Eggs provide a canvas for artistic expression

The hunt will soon be on.

Children carrying baskets will scour the springtime landscape in search of Easter eggs and possible treats.

In the past, those eggs were decorated in solid colors or with simple patterns, but this year the trend is to adorn the eggs in unique and flashy styles as individual as the people making them.

“Egg decorating has gone to a whole new level,” said Katie Coyle, director of consumer affairs for the Iowa Egg Council. “People are embellishing them with glitter, they are gilding them, they are speckling them. It’s almost an art form now. It’s really cool to see all the possibilities.”

Among the techniques, methods and mediums being used this season are natural material dies, spray paint, naturally speckled quail eggs, gold leaf gilding, shiny embellishments and even stitching.

Diane O’Hern, a retired art teacher from Eagle Grove, only decorates one egg a year, and she said it isn’t for Easter. It’s for the Iowa State Fair. For the past six summers she has entered the Iowa Egg Council’s Egg Design Contest held at the fair. Once assembled in an exhibit, the pieces go on the road and are displayed throughout the year at sites across Iowa.

“It’s a high-caliber design event with artists from all over the state participating,” O’Hern said, “and it’s just really fun to see all the Iowa images they create.”

In preparing an egg as a canvas, O’Hern advised people to completely clear the egg white and yolk from inside the shell. Depending on the design and layout in mind, that may require a section of the shell to be removed or it may be as simple as making pin holes on the ends of the egg to allow the innards to run out. With that step done, however, the artist can then use any variety of mediums on the shell.

“It’s pretty much like painting on a canvas,” O’Hern said. “Just apply a clear varnish finish at the end.”

For those coloring Easter eggs rather than crafting fair contenders, Coyle said the option exists to hardboil the eggs rather than emptying the shells. Hard-boiled eggs are sturdier, making them easier for young children to use; however, if plans are to make an egg tree or keep the eggs on display for a while, empty shells are the better option.

Commercial egg dyes are easily obtained and food coloring is another option, but a popular alternative to both are natural dyes.

According to information from the Egg Council, natural dyes can be made from purple cabbage, which makes blue on white eggs or green on brown eggs; red onion skins, which makes lavender or red; yellow onion skins, which makes orange on white eggs or rusty red on brown eggs; ground turmeric, which makes yellow; red zinger tea bags, which makes lavender; and beets, which makes pink on white eggs or maroon on brown eggs.

To make natural dyes, toss a couple of handfuls of the desired materials into a saucepan. Add about a cup of water for each handful, so the water comes at least an inch above the dyestuff. Bring to boiling, reduce the heat and simmer from 15 minutes up to an hour, until the color is the desired shade. Keep in mind that the eggs will dye a lighter shade.

Remove the pan from the heat, and through cheesecloth or a fine sieve, strain the dye mixture into a small bowl that is deep enough to completely cover the eggs.

Add 2 to 3 teaspoons of white vinegar for each cup of dye liquid.

Other egg decorating ideas include:

Cover the eggs with stickers, adhesive-backed stones or jewels or even letters.

Before placing the eggs in the dye, draw patterns and designs on the eggs with light colored crayons. The wax will not absorb dyes made from vinegar, water, and various vegetables and spices.

Wrap rubber bands around a hard boiled egg before dying it.

Wrap raw eggs in onion skins, cheese cloth, or pantyhose then boil them for 20 minutes. The oils from the skins will transfer onto the eggs to create a mottled look.