Silhouette on Wood DIY

finished silhouette on wood

If I made a silhouette on wood of my son at 7 months, mom-guilt dictates that i shall make one of my daughter at the same age.  She’ll be 8 months in a week.  Just made it.

Here’s a how-to.  You need:

  • Image editing software (I used Photoshop)
  • Printer
  • Scrap of wood (I got mine for free from Build It Green NYC in Gowanus, Brooklyn!)
  • A pencil
  • Scotch tape
  • Black acrylic paint
  • One medium, one ultra fine tipped paintbrush

Time: about 1 hour

Part 1: Digital Realm

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 8.48.42 PM

Start with a good side-profile shot of your subject.  Make sure you get down to their level to take the photo and enlist someone to help keep their attention while you shoot, if your subject is too young to follow directions!  In Photoshop create a new file which is 8.5×11 inches and 300 dpi resolution.  Roughly crop down and position your photograph and resize it, using your judgement, so that it’ll be the size you want when printed.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 8.49.59 PM

Zoom in a few steps and use the pen tool to create a path around your subject’s outline.  Use a lot of points so that you get a nice smooth outline.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 8.51.10 PM

Keep going all the way around.  When it comes to the hair, what I’ve found looks best is to use a little artistic license.  Generally smooth out any fluffy parts and create some loose spikes in places where the hair sticks out, keeping the general shape, but simplifying the outline.  This may look odd now, but once it’s a silhouette, it’ll look great!

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 8.52.19 PM

Once you reach your starting point again, close the path.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 8.52.44 PM

Select black as your foreground color, create a new layer, and then in the Paths tab select “Fill path with foreground color” (filled in circle right at the bottom).  Hide the layer with your original photo, and you’ll get a nice preview of your silhouette.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 8.53.19 PM

If you’d like to add some text, do so now.  The font I chose was Morris Roman from

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 8.54.51 PM

Load the selection of your text layer, create a new layer, and then select Edit > Stroke to create a thin outline around your text.  Back in the Paths tab, select “Stroke path with brush” (the empty circle down the bottom).  Now hide both the text layer and the silhouette fill layer.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 8.56.44 PM

Your page should look like this.  Print at 100%.

Part 2: Analogue Realm

Take your print-out and turn it over.  Using a pencil, scribble firmly so that there is pencil lead on the other side of the paper wherever you have a line.


Keep going until you’ve covered the entire design area.


Now you’re ready to transfer the design to your wood.  Position the paper right-side up where you want the design to sit.  It’s a good idea to use a little Scotch tape to keep your design still while you transfer.


Using a firm hand, trace the outline of your design all the way around.  Go very slowly and carefully!  If you slip up, you can always erase the mistake but if your wood is soft there’s a chance you pencil may leave a dent which you can’t get rid of.


Once you have finished tracing your design, remove the paper, and you should have a good solid outline transferred to the wood.


Time to paint!  Using a medium or large sized artist’s paintbrush, fill in the middle of the silhouette, taking care not to go more than half an inch’s distance from your outline.  Take care to paint smoothly and evenly.  If your paint is thin, you may need to do two coats to get full coverage.  Acrylic paint should only require one coat.


Then take your fine-tipped artist’s brush and fill in the rest, up to the outline.  Again, go slowly and carefully!  Rotate the wood as you go if it makes it easier.  If you accidentally paint over the line, wait until the paint is dry and then use a knife to scrape away the error.


The text was pretty fiddly!  You can make it easier for yourself by choosing a blocky font, or making the letters bigger.  Or, of course, you don’t have to include the text at all!


Ta-dah!  I love the way this turned out.  It really does look like Elsie.  This is a sweet way to take a unique snapshot of a loved-one and easily make a nice piece of homemade original art for your home.


She approves!


Elsie’s silhouette next to her big brother, Egon’s.

I hope you enjoyed following along – if you make your own silhouettes I’d love to see them!


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