The Whole Loaf

Friend Noir: How to Make a Personalized Silhouette

What do you get when your best friend EVER is getting married? Yeah, mixing bowls and a muffin tray aren’t going to cut it. Not even a full place setting of that lovely china they picked out. Something personal, something they will actually like to have around for its own sake and not just because someone gave it to them. And what do newlyweds love better than staring into each other’s eyes? PICTURES of themselves staring into each other’s eyes! And nothing says eternal love like a little retro glam.

Names have been smudged to protect the innocent ;)

Tuned out okay, huh? You’ll never believe it, but the hardest part was actually the calligraphy matboard! Want to try it? Here’s what you need:

  • Picture of your friend (I scored one in her Facebook album from the day they were engaged)
  • Sketchbook paper (actually, this is optional if you are hesitant about your drawing skills)
  • Tracing paper or calligraphy parchment
  • Black craft paper
  • Exacto knife or similar
  • Fancy black frame (mine came with this cool black/white mat, which I promptly messed up)
  • Additional black + white matboard frame to replace the first one (I finally found this at Michael’s for a few bucks)

So, I drew their pictures by eye then traced my drawing for the silhouette, but the shortcut version is just to print out the photograph and trace from that. Here’s what I did:

Step 1: Sketchbook in hand, pull up a photo of your pal(s) which gives you a good shot at their profile and draw what you see. Tips for selecting a good pic:

Look for one, if it’s a girl, when she’s wearing her hair up, short, or off her neck some way — especially if it’s a style she wears a lot so it will look characteristic. (I actually made mine as a composite of two photos, so I could get a better hairdo on her.) If your guy keeps his hair spiky (as my dear friend-in-law does) just shoot him now!

Most expressions will do, but try to imagine what the one you have will look like if you can’t see the person’s cheeks, eyes, or most of her mouth — you will be surprised how hard it is to convey expression from the outline of a profile alone. (That’s probably why all the old fancy ones have blank expressions.) The way you can tell my friends are smiling is, for the guy, his opened mouth (obviously) and I think also the lift of his forehead. For the gal, it’s mostly in the slight part of her lips and the angle of the eyelash. (Seriously)

If all this sounds like gobbledygook to you, just print out the pic (or take it out of its frame if you’re old-school and actually have stuff around in physical existence) and skip to step 2.

Step 2: Tracing

Trace the profile that you’ve got either from your own drawing or the original (hardcopy) photo. Tracing paper would probably do the job, but I had some Calligraphy Parchment paper on hand that was just as see-through-able but a bit thicker, which was helpful for the next phases. Make your trace as accurate as possible, since, like I said earlier, even the placment of an eyelash or the angle of the forehead can affect what people see in the expression.

Step 3: Fun with knives

Take your Exact-o knife or similar crafting knife and cut out your profiles. When it comes to those tiny little things like the curve of the eyelash and the spikes of the hair, I have no good tips besides the one I’m always chanting to my toddler: Be careful! Take your time with it. But relax, too, especially because tension in your arms will only make it easier to mess up!

Step 4: More tracing

At this point you will seriously be familiar with the shape of your friends’ profiles. Take your cut-out tracing paper and place it against a sheet of black craft paper, being careful not to move it, and trace the outline. Using pencil best as it gives you that shiny-grey line on your jet-black paper.

Actually, another time-saving trick, if you’re using a photo you have other copies of (or if you aren’t paranoid about your sketchbook like I am), is to simply cut out your profile directly from the photo/sketch, and skip the tracing paper step. But what fun would that be? It would also give you less control over the actual silhouette of the finished product (it may be useful to tweak the shapes if it turns out looking weird in silhouette), and it ups the stakes for that first cut significantly.

Step 5: The final cut

Follow the shimmery trail of pencil line on your black craft paper with your Exact-o knife, taking care around each and every hair spike (again), and Voila! You have two beautiful black silhouettes, staring lovingly into each other’s invisible eyes. Awww.

Step 6: Assembly line

Take a white piece of sketchbook or other craft paper that fits your frame (or glue it to the back of the filler picture that comes with the frame so that your paper is centered) and glue your silhouette in the center. It’s not going to take a lot of stress from the elements, sandwiched between the glass and the backing, so a dab’ll do ya!

Now, I did calligraphy on the mat frame that came with my wooden black frame (which, as mentioned above, I messed up over and over again and went through a lot of frames, before I finally figured out I could just buy the matboard part at Michael’s! grr…). But of course you could leave it as-is.

So, put your slices together, and that’s it! Turn it around and admire your handiwork. Just don’t wait, as I did, until your “one-year wedding present deadline” has almost lapsed. (But even if you do, they might just forgive you when they see it!)

Ps – And if you’re looking for some inspiration on your home decor, Apartment Therapy has an awesome post on the terrible trendiness of silhouettes!

This entry was published on July 23, 2011 at 4:22 pm. It’s filed under Frame and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

4 thoughts on “Friend Noir: How to Make a Personalized Silhouette

  1. It turned out great! Looks just like her. I’ll bet they loved it.

  2. As the receiver of this BEAUTIFUL gift, I can promise you we love it! We have it proudly on display in our new home. What a wonderful idea! Thank you Amy!

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