Revisiting an Odd Skill After 20 Years

Back in 1997, when I was 16 going on 17, I experimented with making tiny dioramas inside of eggshells. The first one was a carved sailboat (with paper sails and the top of a toothpick as a buoy), and the second one was a biplane – complete with rotating propeller  – flying over a barn labelled “Jim’s Cows” (a tiny carved toothpick cow is just out of the frame in the picture). I made a third egg – an airplane flying over a winter forest at sunset – which was given as a Christmas present to a teacher. I had started a fourth egg – the RMS Titanic – and then put everything aside as I made my way towards university.

Now 20 years later, a juried miniature show is coming up in town, and it includes a category for sculptures. I decided to give the eggshell diorama another try.

The technique to hollow out the egg is to chip a hole in the top and bottom of the shell (I use a nut pick, although I’ve seen references to using darning needles in old craft books) and blow out the contents of the egg into a bowl, and then rinse out the shell. There are also squeezable air bulbs that can be used if the idea of blowing through an egg is not appealing.

I recall chipping a hole in the front of the egg and then using fine, pointed scissors e to start cutting a line. I would then chip away at the egg using my fingers (and possibly needle-nose pliers), until I had a decent-sized hole… hopefully without putting too many cracks in the shell and making the hole gaping and jagged. This time, I also chipped out the backs of some eggs to enable the central object of the diorama to be seen from the back.

Unlike 20 years ago, there are now so many more options for crafting materials, as well as protective cases (the eventual sculpture will reside in a plastic baseball display stand).

Out of an original 1 dozen eggs – less 4 that failed structurally when being hollowed, and 1 that was stuck to the carton, plus another 2 that broke in the chipping process, I ended up with 7 potential diorama housings – 4 with holes in the front and back. The chipped borders will eventually be reinforced with a bead of hot glue or similar trimming, which will also frame the diorama scene.


Note: Also unlike 20 years ago, I have access to laser cutting. A future experiment may be to see if I can get a more intricate cut-out with it – although it would take away from the organic feel of the chipping technique.

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