Painting Eyes on Paper Mache

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The last thing I do on all my paper mache sculptures is paint the eyes. This is when the sculpture really comes to life. How I paint the eyes depends on what mood I’m in, and what I’m trying to achieve with the sculpture.

Very Simple Eyes:

Painting Eyes on Paper MachePainting Eyes on Paper MachePainting Eyes on Paper Mache
The piggy bank and flying pig both have very simple eyes. The junco and the bluebirds
(not shown) also have very simple eyes – but even though there isn’t anything there except a dark spot and a tiny pinpoint of light, these little sculptures still seem to have personality.The one thing that I always add is that reflection of light. If the eye is really small I use the end of a pin as a brush, because it’s easier for me to control than a real brush.
Painting Eyes on Paper MacheThe baby whale also has very simple eyes, painted with a pin. This is a fairly large wall sculpture, but the size of the eyes needed to be quite small to indicate the total size of the huge animal the sculpture represents.

More Realistic Eyes:

Painting Eyes on Paper MachePainting Eyes on Paper MachePainting Eyes on Paper Mache
The orangutan mask, giraffe, and dragon have more detailing around the eyes. The dragon has the most realistic eyes of all the sculptures on this site, which is ironic since it’s one of the
two animals represented that aren’t real.The modeling of the sculptures adds considerably to the detailing on these pieces – the giraffe’s eyelashes cast a strong shadow over her eyes, for instance. The mask’s eyelid modeling makes her seem quite human. And the heavy brow ridge on the dragon, modeled after an eagle’s “eyebrow” bone, casts a strong shadow and lends realism to the piece.
Painting Eyes on Paper MachePainting Eyes on Paper Mache
The two rabbits on the site – the lop-eared bunny and short-eared bunny, have semi-realistic eyes.The short-eared bunny’s eyes actually look more realistic in person because the modeling was done with plastic clay and the paper mache was added over the clay. This allowed me to be quite precise with the shaping of the bunny’s eyes, as well as the light-colored band (the upper and lower eyelids), around the eyes. I was in too much of a hurry when I made the lop-eared rabbit, so the eyes don’t have the roundness they really need to feel realistic.

But, as I said in the beginning, how I paint the eyes really depends on what mood I’m in. It’s really amazing how a simple spot of color will appear to be a realistic eye, simply because we know an eye is supposed to be in that particular place on a face. But to make eyes shine, they do need that little spot of reflected light. That’s the “secret” that makes a paper mache animal sculpture come to life.

12 thoughts on “Painting Eyes on Paper Mache”

  1. Hi. I created this paper mache elephant and zebra about a year ago and have been gearing up to make a new animal. This website is so inspiring! I’ve been reading about all sorts of tips I didn’t know about…thank you! The reason I’m leaving this as a comment here is the eyes on these are microwave lightbulbs (left as is – unpainted). It’s difficult to tell, even up close. I think I’ll try painted eyes on the next one for more detail, but lightbulbs work really well as an alternative.

    • Very nice, Tara! And what a great tip about the lightbulbs for eyes. If you would like more people to see your work, you might want to re-post your comment and image on the Daily Sculptors page. More people subscribe to the comments on that page, so more people would learn about your solution for the eyes, too.

  2. Hi jonni! Im wondeing how do you paint the eyes of the horse sculpture in the book – Make animal sculptures with Paper mache clay. Thanks hope you can answer back quickly!

    • Hi Annika. Since my horse is very small, there wasn’t much room for details. I just used a thin wash of black acrylic paint over the brown, and added a white spot for a reflection. Here’s a close-up of the horse’s face –


      • Hi jonni! Thanks for the reply. how do you make the ears, the nostrils, the mouth and the hair for the horse? Do you have any tips?

        • All of the details, like eyes, nostrils, and mane are modeled right into the wet paper mache clay. I added the ears by cutting out a piece of light cardboard, rolling it up, and then taping it to the head. The cardboard is covered with a very thin layer of paper mache clay.

    • I have not painted human eyes on paper mache, but there are a number of really good tutorials online for painting eyes on flat canvas or paper. Do a Google search and you’ll find some that are very helpful.

  3. I second what http://www.howtospeak-japanese.com/ said in above post. The eyes are wonderfully designed. We checked out the whole site last night with the kids and probably have to start working on our own animals this weekend (despite the good weather).

    Thanks again for providing this wonderful site with a lot of how-to content that I otherwise would have to do extensive searches for.

  4. Interesting read about how to sculpture and paint the eyes – You are right with saying “This is when the sculpture really comes to life”. I see the same in photography that when shot from the wrong angle or using a bad light source, the picture can heavily screw up.

    One thing I found is that this page only has ads for Eye surgery dispayed. You can improve targeting of your ads f by using a special tag in your code (google_ad_section_start), so that it shows ads more related to the content of your blog.


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