Like his young clients, silhouette artist Karl Johnson enjoys cutting paper with scissors. But what makes his art different is that people from around the country seek him out to create timeless paper portraits that capture a precious moment in a child’s life.
On Nov. 9, third-generation silhouette artist Karl Johnson visited Little Harbor Co., a children’s clothing store on Winslow Way, to create hand-cut silhouettes for local families.
In less than two minutes, Johnson quickly trimmed a delicate portrait of each child sitting in profile in front of him. As he cajoles and jokes, and they wiggle and squirm, he swiftly freehand cuts a distinctive two-dimensional likeness complete with curls and hair bows, with eyelashes and glasses, that make each person’s profile unique.
Johnson was born blind in one eye and said he sees the world in a two-dimensional way. He learned the art form as a childhood hobby from his father, also a professional, and it evolved into a full-time job in the mid-1980s as a “starving art student” at the Art Institute of Atlanta.
During college, he perfected his craft at Dollywood — singer-actress Dolly Parton’s theme park in Tennessee — and has since become internationally known for his work.
With word-of-mouth advertising, Johnson has a following of celebrity clients including; actor Tom Cruise, director Steven Spielberg and TV star Oprah Winfrey, who featured him in her Favorite Things list of 2010.
If it weren’t for cutting portraits, Johnson might have gone into advertising, but said, “This work suits me so much. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Johnson’s schedule in Bainbridge was filled by mothers who brought their children in for a portrait. Jen Roth brought her boys, Raiden, a fifth-grader at Sakai Intermediate School, and Riker, a second-grader at Wilkes Elementary.
As paper clippings fluttered to the floor and piled up around his feet, Johnson chatted with children about all kinds of kid topics: unicorns, movies and school. He used a pair of German surgical scissors he received from his father, and when he talks about their origin he tells the kids that he found them in an enchanted forest and accidentally dropped them in unicorn poo, which made them magical.
It’s obvious that Johnson enjoys working with kids as he mischievously makes up different versions of the boys names to hold their attention while he completes their paper likeness.
Erika Wisner from Poulsbo brought in her daughters — 3-year-old Kimberly and 5-year-old Scarlett. It was a first-time visit for Kimberly, who sat perfectly still. Within minutes, Johnson magically captured Kimberly’s cherubic profile, much to her mother’s delight, in a unique and nostalgic way.