People have been making hand-painted eggs for centuries. Today, the craft ranges from children’s simplistic painting of hard-boiled eggs to artists creating meticulously detailed paintings and designs on egg-shaped forms. These forms can be genuine bird’s eggs or wood carved into egg shapes. Throughout the world, collectors buy and trade these hand-painted egg works of art.
Many crafters of hand-painted eggs start out with chicken eggs as they are inexpensive and readily available. Artists, especially those who carve the eggs as well as paint them, prefer to work with eggs that are slightly larger and have thicker shells. Any type of egg can be painted, but the more commonly used come from geese, emus, and ostriches. Some painters prefer to work with wood rather than delicate eggshells. Wooden eggs are often carved from maple because it has a smooth finish that is particularly receptive to paint.
Birds' eggs must be properly prepared before they are ready to be painted. A tiny hole is drilled or carved into each end of an uncooked egg’s shell. A needle is inserted into one of the holes to prick the yolk. The painter then blows air into the hole on one end of the egg, pushing the raw egg out of the opposite hole. The inside of the egg is rinsed with a small amount of water, and the egg is set aside to dry.
Eggs carved from maple rarely need any preparatory treatment before painting. Some birds' eggs have slick surfaces that make it difficult for the paint to adhere. A primer coat is applied, if needed, to birds' eggs to help the paint stick. Painters use specialized egg stands that are able to hold a hollowed egg in position while it is painted.
A store that specializes in supplies for hand-painting eggs is called an “eggery.” Both acrylic and oil paints can be used for hand-painted eggs. The paint must carry enough pigment that it colors the egg without leaving noticeable brush strokes. Some hand-painted egg artists engrave or carve the egg’s shell in addition to painting it. Eggs with thicker shells, such as emu and ostrich eggs, are preferred for carving.
Finished, hand-painted eggs are usually sealed with a clear lacquer and placed on a display stand. The egg is sometimes glued to the display stand to prevent accidental breakage of the delicate shell. The International Egg Art Guild is an organization for artists who use eggs as canvases for their art.