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Silhouettes are a type of shadow picture. They have been made for centuries and became very popular during the life time of George Washington. Before cameras which make photographs were invented, the only way you could have a picture of a person was to have a painting or sketch made of that person. If you weren't able to paint a portrait yourself or unable to pay for an expensive portrait to be made, you could have a cheaper version made for you, namely a silhouette. A silhouette traced the outline of a person's profile (side view). Though it didn't show you the color of a person's hair or eyes, it did give you a reminder of how the shape of the person's face appeared. Since silhouettes required little skill as the shadow of a person was shown on a canvas and the outline painted in, they were inexpensive to have made. Beyond a painted version, others trained in making silhouettes could cut out the profile of a person using black paper and then glue the black shape onto white paper. These artisans could look at a person and from the shape of their face, they could cut a silhouette without tracing it first. Some simple machines (like a pantograph which uses two pencils attached by grids which move at the same time) were used to make copies of a silhouette or change their size. These copies were often made of famous people and could be given out to their many admirers.

Make Your Own Silhouette!

To make a shadow picture of your friends and family, attach a black piece of construction paper to a hard surface like a door or a wall. Have your subject (the person) sit in a chair in front of the paper and place a light on the other side of the person so that the subject's shadow will appear on the paper. Trace the shadow of the person on the paper with a piece of white chalk. Remove the paper from the wall and carefully cut along the chalk line. Attach the cut out to a piece of white paper. (Glue the chalk-line side down, so if you made any stray marks they won't appear on the finished side.) You now have a finished silhouette! You can also use a pencil to trace the shadow on a white piece of paper. After tracing, color in the outline with a black crayon or marker.