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Victorian Silhouette Self-Portrait

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The finished portrait. Photos by Billy Crum. The finished portrait. Photos by Billy Crum.

The classic Victorian silhouette portrait has infiltrated gothic fashion in a number of ways. Paintings, pendants, and even corsets have been made with that iconic black side profile.

There’s something alluring about even a generic silhouette, but portraits are supposed to preserve the image of a specific person. So bring these artistic shadows back to their roots by making your own custom silhouette to use in a variety of projects.

The most important part of making a silhouette is having a good photo to base it on. You want crisp lines and a lot of contrast to be able to pick out all the subtle traits of the profile. Try to find a solid backdrop to take the photo against, like a blank wall. Too many objects in the background will make it harder to pick out facial features, but so will everything running together. If your skin tone is darker, go for a light background and vice versa.

Supplies: Digital camera, Printer, Cardstock, Black marker, Black paint, Paintbrush, Tape, Scissors, Picture frame

Although your face will be blacked out, your expression still matters. Smiling, for instance, will give the outlines of your lips a slightly different shape than frowning. Accessories and hairstyles will also change the shape of your silhouette. Putting long hair up in a bun reveals the shape of the back of the head and the neck. Adding a top hat creates a different mood than a bare head. Also think about whether you want your profile facing left or right. Take several different photos in various styles before deciding which one to work from.

Once you’ve decided what photograph you want to work from, upload it to your computer and print it out on something sturdy like cardstock. Standard printer size works perfect for a framed portrait, but there are other projects you can use your silhouette for. If you want to paint the inside of a locket, shrink your photo down to size. If you want something poster-size, make it bigger. There are many programs that will break a large image apart to be printed in sections by a standard home printer. Or if you’re not very tech-savvy, you can take your photo to a print shop like Kinkos and they can take care of the resizing for you.

Then sit down with your image and a black marker – the finer the tip, the better – and trace the outline of your profile. This gives you a chance to fine-tune the profile before you create your stencil. You can stay very close to the original, or you can exaggerate certain features to give it an artistic flare. Some artists have even created skeleton versions of the Victorian silhouette, and you can use your printed-out photo as a template to sketch a skeletal version of your profile if you like things extra-spooky. Cut out your finalized design, and you now have a custom stencil to use to make your own silhouette.

Victorian Silhouette Self-Portrait

To simulate those expensive silhouette wall decals, just tape your stencil to the wall and apply an even coat of black paint. If you want the silhouette to be flush with your wall, use the same kind of paint used to paint your walls. This is usually latex based. For a slightly raised edge, use acrylic. Keep in mind that brush strokes are easier to see in acrylic paint, whereas latex paint tends to smooth out more. Latex is also a bit runnier, so don’t glob it on or you’ll get black streaks everywhere. Remove the stencil before the paint fully dries, so that you don’t accidentally peel the paint off with it.

When everything is dry, hang an empty frame around the portrait for a quirky fine-art feel. If you live in an apartment, or just don’t feel comfortable painting on your walls, you can simulate the look by painting a blank canvas the same color as your wall, and then painting the silhouette on that. And just like adding a slim frame to the wall helps the art to pop out, adding a chunky frame to the canvas will help hide the way the canvas sticks out from the wall.

Don’t feel like you have to stick with the traditional black on white. Inverting the colors keeps the classy black but adds a new twist. Or try neon green on black, pink on black, or any of your favorite colors. Using your wall paint color as the silhouette color on a black background creates a cut-out feel. If you’re painting directly on the wall, use the empty frame as a stencil to define your background area. Paint the frame to match the accent color if you like. This painting represents you, so personalize it as much as you want.

These portraits make great gifts. You can arrange them together on a wall to create a neo-Victorian family tree. Or try making a new one each year to see how you’ve changed. Being goth is all about wild self-expression, and now you have one more way to do that, so go get creative.

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Featured writer

Cara Shahin

Cara Shahin

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gothic, goth, victorian silhouette, diy victorian silhouette self portrait, how to make victorian silhouette self portrait, making a silhouette