Help me paint an ostrich egg
April 14, 2006 5:22 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine asked me to paint an ostrich egg for her husband. I am happy to do it but I have no idea how. I normally paint in oils on stretched canvas. There is only one egg and I don't want to mess it up. Specific questions are:

1) What is the best paint medium (e.g. oil, acrylic, ...) ?
2) Should I/How/with what am I going to prime the surface?
3) Any suggestions on how best to deal with the curved surface?

The subject matter will be figurative. I would appreciate if you could warn me on any other issue I should be aware of. Thank you all in advance for your help.
posted by eebs to Media & Arts (11 answers total)
Will the egg be cracked open and eaten at any point? That obviously limits your paint medium.
posted by junesix at 5:24 PM on April 14, 2006

apparently there is a small hole at the top, where the egg itself was taken out. so it is hollow already.
posted by eebs at 5:28 PM on April 14, 2006

I wish I knew my neighbor's email otherwise I'd ask her (she paints Ukrainian eggs).

Perhaps this site, or others like it, may help:
posted by evening at 5:30 PM on April 14, 2006

oops, just read that the Ukrainian eggs are a dying process, not done via painting, so that won't help. sorry.
posted by evening at 5:33 PM on April 14, 2006

I'm no painting expert, but I would imagine that acrylic would be best, since oil takes so long to dry and it would be hard to find a way to suspend (or whatever) the egg in a way that doesn't smear the paint. Gouache is jumping out at me as another choice of paint. Gouache blends nicely like oils do and also dries fast. Some shellac or varnish would probably be in order, too. I don't think you'd have to prime with either gouache or acrylic, at least for coverage, but I don't know about how they'd hold up over the long term (like, years). I never got far enough in my painting career to ever have to think about stuff like that :)

Are ostrich eggs like chicken eggs, like in texture? You could just experiment with materials on some of those. And I have absolutely no recommendations for the shape/distortion of the figure on the egg, but you could probably sketch it with a soft-ish pencil before you paint. Assuming you're going for opaque coverage.

Yeah, the Ukranian ones are done with dye and wax resist, kinda like batik cloth. For some reason I have a really clear memory of some kid's show doing a how-to. And to empty the egg, I think they poke a hole on either end with a needle, stir up the insides and blow them out of one of the holes. Although that seems like a mess... I dunno, I've never done it.

ps - you could go really meta and weird and use egg tempera. I've never used it and know nothing about it, but the idea makes me laugh. It's probably not as funny as I think it is; I've had a long week.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 6:12 PM on April 14, 2006

I've never painted eggs, but I've painted other odd surfaces. If I were to paint an ostrich egg, I'd probably paint a layer of solid acrylic white [or black, depending] over the entire thing, and then paint my design over that layer, also in acrylic. The first layer would probably be for smoothing the texture of the egg as much as anything, although depending on the color of the shell, it might make the colors come out better as well. I'd probably also sketch my design in pencil over the priming layer until I was happy with it. Only then would I paint the actual design.

Practicing on chicken eggs definitely sounds like a good idea.
posted by ubersturm at 6:29 PM on April 14, 2006

My girlfriend just painted a bunch of eggs for Easter - she blew the eggs, washed them in soapy water, painted them with acrylics and the covered it with a couple of layers of acrylic varnish. They look ace!
posted by benzo8 at 7:10 PM on April 14, 2006

My mother has a painted ostrich egg that my dad bought for her, and we watched the artist who had painted it add a few flourishes to hers before finishing the sale.

It has been a couple years, but I remember asking her what the medium was that she painted with, and I could swear she said acrylic -- very thinned down for the background and a bit thicker for the painting on top. These particular eggs had washes of very vibrant color all over them and there seemed to be something sparkly (mica?) mixed into the paint. It sounds tacky but it gave the whole egg this sort of "glow". There was no base coat beneath the colored paint, she painted directly on the egg and the nice thing was that the texture did show through. Ostrich eggs are neat, bumpy and smooth at the same time. I would not want to mess with that surface.
posted by brain cloud at 8:51 PM on April 14, 2006

Buy one on ebay and practice? They seem to be relatively cheap.
posted by michaelkuznet at 9:05 AM on April 15, 2006

I thought someone would have a better answer than I could offer, which is why I didn't respond. But it seems I might be one of the few who actually work with eggshell. I'm not sure what type of painting you're attempting to do, but for years now I've been hollowing out regular eggs (by method of blowing insides out with a pin hole in the top and bottom - method shown here) and painting eggs with my artists acrylic paint. Not the craft paints, but reall artist grade (I like Utrecht or Golden paints myself because of the high pigment contents).

Wash the egg lightly first (no submerging!) with gentle dishwashing liquid and let dry for a least a day - egg shell is porous so I personally have feared liquid could be sucked in. Giving it proper drying time always seems to avoid any paranoia I have had. Then I wipe down with white vinegar and let dry another day. I'll sponge it off lightly again with the dishwashing liquid again to remove anything that might interfere with the paint medium or cause it to break up/cause problems. Yes, let it dry again.

I don't practise the traditional slavic methods or dying (although I saw it quite extensively while there, and have admired the work!) Instead, working slowly, I use the egg like a canvas for acrylics, working from background up and getting finer and finer detail. Making sure I give at least 10 minutes drying time when needed before adding more detail. You have to have a light hand because the eggs are delicate and acrylics can layer up if you use them thickly (dilute with water). Thickly dried acrylics on eggs are difficult to deal with (unless you want that) because it distords the painting surface afterwards. When done with the work, I use several layers of spray varnish (ensure it is acrylic varnish, not oil - "same with same"), which can be the most tricky part of the process - it can stick to whatever you've placed it down upon, or to your fingers. To avoid sticking, I've rigged up a piece of cork with pins in it to cradle the egg while drying. giving at least an hour or two before coats.

So far this method has worked extremely well for me, and I've been doing it for at least a decade... and proper storage (no humid places, well cushioned) ensure that eggs that have lasted as long.
posted by eatdonuts at 1:21 PM on April 15, 2006

thank you all for helpful hints/suggestions. I now have a plan. Special thanks to eatdonuts for detailed instructions.
posted by eebs at 10:43 PM on April 15, 2006

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