Shadow Portraits: How to Make a Beautiful Silhouette Drawing

Silhouette portraits
@baileyvesper1999 / Twenty20 

Looking for beautiful, budget-friendly nursery decor? If you can cut and paste, you can easily create a sweet and sophisticated silhouette drawing to hang on your nursery wall.

This age-old art form is making a modern comeback with bold new patterns and bright colors. And with today’s technology on your side, getting the perfect portrait couldn’t be easier! Capture those gorgeous curls and trademark toddler pout, or turn the spotlight on baby’s favorite subject: Mom and Dad!

You can even make shadow portraits of animals and other images! It’s simple and totally chic.

Ready to get crafting?

Whether you choose to go the traditional route with a classic hand-drawn portrait or prefer the modern shoot-and-print method, we’re here to help you every step of the way. Just follow these simple directions, and you’ll be sure to end up with a treasure you and your little one will appreciate for years to come!

How to Make a Traditional Silhouette Drawing

Have a steady hand? Create a classic hand-drawn portrait with this time-honored technique.

Supplies Needed:

  • A large sheet of white paper
  • A sheet of black or brightly colored paper
  • A second sheet of paper or cardstock in a different color
  • Scotch tape
  • A pencil
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • A frame

Directions:

  1. Tape a large sheet of white paper on the wall.
  2. Have your subject sit facing sideways on a stool - or any other surface with a low back that will not interfere with your drawing.
  1. Using a strong, easily manipulated light source, like a desk lamp, position your subject so that their profile (including a portion of their neck and perhaps even their shoulders) creates a shadow on the paper. Be sure to leave ample white space at the top, bottom and around the sides.
  2. Using a soft pencil, trace the outline of the shadow onto the paper. Don’t stress the details. The more you fuss over the drawing, the more likely your subject will move. You can always employ a little artistic license to clean up the details later.
  1. Remove the paper from the wall. Following your pencil line, use scissors to cut out your subject’s profile, creating a template for your silhouette.
  2. Using your template, trace the silhouette onto solid, black paper or card stock.
  3. Carefully cut around your drawing, removing the paper from around the outside of the silhouette.
  4. Glue your finished silhouette to white paper and frame.

How To Create A Silhouette Portrait from a Photo

Tracing a live subject can be difficult, especially when that subject is a toddler on the go! Need a faster, easier way to get the job done? Trade in your pencil for a camera, and create this simple, print-and-paint portrait.

Supplies Needed:

  • A digital camera
  • White cardstock
  • Scissors
  • Matte paint
  • A foam paintbrush
  • A large sheet of paper or cardstock
  •  Glue
  • A frame

Directions:

  1. Choose a simple backdrop. White walls work best, but a dark wall can also work well as long as the color contrasts with your subject’s skin and hair.
  2. Have your subject stand facing the opposite direction you would like your silhouette portrait to face.
  3. Take a close-up picture of your subject. (Their profile should take up most of the frame.) Be sure to take the picture straight across and from your subject’s level to avoid any distortions.
  1. Upload your photo, and use your favorite editing software to make it the appropriate size for your frame.
  2. Print your picture in black and white onto a plain piece of white cardstock. Don’t worry about the quality of the photo too much. Just make sure you can clearly distinguish your subject’s features.
  3. Using scissors, carefully cut away the background, taking extra care around the facial features.
  4. Flip your photo over. You should now have a white silhouette.
  5. Using the foam brush, carefully paint your silhouette in the color of your choice. You may need to use several layers of paint to cover all traces of white.
  6. Dry and mount your painted silhouette to a cardstock backing using clear-drying, acid-free glue. Frame.

Helpful Tips:

  • If your subject has long hair, it’s a good idea to put it up. Choose a simple hairstyle with little movement, such as a ponytail or bun.

  • No one said your subjects had to be human! You can also use shapes and photos you find online to create shadow portraits. Look for images with clear lines and recognizable shapes. Size and print your image, and then follow steps 5-9.

  • Don’t be afraid to break tradition! Try using a bright and colorful shade to create your silhouette, or consider replacing a white paper backing with a pretty piece of patterned cardstock. You can even use fabric to cover your creation!

For more fun and easy, DIY nursery art ideas, check out these 10 creative nursery projects.