Egg Art

As seen in the University Record and the Ann Arbor News!

MISTY’S EGG FAQ (Frequently asked questions)

What are Pysanky eggs?
How do you make Pysanky eggs?
What do all these pictures and colors mean?
How did you learn to make Pysanky eggs?
Have you won awards for your eggs?
Is it hard to make Pysanky eggs?

Where can you buy Pysanky eggs?
Do you teach classes?

What are Pysanky eggs?

Pysanky eggs are Traditional Ukrainian Easter Eggs. What’s that mean? Well, when most people think of ‘Easter eggs’, they think of pretty pastel blue, green, yellow and pink hardboiled eggs that kids make and look for and then eat. These are a decorative egg, unusable for eating and the precursor to the greeting card.

Each symbol and color on the egg means something different. Ukrainian women would meditate for an entire day before making one and the patterns and colors would be carefully thought out in order to bear wishes for things such as health in the coming year, hopes for a good harvest and religious blessings. Girls would make an egg specifically for a boy that they hoped to catch the eye of and the boys would choose the egg that they liked the best – it was sort of the start of valentines! Women would take their eggs to church to be blessed along with their bread. Mothers would pass the artform down through the generations. Of course, with the onset of technology, it’s an artform that’s rapidly dying out, much to my great dismay.

Here are some examples of what completed eggs can look like:

Pysanky eggs

Pysanky eggs

Pysanky Eggs

Pysanky Eggs

And here are some of the images from the Ann Arbor News article!

Misty in the Ann Arbor News

Misty in the Ann Arbor News

Misty applying wax to an egg

Misty applying wax to an egg

Closeup of one of my favorite eggs

Closeup of one of my favorite eggs

How do you make Pysanky eggs?

You use what is called a ‘wax-resist process’ to decorate the eggs. Many people think that they’re painted, but they’re actually put into jars of dye to get the colors on them. Basically, where the wax is, the dye doesn’t color.

You start with a raw egg (yep, a plain white chicken egg) and wash it off and let it warm up to room temperature as the wax doesn’t want to stick to cold eggs as well as to warm ones. Using a pen-type tool that holds melted wax (there are several varieties available, including a wonderful electric one that I love), you draw on the egg. Where you put the wax, the dye won’t take. After finishing with covering the portions you want to remain white, you put it in the first color of dye. You start with the lightest color (usually a yellow or gold is the first dye). Take it out after a few seconds, dry it off and repeat the process until you’re done. When you finish the last color, you take it out of the dye and dry it off. You can remove the wax by melting it off or by rubbing it with lighter fluid, which makes the eggs very slippery and hard to hold onto. I learned that the hard way. I usually melt the wax off and then use a bit of lighter fluid on a paper towel for finishing up. Just have to be careful that the egg is fully and totally dry before it come anywhere near a lit candle, it’s actually a good idea to keep them in separate rooms if possible just so you don’t forget what ones might still have lighter fluid on them since it takes a couple of days to dry.

Once the wax is off and the egg is fully dry, you can varnish it using a clear glaze. You usually need at least two coats on the egg. When the varnish dries after a few days, you put a small hole in the bottom of the egg and blow the contents out. You can leave the contents in the egg, but we learned from experience that they can, and do, have a tendancy to explode in the summer. Plus they’re more durable if you blow them out.

What do all these pictures and colors mean?
Pictures
Birds: Fulfillment of wishes
Crosses: Religious meanings
Curls: Defense and protection from evil
Deer: Wealth and prosperity
Diamonds: Knowledge
Dots: Mary’s tears
Fish: Symbols of Christ
Horses: Wealth and prosperity
Ladders: Prosperity and prayer
Netting: Love and unity
Pine needles: Health, stamina and eternal youth
Rams: Wealth and prosperity
Ribbons: Eternity
Roses: Love and caring
Spiders: Patience
Stars: Life and good fortune
Sun: Growth and good fortune
Triangles: The holy trinity
Wheat: Good health and good harvest

Colors
White: Purity

Yellow: Light and youth
Orange: Strength and endurance
Black: Eternity
Blue: Good health
Green: New hope and growth

Red: Happiness and love
Violet: Power
Pink: Success
Brown: Happiness

How did you learn to make Pysanky eggs?

I was taught by my mother-in-law back when I was in high school. I saw her doing it one day when I was visiting my (then) boyfriend and took to it immediately. It’s a great way to relax if you enjoy detailed work and have a lot of patience. Some people get very frustrated at the hours you have to spend at it, but I’m the sort of person who will start and then look up and six and a half hours have passed and it seems like I just sat down. Having artistic talent isn’t a requirement, but it does help when you start varying your designs from plain squares and circles and triangles. In fact, making a straight square or a perfect circle on a oblong curved egg isn’t exactly an easy thing to do in and of itself, but practice makes perfect. I’ve also found that making pencil marks on the egg can help and I admit that I have a circle stencil that I find very helpful as well. I’ve been making them for about four years now, though I tend to only do it near the holidays. I used to sell eggs at craft shows but lately I haven’t had the time to make enough to sell. I also give eggs out with Christmas presents (and back in my college days when I had no money, I gave them AS presents, which went over very well!) and plan each egg out very carefully. I also give a small card along with the egg that explains what that egg means. It’s a great feeling when someone tells you that they love something that you’ve spent weeks on creating just for them.

Have you won awards for your eggs?

Yes, actually! Well, one so far, which was a surprise since I wasn’t even aware that they were giving out awards. I won the ‘Best in Category – Traditional Art’ award at the University of Michigan Health Systems Employee Art Show in July of 2001.

Is it hard to make Pysanky eggs?

Hard, no. Patience-taxing, frustrating, easy to mess up on, tiring and fufilling, yes. Whether you’re making an egg from a pattern all your own, copying one you’ve done before and want to duplicate or taking ideas off other peoples’ patterns, the finished product is always a surprise. No two eggs ever come out the same no matter how painstakingly hard you try, and the individuality and uniqueness of each egg is part of their charm. It doesn’t take a lot of instruction to do them, but it does take practice. Years and years of it, in fact. I’ve seen eggs that people have done that have amazed me — and then I find out that they’ve been doing them for over 40 or so years!

Where can you buy Pysanky eggs?

There is an egg craft show in Indiana every spring (usually held during the first weekend of May) that always has Pysanky eggs for sale (along with countless other egg items that never cease to amaze me). Lots of craft shows have people selling eggs, especially if you live in an area that has many people with that sort of culture. I sell eggs as well, both at craft shows and via special orders taken over the phone or internet. At craft shows I would often take special orders and hand deliver them, though luckily they were always in my general area. With the proper packaging, special orders can be mailed to you, too. If you’d like to inquire about the eggs, the process to make them, where you might be able to find out more information or to express interest in buying any, please contact me at misty@mistymills.com.

Do you teach classes?

Yes, I do! I will be teaching classes at Washtenaw Community College. Check the Enrich Your Life section of the Live Work Learn classes for details. I usually teach this class in the spring. Also, the past few years I have taught spring classes at the Allen Park Community Center. If you have a small group of people interested in learning, please contact me to set up small classes at your home!

About the Author

Yeah, she's pretty awesome. Also, she does not believe that Skynet should get her information so she's not putting it up. Well not right now anyway. YOU DO NOT CONTROL ME, MACHINE.