Making Silhouette Art With Your Child

As a child moves from kindergarten to first grade, he or she will have developed the fine motor skills to use scissors capably. By nature, children of this age will strive to grow creatively, yet they will often be their own worst critic, frustrated if their effort isn't exactly what they had hoped it would be.

This is common for children in the first or second grade. Now that they are in "big kid's school," they feel a certain pressure to perform and make things perfect. As an adult, you can help by offering them crafts that are less free-form and more methodical in their approach.

Silhouette cutting is one such skill. It is mostly a dying art but one that your child can master with a few tools and minimal oversight. The process is fun, and the results are always impressive even to adults.

Step 1: Get Your Project Materials

Most of the materials are easily found at stationery stores, art stores, or around the house. To start, you would need the following items:

  • A digital camera
  • Plain printer paper
  • Light- to medium-weight black construction paper
  • Heavier white cardstock paper
  • A glue stick
  • Scissors

Scissors come in a variety of sizes, so find the one that fits your child's hand. For an inexperienced cutter, select scissors with a blunt point. Older kids may want to use smaller manicure scissors to capture the finer details in the artwork. Left-handed children should be given left-handed scissors.

Step 2: Create a Photographic Template

Start by taking a profile photo of your child with a digital camera. This will be used as the template for the final art piece. (On the other hand, your child may want to take a picture of you for your birthday or a Mother's or Father's Day gift.)

To get the best image, have your child stand in front of a plain wall facing sideways. The plainer the background, the better. You can even drape a bedsheet over a door to create a neutral backdrop. The aim is to avoid busy backgrounds that may confuse the child when he or she starts cutting.

Once you download the file onto your computer, you can use a simple graphics program to enlarge or sharpen the image. If you like, you can also convert it to a black-and-white image if the contrast is bright enough.

Now, print and you're ready to go.

Step 3: Cut out the Silhouette

While children six or older should be able to do this on their own, you will probably want to be around to encourage and support them.

Take things one step at a time, and try not to overwhelm the child with too much information at once. If you do, the child may want to rush off and do things on his or her own. By taking it step-by-step, it can be a more pleasurable experience for you both.

To begin, offer your child the following instructions:

  1. Cut off extra paper around the photographic image. Don't worry about cutting too close. All you want to do at this stage is to make the image easier to glue down.
  2. Using the glue stick, apply a thin layer to the backside of the photo. It doesn't have to be perfect, but there should enough so that the edges don't curl up when applied to the construction paper.
  3. Paste the picture to a piece of light- to medium-weight black construction paper. Anything more substantial may be challenging to cut.
  4. Using the scissors, carefully cut around the image, following the line of the profile. If there are finer details that are hard to navigate, save those for last. Either the parent or child can finish those with the pair of manicure scissors.
  5. Turn the picture over, and you'll have your final silhouette ready for mounting.
  6. Using the glue stick again, apply a thin layer to the picture-side of the silhouette.
  7. Place the silhouette on a white piece of cardstock and press gently to hold. (Avoid lightweight paper which s more likely to buckle.)
  8. Sign your name with a pen or pencil.

You're done!

With practice, your child can expand the repertoire to include other family portraits or to play with different colored papers or poses. Encourage creativity and remind your child that there is no such thing as a mistake.

By Carol Bainbridge
Carol Bainbridge has provided advice to parents of gifted children for decades, and was a member of the Indiana Association for the Gifted.