diy project: kate’s painterly silhouettes

i love the crisp, graphic nature of silhouettes. I know that you’ve seen a lot of silhouette designs though, so i tried to give you a project that rethinks the traditional form a bit by allowing you to add your own style to it. the great thing about working with these contact paper cut-outs is that you can paint any way you want! i went for a fun stripe inside silhouettes of masculine objects, to make a gift for my man (they kind of remind me of the jack spade look, which i love). but you could go crazy with the painting style here: splatters, drips, impressionistic, color blocking, camouflage, it would all look great! once you cut the shape out cleanly, you don’t have to worry much about painting accuracy, which is the other great thing about cut-outs. trust me, there is nothing more satisfying than peeling back the paper to reveal a perfect, pristine outline. i hope you have fun experimenting with this one. have fun! – kate

*click here to check out kate’s biz lady post from yesterday on creating great window displays for your store!

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!

note: i have included a template for the shapes i used, which you can download here.


1. acrylic paint (i actually used old house paints, which work well and have a nice liquid-y consistency)
2. contact paper (this is used for lining drawers. choose the clear so you can see through it for tracing)
3. exacto knife/blade
4. permanent marker
5. paintbrushes
6. wood (they sell art boards made of wood at art stores) or thick illustration board (it’s best to choose a semi-gloss illustration board for this, so the contact paper will peel off cleanly. practice on a corner to ensure that your contact paper does not rip the paper surface)
7. images (i found some simple object images on the internet, then printed them. the quality does not matter much because you just need to trace the outline)
8. newspaper or scrap paper for painting on
9. cutting board (or cardboard)

contact paper: $5
illustration board: $3 for a 20″ x 30″ sheet (enough for all three shapes)
paint, etc: free/ on hand

3 hours (plus drying time)


1. find your images and print them out at the correct size for your frames (if you have frames), or whatever size you choose.

2. measure and cut the illustration board to the desired size. if you are using wood, cut the wood to the desired size.

3. trace the shape of your board/wood onto the contact paper with the permanent marker. cut out the piece of contact paper, adding a 1″ -2 “border of extra space around all the dimensions of your paper/wood surface.

4. hold your printed image underneath the contact paper, and position the two sheets of paper so the image in centered inside the box you drew on the contact paper. when you have the image in the desired location, tape both papers down and trace the shape on the contact paper with permanent marker.

5. tape the contact paper down to the cutting board and carefully cut out the outline of the shape.

6. place your board on top of newspaper or scrap paper. peel back the top of the contact paper from its backing and stick it down over your board/wood, lining up the permanent marker box outline with the edges of your board. peel it slowly from top to bottom, using your fingers to smooth out any air bubbles. the contact paper should cover the entire board and go over the sides by an inch, leaving only the surface of the silhouette exposed.

7. go crazy with paint! paint stripes, splatters, words, etc. you want your paint to be the consistency of honey or syrup: not too watered down but flows well. it is important to paint over the majority of the edges of your silhouette. because this is what will define the outline. if you leave to much of the edges unpainted, your shape might disappear.

8. let dry for a few minutes (but not completely dry), and carefully peel off the contact paper. make sure your hands are clean so you don’t smudge the board surface. toss the contact paper when finished. go very slowly and carefully to avoid any mishaps. this is a very satisfying step, but you have to be very careful!

9. set aside the board dry. place in the frame once it has dried thoroughly.

10. repeat steps 3-9 for any remaining images (or do each step for all of your images at the same time, so you have them all drying at the same time.)


mrs c

I think this is a wonderful idea, I am a pre-k teacher and my children could make these and they would make a great mother’s day present! thanks for the great instructions.


Love this idea. The stencil is great. Can use it for tons of ideas! I am def. a sucker for bow ties ;)


brilliant! I was making a silhouette images of my dogs for my mom and they needed something to pep them up a little. this is PERFECT!

oh design sponge, you never cease to amaze me!


this would look lovely as a bicycle! I had much success with the recycle bed linen DIY so hopefully this one will turn out as well!



This is a great idea! I’ve done the same type of thing on cards with a message or on envelopes with a name. Check out my cool ideas at


This is a great idea! I’ve done the same type of thing on cards with a message or on envelopes with a name.


That is such a neat idea…..really skies the limit on design, color, and theme. Great! Kid’s Rooms, Kitchens, Bathroom….very cool and quick. Love it!


How adorable are these! Do you suppose it would work to make a stencil of my son’s silhouette (probably traced from a photo) and make that as a Mother’s Day present? Or would the painting be too imprecise to be able to really tell what we’re seeing?


abi –
i think you can definitely do a portrait silhouette, it sounds like a great idea! just make sure that the paint covers all edges of the design, so when you peel away the contact paper the entire outline will be distinguishable against the white background, and maybe use dark colors so the contrast is high. i think this will allow you to see the shape quite clearly, even if it’s detailed. good luck!


cute. i will have to try it.
thank you so much.

happy happy friday.



This looks like so much fun! I will definitely have to try it with my kids.

Thanks so much.

Mandeep Khunkhuna

Silhouettes look amazing in design, but as you mentioned we have seen them before. This is a great way of re-creating the silhouette. I would love to see how this would turn out in digital art. I think I am going to take this idea and re-create it for the web.

The stripes look great but with your instructions you could really create and pattern design for the silhouette.


i love the traditional media mixed with the silhouettes which typically reminds me of digital media. i love the colors and can’t wait to make some for my new apartment.


So… I’m kind of clueless. Can I do this with freezer paper rather than contact paper? I must have confused my inspirational ideas – I bought home freezer paper in hopes of trying this tonight. Will it work?


i sort of thought this won’t work when i saw that you need so many things to make this, but then i realized, not at all! you can make everything based on this idea. love this! thumbs up!

Grace M

I don’t get ‘illustration board’? I have checked my local art supplies websites and they don’t have this, is there any other thing I could use as a substitute, I could use canvas, but I’d like to frame it easily?