Former teacher breathes life into eggshells

Nguyen Thanh Tam has put his passion into turning thin fragile eggshells, assumed to have little to no usage, into adorable and lively figures.

A small apartment in Go Vap District in HCM City has long been a creativity space for former teacher Nguyen Thanh Tam, who has spent over 20 years creating figurines out of eggshells.
Tam’s house is packed with glass cabinets displaying his meticulous and colourful collection, including animals, movie characters, politicians, scientists, and many more.
The figurines are made mainly by using different types of eggshells, such as chicken eggs, quail eggs, and even ostrich eggs, combined with other craft materials like paper and bottle caps. Some also have tiny but diligent drawings that help express their features and emotions.
Tam's artistic work began in the early 2000s when he retired from full-time English teaching to do some tutoring at home.
“I had thought of using visual aids to excite my students and provide them with an interesting approach to the lessons, but it was difficult for me to find one back then, so I tried making one,” Tam tells Viet Nam News.
He had experimented with various materials, such as cardboard and ceramics, but ended up choosing eggshells since their circular shape could resemble most parts of a human or animal body, such as heads and bellies.
It is amazing seeing Tam put his passion into turning thin fragile eggshells, assumed to have little to no usage, into adorable and lively figures.
When thinking of an idea, he usually takes note of specific features and designs a 2D sketch. Depending on the design, different types of eggshells, such as chicken, quail, and even ostrich eggs, will be used.
Tam starts his work by emptying the eggs by blowing into them, and thoroughly cleans the outside of the shells with lime juice.
According to Tam, opening the shells properly when emptying them is the key process since a hole that is too messy or too large can affect the ultimate shape of each character.
“I usually punch a hole on each end of an egg using a needle, then cut it open using small scissors and carefully peel the shell just enough for the inside to pass through,” he says.
A layer of PVC glue mixed with fine sand is then added into the shells to minimise their fragility and create a harder surface for later colouring and drawing. Different parts of a figurine are attached using paperclay and super glue.
Tam usually uses spray paint and nail polish when painting on eggshells, and it is important not to turn on a fan since that can hasten the drying process and make the colouring look uneven.
Depending on each character, it usually takes him hours to finish one. But Tam says he really enjoys the long process, as he is able to find his calmness, practise his focus, and hone his innate creativity.
“When you immerse yourself in doing the things you are passionate about, time does not matter,” he says.
A Santa Claus was Tam’s first-ever creation, and he then worked on other themes, animals, and characters with intricate designs.
As a sports enthusiast, Tam also enjoys re-creating the mascots of almost every sporting event, from World Cups to ASIADs and Sea Games, to show his support for them.
Tam’s most recent work is the three mascots of the 2023 ASIAD held in China.
The mascots required Tam to focus on several tiny details, each of which took him hours to finish. Tam shares that he wanted to make them larger, but it was time-consuming and relatively difficult to find proper materials that could support such large figures.
It is surprising to know that Tam performs this craftsmanship not to make an income out of it, but to fulfill his passion. What he takes pride in is the recognition from the public.
“Having garnered compliments and attention to what I am doing is more rewarding than actually making a living out of it. I am beyond happy whenever someone pays a visit, has a look at my collections, and listens to the stories behind them,” he says.
The figurines are not solely of his imagination, but some also hold invaluable memories, so it is hard for him to put them on sale, Tam says.
Tam’s years of effort were recognised in 2010 by the Vietnam Record Book Centre, which titled him “the man that makes the most eggshell figurines”.
“This opportunity is a way for me to bring this type of art around Viet Nam and to the world,” he says, adding that he also wants to pass his skills and techniques to like-minded individuals.
“Having taught many people to make eggshell figurines, I found many of them could not do it for a long time, since it is quite demanding. I still hope to have someone younger continue this artistic work,” Tam says.

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Former teacher Nguyen Thanh Tam has turned hundreds of eggshells into life. VNS Photo Gia Linh
A meticulous Hello Kitty model made from ostrich and duck eggshells. VNS Photo Thien Trang
One of Tam’s recent works is a collection of three ASIAD 2023 mascots. VNS Photo Gia Linh


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