He’s a ‘man’s man’ with a delicate hobby: painting eggs

Joanne Kimberlin, The Virginian-Pilot

Bob Deaton — hunter, fisherman, retired Army colonel, all around man’s man — doesn’t seem to match his hobby.

With a tiny brush in his beefy hands, Deaton paints delicate scenes on fragile egg shells.

He enjoys it best when there’s a football game blaring in the background on TV.

Okaay.

Don’t even try to rib the dude. At 76, he’s totally at peace with his softer side.

“I like doing it,” he shrugs and grins. “Why not?”

Deaton has plenty of other interests. Wood working. Radio-controlled airplanes. He built a model train track and village in his Portsmouth backyard. Raised ducks that roam the adjacent Elizabeth River. He spends hunting season in the woods. And long days on the water chasing fish.

But painted eggs? He’s had a thing for them for decades, ever since a tour of duty in Europe led his eyes to Pysanky eggs — a traditional art form of Eastern Europe.

“There’s just something about the shapes and the colors and the patterns,” he says. “They stick in my head. I can see a pattern on a piece of Christmas wrapping and think about it all day.”

But while Pysanky eggs are typically made for Easter using a wax and dye technique, Deaton worked out his own way.

The first challenge: emptying a shell without breaking it. Customary methods call for punching a hole in each end with a needle, then blowing out the innards with sheer lung power.

“To heck with that,” he says. “I figured out I can do the same thing with a small drill press and a compressor. And it doesn’t give you a headache.”

Wax and dyes? Takes too long.

“I just decided to paint ‘em.”

He’s always liked painting — freehand on canvas, or even the old paint-by-number kits. It helped him relax while studying law or between paratrooper jumps or wrestling with cases as a JAG officer.

His egg obsession, however, requires regular trips to the market.

“White, extra-large,” says Michelle Blake, his longtime partner and “support staff,” as she calls herself. “We’ve bought a lot of them.”

They’ve tried not to waste what’s inside, eventually overdosing on scrambled eggs.

“Then I started feeding them to the ducks,” Deaton said. “They like them as long as they’re cooked.”

He figures he’s painted thousands by now, with all sorts of themes. Their ranks have long outgrown the kitchen table, overflowing into boxes that eventually had to be stacked in a rented storage unit. Holiday motifs are standard, like the 12 days of Christmas — perfect for a dozen. He’s done nature scenes, sports teams, geometrics. Personalized pieces for pals.

“Most of them are one of a kind,” he says. “I get bored doing the same things over and over.”

He’s shattered his share. Had to start all over. But once finished with a clear coat, they’re surprisingly durable.

Maybe he’ll sign up for a craft show someday and sell a few. Most wind up being given away.

That’s cool with him.

“The one with the most hobbies wins,” he laughs. “Don’t you know that?”

Joanne Kimberlin, 757-446-2338, joanne.kimberlin@pilotonline.com