Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Early 18th Century Economics Woes in France Under Louis XV, or, How the Silhouette Got its Name

√Čtienne de Silhouette was the French Controller-General of Finance under Louis the XV.

In 1760, a huge budget crisis hit France. To combat the lack of income for the country, de Silhouette dramatically raised the taxes on the richest noblemen of France and instituted several laws including the melting of gold and silverware.

This didn't exactly sit well with the wealthiest of France, and his reputation among them was less than stellar.

A group (and extremely valuable) silhouette by Auguste Edouart

Silhouettes, the art form, were very popular at the time and were often purchased by all economic classes, however they were some of the only records of appearance available to people who were not able to hire an artist to paint their portrait (remember, at this time photography had not been invented). While they were well known, they were referred to by many names including Shadows, Casts, Shapes, and Shades.

In the late 17th century, the anger towards de Silhouette transformed itself into the derogatory use of his name towards anything of lesser value, or cheaply made. Silhouettes, the papercutting, took on this name as an adjective at this time.

Auguste Edouart, without doubt the most famous of all silhouette artists (I'm working hard to be #2), began using the term "Silhouette" to market and promote his goods as he did not like the name Shadow or Shade. Cutting over 100,000 silhouettes across Europe of famous people, dignitaries, royalty, and the general public, his popularity and ubiquitous nature caused his term Silhouette to permanently adhere to the cut paper artform.

Silhouette has now spread from the person, to the art form, to anything shadow or darkened outline of a person, place, or thing.

As Seen on TV

So Saturday was my big TV debut. Well, my artwork debuted on tv, not me, but it's better looking anyway.

I was contacted at the end of January by Lindsay Roberts, an Advertising Assistant for Good Housekeeping Magazine and blogger, who writes the blog Gift Giving With Love

I made a custom silhouette for her parent's anniversary based on an old photo from their wedding.

She regularly makes appearances on Fox News in Detroit to show great gift giving ideas, and this Valentine's Day she showed the silhouette I made for her and her parents. Very exciting! The video is below (I'm about 3:30 into it)

Lindsay did a phenomenal job on the presentation, I can't imagine staying composed on TV! Thanks so much Lindsay for finding me and showing my work!

Go check out her great blog, if you haven't already: Gift Giving With Love

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Papercutting tips: Guide to paper

Like the adhesive post, this post is also focused mostly on one product, but I'll include some helpful tips afterwards for picking out good paper.

I use, pretty much exclusively, Hygloss Silhouette paper from DickBlick: http://www.dickblick.com/products/hygloss-black-silhouette-paper/

I buy it in rolls of twelve 20x30 sheets, and depending on how busy I am they last about a month or two.

Silhouette paper from Blick in the roll

An un-cut sheet of silhouette paper

This paper is incredible! It is actually white paper that has been covered in a thin layer of matte-black paint. This is good for two reasons: 1, you have one side that is white so you can draw a design on it, and 2. because it's painted, there is less chance of the black fading over time. More about that later.

The "white side" of the paper

I work from the white side of the paper, which means that when I'm done, my designs get flipped around. This is very important when you work from the white side! If you are doing anything that can not be backwards (text, recognizable architecture, etc) you will need to cut your design backwards. In my case, I always create my designs in the computer (easy to resize, tweek, and otherwise mess around with my original designs before cutting them), so before I start cutting I flip my designs backwards, print them as a pattern, and adhere them to the white side of the paper with a bit of light-tack spray adhesive from Krylon

When I finish cutting the design, I peel off the pattern and flip the silhouette paper over to the finished black side.

One draw back of this particular paper is that it does come very tightly rolled, so the paper has a lot of curl to it when you first open it. I have a very large wooden shelf-like thing that store my unrolled paper in. I put the sheets of silhouette paper between two larger sheets of regular paper and then put something heavy on top to hold the paper flat. In about a week most of the curl is out of the paper, but the first few sheets really want to roll while you're working with them.

Another minor drawback is that because it's painted, not dyed, it doesn't like to be folded. The paint doesn't crack, but you can definitely see the white try to peek through the black along the folds. Also creasing the folds can lead to abrasion of the paint and wear it through to the white.

Don't iron them! I tried this and it made them kind of wavy even without steam. Not sure why. Just press them between something heavy.

Okay, that all said, here are some more general tips on picking out paper:

- Acid free and Lignin free are EXTREMELY important! Can't stress this enough. The natural acid and lignin found in most wood/paper needs to be removed or your paper will discolor, become brittle, and possibly simply fall apart over time. Look for fade-resistant paper (should be labeled as such) if you are using non-white paper. The paint on the sihouette paper is much less likely to fade as it is more light-fast

-Thin is good, but too thin is a nightmare. You want the paper to be easy to cut, but not so fragile that you are constantly tearing it. I recommend not going much past 70 pound paper unless you want a really good hand cramp.

-Texture is very important. You want the paper have very tiny fibers in it. If the fibers are too large, your corners and areas where the paper isn't cut completely through will have stringy bits of fiber sticking out of them. This is a huge pet peeve of mine and, in my opinion, a very good indication of the quality and skill of a papercut. You want all your edges, corners, and cuts to be clean with very little overcutting (cutting beyond the intersection of two lines). Hand-made paper is beautiful and I would love to work with it, but it's extremely fibrous. I'm not above tearing a 2mm tear in the edge of paper to see how clean it is, but you can usually tell just by running your hands on the paper. The less texture, the smoother the paper, the better.

Some paper is actually died after it is rolled, whereas with others, the pulp of the paper is dyed first before being rolled. Very hard to tell which it is when you are looking at it, but the pulp-dyed paper has a more thorough dye-job and though it will fade, it will appear to fade slower as there is more dye throughout the paper.

Finally, and probably most important to your paper looking good over hundreds of years, you should frame ALL your papercuts. All of 'em. These buggers are dust magnets and are too delicate to easily clean. Always use UV glass, which will help block some of the damaging ray of the sun from fading or otherwise altering your paper. Keep the paper out of direct sunlight, and away from exterior walls (walls where the other side of the wall is the outdoors) unless your house is very well insulated. The temperature changes of exterior walls aren't terribly bad for your paper, but the more stable you can keep your piece (heat, light, moisture, etc) the less likely your piece will deteriorate over time. Think about mummies: deserts are always dry and pretty much the same weather all the time= preservation. Submerged wooden ships stay in pretty good shape because they are always wet and about the same temperature. Fences in New England, where the weather is always changing and there is about a 100 degree range of temperature throughout the year rot.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Guide to papercutting: Adhesive

Okay, this has been a long-time promised post, and a BUNCH of people have written me to ask, so here it is: My guide to Papercut Adhesives.

Well, really it's just adhesive, since I pretty much only use one.

It's called Studio Tac or Letra Tac. Both are made by Letraset. I'm not sure exactly what's happening, but it appears the Studio Tac (blue package) is being phased into Letra Tac (yellow package). You can order Studio Tac from Blick online, but if you go to the store, they sell the Letra Tac.

No matter, it's all the same stuff.

Essentiall, this adhesive is a sheet of thousands of very small white silicon adhesive dots. They are packaged in sheets, with a a wax paper cover. You place your artwork on the dots, then rub the back, which sticks the dots to the back of the design, then you peel off the design and stick it to your background. Pretty simple, and it has great coverage.

They stick very well. I have several mess-up papercuts that I simply slapped on my studio walls, and they are still up there after months of dramatic temperature changes and no glass covering.

A few very very helpful tips.

1. It sticks pretty good, so be very careful removing your piece from the wax paper.

2. It's technically repositionable, which is great for when you stick it down not quite in the perfect spot, but it is very good at long-term adhesive.

3. Because it's silicon, it has a bit of a rubbery ness that allows your piece to expand and contract with weather and not become detached. I've had pieces adhered for years without any sign of detachment.

4. Personally, I would avoid the "permanent" kind since the regular kind is quite permanent and still allows repositioning.

5. Place your piece upside down on the sheet of wax paper that isn't covered in dots, then press the sheet with dots down onto the back of the piece. It stops the piece from moving and getting wrinkles, trust me.

6. Rub the back of the piece (the side with the dots) not the front of the piece. This makes the dots stick more thoroughly

7. When mounting your piece, lay your piece face down (sticky dots up) on a grided surface, like a quilters mat, and use the grid to place the piece in the right spot, then take your pre-cut background, and line it up with the grid, and slowly fold it over your papercut. This I have found to be the best way to mount your work without damaging, folding, creasing, or otherwise messing up your papercut.

8. This adhesive works best for white backgrounds as tiny bits of the dots will overhang your papercut. If you are adhering it to a white background, these will become completely invisible, but if you are mounting to a colored background, they may be very noticeable and I recommend a different adhesive like double sided tape.

9. If any stray dots get on your work, you can remove them with a very clean soft eraser and they come right off.

10. #9 is especially helpful if you accidently put the wrong side down and cover your presentation side with thousands of tiny sticky white dots.

Photos of me using the Studio Tac:

Each of those dots is a dot of adhesive, and yes, I accidentally covered the back of my ruler with studio tac taking this photo

This shows me pulling one of my papercuts away from the adhesive. Note the fact that one side of the paper is white. I'll discuss that in my next post...

Next helpful post will be on the paper I use. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section. I'll answer them the best I can.