Eyes tell a story about the character. They are the focus. The window to the soul.
One of the most gratifying parts of creating a one-of-a-kind doll is composing the face.
That’s right- composing. Like a spectacular painting, an enthralling musical composition or any other work of art, a doll’s face is “composed” of many parts – which as a whole, makes for a composition. What makes a composition successful? That depends on whether the piece captivates the viewer and holds his or her attention. In the case of a face, what is more captivating than eyes?
In classic sculpture, and in science for that matter, we are reminded that eyes are essentially round balls. In this regard, cloth dolls need not be different. We’ll create our own eye balls, and carefully insert them into the doll face. We can create eyelids, too. False eyelashes, lots of make-up… by making “real eyes,” you’ll open up so many new possibilities that lend themselves to a distinctive look. In fact, I am willing to bet that the way you make eyes will become your “artistic signature!”Essentially, we will be making beads. The beads are strung into the head, secured by a strong thread that runs from ear to ear. What can be more straightforward than that? It doesn’t sound complicated or difficult, and it isn’t. In fact, it’s fun!
- White polymer clay OR air dry clay (if you use air dry clay you must wait until it hardens before painting)
- Long dollmaker’s needle
- Tin foil
- Paint of your choice- white and black, and a combination of colors for the iris depending on what color you want your eyes to be:
- Blue eyes: blue, green, gray and maybe some yellow
- Green eyes: dark green, light green, yellow, maybe some blue or brown
- Brown eyes: Brown, yellow, green (By all means, choose any color combination you like. These are just suggestions).
- Diamond Glaze or 3D Crystal Lacquer- to make a cornea
- Micron pen in black
- Very fine paintbrush
- Red Sweater, yarn, or something with red lint
- An enlarged photograph of the human iris (helpful as a guide but optional)
- Eye sizing tools (described below – optional)
When sculpting a head in polymer or air dry clay, eyes are incorporated right into the sculpt. Eyes made from glass, silicone or porcelain can withstand the oven temperature needed to cure polymer clay. After the eyes are placed on the face, the artist will add eyelids and outer eye structures. It’s relatively straightforward.
These tools remind me of toy drumsticks! Made of wood, each one is a simple wooden stick with two different sized balls on each end. Like eyes, the balls are exact to the millimeter, and the size is conveniently marked for us on the stick. By pushing the correct size ball into the clay, a perfect eye socket is created with precision and ease.
Now that we have the concept down, let’s go through the eye-making process step-by-step.
- Roll out a pair of polymer clay “marbles.”
- Trim them with an X-acto knife as needed, until they are the same size. Do the best you can but don’t spend too long seeking perfection. The eyes are going to be beautiful, and fabric is more forgiving for sockets than a clay sculpture!
- When you are satisfied, pass a thick needle through the clay balls. You now have beads.
- Simulate tiny blood vessels in the eyes by rolling them in a red sweater. The lint will stick to the clay and give the eyes a realistic look.
Support the eye beads so they do not touch the work surface. Do this by sticking each end of the needle into two wads of tin foil, or lay the ends on blocks of wood. Do what is convenient for you. The important thing is that your support mechanism must be oven proof.
- Place the supported eyes into the oven and bake according to the manufacturer’s direction. If you are using air dry clay, skip that step. Let your eye beads harden and come back in a few days!Tip: if you want to create several pairs of eyes, then use a long dollmaker’s needle.
These beads are 14mm. They are perfect for a doll’s head whose standard proportions are suited to a 20 – 22” doll.
PAINTING THE EYES
This is the fun part. For help getting started, refer to the eye diagram for shading samples. It’s also a good idea to look at enlarged photos of eyes while you work. Magazines are great for that, or if you can work near a computer, search for clip art of eyes. Microsoft’s website has very good samples.
- Using a pencil, lightly draw a circle in the middle of each marble. This represents the iris (colored portion of eye).
- Decide which color you want the eyes to be. Have two shades available- one lighter than the other. Since you are using paint, you can mix white with your color to obtain a lighter shade.
My light source will be on the right.
- Paint the entire iris in the lighter shade of your desired color.
- Blend the darker color into the Left side (remember, my light source is on the right)
- Allow paint to dry.
- Paint a black pupil in the middle of the iris.
- With a very steady hand, pull some paint out from the pupil and into the iris, to form spokes. If necessary, add a bit more paint to the iris after making spokes. Alternatively, use a micron pen. The nib on a micron pen is so thin, you’ll get more spokes. That means more detail!
- Use some green (for brown eyes) or gold (for blue or green eyes) to make dots between the spokes. Do this sporadically (not between every spoke.) This creates a bit of contrast and grabs attention. It really makes the eyes look very special!
- Do a little more blending in the iris as needed. Remember, every person’s eyes are different, and you want to draw attention to your doll’s unique and beautiful eyes. Allow the entire eye to dry.
- Outline in a dark micron pen, as with the pencil. If the eyes are brown, use black. If blue, use either navy, brown or black. If green, use a dark shade of green, brown or black.
- Add a white highlight spot to “reflect the light.” Use a ball stylus or the back of a sewing machine needle. It’s round and will produce a nice “dab” that’s easier to control than a paintbrush. If you get a “peak, don’t worry.” Use your paintbrush to gently remove the excess paint.
And here is a pair. CORNEA
When the pupil is completely dry, use 3-D Crystal Lacquer or Diamond Glaze to create a cornea. (I prefer the former). These products are surprisingly easy to control and contain right on the pupil. It looks like glass! By the way, you can use them to make fingernails.
WHITE OF THE EYE
If you are making a faerie or some kind of “enchanted” doll, then this might be just the thing.
There are paints out there with gorgeous metallic pigment, called ‘interference _ _ _’ These colors have a soft, subtle “glowing” look. For eyes, interference blue or interference gold are stunning. Try painting the white of the eye with these.
If you still want to use the red lint, try aggravating the sweater or yarn over the eyes, and let the fibers fall and get stuck inside the paint.
Another fabulous product is Pearl Ex Pigment powder. It also comes in these interference colors. If you have it, mix it into white paint or just smudge it on a cotton swab. Be careful not to let it stray into the iris.
If you are planning to make a doll head with needle sculptured features, do the sculpting before inserting the eyes. It’s a great idea to combine these techniques since they are both add a third dimension. They look great together!
PREPARE TO INSERT THE EYES INTO THE CLOTH HEAD
After you’ve done your needle sculpting, there is one more step. Create eyelids that will cradle the eyes, and make them look natural.
1. With the same fabric used for the doll, make a bias strip. Simply fold the fabric in half, leaving the rough edges alone. Don’t iron it. You’ll need two- one for each eye (so just cut it in half). The length needed for each eye is the diameter of the eyeball (from hole to hole), plus a seam allowance.
- Cut fabric
2. Fold in half to make bias strip 3. Thread up a needle. Lay the bias strips on the topside of the eye, and attach the eyelid by bringing the needle from one side to the other. (Enter left, pass to right, re-enter right, exit left and tie off.
4. Repeat for other eye.
INSERT THE EYES INTO THE HEAD
1. Using an X-acto knife or small embroidery scissors, cut a slit for each eye. Better to make them slightly small, so you can cut them a bit more if needed. Turn the raw edges under.
Prepare yourself to insert the eyes!
This part is very tricky. Sometimes you can attach the eyes in with a long dollmakers needle and thread- by stringing them like beads from ear to ear. Sometimes it won’t work, and the eyes tend to “sink” too far in. It depends on the size of the head, the fabric you use, and sometimes luck. If you have a hard time with the following technique, get your glue handy and just glue the eyes into the head.
1. Enter the needle at the ear area. Bring the needle through the head and through eyes, bias strip “eyelids” included. Exit at the opposite ear.
2. Re-enter and repeat; exit at the ear you started from and knot off.
At this point, the folds or eyelids probably need adjustment.
3. Using a sharp needle, manipulate the eyelids and folds until they sit over the eye and in the socket properly. This takes patience, but it works!
Pull the eyelids out as desired, like an awning on a sunny day.
Give the doll eyelashes. Just stick them right onto the eyeball, under the eyelid and out of the line of sight. If they don’t stay so well, carefully appy a drop of crazy glue with a pin.
Add make-up, false eyelashes, etc. as desired.
Three-dimensional eyes give cloth dolls a fantastic whimsical look. It’s probably my “signature technique”- I learned how to do it by trial and error and it’s my favorite cloth doll face – making method. Eye hope you try making 3 D doll eyes of your own!