The importance of silhouette repertoire

HOW MANY WAYS cut I cut a silhouette? To be honest, I’ve let count. Soon after I cut my 50,000th silhouette I realised repertoire was everything. Since then, I’ve made it my ambition to cut or paint every kind of silhouette I can imagine. Here are some of them.

To make this post I decided to take two people and silhouette them in as many ways as possible. They could be a couple (some of the poses suggest they are) but it doesn’t really matter. The first few cuttings are silhouettes which I could easily make at any event (and often do). The materials to make them are included in my standard box of tricks (ie: bag) which I carry with me to every event.

The silhouettes in part two of the post would require some pre planning, as they require materials I wouldn’t normally bring with me. However, they all things which could conceivably be created with a room full of people at a party. 

 a few The importance of variety in cutting silhouettes is discussed in the Silhouette Cameo and Caricature pages. This post is to document some of the repertoire I can present at events. Now, not all of this is part of my “standard kit” but all of these are techniques which can be presented at any event with a little pre planning.

Half silhouettes


Any good silhouettist will tell you that the secret to likeness lies in the shape of the head, rather than the nose or mouth, so cutting just the face is more, not less, difficult for the artist. The opposite of silhouette caricatures. The great advantage is speed: one cut and it’s done!

Half silhouettes can be cut in a few seconds, making it possible for one artist to cut through 100 or more profiles in a couple of hours, while two artists can cut well over 200 silhouettes in a single evening. They are worth thinking about if it is important that everybody in the room receives one. These silhouettes are all about speed.


A pair of hollow-cut half silhouettes cut from a single printed white card, and presented to a guest, each cut in less than 30 seconds

Hollow cuts


Known as ‘the hole-in-the-doughnut’. These silhouettes are made by cutting away the head from the inside of white paper. This counter-intuitive technique was popular in early nineteenth-century America.

Charles had to re-invent the idea as the basis for a project in his book, Mastering Silhouettes. They have not been made professionally for over 150 years. People really appreciate their strange ‘inside-out’ nature, as well as the skill involved in making them (the artist begins by stabbing the paper with his scissors.) These are quite ambiguous silhouettes.

Painted silhouettes

Painted silhouette caricature
A painted caricature by Charles, after a portrait by Louise Fenne

Most eighteenth-century silhouettists painted, rather than cut, their profile portraits. Cutting was considered a rather vulgar innovation as it seemed to reduce the miniaturist’s art to a few quick snips!

A number of silhouette painters claimed, like the cutters, to be able to produce a profile in just a few minutes. Intrigued, Charles set out to see how this could be done. The result is a series of portraits and caricatures, each painted in five minutes or less.

Silhouette wheel

An early innovation by Charles. This idea evolved from a request by a client to cut all her guests from a single sheet of paper. The silhouettes are cut in a continuous loop while the artist’s arm goes through the hole in the middle. Each guest poses for just 60 seconds or so before making way for the next. The idea generally works best at smaller events, although Charles has cut a single wheel of 36 heads in the past. Does that sound like a record which needs to be broken?

A silhouette wheel
Silhouette wheel cut from a single sheet of paper

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