It’s Back to School With The Silhouette Project!

The Silhouette Project

The Silhouette Project


I don’t know about you, but every year, Labor Day triggers in me a yearning to go back to school! I see all those school supplies in the stores and I find myself drooling! Those packages of notebook paper, brand new 3-ring binders, freshly sharpened pencils, and fabulously chic backpacks fill me with longing and the enthusiasm to begin a brand new learning adventure.      

Well, this year, I’ve decided to totally indulge myself and go “back to school”. Only this time, my school room will be my very own studio. My new course of study is titled The Silhouette Project, and the assignment I’ve given myself is to paint 1000 (yes, that’s 1000!) silhouette figures in 100 days. Oh, and did I mention that I got to go to the store and buy some new art supplies? 

In my workshops and on my DVD, I emphasize the fact that compositions are put together with shapes; not with drawn lines and not with objects. Therefore, to be able to design effectively, an artist must be able to see three-dimensional objects and three-dimensional subject matter as flat, two-dimensional shapes. This isn’t a talent that only a few lucky geniuses possess, it’s a skill that like typing or playing the piano, is learned with practice. And, just as it is with typing and playing the piano, the more you practice, the better you get. My silhouette project is designed to make me practice, practice, practice!

To paint a silhouette, you have to ignore an object’s, or in this case, a figure’s details and descriptive aspects, and see and paint instead its flat abstract shape. This is not easy, and it’s even harder with a figure. The tendency with a figure is to focus on the face and features and all of that other stuff that usually attracts us to it in the first place. But again, paintings aren’t composed with figures; they’re composed with flat shapes. So in a composition, figures must be seen and orchestrated in the same way that every other object and element that will be part of the composition is  – as flat, puzzle-like shapes that must fit together perfectly on the picture surface.

With The Silhouette Project, I hope to accomplish 3 goals: 1). to improve my observation and psychomotor skills in terms of my favorite subject, the figure 2). to become more gestural, creative, and imaginative in my figure paintings, and 3). to gain more knowledge of figure construction, proportion, and anatomy.  I really want to approach my figure paintings from a well informed and confident place.

If you would like to join me in my “back to school” adventure; The Silhouette Project, here’s how:

 Decide on the number of silhouettes you will paint and set a deadline. For example, “I will paint 100 silhouettes in 5 days.” Or, “I will paint 10 silhouettes a day for the next month.” Or, “I will paint a silhouette a day for the next year.” This is one of those skills where the more you do, the better you become. The more you invest, the more your return on your investment will be. I’m always mindful of the old adage that says you have to paint 100 paintings to get 10 that you like. I figure that out of my 1000 silhouettes, only 100 will please me. But, hey – I’d be happy with 10!   

– Purchase or cut enough paper for your project. I bought 3 9×12 pads of inexpensive watercolor paper. On each 9×12 sheet, I can paint 6 to 8 silhouettes. 

You will also need to gather enough figure reference photos for your project. Keep in mind that the photos can be used more than once. Look in fashion magazines, catalogs, books, newspapers, and your personal photos. You can also work from live models, on location in places where people traditionally gather, like shopping malls and cafes, or from the TV. 

– Use standing and seated figures only, and figures where you can see the whole figure from head to toe. In other words, no cropped figures.

 Use watercolor for painting the silhouettes. You can use a tube color or mix up a color. You can use different colors for different silhouettes, but each silhouette is painted with only one color. I am currently using a dark grey mixed from Alizarin Crimson and Winsor Green Blue Shade, but I plan on experimenting with other colors as well.   

Use a round brush – as large a brush as you can handle. Larger is better as it allows you to fill in the shape quicker and “prettier”. I am using #7 and #10 sable rounds, depending on the size of the silhouette I’m working on. 

And here are the “Rules”: 

 No preliminary drawing.  

  Do not paint inside shapes (meaning, don’t paint the figure’s inside shapes – eyes, nose, mouth, hair, clothing, etc.).  

  No judging as you paint and no abandoning – keep going and finish each silhouette even though you’re sure it’s going to be a failure. 

After completing a number of pages of painted silhouettes, ask yourself, “How can I improve them”? “What do I need to learn next?”

I’m really excited about The Silhouette Project, and I hope you will be, too! Here is your opportunity to run out and get some new art supplies, participate in the current back to school buzz, and begin a new adventure – one that I guarantee will improve your ability to see objects as flat shapes as well as your ability to see and paint the figure with more knowledge and confidence. Most of all, it’s a lot of fun!  

So, get a stack of paper, put on your favorite music (currently I’m listening to Michael Jackson), and start brush dancing!

Billie Jean

Billie Jean

 BTW: My Silhouette Project was previously titled The Skeleton Project. Last December I purchased a skeleton with the intention of studying artistic anatomy. Because of time and circumstances I never got very far with The Skeleton Project. But my skeleton, which I named Billie Jean, has been waiting patiently in my studio for me to pay her some attention. Having Billie Jean there for me to refer to as I work on The Silhouette Project is so helpful now – I’m so glad she’s there! Rather than studying the rather intimidating Subject of Artistic Anatomy, I’m finding that The Silhouette Project is a much more fun and stimulating way to approach learning the construction, proportions, and anatomy of the figure. 

In my next post, look for more tips on painting silhouettes. 

Happy Painting!

5 thoughts on “It’s Back to School With The Silhouette Project!

  1. Myrna Wacknov

    Hi Donna. I love the project and the concept of a project. This month looks crazy but I will try to give it a go. Check out the website: for computer generated figures. There is even a place where you can set the timer for the poses to change. Anywhere from 2 secs. on. Another resource.

    1. Donna Post author

      Hi Myrna, thanks for commenting and also a big thanks for the website link – it looks like a great place to find reference material for our project! Donna

  2. Karen Beauprie

    Wondering if you will start this project again this fall?? I recently discovered your blog and the silhouette project from last year and would like to go for it! I also recently purchased and received your new video and I congratulate you on putting together an excellent teaching DVD. Your lesson is concise, clear, and inspiring. Thank you for sharing your gifts! I am in the process of registering for one of your workshops. I look forward to seeing you work first hand. So far, the conversations in your blog have been just what I have been looking for in the way of a creative boost. Best of luck!

  3. Teresa justice

    I am so thrilled I found your website. After a long illness of 5 years, I need not to tell you how
    lost I am. I love the silhouett project . I have just scaned over and can’t wait to try it.
    I have always loved figures but never could get the porptions correct .I just wanted to do the Silhouette not eyes etc. Than try to inner lock them with the figure.
    I paint loose e goosie. which helps you to go a lot of places but not what you are doing.
    I didn’t know you had a DVD so I will be looking to purchase one.
    Thank you for shareing so much. You have opened a big door for me to try and walk in.
    Thanks Teresa

    1. Donna Post author

      H Teresa,
      Thanks so much for commenting – I wish you well! Yes – getting the proportions reasonably accurate and not getting bogged down in details is the ultimate challenge when working with the figure. The learning never ends – I’m still at it, and still discovering things I don’t know!



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