Silhouette artist on cutting edge

Published 1:26 am Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tim Arnold (center) cuts a silhouette as Callie Dawson (left) and Carl Alligood pose. (WDN Photo/Mike Voss)

When it comes to cutting silhouettes, many folks believe, well, that Tim Arnold is a cut above other American silhouette artists.

Arnold, known as the Silhouette Man, is displaying his talents at Russell’s Gentlemen’s Clothing on Main Street in downtown Washington today and Friday. He began his three-day stint at Russell’s on Wednesday.

Arnold, who lives in central Tennessee, has been cutting silhouettes professionally for about 40 years. urrently, he’s touring multiple states, appearing at department stores and children’s specialty shops. Arnold’s mother, Garnett Arnold, who lives in Hamilton, Ohio, taught him the art of cutting silhouettes, according to the artist’s website.

In 1990, Arnold was invited to the White House to help collaborate on a children’s book with Sharon Bush. Arnold cut silhouettes of three of President George H.W. Bush’s grandchildren. They were birthday gifts for Barbara Bush. The silhouettes were displayed in the White House.

“Just these little scissors and paper, that’s it,” Arnold replied when asked what tools and materials he used to create silhouettes.

It takes about three to four minutes to make most silhouettes, he said. It takes longer to make silhouettes of “fancy girls with real elaborate hairdos,” he noted.

“I do a lot more detail than most silhouette artists do, so it might take a little bit longer,” Arnold said Wednesday as he worked on a silhouette of a boy. “I do a lot of interior detail. You don’t see the interior detail in most silhouettes. Most silhouettes are solid black.”

Arnold, a former advertising executive who worked in New York, said there are about 12 to 15 silhouette artists in the United States. Of that number, about four travel the country to create silhouettes, he said.

“There are not many of us. It’s kind of a lost art,” he said.

“I was actually a painting major in college, and my mom just kept bugging me to try this č and I finally did,” Arnold said.

Arnold said other art forms came easy to him, but taking on silhouettes became a “real learning curve,” he said.

Asked if he remembers the subject of his first silhouette, Arnold said, “I was practicing. I would just lasso anyone I could find to cut them. I was in college at the time, and I would go to the laundromat and I would walk around in the room and ask the ladies if I could do silhouettes of their kids. They all looked at me like I was some weirdo.”

“Hundreds of thousands. Hundreds of thousands,” he replied when asked how many silhouettes he’s cut over the years.

“I’ve been doing this since 1971. It’s been a full-time business since 1986,” Arnold said.

Arnold’s appearance at Russell’s is resulting in many appointments, especially in the afternoons after schools let out.

“Ronda Lyons, who started with us back in February, has a history with Tim. She had him in Washington last year at Everyday Creations, where she used to work,” said Russell Smith, owner of Russell’s, on Wednesday afternoon when asked how Arnold came to his shop. “It was one of her goals to bring him back this year, and so we agreed to do that. He had such a good response in Washington last year that he said he wanted to come for three days this year.”

“He’s pretty booked, especially after school, but he’s still got a lot of open times,” Smith said.

Folks wanting silhouettes don’t have to show up at Smith’s shop in person. Arnold can work with photographs e-mailed to him. He just opens a photograph up on his computer’s screen and begins cutting.

“They guy’s really talented. It’s a lot of fun to watch him work,” Smith said.

A silhouette č actually two identical silhouettes facing each other č costs $40, with additional silhouettes of the same person or persons costing $10 each. Frames, which cost $30, are available, but do not have to be purchased when obtaining a silhouette. To make an appointment with Arnold while he’s in Washington, call Russell’s at 946-2120 or visit the shop at 118 W. Main St.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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