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Silhouettes: Cherished Shadow Art

By Kelly Twedell

Silhouettes are a timeless art form that have been gracing the walls of homes across the world since the mid-18th century. One silhouette artist who spent years working on Main Street U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom theme park in Walt Disney World is now touring the United States sharing his talents.

Last month, artist Keith Donaldson stopped at Hay Street boutique So Chic Bebe for a full day of appointments. One local family’s seven children sat for Donaldson, which included a set of triplets! Two teenagers from Fayetteville Christian School, Luke, 15 and Lauren, 14 appeased their mom, Kristen Walton, for the quick sitting. “My husband had them done together when they were younger, around ages 5 and 6, but I want something current with them in separate frames,” explained Kristen.

Donaldson said that 80 percent of his business is children. Though it can be a challenge getting little ones to sit still with good posture, he works swiftly. He estimates that each silhouette cutting takes between one and two minutes to complete. A full day is very busy and consists of 25 to 40 appointments.

“The secret is having good entertainment and posing the children right,” said Donaldson confidently. “I get eye level with the children, unlike other artists.”

The artist has been in this line of work, which he calls “cutting professionally” since 2003. As a child, Donaldson was considered a prodigy at drawing, and as he grew, so did his talent. As an art student he took formal classes for comic book art, anatomy and figure drawing. He landed the job at Disney after showing them his work.

The cutting of silhouettes began in the late 1700s. The French coined the term after Étienne de Silhouette, a French finance minister who was despised for imposing economic demands during a bleak economy. He was not as popular as the artwork he inspired! Prior to the advent of photography, silhouette profiles cut from black card stock were the cheapest way of recording a person’s appearance.

Donaldson estimated less than 50 known artists in the country are creating silhouettes. He added, “maybe only 20” are truly accurate. The artist conveyed that he finds silhouettes tend to be more popular in the South and along the East Coast. “I guarantee that it will look like the person,” he said confidently. “It’s the subtleties of each profile, like with twins that really make a difference.”

Every artist has specialized tools and Donaldson prefers to use surgical scissors shipped from Germany. The French imported silhouette paper he uses is thinner and easier to cut the tiny details needed for his creations. He also mounts the finished product on a custom matte board and frame exclusively from Disney.

From Main Street U.S.A. to our Hay Street, it was truly amazing to watch Donaldson cut the contours from the paper and match them up perfectly to the subject.

Didn’t have a chance to make an appointment in June? Upload your profile photos at www.ICutYouOut.com or email SilhouettesInASnap@yahoo.com for your order.