Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


by Henry Lawrence Oakley
Silhouettes harken back to the art of Ancient Egypt and Greece, as images painted on tomb walls or pottery.  What today are considered to be traditional profile silhouettes, painted or cut from black paper, were first used in 18th Century portraiture, before the invention of the camera - which led to the end of the silhouette's widespread use for portraits.  But if you've ever been to Main Street, Disneyland, you may have noticed a shop where artists quickly hand-cut portraits in profile. I'm not getting paid to promote Disney, but their interesting and informative (1-minute long) video about this studio and silhouette portraits is worth watching. 

by Margaret Chute
Like the quick "click" of a camera shot, or children playing freeze tag, a silhouette captures the image of a moment in time we might otherwise have missed or forgotten. This art makes us stop and admire the lines and curves of the seemingly back-lit, darkened subjects of the scene. Because silhouettes communicate the whimsy and fleeting nature of childhood, I think they are wonderfully employed as illustrations for children's literature -- be it poetry, fantasy, or just a simple story. 

Hans Christian Andersen would often accompany his public story-telling with impromptu designs and small scenes, as he cut them out by hand from paper. Though not specifically silhouette portraits, they were called "paper cuts".

by Beth Wagner Brust
The Amazing Paper Cuttings of Hans Christian Andersen

Many countries, including China and Turkey, have a history of paper-cutting art.  The French used the term silhouette, after a man by the name of Eteinne de Silhouette, whose very affordable hobby was making cut-out portraits in the profile style; but in Germany, this art was called schernschnitte, which means "scissor cut". 

Starting in the late 19th and early 20th century, some illustrators began using this paper cutting technique for books. Silhouette pictures could easily be printed by blocks that were cheaper to produce and lasted longer than detailed black and white hand drawn illustrations.  Arthur Rackham was one of the earliest illustrators who used silhouette scenes in several of his books.

Modern day children's book illustrators who use paper cuts include DAVID WISNIEWSKIJAN PIENKOWSKI, CLAY RICE, and NIKKI McCLURE.  (Click on each name to read about their art and books).

Nikki McClure, from The Great Chicken Escape

Clay Rice, The Lonely Shadow
David Wisniewski, The Warrior and the Wise Man
Jan Pienkowski,  from The Thousand Nights and One Night

Source links for more information:
Portrait Silhouettes
History of Paper Cutters
Charles Burns Silhouette Parlour


  1. There is something very magical about silhouettes - it's as if they capture the essence of the story somehow.

  2. PS I've just put a link to your blog on my Hildaland blog!

  3. Thank you, Ruth. I'll check out your blog! (and books)

  4. thanks for visiting my blog and telling me about this!
    I think papercutting is magical!! just love it!
    I will now visit the links you recommanded!

  5. Anna - Thanks! And I love the Alice in Wonderland silhouette you posted!

  6. Saw your link on Anna's blog and this is lovely.

  7. I particularly love Jan Pienkowski's work, so detailed.

  8. Yes - his Fairy Tales book is right up your alley!