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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.
SHADOW THEATER -
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/
OTHER USES -
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.
SILHOUETTE ARTISTS -
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