An egg’s delicate shell reminds us to handle it with care.
Its surprising resilience shows us that even small things can be powerful.
I am deeply moved by language: the language of birds, the language of animals, the language of the earth, and the language we humans use to interact with our inner and outer landscapes. Language in art begins with a sensation, a sound, a line, a circle, a shape. Add a few quirky musings, vivid dreams, accidental epiphanies, and a few marks on canvas or stone or eggshell become visual stories that call attention to a moment of time. Nature’s language can inspire not only art, but a more caring way of living in the world.
Miniature painting has its roots in the art of illuminating manuscripts. Since the beginning of the written word, detailed images have helped convey the meanings of stories and texts. The term “miniature” has nothing to do with size. It originates from two words: “minim,” used for the red lead paint used in illuminated manuscripts, and “miniare,” Latin for “to color with red lead.” A mural can be painted “in miniature” ~ so can a tiny finch egg. Each requires a tremendous amount of patience, awareness, focus, and care. It takes heart to connect with the subtle languages around us. It takes courage to be vulnerable in this space. The beauty is in the act of bringing this vulnerability into the process while creating a work of art. It takes courage to lift a brush and make a mark in this unpredictable world. May it be a compassionate mark.
About the Artist
I never intended to have a career in visual art. As soon as I learned to write, I enjoyed playing with words more than images. Most of my failed drawings and paintings languished in boxes, in closets, under beds. In 1974 I needed a birthday gift for my mother. I opened the refrigerator, and there was the perfect canvas: an egg. I emptied it and drew a tree.
(click on the image to enlarge)
Then I painted a woman offering her dreams to the stars. I was hooked. I painted fantasies on eggs for my husband and several friends. Soon a gallery owner contacted me, and my accidental career as an egg painter began. I quit my day job, threw art supplies and cartons of eggs in my backpack, and painted miniature worlds everywhere I went. Folk tales, legends, dreams, creation myths, and favorite memories graced the surfaces of all kinds of infertile eggs laid by domestically raised birds. My work sold quickly. I gathered more stories, painted more eggs. I might have made a comfortable living if I’d continued in this vein. But a four-year-old boy changed my life. His name was Tai (click here for Tai’s Story). The day Tai convinced me to show him how to paint on eggshells was the day I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life: the importance of caring in our fragile world.
From then on I changed my approach to painting eggs. Instead of using watercolors, which have a tendency to fade, I learned to paint with acrylics, a fast drying and relatively stable medium. Instead of painting like an assembly-line worker, I took time to thoroughly research each theme, to choose images that reflected my new way of looking at the world. I studied techniques of the masters whose work I admired so much in Italy and learned how to adapt my methods so my plastic paints would mimic oils. I researched endangered cultures, endangered plants and animals, endangered habitats. The eggshell became a perfect canvas for illuminating everything fragile. I worked hard to become a better painter, a better storyteller, and a better person. “Fill yourself with care” became my new mantra. As I stumbled through each day, I quickly learned how easy it is to say such things and how hard it is to practice them.
There are times I come to understand how every experience, every memory, every relationship—whether good, bad, scary, traumatic, misunderstood, delightful, or satisfying—is a gift. When the demands of deadlines and grants, family dramas and political theories overwhelm me, I think of New Zealand’s Kiwi bird. Though she’s only about the size of a chicken and cannot fly, I consider her one of the most amazing creatures on this planet. She lays an egg that can reach one-quarter of her size and weight, proportionately larger than the eggs of any other bird. Laying an egg can be lethal for her.
Courage. Every parent knows that’s what it takes to bring life into this world. And look at what emerges from the shell: Hope. How beautiful is that?