This was the first Pysanky Day we’ve done for this year. We’ve got another one scheduled on April 14th since we didn’t finish.
Pysanky are traditional Ukrainian decorated eggs, a craft that has a 4,000 year history. I enjoy them because it’s a chance to play with something three-dimensional but using two-dimensional techniques – drawing and writing.
Essentially, you start the design on a clean egg in pencil. Then using a stylus called a kistka, melted wax is applied onto the egg. Successive dye baths add color, and using the wax-resist process, the design accumulates. When finished, the egg is covered in wax which is melted to reveal the design. Many artists then cover the egg with a polish to bring up the colors.
One of the cool things about this is that you start with a raw (uncooked) egg and just paint it. You don’t have to blow out the innards, though some artists do. I don’t, because it gives me a headache. After a few months, the egg will naturally dry out – no other preparation is required.
Figure 1: Applying wax to raw egg.
You can see the outline from the pencil under the stylus. The stylus is filled with wax and melted using a candle, then the melted wax is applied to the egg. It’s a little tricky to keep the stylus from dripping; I’ve found that if you only heat the tip then it melts more slowly and doesn’t goop.
Figure 2: Second view of wax application.
On the paper towel in front of the artist, you can see the yellow and black cake of beeswax used.
Figure 3: First dye bath, in this case yellow.
Eggs are left in the dye for ten to fifteen minutes. Dyes can be preserved from year to year, and remade when they don’t dye as brilliantly. My yellow was made three or four years ago and only now needs to be replaced.