by Margaret Cabaniss
I made these little paper silhouettes of my nephews as a Christmas present for my sister a few years back — but it wasn’t until she asked me recently to update them (and include one of the little guy who had come along since then) that it occurred to me that they’d make a great Mother’s Day gift, too. It’s the perfect thing to give to moms (or grandmothers) who say they already have everything they want — because honestly, they always want more pictures of their darling children.
There’s a high-tech way to make silhouettes in a photo-editing program, but I like the slightly more three-dimensional, hand-cut look — and it’s still pretty simple.
What you’ll need:
- a photo of said children
- 1 sheet each of heavy black and white card stock
- a bold-colored pen
- tape and a glue stick
- a fine-tipped craft knife (and cutting mat) or very small scissors
- a frame
To start, you’ll need a photo of your child in profile from the shoulders up. This is, hands down, the trickiest part of the whole project: Trying to get very little ones to sit still and stare straight ahead and not wiggle or try to eat the camera turns out to be a bit of a thing. (Try playing a video — or holding some candy — just out of frame; they’ll be as still as statues.) You want to do this against a well-lit, light-colored background, like an empty wall — even use your dreaded flash to really get a good, high-contrast photo. Don’t worry too much about making it perfect, though: As you can see, Thomas didn’t quite get the “close your mouth — and don’t smile” idea, but it ended up adding Thomas-y character to his little silhouette.
Once you’ve snapped your photo, upload it to your computer, resize it to the final dimensions you want for your silhouette, and print out a black-and-white version on regular printer paper. This will be your pattern for cutting the final image out of the black card stock.
Next, outline the head and shoulders with a dark pen or marker to make the edges really clear, so you can easily see where to cut. The trick to silhouette-making is including enough detail so that the faces are recognizable, but not so much that you’ll be cursing all the tiny cuts you need to make later. (This is particularly true with girls’ hair: I definitely recommend pulling it back – or at least brushing it well – before taking your picture.) Remember, you’re going for stylized here, not a perfect anatomical rendering. To finish the image on the bottom, I drew a slight S curve, starting somewhere around the shoulders, from back to front.
Once your image is traced, cut it out slightly outside your tracing line. At this point, you can attach it to your piece of black card stock by either taping all the edges of your image (making sure to cover your tracing lines) or simply gluing it straight down. (But remember: If you glue the image to the card stock, you’ll have to use the back of the image for your final display — which means they’ll be facing in the opposite direction.) I’ve tried both with about equal success, but one method might work better than another for you, depending on your cutting tools; just try experimenting a bit.
For cutting out the photo, this little craft knife turned out to be perfect: The tiny blade swivels in its mount, making it much easier to trace the curves of the image. (My attempts to do this with a standard Xacto knife were…not pretty.) If you don’t have a cutting mat, a piece of cardboard or a stack of old newspapers will work, too — or just use small scissors, being careful to move slowly.
After you’ve cut out your image, mount it to your white card stock (using your glue stick or some other adhesive), frame it, and you’re done! These get even cuter with time, as the kids grow out of their younger features; I can’t look at that cowlick on a three-year-old Thomas without melting all over the place. The mother in your life will love these.
PS — Other handmade Mother’s Day gifts to try: a memory box, chocolate macaroons, and chocolate truffles – or go for broke and make them all!
Images: Margaret Cabaniss