PA­PER POR­TRAITS

PUT ASIDE YOUR PHONE CAM­ERA AND EM­BRACE THE VIC­TO­RIAN CRAZE FOR MAK­ING CUT- PA­PER SIL­HOU­ETTES

The Simple Things - - NEST - Project: ROMA MCLAUGH­LIN

Most fam­ily pic­tures these days are snapped on a phone – very oc­ca­sion­ally paus­ing to get ev­ery­one to pose nicely. Cap­tur­ing these mo­ments was a lot trick­ier be­fore pho­tog­ra­phy, es­pe­cially if you didn’t have the wal­let to get your por­trait painted.

No won­der then, that cut-pa­per­sil­hou­ette-mak­ing took off in the mid 18th cen­tury. Much more ac­ces­si­ble, these scenes of a sin­gle colour ( but usu­ally black) could be made at home and, even with­out sur­face de­tail, con­vey both the like­ness and per­son­al­ity of a por­trait sub­ject or group.

This project en­cour­ages you to put one of your por­traits to pa­per. You’ll be cut­ting it out, so keep the com­plex­ity of the im­age you pick in line with your skills (and take a look at our is­sue 54, for more pa­per-cut­ting tips). For in­spi­ra­tion, you may want to look up the painstak­ing work of Laura Muir Macken­zie in the V& A’s col­lec­tion (col­lec­tions.vam.ac.uk). The daugh­ter of a baronet, she was also a ta­lented cut­ter of pa­per sil­hou­ettes, show­ing do­mes­tic scenes, such as ba­bies be­ing bathed, chil­dren play­ing and mem­bers of her fam­ily hav­ing a game of chess.

Mak­ing sil­hou­ettes can be­come ad­dic­tive – just mind you don’t fol­low the ex­am­ple of one Gal­lic politi­cian: the word ac­tu­ally comes from French min­is­ter, Eti­enne de Sil­hou­ette, who be­came no­to­ri­ous for wast­ing his time on the hobby.

1 Find a fam­ily pho­to­graph in which in­di­vid­u­als or a group are in sil­hou­ette, with their out­lines clearly vis­i­ble (pho­tos taken against a wall or plain back­ground work best) – ide­ally, in­di­vid­ual sil­hou­ettes would just join or over­lap within a group com­po­si­tion, so they re­main recog­nis­able. Pho­to­copy and en­large the photo if nec­es­sary to fit A4 size and then trace the rel­e­vant out­line onto an A4 sheet of copy pa­per to make a tem­plate.

2 Place the tem­plate over your sheet of black pa­per and at­tach both to your cut­ting mat with a piece of sticky tape placed over the cor­ners (take care not to place tape over the im­age area).

3 Start cut­ting away the white, neg­a­tive shapes with a scalpel — be­gin with the small­est ar­eas, to help pre­vent your pa­per from tear­ing. You’ll be cut­ting both the tem­plate sheet and black pa­per si­mul­ta­ne­ously. An­chor the cut­ting mat with one hand, and work with the blade in your other, hold­ing it ver­ti­cally, like a pen­cil, for greater pre­ci­sion. It will help you to keep the blade straight if you move the whole mat around while cut­ting shapes.

4 Con­tinue to work un­til all of the white pa­per is cut away, us­ing a metal ruler with your scalpel for any straight lines.

5 Care­fully re­move your tem­plate and fin­ished pa­per­cut from the cut­ting mat and sep­a­rate the two.

6 Fix­ing mis­takes is not im­pos­si­ble. If you’ve cut too much or too far, you can mend the area from the back. Sim­ply dot glue onto the pa­per­cut sur­face us­ing a tooth­pick or cock­tail stick, then ‘patch’ the area us­ing a tiny scrap of black pa­per.

7 Place the fin­ished sil­hou­ette cen­trally onto your A4 white back­ground pa­per sheet and mark its po­si­tion lightly with pen­cil dots (these can be erased later).

8 Turn the sil­hou­ette over and, again us­ing PVA glue and a tooth­pick or cock­tail stick, dot glue onto the re­verse (you don’t need to cover the sur­face with glue — this should be enough). Po­si­tion the sil­hou­ette, right side up, in line with your pre­vi­ous pen­cil marks, and smooth down onto the back­ing sheet. Leave to dry com­pletely.

9 You can now frame your piece. Use a flat frame and sand­wich the sil­hou­ette be­tween glass and back­ing.

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