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 if I can.

Travelling to Tokyo

Pink trolley cart with sample silhouettes arranged all over it
The silhouette cart at Puroland

This is partly because I’m fascinated by silhouettes (and always keen to have my own cut out) but also because I love seeing how other silhouette artists make a living.

Being in Tokyo gave me an opportunity to visit Puroland. This wouldn’t normally be my first choice of leisure activity, except that for many years my friend Gus Eckberg has run a silhouette cart there.

This cart, selling silhouettes directly to the public, is a far more traditional silhouette business than my own. Most of the antique silhouettes I collect would have sold to the public in this way.

Gus has been cutting silhouettes for many years, and his cart is one of only two places in Japan were you can have a silhouette cut. The other is at Tokyo Disneyland.

The cart gets quite busy and the hours are long so Gus trains other artists to work in his style from the cart. These artists come and go over the years and today there are two working for him, Ms Atsumi and Ms Taketa. On the day I visited last week Atsumi was on duty, so I commissioned her to cut my silhouette from the cart. I was firmly told to come back in 15 minutes as she had another commission to finish!

Man with hat sitting in chair while a young lady with a mask works with scissors
Posing for my own silhouette at Puroland

Gus Eckberg’s story

Gus has been living and working in Japan for many years. He started cutting silhouettes at Disneyland, but left when he got the chance to open the cart at Puroland. As far as I know he is unique in training Japanese silhouette artists. Although Japan has its own amazing tradition of paper cutting – known as kiri-gami – the art of cutting profile portrait is considered a uniquely Western idea. For this reason Disneyland will not hire Japanese silhouettists, insisting that silhouette artists should be either European or American.

For this reason I felt honored to have my silhouette cut by Atsumi, who is truly unique in Japan.

Two silhouettes, face to face. One white, the other black.
Swap: The silhouette I made for Atsumi, holding her scissors, and Atsumi’s silhouette of me, signed by the artist
Gus, Atsumi and ,myself posing as three silhouettists
Three silhouettists, L->R: Gus, myself and Atsumi
Silhouette of a young woman on a folding white card
The silhouette I cut of Taketa-san from a photo she sent.

Gus and I have cut each other’s silhouettes before.

I was slightly disappointed not to meet Ms Taketa, the other silhouettist who works for Gus at Puroland. Evidently, she felt the same way because the very next day I received a text with a profile photograph and a request to make a swap!

I sent a photograph back and very soon two silhouettes appeared.

Silhouette technique in Puroland

The Puroland artists use “black-face paper”. The pun is obvious (and awkwardly old fashioned) but the reason they call it that is because the paper is black on one side and white on the other. The artist folds the paper in half, keeping the white outside, to make the design easier to see as they cut. They then carefully cut the profile before adding a complicated series of internal cuts to indicate details of clothing and hair, turning the paper and working from whichever side is easier for each cut. Keeping the two copies together as they do this can be tricky and requires a firm grip with the left hand.

Two identical silhouettes of a man with curly hair
Duplicate silhouettes of me cut by Taketa after my visit

The result, whichever side they cut, is two identical copies of the same profile (with a few very minor variations in the internal cuts) one facing right and the other left. This is what Taketa sent me.

I was interested in the way she treated my hair, which must have taken ages. In return I made quite a small, plain black silhouette on one of my folded cards. Small silhouettes (in my view) are much harder to cut than larger ones!

Two white and one black silhouette arranged on cards
My silhouette swaps at Puroland
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1 year ago

How wonderful Charles! I am delighted for you reading this blog post, and wish you a very happy time in Japan!

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