14.07.2013 by Charles Burns
An interesting challenge was set for us by a client in Germany. He wanted each of 250 conference delegates to receive a silhouette – cut from their own corporate-blue paper – during a conference dinner. My initial proposal (based on tried-and-tested advice to allow two minutes per person) was to book four artists. He replied that he had the budget to book two, Michael and myself, on the understanding that everybody received a one-minute silhouette.
What to do? Arguably the sensible option would have been to turn the booking down, on the grounds that this wasn’t possible. However, Mike & I instead decided to re-visit our ideas on ‘speed cutting’ to see if we could double our output of silhouettes.
Speed cutting has a long tradition amongst silhouette artists. The ‘sixty-second sitting’ has been a prominent feature of silhouettists’ advertising ever since the 1830’s. The artists of the 1920’s were fond of holding competitions to see who could cut a recognisable profile in the fastest possible time.
Output, however, is not just about speed. Our standard two-minute interval is based on 50-90 seconds to cut the silhouette, plus another 60 seconds or so between each one. This pause is not a break. We need this time to mount the silhouette on card, hold it up for all to see, deal with a number of comments & general ‘chit-chat’, and finally to find & pose the next subject. Herein lay the problem. I knew that we could conceivably cut a little faster, but how could we reduce the ‘pause’ to the level needed to consistently produce a one-minute silhouette every minute?
In the end the client provided part of the solution. The silhouettes were to be mounted directly into the delegates’ conference packs, under the heading ‘Author’s Profile’ (related to the theme of the conference.) This meant we could give out unmounted silhouettes for delegates to stick in themselves. The client also agreed to announce our presence in advance, so everyone knew we were working against the clock. This made it easier to quickly find each subject. The ‘pause’ was thus reduced to 20 seconds or so, leaving us just 40 seconds to cut the silhouette. This we achieved by dispensing with superfluous detail and concentrating on a single-line cutting technique, with none of the usual extra cuts to show ties, glasses and curls of hair.
At the event Michael and I each broke our own individual speed-cutting records. Between us we cut just over 220 profiles in two hours flat. Half the delegates consisted of balding middle-aged men, which helped considerably – nice simple shapes! After finishing the remaining few delegates, at a more leisurely pace, we even had time to sit down and enjoy a meal. The lesson I learned is that one shouldn’t be too prescriptive about the number of silhouettes one artist can actually cut. With adequate preparation – and some co-operation from the client – this time is far more elastic than I used to think.