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The Subtle Art Of Silhouette


The art of silhouette is the creation of subtle shape. The deliberate absence of detail leaves space for imagination. Silhouettes can be dramatic or theatrical. Mostly they evoke emotion even though features and sometimes backgrounds are missing. A well composed silhouette sets a mood. It is an abstract symbol that is silent but strong. Some silhouettes are immediately recognizable. Others are just shapes that draw out the aesthetic in us. Silhouettes have style, light and shadow. They are minimalistic suggestion.



The art of silhouette cutting had its start in 1700's Europe. Silhouette artists were hired by royalty in France to cut out free-hand profiles of the lords and ladies in all their finery. They were expected to capture the elaborate wigs and fashion styles the aristocrats enjoyed.

But while the elite lived well, the people of France were suffering from merciless tax policies imposed by the Finance Minister of France, Etienne de Silhouette. He seemed oblivious to the despair of the French citizens caused by his taxes. He instead spent most of his time cutting out paper profiles which was a fad at that time. In protest, people would dress in black to taunt him and his hobby. They would say "I am dressing a la Silhouette because I am too poor to wear color". The name stuck but the negative connotation did not.


Traditionally, silhouette portraits are created by cutting lightweight black cardboard and mounting it on a light background. But silhouettes can also be painted or drawn. Many silhouette artists both past and present adhere to the portrait silhouette using the natural lines and bony structure of facial features as inspiration. Since silhouette is shadow some artists, notably Hans Christian Andersen, would cut small scenes and mount them on a contrasting background. These might be used for greeting cards or book illustrations. In paintings, the artist uses minimal brush strokes to give the work "implicit meaning" often using silhouette. This can been seen in Chinese landscape art where trees are not fully developed yet are important to the meaning and atmosphere of the scene.


Silhouette in photography is meant to convey the mystery and drama in life. It places the subject in front of a lighted background causing it to appear as a dark outline. The setting sun is usually used for this purpose but photographers also employ artificial lighting to create the same effect. Cityscapes in silhouette are particularly striking. Photographers catch moments in time and the artistic result of a silhouette photo often is mood-setting and leaves room for the viewer's imagination.


Silhouettes in movies have been used since the day of silent films. Lotte Reiniger is credited with pioneering the use of silhouette in film as far back as 1919. Many movies have taken advantage of the dramatic effects of silhouette including the opening sequences in the James Bond films. At the bottom of the screen in the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 , three characters in silhouette can be seen watching the show. Most recognizable and beloved is the the movie image of Alfred Hitchcock stepping into his own silhouetted profile.


Also called shadow play or shadow puppetry, shadow theater is an ancient form of entertainment. It had its start in China during the Han Dynasty. Opaque figures would be placed against an illuminated background to create a moving silhouette. Since that time many countries have adapted this story-telling technique and honed it into an art. Right now there are over 20 countries with professional shadow show troupes. The video below is a wonderful example of modern shadow theater. If you would like to try hand shadow puppetry check out this link - http://www.shadow-puppets.com/


FASHION - Silhouettes are frequently used in the fashion and fitness graphics we still see today. The word "silhouette" indicates the outline or form of the human body and is used in advertising.

MILITARY - The military uses silhouettes of aircraft, ships and tanks as a learning and recognition tool.

TRANSPORTATION - Many street and traffic signs are in silhouette.


AUGUSTE EDOUART - Auguste Edouart was born in Paris but left for London in 1814 where he eventually established himself as a renowned silhouette portrait artist. His specialty was cutting full-length likenesses in profile. He produced over five thousand silhouette portraits most notibly that of Victor Hugo. His original work today is a popular and expensive find at auction.

CINDI ROSE - Cindi Rose is considered one of the premier silhouette artists in the world today. A native of Houston, Texas she has cut portraits of many celebrities including Sammy Davis, Elvis, Liberace, Queen Elizabeth, Barbara Bush and Tony Bennett. She helped establish the Rose Ribbon Foundation through which she creates "Silhouettes for Survivors" to raise money for uninsured breat cancer survivors. You can read about her here - http://www.silhouettesbycindi.com/

KARL JOHNSON - Karl Johnson can only see out of one eye. Because of this he was forced to calculate the distance and shape of an object by its shadow. His unique view led him to much success as a silhouette artist. Many Hollywood actors have commissioned Johnson's work and his silhouettes have been featured in several major publications. He is known as a master scissor artist. Here's a link to his website - http://www.cutarts.com/#scissorartist

JOYCE YARBROUGH - Joyce Yarbrough has been known as The Silhouette Lady from St. Louis for over twenty years. She cuts her silhouettes freehand without a drawing to base it on. Her favorite subjects are people and she considers her work a character study. She worries that silhouette art is becoming a lost art and does her best to preserve it. Yarbrough worked for Hallmark Cards after graduating from college. http://joyceayarbrough.com/

These are just a sampling of the talented silhouette artists around the world.

You can read about more craft history here - http://hubpages.com/_36otspfnata5l/hub/The-Lost-Art-Of-Tatting

And here - http://hubpages.com/_36otspfnata5l/hub/The-Old-Fashioned-Art-Of-Cameo-Carving


Lane Llewellyn on October 25, 2011:

cindi Harwood Rose just did sihouettes for the Daughters of the American Revolution Alexander Love chapter, she expounded on the history, and C. Harwood Rose showed us that the most skilled silhouette artists can cut out details with scissors, the ones solid black are for less skilled artists, or those that trace the shadow from the wall, and that is not a real sihouette. Rose put details in the work that must be mastered by a few. I saw Cindi Rose, silhouettest named as an American Hero in the American Profile Magazine for her donations from roseribbon.org for cancer survivors, she calls that silhoeuttes for survivors.

Lana Llewellyn on June 27, 2011:

There is a definate difference in the styles of these artist, you mentioned. I think both Jayce Riceman and Cindi Rose get the best likeness, their silhouette work does not look like photoshop, they have all those cool cut-outs inside, which looks really hard.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on June 26, 2011:

Thanks - JMAW.

Marilyn - Yes, it's natural talent for sure. Thanks for commenting on my Hub.

Marilyn Datz on June 26, 2011:

I knew Cindi Harwood (now Rose) in Sunday School. At six, she was sketching all the students in the class,and the teachers. Later, she would just sit and cut out animals, and shapes. Her silhouette talent is natural. She has done sihouettes of me, my children, and my friends and their children, they are all different, and perfect.

JMAW from Hawaii on May 21, 2011:

It's Hubs like this that is making HubPages my go-to place for information instead of Wikipedia. Unique and awesome!

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on April 14, 2011:

The Jet - you are welcome - thanks for reading.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on April 14, 2011:

Thanks, Joy - I'm glad you enjoyed.

The Jet from The Bay on April 14, 2011:

This was pretty cool. Thanks!

Joy56 on April 14, 2011:

I so enjoyed this hub and the videos. voted up

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on March 29, 2011:

James - Nice to see you - glad you enjoyed.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on March 29, 2011:

Wayne - I agree. It is an awesome art. Thanks for reading.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on March 29, 2011:

Thanks, Michael Ray.

fucsia on March 29, 2011:

This is a very interesting and creative Hub. I like it very much!

James A Watkins from Chicago on March 24, 2011:

I loved your article. I was most astounded to find that "Silhouette" was the name of a person! Who knew? Thak you for a good read. Good stuff. Well written.

Wayne Brown from Texas on March 10, 2011:

For me...this is one is one artform that is unique. When it is done well, it brings out the contrast between the lines and the spaces in our life in black and white. The less linear they are, the more intriguing. As difficult as it is to make a great photograph, an impressive silhousette is all the more awesome. Thanks much for sharing information on this wonderful art! WB

Michael Ray King from Palm Coast, Florida on February 21, 2011:

What a great Hub!

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on February 21, 2011:

Hi Wayne - Great to see you here. I look forward to your silhouette Hub. Cheers!

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on February 21, 2011:

Docmo - Thank you so much for your kind words.

Wayne Tully from Hull City United Kingdom on February 21, 2011:

Silhouettes are great to do, not done one in awhile, but I certainly like casting shadows on the wall and making or even drawing something out of it and blocking in all of the blackness and leaving the white on the paper....must do this as a hubpage! cheers now!

Mohan Kumar from UK on February 19, 2011:

This is an absolutely brilliant hub on the art of silhouette. I was fascinated by the word and the art when I was very little and that fascination continues even now. I am delighted to have stumbled upon this comprehensive discourse on the art form. two thumbs up!

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on February 18, 2011:

Dolores - Thanks.

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on February 16, 2011:

Wow, suzie, this one is superb! I had never heard of the story and background of the word silhouette! I've been trying to understand some costume history and found that it all boils down to the silhouette - what describes the shape they were striving for. Very cool. Voted up and Stumbled.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on February 16, 2011:

Saddlerider - Good to see you. I became fascinated with the shadow theater in my research. It really is a lovely art form. Thanks.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on February 16, 2011:

Peter - Glad you could stop by.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on February 16, 2011:

PR - Thank you. It's great to have silhouettes of your kids. They become family treasures.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on February 16, 2011:

Pras - Always great to see you. Thanks for reading.

saddlerider1 on February 14, 2011:

Thank you for this very well constructed hub on the art of Silhouette. It's and interesting art form and lovely to see and work with. My partner is a Photo shop Expert and has used this art in some of her pieces.

I have always enjoyed them, like your first video on top of the cowboy and his horses silhouetted against the beautiful background.

Peter Owen from West Hempstead, NY on February 14, 2011:

great post, never thought of this

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on February 13, 2011:

GarnetBird - Thank you so much for your kind words.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on February 12, 2011:

Drbj - It's always great to see you.

PR Morgan from Sarasota Florida on February 12, 2011:

I remember getting silhouettes done in grade school. I may try to do some of my kids...thanks for the info! You have written an excellent hub!

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on February 12, 2011:

Genna - thanks.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on February 11, 2011:

I love art very much and I found this through your hub. Good work, Suzzane. Thanks for writing this. I always learn something new from you. Take care!


suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on February 10, 2011:

Darlene - Peace and love to you also, my friend. Thanks for visiting my Hub.

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on February 10, 2011:

I love silhouettes - they are just so totally cool but then I love black and white photos sometimes more than color....great piece, SuzieCat!

Gloria Siess from Wrightwood, California on February 10, 2011:

This is simply one of the most unique and excellent Hubs I've ever read on this site/A+++!It makes me want to paint again--I used to teach art to children off and on and this makes me itch to do something creative.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on February 10, 2011:

This is marvelous! The silhouettes in photography photo is is just breathtaking. Well done!

drbj and sherry from south Florida on February 09, 2011:

What a fascinating subject, suziecat, and what a fascinating hub about silhouettes. Loved the videos, too. Now I am no longer silhouette-challenged. :)

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on February 09, 2011:

Dahoglund - They really are everywhere - we just don't always notice. Thanks for reading.

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on February 09, 2011:

Diamond - And I'll bet she treasures it. Thanks for stopping by.

Darlene Sabella from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ... on February 09, 2011:

My Dear Suzie, I love this kind of art, this say all you need to know, it's powerful and fun...love this hub rate you up peace & love darski

suziecat7 (author) from Asheville, NC on February 09, 2011:

Will - I think silhouettes are beautiful. They're personal and unique. Thanks for reading.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on February 09, 2011:

I am glad you brought this to my attention. I know I have seen them all my life but did not pay much attention. Now I will.

Bob Diamond RPh from Charlotte, NC USA on February 09, 2011:

My mom still has one of me in grade school.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on February 09, 2011:

Many years ago, my mother had a silhouette portrait done of my baby sister who was about three at the time. Mom is gone now, but that portrait still hangs on my sister's wall.

Great Hub!

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