DIY Canvas Art: Charcoal Silhouettes

With silhouettes all the rage and chalkboards even hotter, I wanted to jump on the trend, but with my own little DIY canvas art spin.  I decided to experiment with charcoal on canvas, creating  the same textured black as a well-used chalkboard.

I have a basement stairway with a very tall, narrow ceiling that is perfect for a gallery space.  I’ve slowly been adding my work along with the kids work to this space, and these DIY canvas art charcoal silhouettes fit perfectly in the space directly in your line of sight as you descend the stairs.  I plan to include the entire family straight up that wall to the top!

silhouette very long view amy reneaSupplies needed to make your own DIY canvas art:

Directions for DIY canvas art:

First things first – you need a profile!  I recruited my kids when they were happy and well fed and bribed them with an episode of ‘Jake and the Neverland Pirates’.  Even though they were happy and well-bribed, I still had to work very quickly.  Make sure you have your supplies ready to go before starting because irritable children make this project a disaster.

The basic setup is to place yourself in front of the canvas, with your child sitting sideways behind the canvas and a bright light shining directly towards the child and canvas.  My older son held the canvas beside his face for the drawing, but with younger children, you will want to enlist a helper.

It is essential that the head stay completely still while you trace the profile, so your helper might be best utilized to hold the child’s head steady.

Using a very sharp pencil or charcoal stick, quickly trace the shadow outlined on the canvas.  Work in as broad of strokes as you can for the head, neck and chin while using smaller movements for the more fine-tuned facial features.

Once you have the basic outline, go back and fine tune the edge details while your child is still holding still.

This is what my profile looked like after the quick sketch.  The hair on the forehead, nose and lips were right on, but the neck was out of whack.  Fix the details before moving  on to charcoal sticks because it is much harder to fix later!

Once the profile drawing is right, start filling in the face with a charcoal stick.  Use strokes in the same directions for the whole face, working in 3-4 inch sections at a time.  Blend the charcoal with blending stumps or tortillions if needed.

For the second DIY canvas art silhouette, I wanted to do something a little different.  I wanted a split B/W canvas with the facial profile peeking out from behind the wall.  For this this portrait, I followed the same technique above, but then added a straight line to the top and bottom of the profile.  I used a cabinet door as the straight line marker, but any ruler or straight edge will work.

Simply draw the line straight and fast down the edge of your ruler (or cabinet door!).

Fill in the entire profile section, including the corners of the canvas, with charcoal.  Hairspray will help to set the charcoal and blend it further.  I  took the canvas outdoors (the charcoal will FLY and make a mess of your house indoors!) and gently sprayed only in the black charcoal sections.  Do not spray heavily along the edge of the profile as it will bleed.

silhouette 2 amy renea a nest for all seasons If you do have any mishaps, immediately use a tiny bit of Windex and paper towel to wipe the charcoal off the white canvas.

Allow your DIY canvas art to dry flat for at least a day and then shake them outside to make sure the charcoal is not loose.  If it is, you might need to add more charcoal, blend and spray again.  Once they are completely dry and set, hang and enjoy!

DIY Canvas Art Silhouettes

About Amy Renea

Hey y'all! I'm Amy Renea, a freelance photographer and writer based out of Hershey, PA. I spend my days chasing children and chickens around the back yard, sipping on dandelion tea and munching on sweet potato chips. Come visit the Nest for All Seasons to learn more about my food, photography, DIY designs and modern garden living!


  1. says

    So neat! This is a great way to make one of those silhouette crafts and get to involve your kids too! Kennedy always wants to help with my crafts! I’m going to have to try this one out!

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