Monday, May 17, 2010

How to Make a Silhouette Portrait Pendant

By on Monday, May 17, 2010 4 Comments

Centuries ago, before photography was invented, only very wealthy people could have their portraits or sculptures done. The less fortunate had to rely on black paper silhouette portraits for images of their loved ones.

Silhouette and Script pendant tutorial by Trey and Lucy

Silhouette portraits were named after the 18th century French finance minister, Étienne de Silhouette who liked making cut paper portraits when he wasn`t dealing with France`s terrible money problems of the time.

Archaeological finds of old Roman coins and Greek artifacts from thousands of years ago sometimes show profile images - the earliest beginnings of silhouette portraits.  However, their heyday and extreme popularity came much later during the 18th century. The art form is still practiced today with jewelry as one of the end results.

Using just scissors
The traditional way of cutting paper silhouette is free hand with just scissors and sheer skill. These incredible artists used to ply their talent in large cities, at fairs and markets, entertaining potential customers in the process.

Black paper was actually not available until about the late1820's, so the paper silhouette had to be blackened with charcoal etc. The alternative method was to discard the actual cut out. The empty space was filled with black paper or silk.

A modern day silhouette artist is Kathryn Flocken. Watch her video showing her in action. She is so fast she can cut 100 portrait silhouettes in 4 hours. This works out to be 2.4 minutes for each! She also does a wedding service where she can create a book of all the guests pictures by the end of the reception!

Using Shadows
According to, 18th century English silhouette portraits were created from outlines of life sized shadows of subjects. Candles were the primary light source. The outlines were then made smaller using a special hinged reducing instrument (pantograph) and transferred on paper, plaster, ivory and glass.

The device made possible miniature silhouettes for cameos and lockets.  Ivory was a favorite medium for jewelry. The artists were so good at adding further embellishments with very fine brushes as shown on the left (click for picture source and excellent historical reference).

We can easily use this method today. Incidentally, it is a wonderful fun craft for children as you can see from the Fun Learning Activities for Children's silhouette portrait tutorial. Trace the outline and then use a photocopier's reducing function to get smaller pictures!

Using Photos
Most of us won't have the drawing with scissors skill but it is easy enough to do with a photo and Photoshop to convert the profile to a completely black one.Trey and Lucy's tutorial for the silhouette and scrip pendant necklace above was a layered technique where the portrait was added to stamped scripts. The double glass tile pendant was made using the popular glass tile method (see past tutorial post here).

For a more thorough step-by-step Photoshop Elements instructions check out the tutorial by More Ways to Waste Time (a delightful name for a blog!).  As you can see, silhouettes are not limited to human portraits!

Don't have Photoshop?  Try Becky Kazana of The Fab Miss B's tutorial which uses a simple but clever tracing technique over a profile photograph to get the silhouettes. As mentioned before, shrink down the preliminary trace with the photocopier. This is my favorite method because of its ease.

You can also up the ante and do internal cut-outs of photo print outs like the how-to video by HayaAinu. She uses a fine craft cutting knife.

Ornamentea has an excellent video tutorial showing how a silhouette picture can be inserted into a pendant frame and covered with epoxy resin.

Related Posts
Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
Jewelry Making Tips - Jewelry Business Tips 



  1. Neat post. I didn't know that the term "silhouette" was named after someone. I learn a lot from this blog! Thanks.

  2. Fascinating stuff! I've always liked the black silhouette pictures.

  3. Very informative! We did the shadow method back when I was in school. All class mates had their shadows cut out and pinned it to the wall. That was a fun decoration for our classroom.

  4. It is hard to believe the amount of detail that the silhouette artist is able to achieve and done so quickly! Kathryn Flocken has a lot of talent and some very fast scissors. I agree with her view point that the black and white silhouette is very nostalgic and has a wonderful old-fashioned appeal to it. Timeless art!