's movie poster. However the piece de resistance has to be the chap from Edinburgh, who arrived in a kilt and went back to his hotel carrying a full-length silhouette, sporran and all. Even the dirk stuck in his right sock was clearly visible.

The following day mantlepieces all over the city are decorated with newly-cut silhouettes, attracting comments from family members who insist on hearing all about the event. They are passed from person to person - or sent to relatives overseas - and seem to have a strange habit of hanging around for years. Long after the mantelpiece has been cleared of old paper they seem to pop up from time to time in unexpected places.

Do you remember? It was cut at that works' do by a man with curly hair. Now that was a night to remember!

Four silhouettes by Charles Burns