I bought this huge canvas at A.C. Moore a few months ago. They were running an great sale on canvases – I think I bought it for less than $20 – and I’ve been looking for something large to hang over the fireplace basically since the day we moved in 6 years ago. I’ve hung collections of things, put giant vases on the mantel, made banners and art before but nothing has ever really filled the space the way I wanted. I knew a 3×4 canvas would finally be the right size but it’s been sitting in my basement for weeks now while I brainstormed what exactly I should do with it. I am decidedly NOT an artist, and although I found some cool DIY art on Pinterest I wasn’t in love with any of the ideas (and wasn’t confident in my ability to execute them).
While I was talking with my IBFF (internet best friend forever) Amy, she suggested doing silhouettes of the kids. She actually made one and blogged it almost two years ago (and shouts me out in the post, because seriously IBFF!) so I used the same basic idea – took a picture of the kids’ profiles in front of a window, printed them and cut the shape out carefully. But because I wanted to make GIANT painted silhouettes I had to figure out the rest on my own.
Paint brushes (at least 1 small and 1 large)
Clothespin/tape/paperclip/whatever you need to get the angles right
Smartphone with flashlight app (or a very strong flashlight)
I took my canvas outside to paint it, which wasn’t the best choice because it was pretty windy and I ended up with spray paint on my back door. Eh, not the first time.
I picked blue for my background colors since I was hanging it in a blue room but any colors would work. In a kid’s room a whole rainbow would be really fun. If you were just doing 1 silhouette instead of two you could do it vertically.
From top to bottom: white base paint for a picture frame, kitchen stool, nursery project, picture frame, kid-size cabinet, and failed lamp shade project. All found in my basement with enough left for this project.
I lined them up from darkest to lightest and worked from the outside in on the canvas. Then I went back and used the white to lighten anywhere it felt REALLY uneven. This is what it looked like in the bright outside light:
I’m not going to win any painting contests but I like it (and E was surprised I had made it myself – he thought it was actual art). I let the spray paint dry for a few hours – there wasn’t a lot of paint so it didn’t take long – while I talked the kids into posing for their profile photos. They were both in cooperative moods so it didn’t take long.
To make the cutting edges more distinct I lowered the blacks slider and converted the pictures to black and white in Lightroom (totally optional). Then I printed them out on cardstock (I happened to have brown, but the color doesn’t matter) and cut out just the silhouettes as closely and cleanly as possible.
Then came the hardest part: figuring out how to get that cut-out silhouette big enough to trace onto the canvas.
My first thought was I’d just hold one up next to a lamp and trace the shadow, sort of like a super-simple version of a projector. Unfortunately, a regular light bulb doesn’t direct the light strongly enough to make a crisp shadow. I tried to make a DIY projector with a cardboard box taped over the lamp but it still wasn’t clear enough.
I tried asking the internet and my husband and they both suggested I find an overhead projector so I called the library and after a lot of shuffling departments and waiting on hold they said yes they DID still have a projector and if I wanted to bring my canvas in they could set me up in one of the conference rooms on Wednesday. That would have been a good option if I hadn’t figured out an at-home solution. I got impatient waiting for Wednesday and during a little more Googling I found a tip that the flashlight app on a smartphone makes a really bright, direct light.
So I made this:
That’s my iPhone with the flashlight app turned on, propped up against a book inside an empty box, with the silhouette clipped to the end with a clothespin. I set it on the coffee table and pulled it back until it the shadow was the right size on the canvas. You definitely need a dark room to make it work right, but luckily the sun goes down around 8 pm (I think it’s called “night”?) so I didn’t have to move the canvas.
I traced it with a regular ballpoint pen, being careful not to move the canvas. I should have used a level and a measuring tape to space the two silhouettes exactly right, but I just guessed based on the color stripes on the canvas. Then I switched out Caroline’s silhouette for Evan’s, moved the canvas (it seemed easier than moving the light projector set up) and traced Evan’s. I adjusted the distance a little to make his silhouette slightly bigger than Caroline’s but not so much the finished product would look unbalanced.
I used black craft paint to fill in the silhouette shapes. I used a medium brush to do the major edges and a tiny brush to do things like their bangs and Caroline’s eyelashes. I filled everything in with a medium sized brush and went back over the edges to make sure they were colored in fully. I messed up both their noses a tiny bit and noses are very important in making a silhouette that looks like your child, so be extra careful. I did NOT wait long enough for it to dry before I propped it up on the mantel, so I got a black paint drip on Evan’s side. Luckily the cheap craft store brand of paint was easy to peel off the spray painted canvas so I fixed it. The other option would have been taping up the silhouette and spray painting over the mistake.
The last step was finally taking down the train station banner from Evan’s birthday party and putting a nail in the wall to hang it up!
Aaaand then take some pictures. I’m happy with how it turned out. High fives for easy, inexpensive artwork!
Ta-da! I’m so excited to finally have something to fill that space after six years. Total cost: $25 for the canvas sinceI had everything else on hand and approximately 45 minutes worth of total work. Let me know if you try something similar, I’d love to see your spin on it!