Spring is here so I went to see The Shadow Studio
Shadows cast on a wall. Flickering lights. Everyone is silent. Sitting crossed legged on the floor. The boys were elbowing each other but no more. Magic slowly falls over the room. The story teller listens for the right moment. Waiting for the words to come. Casting out her arm she speaks softly. The story begins. It’s a tale as old as time. A memory from long ago. A girl. A beast. A castle. A tale of love. A tale of bravery. A tale of seeing past appearances to what lies beneath. A tale of trust. Beloved and treasured by all ages alike. The audience sits spellbound. Then the end is reached. Once again silence falls. The words lift their spell. Everyone thinks one thing. Then the smallest puts up her hand. One word is spoken. Safety and gently. “Again”.
I spent a long time looking through every product from this weeks featured shop, trying to pick my favourite. It was an impossible task. Everywhere I looked, I found my favourite. Over and over again. In the end I had to make a choice and I went with a sudden instinct and chose this one. I am sure I don’t have to tell any of you who she is. Belle has always been one of my favourite princesses (along with Ariel). Partly because I love to read just as much as she does and I often wear my hair the way she does and yellow is my favourite colour. This first image sums up everything I loved about this week’s shop, the profile is instantly recognisable, the detail is incredible, (look at her eyelash and hair strands) and I love the sweeping curved lines, which I feel shows how comfortable and confident the maker is at her craft.
Without further ado I’d would like to present to you, shop number five: The Shadow Studio. The shop opened in autumn 2009 and is based in Seattle, USA. Its owner, designer and maker Julia, hand cuts each silhouette from acid-free paper using a pair of scissors. She creates a wide variety of profiles, ranging from characters from fairy tales, movies and literature, to real life people from history. She also creates some wonderful paper cut illustrations (the last picture in this article is my favourite example of these) and pendant necklaces, featuring prints of her popular profiles. If you don’t happened to find your favourite charter or personal hero listed in the shop or even want to have your own profile hand cut, Julia offers several custom options and will work with you to create a unique piece.
I first came across The Shadow Studio on an app called Instagram. I was immediately drawn to Julia’s work. Recognising not only the people and characters she was honouring but also the incredible skill she has. The ability to take a piece of black card and with only a pair scissors create these wonderful pieces of art, blew me away. I have a bit of a thing for silhouettes and I love the tradition is so old but they look modern and bold at the small time. It always amazes me how much you can do with a profile or outline and not only that but I love the story telling aspect (for those of you that are interested, go and look at the Shadow Theatre puppet tradition from Indonesia. Plays are performed by master puppeteers, who control several characters all at once, not only moving the puppets limbs but also doing the voices. The shadows the puppets cast are used to tell the story). The art of silhouette making stretches back hundreds of years and thanks to artists like Julia we can all still enjoy them and be inspired.
In Spain we don’t really have the four normal seasons. Just a long dry summer and a wet (and slightly colder) period. Most of the trees are evergreens and the ones that do lose their leaves, do so in the summer when they are shrivelled into dust by the sun. Spring lasts about a month, just after the rain and before the hot sun. It’s beautiful. Hillsides covered in wild flowers, sunny barmy picnic weather, bees, sweet fragrance. As the wild flowers are beginning to appear, I decided to celebrate my favourite time and do another round of handmade shops. Everyone has their own way of viewing their art, colours and feelings on Spring, so I look forward to all the different answers. Lets see what Julia say!
Interview with Julia,
What led you to creating silhouettes?
On a trip to Disneyland in 2009, I went into the Silhouette Studio on Main Street to watch the artists there cut portraits. For some reason, although I’d been in there many times and had had my own silhouette cut on several occasions as a child, it really struck me that this was something I wanted to learn how to do. There’s something so direct and arresting about a black profile against white, but despite its simplicity, a well-cut silhouette should be instantly recognizable. Silhouettes have an old-fashioned, nostalgic quality that appeals to me, but I also enjoy how modern they appear: bold and stark and minimalistic. They were at the height of their popularity from the mid-18th century to the early 19th century; the daguerrotype had not yet been invented and they provided a quick, and more importantly, cheap, alternative to expensive painted portraits. They were essentially the first widely-available and affordable way for people in Europe and the United States to commission portraits of their loved ones, and their popularity in England, France, and the United States was tremendous. One of the things that appeals to me most about silhouettes as a form of portraiture is their democratic roots – not only were professional silhouettists affordable to people of all classes (and comprised of both men and women at a time when women made up a fractionally tiny portion of professional artists), even those who weren’t trained to freehand cut or paint silhouettes got in on the act by tracing each other’s shadows cast onto screens by candlelight.
What’s your favourite or most rewarding part of your process?
There is something very soothing and quiet for me about taking a rectangular piece of paper and snipping it into a recognizable profile. I really get to see the person ’emerge’ from the paper, and that still gives me a little thrill.
I look for silhouettes everywhere, and fortunately for me, we are in a period where they’re very popular in design. I was in a bookshop a couple of weeks ago and found several gorgeous book covers that had very clever silhouettes created in negative space, and that has inspired me to play with some new ideas for hollow-cut silhouettes. I also continue to find new ideas and inspiration in the original masters of silhouette portraiture; Augustin Edouart, Isabella Beetham, Francis Torond, and Charles Rosenberg are some of my favorites.
Are colours important to your work? If so which are the ones you use most and why?
For traditional bust-length profile portraits, my preference remains black paper on a white mount. But I love color and am always looking for more ways to incorporate that into my work, so I’m increasingly branching out into white papercut scenes set against a color, or my most recent love, which is hollow-cutting pieces from some of the many, many paint chips that I have amassed over the years. Choosing a favorite color is daunting, but I think that orange is the most joyful color to me.
Do you have a favourite product in your shop?
I am very pleased with my author silhouettes! I didn’t have fantastic reference pictures of their profiles, so designing them took a lot of work and I am quite happy with the results. But I think the listings that I like the most are the ones for custom silhouettes; I enjoy collaborating with another person and when someone is happy of a silhouette that I cut of a person (or an animal) whom they love, that’s a hugely rewarding feeling.
What do you like best about Spring?
All the color! I live in the Pacific Northwest, so it’s pretty green here year-round, but I love it when the trees start to bloom and the flowers start opening up. The people become more colorful, too: more people leave their greys and blacks in the closet and wear something a little brighter and happier.
Check back next Saturday for the last shop in this series. Just one more left to go! I love this time of year and I look forward to sharing the last shop with you all.
Have a creative day!