PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 March, 2006, 12:00am

Three centuries after silhouette art was born, it's showing up again - and in the most contemporary of settings.

The technique - basically an outline of a face or body - was named after French finance minister Etienne de Silhouette, whose enforcement of thrifty economics compelled people to have only their profiles reproduced in paper cut-outs, instead of commissioning entire portraits. Intricate and accurate, they recalled every curve and edge of a subject's face.

Silhouette art has re-emerged largely because of a throwback to nostalgic elements in interior decor. It's not quite retro, but in a space that is anything from early Americana to shabby chic to modern-day minimal, it provides a unique look.

'Although silhouette imagery has always been popular, it's becoming kind of a cool thing,' says Tim Arnold, considered one of the best silhouette artists in the world. Through his company (, clients have their profiles immortalised in black paper, which is then framed and mounted.

Recently, the field has expanded to include more than just faces. American retailer Target ( has silhouette artworks by Nancy Shumaker Pallan; her outlines of Scotty and Dachshund dogs, which cost US$60, have sold out. Other top-sellers are flocked wall decals from A trio of generic boy/girl silhouette decals, designed to be stuck onto flat surfaces, have also sold out.

Santa Monica decor company Blik ( takes conventional silhouettes into a more dramatic realm with gorgeously coloured cut-outs. The 30cm male and female heads (left) come in a variety of colours and are designed to be applied to walls. Smaller decals in the shape of lips, birds, heads, clouds and reindeer are suited to glasses (far left) and votive candle holders.

Original silhouette pieces are thriving on the antique scene as well. Flea markets and thrift stores often have pieces that date from the 19th century.

'We are starting to use silhouette imagery graphically,' says Arnold, who has been asked to use the technique on letterheads, invitations and as logos.

'It's a very traditional art form that has remained timeless,' he says. 'You can look at a silhouette from the 18th century or one by me, and you can't tell what era the people in it are from.'