Carving Eggshell in a Climate of Caution
What would you do if you have an egg and a pair of able hands? Maybe your answer is a delicious scrambled egg served on the family dining table. However, there is another breathtaking answer — eggshell carving. Can you imagine a round eggshell may be an exquisite craft? A lot of people mistake the eggs for porcelain and are surprised to hear that they are, in fact, carved eggshells. Depicting subjects ranging from dragons to paisley patterns, those impressive artworks illustrate the aesthetic potential of an unexpected material with the thickness less than that of two hairs, whether it is a hen egg, duck egg or ostrich egg.
Igniting the light of art
Eggshell carving has been included on the list of intangible cultural heritages of Shandong and Shanxi, China From the Venus de Milo to Terracotta Warriors of the Emperor Qin (259BC-210BC), the art of carving, with a long history in China, features in so many forms. Apart from carvings on wood, bamboo, jade, metal and stone, the technique is used on a great number of daily materials. Many early civilizations regarded the egg as a fertility symbol and decorated it as part of their fertility rites. In Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties in China, people had the custom of presenting red eggs as the gifts on weddings, birthday parties and child birth celebrations. Later, traders painted patterns on these eggs such as flowers and birds, fishes and insects and facial make-up for better sales.
There is something fascinating about the shape of the egg, and the idea of making this into art. Because we are amazed that art can be made from something as fragile as an empty eggshell. After years of evolution, the egg craft gradually improves. Many artists throughout the world paint, decorate, and even carve shapes into eggshells. Modern man still values egg art, which finally forms a precious art with high appreciation value — eggshell carving.
Eggshell carving is actually a part of carving form using delicate and precise tools to gently carve and cut away at the shell. It is quite a popular art form because of the attractive, smooth, oval shape of the egg. Any bird egg can be facilitated in this process, but most often the larger and stronger the eggshell is, the more favored it will be by decorators.
The eggshell carving techniques and skills have made a great progress in the recent 20 years. One kind is to carve such patterns as figures, landscapes, birds and flowers on dark eggshell using burin with the formed patterns similar to the sketch or outline drawing; the other kind is to carve on thick duck or ostrich egg with the method of bas-relief or hollow-out. Eggshell carving boasts a great variety of forms and rich contents. Eggshell carving has a variety of crafts. If you are skilled enough, you can carve characters, different flowers, various animals, and even figures on the shell.
Wen Fuliang, a carving artist from Shannxi, China was encouraged by his family and loved painting and carving since his childhood. Then Wen began his career to carve eggshell. Sometimes, it takes several years to finish it. He is unable to remember how many eggs he broke during his first attempts. It takes roughly a month for even the simplest of Wen's works, and more delicate operations take much more effort. Comparing with carving, he thought there was something more important than all of these factors: His persistence and enthusiasm for the art of eggshell carving.
The world-famous eggshell carving artist Wen Fuliang
Skating on thin ice
Carvings can be made by using empty chicken, emu, goose or ostrich eggs. A lot of people devote themselves to egg-carving and many of them live on it. Most of delicate creations can be sold from RMB 1,000 yuan to RMB 10,000 yuan. However, it’s very difficult to carve on the eggshell because the shell is thin and fragile. Repeated practice is needed. The basic steps of eggshell carving including selecting egg, drilling holes, cleaning, setting calibration line, carving, another cleaning and decorating.
Firstly, not all eggs are suitable for carving. The eggshells of middle-aged chickens or birds shall be selected for their smooth and bright appearances. Some eggshells with dark spots or bubbles are not good for carving. Normally, goose, duck and chickens' eggs are used for carving. Some eggs, like emu or ostrich eggs, are so large and strong that the shells may be carved without breaking.
However, finding the proper eggs is merely the first step. Before carving, the process of blowing out the yolk and egg white of an egg is even more difficult which demands not only precise skills, but also patience and calm. As some artists say, it feels somewhat like performing surgery, requiring patience and practice. You should hold the egg in the palm of your hand and wrap your fingers gently around to nestle the egg while you drill a hole in the base and then in the top. During reaming, gentle force should be used to avoid cracking the eggshell. Then, you should stick a toothpick through one of the holes and poke the toothpick in as far as you can. Next, you will hold the egg straight up and down over a bowl, place your mouth around the top hole and starting blowing air into the egg. You should blow hard enough that you begin to eject the scrambled egg out the bottom hole, which may take some time.
After blowing out the inside, you will need to rinse the egg. Because after the extraction, there still will be residues on the inner eggshell which may be decayed after a long period of time.
When all these procedures finish, you may start your creation on the eggshell. You can draw your design gently onto the eggshell with a pencil, and sketch a design lightly on the outside of the egg, using polka dots, hearts, teardrop shapes, or anything you like. Egg carving tools are very simple, mainly including the burin and shovel knife. Piercing the fragile eggshell to create the design is like skating on thin ice. The hardest thing is to avoid the eggshell cracking halfway. It is very important to overcome the mental strain and move on to the next step. One wrong move can ruin hours of painstaking work. Sometimes craftsmen have to stop for a couple of hours to ease their tensions before continuing.
Nowadays, many other young eggshell carving artists are working tirelessly as Wen to develop new carving methods and find new materials, so as to ignite the light of artistic creation with the ancient wisdom.
(By Mo Tingting)