I actually thought long and hard about whether or not to share this story with you all—main reason being that it turns out DIY wire portraits are a lot harder to make than you might think! Let’s just say that I have a whole new respect for wire portrait artists who do this regularly. The good news, though, is that I have a totally original piece of handmade art to show for my efforts, plus I managed to experiment with a brand new process that I think I’ll have fun building on in the future.
But I’m getting ahead of myself…It all started when Sarah Sherman Samuel mentioned on her website that she had made a couple of wire portraits of herself and her husband using a wedding portrait as her inspiration. Sarah explained that she used this tutorial via The House That Lars Built to guide her project, and I loved the finished look. It seemed really straightforward, so I added it to my looooooong list of DIYs to try, and then finally found time to give it a shot this past week.
Scroll on for my process, including a couple of missteps that I hope you guys can avoid if you decide to try the project out for yourselves. I promise it’s worth it!
Here’s What You’ll Need:
- Printable templates (I link to the three I created below)
- Wire cutters
- Foam core board
- Clear tape for hanging it on the wall
The first thing you need is a portrait photo. I wanted to do something really unique (but not necessarily of ourselves), so I went online and Googled phrases like “magazine portrait ad.” All sorts of close-up faces filled my screen, but I chose three of my favorites, zoomed in, and then put a piece of regular computer paper up to the screen.
Next, I traced over the outlines that I could see through the glow of my computer’s monitor without lifting my marker, and the three drawings you see above are the results. You’re welcome to follow my tracing process with a couple of your own family portraits, or feel free to download the original drawings I made using these links: one, two, three.
After that, it’s really just a matter of following the lines with your wire to make the portrait. I started out practicing with thicker wire, but ultimately found that it was just too thick for the look I was going for. I thought it would be good for me to include process photos of what I managed to come up with in case you like the simpler, rounded silhouette (see those above), but I wanted my finished wire portrait to have sharper details, so I quickly moved on to thinner wire.
Using nothing but my fingertips (and a lot of patience), I bent the wire back and forth along the lines of my template. The key, I think, is to unroll a good bit of wire from the roll, and to not cut it until the end—just use one long piece of wire to build the entire portrait, unraveling more as you need to. Doing things this way means that you don’t have to form any connections, which ultimately weaken the strength of the shape.
At one point toward the end, I got a little frustrated with how the wire was flopping all over the place, so I grabbed some pushpins to hold the wire in place over the paper template. I had been working on a piece of foam core board, so I just pushed the pins right into the foam. This definitely helped the wire stay in place, but I would warn you not to use the pushpins to try to build the portrait itself. Wait until the end to use them just to keep the shape as you finish up the portrait because those finer details are best created slowly using your fingers to bend the wire into place.
The reason I caution you not to rely on the pushpins is that, at one point, I thought maybe I could build the entire portrait around the pushpins, but it didn’t work. As soon as I pulled the pins out of my second wire portrait attempt, the wire just came loose. The pins held it taut and made it easier to work with, but, again, the strength of these portraits really comes down to shaping and bending things with your fingers, and making adjustments after you see how the wire naturally lays without the help of pins.
I get the feeling that, after reading this twisty-turny story, nobody is going to want to try making wire portraits…but I really hope that’s not the case! It’s definitely a process and you have to take things one line at a time, but my finished portrait is exactly what I had in mind when I started out. I think next time I’ll try making it a little larger so it stands out more on the wall, and I might also reconsider how I hang it. Putting it in a frame behind glass, for example, would keep the wire in place without much fuss at all.
Would you give this slightly more advanced DIY a try? I really encourage you to give it a shot! I especially love that, even if we all used the same template, no two wire portraits would look exactly the same. Let me know if you give the project a try or (better yet!) if you can suggest a more logical process for bringing it to life.