Painted Eggs, Painting with Eggs

April 19, 2011, 13:57 pm  Posted by Lark

I love the simplicity and usefulness of the egg. It can be painted as a treasure for the Easter holiday, serve as a food source of compact energy and endless variety, or (as you will soon learn) as a miraculous binder for paint.

For all of you making decorated eggs this Easter season here’s a good way to make a lasting object instead of having your creation cracked apart in the service of a holiday snack: remove all of the yolk and whites from the egg shell. You may be surprised to discover that there are a lot of things you can do with the leftovers from inside those shells, but my absolute favorite technique is to paint with it. Yes, that’s right. Read on to find out more about blown out eggs and egg tempera.

Susan McBride's hand painted bunny portrait from page 82 of Artful Eggs. Note the small hole at the bottom of the egg— this is where the egg yolk and whites were drained out.

Blowing out the contents of an egg can be a little tricky. Here’s an excerpt from Artful Eggs by Terry Taylor describing a few useful methods.  Now, most of you will continue on to decorate lasting hollow eggs for the upcoming season. The more adventurous of you may choose paint with the leftover contents.

Painting with eggs, most often with just the yolk, is called egg tempera. It is one of the oldest techniques for painting, primarily used for icon painting. The egg yolk is an excellent binder for many different pigments. Traditionally, the yolk is carefully separated from the yolk sack, then mixed with a dry pigment and a preserving agent like white vinegar. It needs to be applied to a sturdy surface like wood or masonite that has been covered with a layer of gesso.

Artist Alex Garcia provides an excellent overview of how egg tempera painting is done. Be sure to check out his beautiful paintings, too. Also check out the work of Koo Schadler, and go into greater depth with her book available from her website. She even has a cool puzzle featuring an egg tempera painting of a bunny!

The exquisite work of Koo Schadler is featured in an egg tempera painting puzzle—how perfect!

When you carefully blow out the contents of an egg to prepare it for decoration, the yolk and whites will be mixed together. But you can still paint with this, although it isn’t considered the “right” way to do it. My own work is abstract, and I therefore work egg tempera in as many experimental (i.e. wrong) ways as I can. Surprisingly, I found another out there that does the same at how-to-be-a-bad-artist, and there is additional info on how to correctly do other things.

Here’s a list of how I like to work:

• The yolk will tend to thicken as it sits out, and I enjoy working with this changing consistency. Paint a thick layer and after painting a section you can scrape through it to reveal color below. Keep adding water and you can quickly paint successive layers of transparent colors. I often mixed many different colors as I extend the consistency.

• I use plenty of regular pigments too, such as watercolors, gouache, inks, acrylics and oils. Each has its own way of reacting with the egg. Inks tend to settle a darken color into textures. Watercolors extend well with glazing. Acrylics and gouache are fairly opaque.

• When I gesso a board I apply it in thick and textural layers, hoping to take advantage of the translucent quality as color settles into the details.

• I have ground up just about anything as a creative addition: egg shells, old bricks, rust, coffee grounds and even glitter. Sometimes I’ll add in a bit of glue just to be sure it all adheres.

Below is a detail of my egg tempera work, sadly, without any bunnies.

How will YOU explore the creative possibilities of egg tempera?


8 Responses

    Beth says:

    this is an awesome post, Kristi! I now want to go home and paint paint paint. And eat egg salad sandwiches.

    I love your work Kristi! My friends and I painted eggs themselves the other day for an easter egg hunt next weekend…and they turned out pretty funny. See our little egg family here! :)

    Kristi says:

    Those eggs are awesome! My favorite is the blue one with the mohawk.

    Gavin says:

    Kristi!! I used to do volunteer work with Koo Schadler’s grandfather and he gave me a box of stationery featuring her amazing paintings. I was so surprised and excited to see her on your post! The world is way too small, and pretty fragile too—hmmm—kind of like an egg. I’ll have to bring you a bunny card.

    Carmella the Car Czar says:

    Who knew eggs were so versatile… Well, I did know about blowing the delectable contents out and then painting the shell (Romanian nuns do that every year for Pascha). I’ve also heard the horror stories of painted shells whose stuffing wasn’t blown out and then the shell broke. In fact, I have vague memories of abandoning a putrid house plastered in decade-old-egg… We packed up the VW and moved to Mexico…

    Your house is valueble for me. Thanks!…

    Merely wanna admit that this is invaluable, Thanks for taking your time to write this.

    rumah says:

    Thank you very much for a high-class article

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