I was working with a room full of 2nd graders recently on a self-portrait project using pastels. The project involved tracing the children's figures on large sheets of butcher paper, on which they would then draw their faces and clothing. What struck me as interesting was how expressive the outline, devoid of details, was. Despite the absence of facial features, each child was completely identifiable. I could even tell what their mood was... happy, tired, antsy, shy.
I went home that day thinking about how to use this revelation in my work, only to realize it's been around for a long long time. Silhouettes have been part of the visual arts since time immemorial... from the elegant paper cut-outs in English drawing rooms to the shadow puppetry of the Far East.
When I was in kindergarten, my teacher Ms. Ancona enlisted her husband to come in and make silhouettes of the entire class to be used as Mother's Day gifts. I remember how mine looked exactly like me, and despite the absence of detail, it captured the cowlick on the crown of my head, and the way my nose turned up. I could even tell that I was pouting when the photo was taken.
Today, I'm starting a project which will explore the silhouette as a medium of expression. The trick will be to find a way of incorporating my love of detail into the piece.Off to the drawing board...