Fancy Silhouettes on Vintage Plates (a LONG tutorial)

(For those of us with short attention spans who may not make it to disclaimers at the ends of posts, let me stress that this tutorial produces plates that are fit for decorative use only–hence the triangle picture hangers and ribbon.  Please do not try and eat from these plates, as I’m pretty sure the paint is harmful at best if consumed.)

Chelsey sent me the most awesome birthday gift in September, and since her birthday is right after mine, at the end of October, I immediately started trying to think up an thrifty, fun, and personal gift I could make for her.  I took a couple of things about Chelsey into consideration.  First, I knew she and Nick were planning on moving into a new, much larger, house at the time and would need things to hang on the walls of that house.  I also kept in mind the fact that Chelsey loves her cats just as much as I do.  I decided to do some sort of untraditional silhouettes of Chelsey, Nick, Mouse, and Buster on coordinating thrifted floral plates.  The color scheme was pretty limited to what the plates looked like, so my first goal was to find the plates.  It took me a few trips to various thrift stores, but I was finally able to settle on these four.

Four floral plates waiting to be painted with cat silhouettes.

I tried to stick to plates of the same size, pattern, and general color scheme--which made the search a bit challenging but was, in my opinion, worth the trouble.

To complete this project for yourself, you’ll need the following items:

  • side-profile pictures of the gift recipient (or yourself!) and other family members
  • basic photoshop skills
  • coordinating thrifted plates
  • cardstock and waxed paper
  • spray adhesive
  • cutting mat (or other surface you don’t mind damaging)
  • craft knife (I purchased this one especially for the project, and I feel it was a sound investment)
  • enamel paint and enamel paint remover/thinner (found in the model car section of the craft store; the fumes are very offensive, so you’ll want to use proper precaution when handling this stuff)
  • superglue
  • triangle picture hangers
  • coordinating ribbon

I picked up everything but the first four items in one trip to the craft store.  Though it looks like a lot, I didn’t really use up anything but the plates themselves and one tiny bottle of paint, so all I have to do is get more plates and I’ll have supplies to many many more silhouettes. And boy do I plan to!

A large chunk of the work on these was done in photoshop.  Basically, Chelsey’s boyfriend Nick very sneakily took profile pictures of Chelsey and himself and emailed them to me. I used google to get the close-enough cat pictures and made Mouse’s silhouette (the shorthair, pictured below) a little fatter to reflect real life.

In very un-technical terms, I’ve summed up what I did in the following steps:

  • First, erase the background of each picture so all that’s left is the profile of the face or cat on a blank background.  You’ll use the Magnetic Lasso tool to trace around the face, then Select > Inverse and Edit > Cut to get rid of all that unnecessary background stuff.
  • If you’re going to edit the image at all do it now; make the face/cat all black selecting Edit > Fill and using black.  I recommend this step because it gives you a better idea of what your finished product will look like.  Once the image is all black, you can see where you might need to paint in additional fat (like I did with Mouse) or clean up the hair and neckline (Nick and Chelsey’s pictures cut off at the base of the neck, but I added the bottoms of some basic silhouettes I found via Google Images to make them more professional looking).
  • Now, once that’s done use the Magic Wand tool to select the silhouette only (you’ll probably have to Select > Inverse to make sure the background isn’t included; I did), then Edit > Stroke to create an outline of the silhouette.  I made my stroke about 5 px black, and I found that perfect for tracing with a craft knife.
  • Now Edit > Cut everything else, so that all you have is the outline of a silhouette. You’re done, son!  Just make sure to print them in the appropriate size, which will vary depending on the plate you use.  My 5 x 7 index cards were just right for the small plates I chose.
Cut-outs of Nick, Chelsey, and Mouse.

This step is one of the most important, so take your time!

Once you’re done with the Photoshop part, pat yourself on the back.  Most of the time I find technology frustrating at best.  However, cutting out the silhouettes was one of the most difficult steps for me because it took the most time, and I’m not very patient.  I used the craft knife mentioned above and a self-healing cutting mat and traced very carefully along each outline, making sure to save both the cutout and the outline.

Cutout of Mouse on plate.

For important for placement purposes, especially for those of us who are bad at visually centering things.

Next I used the cutout as a guide for where to place the outline.  This is helpful because you can see which parts of the plate will be visible once the silhouette is painted on.  Once I decided on placement, I used the spray adhesive to stick the stencil (the outline) to the plate.  After giving it about a minute to dry, I painted in the silhouette in about two layers, allowing 5-10 minutes of drying time in between.

(A note: After completing this project once, I’d like to recommend you use a combination of cardstock and waxed paper.  Next time I do these I will probably use spray adhesive to temporarily stick the waxed paper to the cardstock, trace the silhouette, use the cardstock cutout for placement, and then stick the waxed paper to the plate and paint on top of it.  The cardstock bled and required more touchups and cleanup than I’m a fan of.)

Allowing the paint to dry before peeling off the stencil.

Once the paint was dry, to make sure I kept the silhouettes straight I marked the center top and bottom on the backs of the plates with a dry erase maker.  Then I flipped over the plates and super glued a triangle bracket (triangle pointing up) in the center of the back of each plate.  Once the glue was dry, I cut four 8″ lengths of ribbon, threaded each one through a triangle bracket, and tied a knot at the end (leaving about 1/2″ ribbon past the knot).  The ribbon is for hanging the plates, and you can use more if you get an especially pretty ribbon and want it to show.

This was my favorite of the plates, so I used it for Chelsey. What looks like a streak in the paint is really glare from the lights in my kitchen.

When Nick saw this in person he said, "Do I really look like that?"

Believe it or not, Mouse is really that fat.

And Buster's tail is really that fluffy--and maybe even fluffier.

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3 responses to “Fancy Silhouettes on Vintage Plates (a LONG tutorial)

  1. As the recipient of these plates I must tell you that I absolutely love them. I’ve been staying on Nick’s case to hang them up in my kitchen, but he refuses because he thinks he looks fat in his plate (rolls eyes). Guess I’ll have to get out the ol’ hammer and nails and do it myself.

  2. Faye

    I love this idea Danielle! You are so crafty.

  3. Danielle

    Thanks Selena!

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