How to Place Eyes on a Puppet

I originally published Where to Put Eyes on a Puppet on June 5, 2017. I revised the original article on February 3, 2021. The next few blog articles will be a series on eyes that expands a bit on the original article.

Eye placement has always been a challenge for me when I make puppets. That’s the main reason I prefer to hand sew features. If I make a mistake, then I can retry by cutting the stitches and resewing the features. When I placed the eyes where I thought they should be or around the area similar to a real animal, then they always looked off.

Then I stumbled across some information from how the Muppets are made. Don Sahlin and Jim Henson’s “Magic Triangle” explain that the eyes and nose are placed close together forming a triangle. I was continuously placing the eyes too far apart which made my puppet look weird. And even when my puppet “looked” straight at the audience, the audience saw the eyes looking in another direction. So I finally figured out to place the eyes almost touching each other and as close to the nose as possible.

When I first made this cow, I placed the eyes more “realistically.” The eyes are closer to the horns and more to the side of the head – just like a real cow. But it looks strange. When I hold my hand in a comfortable position for performing, then the puppet is looking up at sky with each eye looking in different directions.

In order for the puppet to look at the audience, I really had to crank my wrist down in a really uncomfortable position. It hurts just to look at this photo! Imagine keeping that position for an entire puppet show.

My solution is to place the eyes on either side of the Head Front seam and right next to each other. Also, align them right next to the Head Front – Mouth seam. The puppet now “looks” at you when the wrist is at a natural angle. I could’ve placed the eyes even closer together by moving the right closer just a bit.

To me the eye placement is an improvement over the first image. The next thing I would change is the size and placement of the pupils. Stay tuned to the next few blog posts for that topic.