During the Regency, Candles, the primary form of artificial light available, were not only utilitarian. They also provided a source of evening entertainment. A candle brought close to a person’s profile could cast a shadow on a piece of paper attached to the wall that might be drawn around and blacked in with lampblack or gauche resulting in a silhouette. In those days before photography, a silhouette provided a simple and inexpensive way of taking someone’s likeness. Because anyone could create a silhouette, their making became a popular party activity in the 18th and 19th century. Jane Austen did not portray this activity in her books but silhouettes of Austen family members exist. The term "silhouette" derived from the name of Etienne de Silhouette (1709-1767), a Frenchman who was a finance minister to Louis XV. Etienne de Silhouette, though not the originator of this type of tracing, became synonymous with the art form because of his ability to create elaborate pieces. The English called them "shades." Making silhouettes was a favorite pastime at the court of George III. The King loved to throw shade parties. In 1775, Mrs. Samuel Harrington invented the pantograph. This mechanical device could be used to enlarging or reduce the size of a drawing. A silhouette, normally made life size, could be reduced to a smaller size using the pantograph. These miniature silhouettes were extremely popular because they could be used in jewelry such as lockets and cameos.
How to Cut a Silhouette
- Hang a large piece of white paper on the wall of a darkened room.
- Have a person sit in front of the paper.
- Shine a desk lamp at the person to create a defined shadow on the paper.
- Have the sitter turn sideways so that the shadow is a profile. Tell him or her to sit very still.
- Use a pencil to draw an outline of the sitter's head, neck and the top of his or her shoulders.
- Use a copy machine to reduce the drawing to the size you want.
- Use a glue stick to fasten the copy to a sheet of black paper.
- Cut around the outline.
- Pull the white paper off the black one, flip the black one over and stick it on the front of a blank greeting card or on a sheet of light-colored paper.