How to hand-cut a silhouette
People always ask me "how did you learn to cut portraits freehand?
The truth is I never did learn, I just could always draw anything and anyone in pencils and crayons. From my sketch pad, I got a job as a portrait artist as a teenager for a Disney owned art company in Dallas and Houston, Texas as well as Disneyland in California and Florida. I had never had an art lesson, but my mother was an artist and I would paint and draw by her side, and draw everywhere I went.
When I saw my first silhouette artist (not the kind teachers do as those are not artists, they are tracing a shadow from the wall, and a shadow is blocked light and a bit distorted), I had to try it! I told the Disney art concession owner, Jess Rubio, that "I could do that!" Meaning I could take strange scissors and tiny, thin black paper and cut the likeness of someone sitting down or standing up directly from the paper without a sketch first, and in a few minutes. I now can cut a portrait profile in a minute with full details when I speed!
However, to tell you how to do it, please watch this video where I explain that the silhouette is a contour drawing with scissors. In the same way you measure facial features with your thumb to draw, you measure them with your scissors to cut. The type of scissors is not key. Looking at the person (or pet, house, scene) is crucial and getting the perspectives correct as well as the features correctly is as important as and how they combine. Please don't judge the way I explain the art, I did not mean to come off "arrogant", I was merely nervous as I had so much to say (not rehearsed) and in a few minutes. Please be kind, if you leave a comment!
The best way to practice cutting is to buy barber scissors, or any medical scissors, and to order HyGloss silhouette paper from a school supply store. Get it pre-cut as you want your artwork to be a miniature, not large, as that is the true art size. The large ones are the ones traced from the wall or painted by someone who can't cut a silhouette from sight. Use the white side of the paper to cut if you have real silhouette paper from HyGloss, as shown in the video and photo. Otherwise, tape white paper to your black paper to see what you are cutting as you work!
You can start by sketching and cutting, until you are able to figure out how to directly cut the portrait. It is normally of the profile. But for fun, I have done cut artworks of front views and front view scenes.
I got the job as a "silhouette artist" the next day after I attempted my first hand-cut silhouette. Working in a large amusement park is the best practice. I would tell people that I would cut their portrait (not their face) and if they did not like it, they did not have to buy it! Oddly, almost everyone bought it, as I was very friendly, which is also important when you work with corporations, in public events, private functions, weddings, holiday parties, or Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. I also try to flatter people, and that means leaving off some of the double chin, or making their bodice slimmer. This is called "artistic license." I also would come home and get magazines and practice cutting the faces and people out from the magazines as a way to learn to directly cut profiles and full bodies from sight.
You can always cheat by the Photoshop, or taking the profile photo and taping black paper to it, and cutting that out. It will lose details and be "less of who you are" not more, which a true silhouette should be 4 D, not 3 D, or 2 D. It should incorporate personality and feeling. The ones done from photos are taking something 2D and then altering it. This is true of the wall tracings, which require an overhead light and paper taped on the wall. You actually have to cast a shadow and then draw the shadow (ask the person to not smile as teeth do not look good in profile cut paper silhouettes). Next, you cut that out, with any scissors. This is not an accurate silhouette which is named after a French minister of finance, who loved the real silhouettes by a real silhouette artist named Augustine Edouard. He was appalled at the wall-traced ones and the ones by a physiotrace machine as in the Peale Museum. Those are simple and the elaborate ones with details are the ones you want to emulate, not by computer design as those are not in human proportion. I notice the necks and back of the heads are off with that. The art should be authentic, and you should give it a shot. If you then want to do it the other-way (photo, cutting that after pasting black paper behind it)-- go ahead. Silly silhouette thoughts to you, for sensational silhouette memories! http://www.silhouettesbycindi.com