Silhouettes: Design from several angles

[Alyson Kuhn] I recently bought a sheet of wrapping paper that inspired me to cover a set of cans. This got me thinking about the attitude or mood that a silhouette can set. Then I looked in the window of my neighborhood bookshop and saw the cover of Gold, Chris Cleave’s newest novel: two black silhouettes facing each other, the negative space between them creating a trophy. Almost before I knew it, a story took shape. I asked Roberto de Vicq and several other Felt & Wire friends about their recent designs using silhouettes.

Roberto de Vicq’s cover design (Simon & Schuster, 2012) earned him an interview on Huffington Post.

Roberto de Vicq (of the eponymous design firm de Vicq): Gold is my third book project with Chris Cleave, and I also used silhouettes on the two earlier covers. Gold is about two athletes competing for … gold.

Little Bee, Roberto de Vicq’s first project with author Chris Cleave, was a winner in the AIGA 50 Books/50 Covers exhibition.

For Little Bee, the silhouettes set up the relationship between the main characters, a black illegal immigrant from Africa [Little Bee] and a posh British fashion editor who had witnessed the horrible event that befell Little Bee years earlier. I put a silhouette within the silhouette — for the eye.

The relationship in Incendiary is between a mother and her grief for her child, who died in an explosion that the mother saw on television.

Breck Hostetter (of Sesame Letterpress): I love to save odds and ends like paper scraps, fabric swatches, ribbon, etc. I am always drawn to bits with great color, texture and pattern. I save them in drawers, jars and folders, and often go back to them for reference when developing a new line. For the Security Silhouette cards, I paired my love of vintage silhouettes with the graphic patterns found on the lining of security envelopes that hold bills, statements, checks, etc.

Security Silhouette cards (A6-size, folded) are letterpress printed on 110 lb Strathmore Cover on Sesame Letterpress’ “beloved Golding Jobber #7” using polymer plates. Shown here: Woman Silhouette and Cheers Silhouette.

I love the casual quality of these security patterns and like how they are not perfectly even. There is a bit of randomness to some areas of the envelope linings, and I find this refreshing as so much design is digitally created and flawless. We scanned the patterns and then dropped them into the vintage images to create the overall designs. The patterns work especially nicely in letterpress, as the positive and negative space in the imagery allows us to print with a deeper impression and get a nice texture on the cards.

Jump for joy: These silhouettes convey a sense of motion. Upper: Jumping Silhouette; lower: Boy Silhouette.

Stephanie Monahan (Monahan Papers): I created a pair of silhouette designs from two “mourning brooches” I had bought. The original artwork is watercolor or ink on paper — one of them was dated 1827. They are quite small, and both were somewhat damaged. Removing them from the brooch setting did not improve their condition. I added the irregular black border to cover a few flaws and to suggest the edges of an old photograph.

The cards are “stained” by a dip in a dye vat of house-made aging compound.

Monahan Papers also offers the silhouettes printed on canvas (5 x 7 in.) and framed.

Diane Tompkins (the mother-half of Tag Team Tompkins; daughter Madeline is the calligraph-half): Madeline and I are giddy that the stationery buyer at Powell’s City of Books in Portland [Ore.] found us through Kristen Magee’s Paper Crave blog. We’ve had four nice wholesale orders for our prints in three months. If I could clone myself, I’d scout for a few more accounts like Powell’s.

Tag Team Tompkins’ prints are letterpress printed at Skylab Letterpress in Kansas City, Mo. Above: The Object of Art.

So Weak and So Charming are 5 x 7 in. Additional designs selected by Powell’s are 8 x 10 in.

Alyson Kuhn: This print is my very favorite. The proverb could be the motto of Mañanas Anonimas, an imaginary self-help group for procrastinators.

I have a little silhouette of me as a child, scissored by a department store silhouette artist.  My dad impulsively had it made one winter — maybe as a surprise for my mom.  Is that what started all of this?

Childhood silhouette of Diane Tompkins, silhouette artist.

Two post cards from Alyson Kuhn’s ever-expanding collection. Nebraska: Hammerpress, on very heavy chipboard. Eiffel Tower: silverprint proof, 1918, by Else Thalemann (1901–1985)  from the Musée d’Orsay.

First and last photos: © 2012 StudioAlex

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Comments (3)

  1. Posted by Pamela Gerard on 08.20.12 at 12:30 pm

    Alyson–this is wonderful. So many lovely things to look at. Monahan Papers are fabulous — I can personally attest to that. And the silhouettes are wonderful. Thanks for writing this.

  2. Posted by Stephanie on 08.24.12 at 9:05 am

    Simply a LOVELY article. I am in love with ALL of the silhouettes.

  3. Posted by Lis on 09.25.12 at 9:44 am

    Can I ask where you got that lovely wrapping paper? It is so sweet!

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