Monday, October 26, 2009

Sculpting Silhouette Portraits



Examiner Newspapers/Houston Community Newspapers 04.30.09

Some artists capture their subjects in pen and ink, in pastels or in clay.

Instead, silhouette artist Cindi Harwood Rose uses thin, black archival paper. Surgical scissors in hand, she deftly snips the likeness of those who sit before her even when they do so a bit intrepidly.

It typically takes less than two minutes for Rose to free-cut a paper profile, one that captures not only the nuances of an individual's facial structure but a little movement and some of the underlying personality as well.

"When you cut paper, maybe you're cutting a bit into their soul," Rose said of her gift. "You connect with people, something she clearly relishes."

Before she starts cutting paper, Rose asks her clients questions and watches their reactions. You can sense that her fingers are twitching to get started on the paper in hand. In the French tradition, she doesn't draw on the paper first.

Unlike a photograph, which reveals all and then some, a silhouette captures people "at their best, even if they're not," Rose said. "It doesn't matter if their hair is dirty or clothes a bit mismatched. Nor does it matter what's in the background or what the lighting conditions might be".

As an art form, silhouettes seem to enjoy a timeless appeal. Children’s portraits are a common subject, their sweet profiles and spit curls forever caught despite the wiggling or tantrums that might have led to the sitting. Pets, bridal couples, multi-generations and even scenes might also be rendered for posterity.

A new but old art form

Silhouettes have a long history, which Rose summarized (and an industry group called Paper Cutters expands upon on its Website:

Long before photography, silhouettes were a form of portraiture, accomplished in a variety of ways, from painting what appears in a shadow to clipping by hand and by eye.

The latter skill is just one version of paper cutting, an ancient tradition found in cultures from Asia to Europe.

From a heyday in the 18th century, the practice is waning, Rose said, in part because there are only a few dozen silhouette artists of varying technical ability in the world.

“We all know each other,” she said. Some of them Rose trained.

Learning to be a silhouette artistfirst means being an artist, she said. Then it takes patience, because it’s hard to learn, she said.

If successful, a silhouette transforms the three-dimensional subject onto a two-dimensional medium that appears three-dimensional, she said. Practice helps. About 4,000 hours, in fact.

As a teenager, Rose began snipping silhouettes at AstroWorld. Her unusual ability put her through college and enabled her to travel and meet an array of people, including celebrities. She later worked at Disney World, where she cut as many as 600 silhouettes a day.

Her reputation remains world-renown.

Rose has a degree in fine arts and journalism from University of Texas and a lifetime affinity for portrait artistry. She also works in cloth, aluminum and pottery and hopes to push the envelop of silhouette art a bit as well as see the art form thrive and even be part of a paper cutting museum some day.

The silhouette skills Rose has perfected currently support charities, including one she co-founded five years ago with husband and plastic surgeon Franklin Rose. The Rose Ribbon Foundation offers uninsured breast cancer survivors reconstructive surgery.

For information, visit

Fashion and Silhouttes by Cindi Rose at BB1 Classic

Great Charity Event at BB1 Classic. To check out more Silhouettes - Click here or for BB1 Classic Houston Fashion Boutique - Click here