Making 'Toony Eyes

          This tutorial will cover how to make eyes by being resourceful with available materials to create cartoony eyes for a mask. This technique yields eyes with good visibility that also help with ventilation.


 Needed Recommended
  • One large plastic bowl.
    • I've found these bowls advertised as "salad bowls" or for storage use, they can be found at Walmart, Kmart, or dollar stores. They are typically inexpensive and are not very thick plastic so they are flexible and easy to cut. If you can't find bowls, you can substitute empty detergent bottles (such as bleach or laundry soap). Try to avoid bowls that are too thick or are brittle. If you can flex the bowl with your hands and it doesn't crack, then its a good one.
  • Scissors.
  • Razor knife.
  • Black "Chiffon" fabric for the pupils. OR white "Buckram" for pupils + irises.
  • Acrylic paint and brushes to apply the iris color. (And/or paint pens or markers, if using buckram.)
    • Black and the color(s) of your choice for the irises. 
  • Vinyl fabric for eyelids.
  • Hot glue and glue gun.
  • Pencil.
  • Paper (to make an eye template before cutting).
  • Drawing compass or circle templates.
  • Dremel (optional).
  • Warm water, heat gun or hair dryer (optional).
  • Krylon Matte Finish spray
  • Fleece fabric to prepare the eye socket area.

  1.           Draw and cut out a paper pattern to use as a template to cut your eye shape from. Match it up with your mask to make the template the proper size and shape. Once you've determined what shape eyes you want, start by taking your scissors and cutting your eye shape out of your plastic bowls. Most of the time the plastic bowls have a lip, cut that off first, which makes it easier to cut the rest of the bowl. It helps to cut the initial rough shape out with your razor knife (larger than your template), and then trim it down to fit with your scissors. Lightly draw in pencil the outline of your eye shape from your template as a guideline to cut your bowl.  Use the curve of the bowls to your advantage, try to match up the curve with the shape of the face of your mask.

  2.           When you have your main eye shape refined enough to your liking, use the razor blade to cut out your pupils. Carefully judge the placement of your pupils, it often helps to use a compass or circle template to trace on a perfectly round pupil with a pencil. Placement and size of your pupils is also key to how well you can see through them. Make sure they are big enough to see out of, and placed appropriately so your vision is not obscured by either the muzzle or the plastic itself. Since I prefer a more oblong shape (that's how I typically draw my character's pupils) I believe it gives a more specific gaze. Be careful to not make your character appear wall-eyed or cross-eyed since eyes are the first thing your audience focuses on. Be sure to think of the overall appearance when deciding the shape and placement of your pupils.

  3.           When you are ready to cut, make a general first cut just to get the blade in, and then shave the plastic into small slivers that will eventually form your pupil shape. A sharp, new blade works best. I prefer a retractable blade so I can have a small amount of the blade out, just enough to cut through the plastic but doesn't get in the way when I make a curved cut. If you make a mistake it helps to have extra material on hand to practice with. Be sure to leave a thin piece of plastic along the bordering edges of the pupil  if it touches the edges so you have enough material to glue the fabric to the eyes, and the eyes to my mask.

          Some reader suggestions on working with the plastic bowls: Perro said: "You can do wonders with a pair of project scissors and a Dremel. You just have to use a little patience and use a light touch when making the initial cuts with the scissors to avoid cracking the plastic. After that smooth with the Dremel." ... Diadexxus suggests: "You can soften the plastic bowl by running it under very hot water, or use a hot air gun then you should be able to cut it with scissors." You could use a heat gun or a hair dryer to warm them.

  1.          Your pupil's holes are cut out, now what? You have a few options depending on what you'd like your end result to look like. For irises painted on the plastic, you can use black chiffon fabric for the pupils. The chiffon fabric is a soft, see-through, meshlike material found in the fabric department of fabric stores. Its often used in wedding dresses. It can be found in the "silky solids" section of Joann's fabrics. It allows you to see out but doesn't let others see in very easily. It is susceptible to camera flashes, though, but otherwise has excellent visibility out. For irises and pupils that are painted on the fabric, you'll need to use buckram. Buckram is a stiff fabric often found near the interfacing (fabric stiffeners) at fabric stores, it comes in different weaves (looser or tighter). Make sure to pick one out that you can see out of, but will conceal your human-self. Both types of fabric yield good results and it is your personal preference for which method you would like to use. For either kind you only need one layer of this fabric to believably conceal your human-self inside the mask, more layers will make it harder to see. The eyes currently pictured through this tutorial use black chiffon for the pupils and the irises are painted on. You can also use buckram for the pupils only and still paint your irises on the plastic. 

        When making the irises, weather painting them on the plastic or on the buckram fabric, this part is my favorite since it can be the most creative! You can get creative by painting more realistic irises, or do anime-inspired ones, or just simple solid-colored ones (as pictured). You can add white for eye shine, make them glow-in-the-dark, different colors that fade from dark to light, anything! Its all up to you on how you'd like your character to look. 

          If you want to paint irises directly on the plastic, use a brush to apply the acrylic paint to the top of your eyes. Since the paint may or may not stick well depending on the plastic's texture, sand the area you plan to paint and make sure your first application of paint dries thoroughly before applying more coats. You can also test your paints on a scrap piece of the bowl so you can practice your technique. If you make a mistake Acrylic paint is washable before it dries. Be sure to paint the inside edge of your pupil-hole, its easiest to paint it the same color as your iris.  If your pupil borders the bottom of your eye and you left a margin of plastic along the edge you can use your black acrylic paint to continue the pupil's shape. Now its time to apply your "chiffon" fabric to your pupils. Cut a small piece in a shape a little bigger than your pupil-hole. Spread out a small bead of hot glue along the first edge and glue down the fabric. You can lay the rest of your chiffon piece over your pupil-hole and apply the glue on top, since the fabric is meshlike the glue will seep through as you spread it with your glue gun. You only need a little bit of glue to get the material to stick to your plastic, make sure it is glued all the way around though, so there are no folds or loose parts.

          If you are using buckram, cut out the fabric in a shape a little bigger than your pupil-hole. You'll have to color both sides of the buckram for best visibility. You can use acrylic paint or markers (use thin layers of acrylic paint when working with the buckram so it does not clog the fabric's holes so you can still see out of it). Using buckram you can make your eye design overlap both the pupil and the iris (like if you are adding a large area of "eye shine"). Because buckram can warp from moisture if left untreated spray Krylon Matte Finish to protect it. Use several light thin coats on both sides to give it water-resistance. Apply the buckram similar to how applying chiffon was described above. A tip for adding "eye shine" is making it come from the same direction, i.e. both left and right eyes have the "eye shine" on the left edge of the pupil/iris. I always add my "eye shine" after the eyes are assembled and installed in the head to prevent them from looking wall-eyed or uneven

  1.           Once the above steps are completed you have almost finished eyes! There's just one more very important thing to add, which most people often omit or forget.. that's eyelids! Eyelids help a lot to give the eyes more character, they add to the overall expression of your mask, and are often an overlooked detail that can add the extra "life" some masks may need. To create some nice-looking eyelids, use Vinyl fabric. I sew one edge under with a straight-stitch on a sewing machine, this helps emulate the folds in the skin of an eyelid, too. If you don't have access to a sewing machine, just fold one edge over and put a thin bead of hot glue, press it flat until its dry. It takes a little playing around with the piece of vinyl to find out what kind of expression you want your mask to have, once you decide, take your hot glue and tack down the left and right edges where the end of the fabric makes the beginning and end of your eyelid. Then run the glue along the back side (the inside) of your eye under the vinyl and press it flat. This way your eyelid sticks up just a little bit so its more dimensional. Trim the excess vinyl from the back side of your eyes and hot glue all the edges so they don't come up. You can also add a piece of fabric to the back side of your eye to cover the white and finish the inside, but only you will see the inside while wearing it, so its up to you how you decide to finish it.

The front and back sides of my completed eye.

  1.           When you prepare your mask for your eyes to be installed, do it once that area is partially furred. This way you will know what it looks like right away, and there's no guessing if the eyes you just made will look good after you fur the rest of the mask. Comb the fur away from the eye socket and prepare the inside by lining the inside with black fleece. On this particular mask (pictured), I glued the edge where the iris touches the fur between the eyes first, then the bottom edge, and then the rest. Just glue the eyes directly to the fur fabric. Comb the fur away from the eyes so you can glue them to the fur backing. As you install your eyes, if the plastic is flexible enough, you can bend it to fit the curvature of your mask's face as you glue it. Once all glued, comb the fur away from the eyes and admire your handiwork.

Hopefully this tutorial was helpful to you!


About Me Art Other Stuff


Home Characters Information

Sara Howard, 2006. (top)