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Dream Tale Puppets

Building Tabletop Puppet – Second Session

Hello participants of the Summer Acting and Puppetry Workshops! This post explains the next steps of building your tabletop puppet. It shows how to paint the head and the hands.


Begin with outlining the shape of the eyes. You may use a pencil first, and then when you know the shape, size, and placement you want for the eyes, use a black marker.

When the outlines are ready, use a pencil again to draw the outlines of the irises. You may want to draw some drafts on a piece of paper first. You can see some possible options in the pictures. Choose the size and location of the irises. Are they fully visible? Or perhaps they could be partly covered by the upper or lower eyelid? Are they placed symmetrically or asymmetrically? Are they big or small?

Prepare a thin brush, water in a cup, and a small plastic lid or a piece of cardboard for the paints. Squeeze a drop of the paint onto the palette (a lid or a piece of cardboard), and you are ready to paint.


I used acrylic paints. The advantage of using acrylic paints is that they cover better than watercolor paint or markers. This means that you can paint over the first layer of color using another color, and the second layer of paint usually covers the first layer well. Watercolor paint may not be as good for coverage; you might need to paint the top layer twice or three times. When using markers, you would need to find other ways. Most markers are not good at covering the first layer. You may need to experiment on paper to see how to use markers to achieve similar effects to those achievable more easily when using paints, or you may need to accept simpler or different effects.

Use the paint or a color marker to color the irises. After the first layer is painted, let it dry. When the irises are dry you may add brighter or darker colors, or another color for the edges of the irises or their inside. Let it dry.

While the irises of the eyes are drying, you may paint the head all over. Use the acrylic paint provided in your activity kit. Note that the color may be different to the one you see in the pictures. The characters in the different parts of the play live in different worlds. Different colors of their skin represent a variety of those worlds. Also, some of you will notice that these colors do not realistically depict skin colors. Some characters will have skin with a tint of blue, while others may have gray skin.


To paint the head, if possible, use a flat brush about half an inch wide with stiff bristles. This could be the same brush you used for spreading glue for paper mache. Paint one side of the head. Remember—do not paint the eyes. Let it dry; putting the head on a plastic cup could help.


While the head is drying, you may paint one side of the hands using the same paint.

Then paint over the other side of the head. Let it dry. Do the same with the other side of the hands. If you want to make the surface of the face, head, and hands harder, you may choose to paint the basic color twice or even three times. If you do so, remember to let the surface dry before painting the next layer.

When the head is dry, you can add a darker shadow over the eyes and around the nose. You may also make the upper parts of the nose brighter. You don’t have to; this is your choice.

You might like to add black pupils in the middle of the irises. The pictures below show a variety of options; these are supposed to give you some inspiration. Coordinating shadows with your basic color, you can follow one of these examples or devise your own ways. You might also like to add white dots for the light reflections on the upper part of the irises.

The simplest mouth would be a line. It could be red or brown or black, or perhaps even a different color. You can choose the shape and thickness of the lips. This does not need to be realistic. Is your character happy and smiling, or serious and disagreeable, sad or angry? What shape of mouth she or he will have? You might like to look at emoticons for inspiration. You may also remember that the upper lip is usually darker.

You may want to use one more color to paint the cheeks, and other colors to paint freckles, wrinkles, or eyebrows. You might notice I chose not to paint eyebrows. When painting the cheeks you may dilute the paint with water to achieve some level of transparency.

When the first basic layer of the paint covering the hands is dry, you may paint fingers. To make the fingers visible, paint the lines of shadow between them. If you do so, it would be helpful to use a pencil first, and then use a darker shade of the color of the hands, brown or black paint, or a black marker.

Please remember that these pictures are mainly to explain the technical side of the painting process. The face of your puppet could be very different. You also don’t need to follow all suggestions in detail. You may simplify your process and what the face will look like. Have fun and enjoy your work!

This program is supported in part by grants from the Falmouth, Mansfield, Mattapoisett, Mid-Cape, Carver, and Middleborough Cultural Councils, local agencies which are supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.


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