DIY Lover’s Eye Pins

It’s funny how small the world can feel sometimes. During the D*S book tour, Amy and I had an early morning stop in DC at Politics & Prose that led to an unexpected reconnection. Waking up over donuts and coffee with our crafting group, I recognized a face that turned out to be a college classmate of mine! That classmate, Becca Kallem, is now an artist and art teacher in the DC area. In addition to being an artist in residence at the Arlington Arts Center, she also gives talks and teaches workshops across town. She recently emailed me about a Valentine’s Day-themed talk, and I loved it so much that she was kind enough to share the accompanying craft project. So take it away, Becca! xo, grace

I created this project after being really intrigued and inspired by the eye miniatures at the Luce Foundation Center of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The vogue for these “Lover’s Eye” pieces began in the late 18th century. Painted with watercolor on ivory, these mysterious partial portraits would be put into a locket, a little box, a brooch or a ring. That way the recipient could take or wear their lover’s constant, watchful eye everywhere as a reminder of love and also a symbolic sort of proto spy-cam: don’t stray, ‘cause I have my eye on you. One of the earliest eye miniatures depicts the mistress of King George IV. Whether it is an illicit affair or not, since only the eye is depicted, the identity of one’s paramour stays top secret.

I presented a talk and craft workshop at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, and this project is adapted from the topics I covered in my class. Just follow the steps below to make your own Lover’s Eye Pin for that special someone. Or make a whole batch for all your Valentines! — Becca

The full project continues after the jump . . .

Image above: Eye Miniature on an Elliptical Ivory Box, ca. 1800, watercolor on ivory image, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Mary Elizabeth Spencer


  • 1 domino (you can also use little wood blanks from a craft store)
  • Mod Podge (glossy)
  • strong epoxy like E6000 glue
  • pinback
  • small, soft brush
  • pencil
  • X-Acto knife or scissors
  • small eye image from a magazine cutout, a vintage or personal photo or a hand drawing



1. To suggest ivory, I am using a domino. I simply trace around the domino with a sharp pencil so that I can cut my image to the right size, being careful to trace as closely as possible. I tried some eyes that I drew myself as well as some cutouts from old art books and magazines.

2. Using a scissors and a craft knife, I cut out my eye image. I place it on the domino’s blank face to see if it needs to be trimmed a bit more to fit. It should sit flush on the domino’s surface, so if your domino edges are rounded, you want to leave a little border or margin. And that way the “ivory” shows!

3. Now that I am sure my image is the right size, I brush a thin coat of Mod Podge onto the blank side of the domino and then affix the eye. Let it dry a bit and then add a topcoat of Mod Podge to seal and also add shine! You can add several coats for extra shine and protection.

4. Let dry, then use a spot of strong glue to affix a pinback to the back (numbered side) of the domino. Let dry and then gift or wear!

Becca Kallem is an artist and art teacher in the DC area. She is currently an artist in residence at the Arlington Arts Center. Most recently, her work has been shown at DC spaces Pleasant Plains Workshop and Delicious Spectacle, with an upcoming group show at Heiner Contemporary. Check out her work at

  1. kim says:

    Oh! I love this! I have a friend who collects these lover’s eyes, and she also has some with just lips or even an eyebrow. This would be a great DIY project for a bridal shower .

  2. Sarah Reeder says:

    Neat project! It’s great to see what Becca has been up to lately. We used to work together on the William & Mary Review staff.

  3. salazars says:

    What a charming idea! Will have to try it :D

  4. Jennifer says:

    Great idea! I love those tiny miniatures on ivory; there is one with a woman’s breasts that is still startling to me!

  5. Becca says:

    Wow! Now I really want to see the one with breasts, is it in a certain museum collection of privately owned? There was recently an exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art:

    Oh! And another thing, if you like to draw, you can draw on most dominoes with regular old pencil, paint with acrylic, etc….

    Go Tribe! Go Design*Sponge!

  6. Sarah says:

    The Met has a piece like the one Jennifer described. You can find it in their online collections database with the search words “Sarah Goodridge Beauty Revealed.” There is more information about the fascinating story behind the piece in this book:

  7. Shelley says:

    I love these pins, they remind me of Dali or Man Ray images & the history behind them is wonderful. Thank you for the little tutorial :)

  8. Becca says:

    And thanks, Sarah, for the Met info and google books link!


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