Have you got a hankering to paint a bird egg, but think it might be too hard? It’s actually easier than you might think to paint a picture of a real bird’s egg.
With a little bit of practice you can create reproductions of a whole range of bird eggs to make beautiful pictures, identification charts, and educational aids.
You don’t need to be an experienced artist or even particularly arty, and you don’t need expensive equipment or paints. All it takes is a little bit of patience and some crafty tricks.
Not got much time or just want the bullet points on how to make these? Click here for the Quick Read Instructions.
Beautiful bird eggs and how to paint them
I’ve been wanting to create a series of bird egg pictures of my native British birds for ages, and this year I finally got around to it. I was looking to create an alternate nature-based Easter Egg hunt for the children at the forest school sessions I run, but nothing I found on line was quite right. So when I found some papier-mâché egg shapes going cheap in a craft shop, I finally had the motivation to make my own.
Now I should say right now that I am not in any way a trained artist. An A-Level in Art many years ago does not count. I do love a bit of arts and crafts (take a look around this blog!), but I’m a long way from being especially talented. So what I am trying to say is, if I can do this, anyone can – and probably a lot better than me!
In this tutorial I’ll show you how anyone, of whatever skill level, can paint a bird egg. I’m going to walk you through my method of painting bird eggs by showing you, step-by-step, one egg as I painted it. And once you’ve painted one egg, you’ll be able to use these techniques to paint any egg you like.
So let’s get started!
How to paint a picture of a bird’s egg
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- Paint (I used acrylic, but you can get a good effect with ordinary children’s poster paint).
- A palette or mixing plate (plastic lids work well).
- Pictures of the eggs you want to paint.
- Card/paper or a 2D egg shape to paint. I used Papier-mâché eggs but you could also use wooden egg shapes. These ones are large, but you can also get, pre-drilled wooden egg shapes for hanging up as decorations, or small egg shape wooden blanks without the hole.
Types of paint
A little side note on paint. You could absolutely use ordinary kid’s poster paint for this project, and these are probably the cheapest paint you’ll find. However I used (cheaper-than-artists’) craft acrylic paint as I wanted to get some texture into the finish of the eggs (and because I like using it).
The advantage of acrylic is that it dries very quickly (compared to oil paint), mixes and blends beautifully, is thick enough to use like oils but also is also semi-transparent so can be used like watercolours as a glaze or wash. It can be diluted (and the brushes cleaned) using water, so it’s easier on the clean-up than oils.
If you use a different type of paint, you may have to adapt the techniques below to account for how well that paint blends, how quickly it dries, and how opaque it is.
A beautiful bird egg to paint
If you’d like to try painting the same egg as me, this is the source picture I used. For my project, I was painting native British bird eggs, but these beautiful Oystercatcher eggs were photographed in Norway. However as Oystercatchers also nest along most of Britain’s coastline too, I figured that wouldn’t matter.
I used a variety of image sources for the other bird eggs I painted. One of the most helpful was on Bird Spot, specifically about British bird eggs, and which has some wonderful images. If you can, look at more than one photo of the sort of eggs you want to paint.
Some species have more variation in colour and patterns than others. So it’s worth taking a bit of time to study a few eggs and figure out how to best to capture them, especially if you want to use them as an educational reference.
A note on bird eggs and the law
Bird eggs are often beautiful and fragile things, and as a result have been coveted by collectors for centuries. This can have a serious impact on conservation for rare breeds (often targets for collectors). In Britain, it has been illegal to take the eggs of most wild birds since 1954, when the Protection of Birds Act was passed. It is also illegal to either possess or control the eggs of wild birds.
So if you are lucky enough to find bird eggs in the wild, even if it is legal where you live, please don’t be tempted to take them. Take a photo instead, if you can do so without disturbing the parent birds. For most of us, finding eggs in the wild is completely unnecessary. The website is a wonderful resource full of images of bird eggs that you can use for this project, without harming any of these amazing creatures.
Instructions on how to paint a bird egg
How to paint a bird egg using shading
Before you begin painting your egg, look carefully at the picture (or get a chicken egg from the kitchen and study that). Notice how there are shadows around the edges of what you can see (what would be the edges of a 2D representation). And a bright spot in the central area, where the light is hitting the upper curve of the shell.
Depending on where your light source is, these dark and bright areas will be in different places. As I wanted all my eggs to look as if they were sitting together, I shaded all my eggs the same way.
For me, that was darkest around the base and right side of the egg, and about half way up the left side. I put the bright spot roughly in the middle and slightly to the left. This quick sketch was my guide for all my eggs.
Paint a base coat.
If, like me, you are painting your egg onto a coloured surface, or if you are painting directly onto wood, you may want to paint a base coat before you begin. I painted my brown papier-mâché eggs white. This is because I wanted the colours of the eggs to be vibrant, and the acrylic paint I was using has a certain amount of transparency.
However you can use any colour you like. Dark colours or complementary can add a richness and depth to your painting that works really well.
Start with dark
The Oystercatcher eggs I was painting are a lovely, warm cream colour. But as you can see, I started with some seriously dark browns around the bottom and sides of my egg.
You’ll be able to see how I blend and layer on top of these dark colours shortly. But for now, just note that it pays to be bold! Use a colour for shading that is much darker and more vibrant than you think you will need. And exaggerate (or should that be eggs-aggerate!) hints of colour you see. Trust me, it’ll work.
Paint in the middle
Once you’ve got a really dark colour around the outer edge, in your shade areas, start to move inward using lighter colours. By the time you get near that centre ‘bright spot’, you want to be close to what you would consider the overall colour of the egg. In my case, that light cream colour.
Blend in your different shades, so that the colours change seamlessly. You can see that less and less of the dark brown I used at the start is still visible. But it has added a dark tone to the shadow areas that makes the egg look more three-dimensional.
Here, I’ve also used yellow along the top left. That’s because those Oystercatcher eggs looked to me to have a yellow tone (rather than pink or brown) to the cream base colour. So I added a little bit of yellow (far more vivid than in real life), then blended it in.
Bear in mind that acrylics are very forgiving (far more so that watercolours, for example). So if you try a colour and it doesn’t work, it’s easy to scrape it off or paint it away.
Once you’ve finished the base colour of your egg, you need to decide whether to let it dry or to paint the egg markings straight away, while the base is still wet.
This depends on whether the marks on the egg you are copying are clearly defined and sharp, or soft and blurry. So just by waiting (or not waiting) to paint the marks, you can get very different results.
The Oystercatcher eggs have quite clean spots and splodges. But they are also in layers, with faded marks underneath much darker marks. There is also a bit of variation in colour – some marks are yellow-brown, while others are closer to black.
To paint the faded marks, I simply watered down black and brown (adding a little yellow), until it was more like water than paint. You need to be quite random with these marks. Try to vary the size and shape so that it looks natural.
Pay close attention to pattern of marks on the egg you are copying. And don’t worry about being perfect or about any mistakes. You’re going to be covering up much of this with darker colours very shortly anyway.
Once you’re happy with the very faint marks, repeat the process with a heavier mix. For my second layer, I used a mix that was more brown than the first, but not an awful lot darker.
Finally, to finish my egg, I added dark splotches that were mainly black, with a little bit of brown. I made my paint thick but quite liquid – about the consistency of single cream. This was so that I could drip and drag the paint onto the egg, rather than touch the surface with the brush.
The result was marks that looked very much like the splotches on the real eggs, complete with little wiggle lines and random, almost perfect dots of different sizes.
How to paint a bird egg splodges, splats, spots, and speckles
Depending on the egg you are painting, you might want to use a different technique to paint the marks. Or even a combination of techniques if the egg has more than one type of marking.
A wren’s egg, for example, has lots of fine spots that are too small and numerous to dot on individually. To make a spray of fine spots like this, I simply load up a thick brush with paint. Hold it a few centimetres above my picture, and then tap the handle of the paintbrush just below the bristles. It’s best to practice on a separate piece of paper first. This is a great way to get that spray effect, but you may end up with the odd larger drop.
If the spots are a bit larger, you can dot them on by hand, which will give you far more control. You don’t have to use a paintbrush for this. I sometimes use the tip of a skewer, for example, for very small dots.
Whatever method you use, remember to create variety both in number, in position, and in shape. This will give the most natural looking result. And so with just these few basic techniques, you now know how to paint all sorts of bird eggs. The dozen below were all done exactly the same way.
Show me the eggs!
If you’ve had a go painting your own eggs using this tutorial, I’d love to see how they turned out. Pop a comment below and let me know how you got on.
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