Cutting a Fine Figure

Times Staff Writer

BLAME it on the iPod. Ever since the newfangled personal jukebox launched with ads featuring old-fashioned silhouettes, the simple black cutout has become a popular motif in contemporary design.

Named after the pre-Revolution French finance minister Etienne de Silhouette, these small-scale, big-impact portraits possess “a subtle, sentimental charm of time long ago,” says master cutter Tim Arnold, who offers his services, at $35 a head, on .

In the hands of today’s designers, however, silhouettes have gone from quaint to hip — they’re black and white and rad all over again. Offering a sly, sideways view of life in the 21st century, silhouettes strike a new profile as framed art, pop sculpture and an eye-catching graphic on household products that are as useful as they are entertaining.