How Pia Paints Glass Eyes for Her Animal Sculptures

Our friend Pia creates beautiful animal sculptures that are even more life-like because she hand-paints their glass eyes.

She very generously agreed to take photos while creating eyes for a new Tiger sculpture she’s working on so we could see how they’re made.

I’m very excited about Pia’s tutorial. In fact, I’ll be following her instructions to make eyes for my next sculpture. They look fantastic – and they cost much less than taxidermy eyes.

Thanks, Pia, for sharing your secrets!

How to paint glass eyes for animal sculptures.

© 2019 Pia Blackwell

The eyes are painted on half-round glass cabochons. I order them from amazon. The paint I used are acrylics. You can also use nail polish – especially if you want glitter eyes.

Step 1:

Start by painting a pupil on the back and also color the rim of the glass cabachons.
Adding black pupils to glass eyes.

Step 2:

Let it dry and add your first layer of paint.

Adding the first color on the glass eyes.

Step 3:

Here I am attempting to make eyes for my tiger head bust. I wanted some green in it. Paint your second color it will show through the first layer.

This is how the green looks on the back of the cabachon:

Add the second color to the glass eye.

This is the green showing through when seen from the front:

Green added to glass Tiger eyes.

Step 4:

I use my craft knife to make fine lines by scratching the paint surface. Be careful not to scratch pupil or the rim.

Using a craft knife to create scratches on the glass eye.

Step 5:

Paint the second color again, on the back.

More green added.

Turn the eye over – you can see the second color showing through the fine lines made by the craft knife.

The small green lines make the eyes look realistic.

The green on my eyes was a little too much and too bright in places. I corrected it by scraping those spots off and reapplying base color.

Closeup of the newly painted glass eye.

When the scratches were re-done and the green re-applied, the eyes look like this:

My daughter gave me very good advice one night as I was struggling doing my eyes for the gorilla bust: “Eyes are sisters not twins.”

She is so right and now I don’t worry about making both eyes identical.

Step 6:

The paint on glass is very fragile, so I tape a piece of masking tape as a backing to protect it before I place the eyes on the sculpture.

In the photo below, the eyes have been added to the Tiger sculpture, which which is not yet finished.

Tiger sculpture in process, with glass eyes.

40 thoughts on “How Pia Paints Glass Eyes for Her Animal Sculptures”

  1. Another great way to make really good eyes look super REAL, (sometimes you want eyes bigger than the available sizes of the cabochons) is to add clear, two part epoxy by Devcon over the finished eye. I learned this from a man who makes fantastic Halloween masks- its what he does to make his eyes look real.

  2. Pia, I am working on painting eyes. I have about ten pair. Some of them are looking good, others I need to work on. One big problem I’m having is that the pupils, which started out around the same size, have grown. Some are large black blobs. Did you ever have that problem?

    I think my only solution at this point is to scrape off the paint and begin again. Any ideas?

    Thanks so much.

    • I used a craft knife and I see the paint comes off easily. I’m repainting the few that turned into blobs! Big blobs!

      Love some of the colors.

    • Rex, I haven’t tried Pia’s eye-painting method yet, but is it possible that you could cut round pupils out of black paper and stick them onto the back of the cabochon with clear varnish? Pia, have you ever tried that?

      • I tried to let the first layers of paint dry thoroughly before adding the other colors. The whole process was fun, actually. I was a little shocked, after painting the colors, when I turned the eyes over and there was a HUGE blob of black. To be fair, it only happened on three out of about twenty. And I could trim the huge black blobs down (or take them off entirely) and repaint them easily. The paint comes off easily with a craft knife. I just wondered what I was doing wrong.

        For fun I dragged a craft knife across some of the eyes and painted a gold-yellow on one, green on another pair, and blue on another pair. I hope to get better.

    • HI Rex

      sorry for the late reply I was vacationing in Germany 🙂 You need to let the pupil dry you can also use electrical tape punched out with a hole puncher I tried it once it didn’t work as well as I thought perhaps it was the quality of the tape but some paint got under the tape.

  3. Pia, thank you. This was really interesting. Since I watched how you did it, I’ve been paying close attention to any eyes on dogs around me. This is a great idea. I need to try it. I loved your comment about sisters, not twins.

    I know you’ve told us how you insert the eye in the sculpture, but can you do it again?

    Are you just great.

    • Hi Rex I make a small ball out of the air dry clay and let it dry I dremmel it out to the size of the glass cabachon . It should fit in nice and snug . If you desire no white around your pupil you can just stick it onto the wet clay /or glue it in place .

      • Thank you so much. I received the dog food today but not the cabachon. First things first! I’m back to working on a couple of paper mache projects today, and I’m toying with the idea of cutting out the eyes and replacing them. Don’t know if that is smart at this point. I appreciate your help.

  4. Thank you , Jonni I consider myself a product of your talent I watched hours of your videos observing ,learning admiring and to give back even just a little makes me so happy .

  5. Just Brilliant! I love how this is done. This will allow us to make eyes any color we choose…especially if we are doing something “out of the norm” so to speak. Thank you for sharing this. Hugs, Jeanne

  6. Hi Pia,
    I love this! I’ve done dragon eyes with fingernail polish but I love the idea of using acrylics which I have tons of and this gives me more options. I also noticed the Enterprise headline. My friend worked at the Brockton Enterprise and I live in Western Mass. It truly is a small world.

    I can’t wait to see the finished tiger. It is wonderful now, I’m sure it will be spectacular when finished! Thanks for the tutorial. Linda

    • Thank you , Linda . Yes I also use nail polish I did my gargoyles eyes with it and my grand daughters painted their dragon eyes with sparkly nail polish. They came out awesome . The acrylics are very fragile I messed up painted eyes such as the ones I made in this tutorial and had to redo them so now I use the masking tape as a backing and it works great .

  7. Pia thank you so much for showing us how to do this. Your eyes are just stunning. I love seeing all the talent Jonni shares with us.

    • Hi Jenny , Thank you . I said one time in one of my posts Jonni unleashed me had been following her for years , gave paper mache a try I did ok then quit for a little over a year . The video how to make an armature kicked me back into and gave it a try and my very first 3d sculpture was born of my beloved dog Vito. I surprised myself ! Jonni shares so much of her talent , so we all can dig inside and find out artistic side .

    • Thank you , I was not able to find them in the craft stores around me . I did see some plastic version somewhere but I didn’t think they would give me the effect I was looking for so I have not tried them out

  8. Thanks for the lesson Pia. The eyes look great and I’m looking forward to seeing the tiger. Looks amazing already!

  9. Brilliant, I purchased some pre-made, a piece of paper stuck to the back, they had some where there was a highlight spot on the paper print out, these are no use as the cabochon does a fine job of creating its own highlight.

    I had plans to try this as I have seen it before using nail polish, I may stick with Acrylics, as that’s what I have and there’s not the fumes either.

    Any tips on getting the right size of cabochon for the project at hand?

  10. Beautiful work. Thanks for sharing.
    The eyes are the windows of the soul. And they can add so much to artwork too.

    • Yes John exactly ! My gorilla’s eyes have soul everyone that sees my Harambe always mentions his eyes. If you take just a little bit of shellac to the under lid of the eye like I did with him it makes them look a little wet, in his case you really can tell in the evening when the over head lights are on looks like he is a tad teary eyed . I had my own thoughts about as I was making his eyes the way they are and looking to the side and his facial expression of wise yet questionable . I adore the sculpture Thanks, John

      • If I use clear fingernail polish, will that do the same as shellac; do you think? I’m thinking about making a dog that I what to have a tear in his eye.

  11. Hi Pia,
    The eyes are amazing! You certainly are gifted! Can’t wait to see the final sculpture! Thank you for sharing.

  12. Thanks for sharing such a terrific idea! The bonus for me is that I didn’t realize that Amazon sold fusible glass supplies!

    • Thank you makes me happy to share with people after all I am self taught and people shared their trick of the trade

  13. Pia, that is fantastic !
    I think we are neighbors?! Your paper in the photo is the Brockton Enterprise (508 area code!) !
    I live next town over in Whitman! I have my studio in Rockland – 3 miles from Whitman.
    Your tiger is wonderful ! Can’t wait to see more !
    Maggie

    • Hi Maggie I am in Plymouth so not that far away . STUDIO ?? Oh my maybe I can come and visit some day 🙂

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