Tina Kannapel's delicately sculpted eggshells on sale in Artists' Undertaking Gallery, Occoquan, Virginia, June 5, 2012.
Tina Kannapel's delicately sculpted eggshells on sale in Artists' Undertaking Gallery, Occoquan, Virginia, June 5, 2012.

OCCOQUAN, Virginia - Few people, we're sure, have ever seen carved eggshells.  These have no relationship to eggs that are painted or decorated with gems or other jewels, like Faberge's famous eggs, which weren't even eggs. One artist in the Washington D.C. area is delicately sculpting on eggshells. Her eggshells are seen frequently in local art galleries.  Our reporter spent time with Tina Kannapel and her cats - mostly NOT walking on eggshells.

Carving and sculpting eggshells, with a dental drill and sanding disk, is not a job for the heavy handed. For Tina Kannapel, it's a passion.  

“Because an egg is a continuous arch, it has a lot of natural strength," she said. "You will see eggshells where I have taken out so much that it looks like lace.  And the whole trick to that is having regular connections between the different pieces of the lace, so the eggshell stays intact.”

Artist Sells 1600 Carved Eggshells a Year

Tina Kannapel carves, sculpts and sells about 1,600 eggshells a year. She buys infertile eggs that have already been emptied - from bird breeders.

“The ostrich eggshell is very hard," says Kannapel. "It's like china.”

She uses all kinds of eggs, including Emu, goose, pheasant and parrot eggs.

The process begins with designs printed on paper and then glued to the eggshell.  

“You need the paper to stabilize the face of the eggshell, so if you are going to have to carve through paper, you may as well have your design on the paper,” she explains.

Eggshells have hard and soft spots. The paper reduces the chance of chipping.  

Kannapel has more than 300 designs that include animals, portraits and geometric forms.  

But whatever the design, carving always has to start at the most difficult part of it. So if the eggshell breaks, hours haven't been lost.    

"When you are working with cats and dogs and human beings, the most difficult thing is the eyes so you always start with the eyes," she says. "Because if you mess up the eyes, you mess up the design."

As Kannapel works, her three Abyssinian cats keep her company. Two are camera shy, but Jackson is fascinated by the lens.

“They walk all around the carved eggshells and they don’t bother them at all, in fact, he’s loving them.

Once the carving is finished, the eggshell is cleaned - first in warm water to release the paper and then in bleach.

“What the bleach does is it eats all of the organic material in the eggshell and when it is completely sterilized, there won’t be any bubbles coming up,” she says.

In the historic town of Occoquan, near Washington D.C., the Artists' Undertaking Gallery includes some of Kannapel's carved eggshells.  

This heron looks painted. But there's no paint. The colors emerged during the carving.

“This is an emu eggshell. It has three layers," says Kannapel. "The outside is such a dark green it looks black. The layer underneath that is teal or blue and the layer underneath that is a paper thin white and I carved between the three layers.”  

Kannapel's eggshells range between $30 and $400 apiece.

Insurance against cracking is not included.