SILHOUETTE OF A ROVING ARTIST

SILHOUETTE OF A ROVING ARTIST

Reading Time: 9 minutes

 

The quirky and delightful Charles Burns and Michael Herbert, may look as if they have just stepped out of a Dickens novel, but their sheer genius and ability to entertain adds value and variety to any special day, and can be booked for Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs or any other special celebration or event.

We recently enjoyed the two artists at our Glotime.tv celebrity lunch in December and the guests all enjoyed the delightful pair and told us it added so much to the day.

These two specialist artists have this to say about their own art form.

‘The art of cutting profile portraits with scissors is an old English craft with a fascinating history. It died out in Victorian times – after the invention of photography – and today is almost totally unknown.

Yet silhouette cutting still has much to offer. In today’s world, where technology is all, there is something captivating about such a simple art. All a silhouettist needs is paper, scissors and a quirky skill. Driven by a belief in the future of his art, Charles Burns – The Roving Artist – has taken this lost craft and re-invented it for the twenty-first century. Teaming up with fellow silhouettists, Michael Herbert and others, he has created a flexible team of artists working at events all over the UK and abroad.

The artists combine traditional skill with modern, stylish presentation. Whether you need a single silhouette cutter for a wedding, or a team of artists to make 500 silhouettes at a gala dinner, The Roving Artist can provide.

“Must a silhouette always be in profile? What happens if you cut me face
on?”

For years, like most silhouette artists, I tended to avoid these questions.

“It won’t look like you” I’d say, “all you’ll get is a round shape with
two ears sticking out!”

This is true. My fellow American silhouettists refer to such cuttings,
rather disparagingly, as “lollipops”.  For people with long hair,
covering their ears and neck, the prospect is even more uncertain.  One
may as well cut out a sack of potatoes!

Generations of silhouette artists have always cut their portraits in
profile. Looking through my collection of antique silhouettes, I’ve
never seen one not in profile. To a silhouettist, this feels “just the
way things are”. There’s something about the human profile which allows
us to bring out the likeness; nothing else really works.

Nevertheless, graphic designers use silhouettes very differently. From
the iconic iPod adverts of the 2000s to ubiquitous corporate clip art,
silhouettes are seen in a wide variety of poses and from many points of
view. Some years ago, being me, I began to ask: “could a silhouettist
work this way too?”

Working at events offers me some wonderful freedoms. You may have heard
me say that my studio is wherever I happen to be that day. I’m fond of
saying it! You see, when a question like this pops us, I’m free
to experiment. Nobody really minds if one or two silhouettes go wrong,
it just becomes part of the fun. So, one Christmas season, I decided
that next time somebody asked “what happens if you cut me face on?” I
would give it a go.

As predicted, I quickly ran into problems. Graphic designers have time
on their side. They can draw out their designs and spend time refining
and correcting them. I literally just cut and hope! My most successful
cuttings were bald men with white shirts. By cutting in the collar and
tie I discovered I could create the shape of the head, and — yes, to my
surprise — there was a likeness there. Attractive young women with long
hair, on the other hand, really did come out like a sack of potatoes!

I decided to put the project on the back burner.

Then, last October I was booked to create reportage silhouettes during
an interview in Ghent, Belgium. Reportage is when I cut silhouettes to
illustrate a meeting or event — in this case for a magazine
article — rather than to provide entertainment. The interviewee was a
famous Belgian tax inspector, well known for his black-and-white views
on tax law (hence the silhouette theme). The interview was scheduled to
last for 40 minutes.  I began by creating silhouettes of
both interviewer and interviewee, and then went on to create some scenes
in profile. These included the table, books, and cups of coffee between
them. This was quite complex and (for me) time-consuming work with a lot
of detail and some preliminary sketching required. Once my work was done
it became apparent that the interview was going to overrun.
It occurred to me I could use the extra time to experiment with head-on
silhouettes. I created a few of these, freehand, quite fast.

Sifting through the cuttings afterwards it became clear — as is so often
the case — that I’d done my best work in the closing minutes of the
interview. By then I was working at high speed and was not really
thinking about what I was doing. I was just playing! One of these
cuttings became a full-page spread in the magazine. The interviewer has
his back to us, while the tax collector is silhouetted face on. A large
area of black paper became a backdrop for text in white. The
commissioning editor was really enthusiastic about this cutting; he felt
I had discovered a truly French, comic-book style!

After the experience, I realised that reportage may be a way forward.
Eager to explore the style further, I decided to seek the input of some
other silhouettists. So, just over a week ago, I hosted a not-in-profile
Burns Night party.

Being a Burns, Burns Night has become a big thing in my life. Every year
I invite those silhouettists I work with regularly, plus a few other
artistic friends, to a dinner in Mays Barn (my studio in Emmer Green).
My idea is some sort of post-Xmas / Burns night / Roving-Artist company
party. We don’t really follow the Burns-night protocol (apart from me
getting to slice a haggis in half with a sword!) Each year, I pose to
the assembled artists a different artistic question. Last week, I asked
them to bring their scissors, so we could explore these not-in-profile
profiles together.

 

What of the future? As entertainment — although it really amused a
troupe of silhouettists – I’m not sure the idea works. The results are
just too uncertain. As illustration or reportage, however, it certainly
does. I really enjoy reportage work, and would love to do more of it.

 

You can find more information and how to book at http://www.roving-artist.com/

Download PDF Document here: roving_artist-publicity

 

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