Easter Schmeaster But Thankie Pysanky…

I don’t know, I may have mentioned before that I hate holidays and the only good thing about Easter is that the weather is usually nicer than it’s been in a long time. Well, yesterday, Sofia and I were invited over to our good friends, Susie, Jeff and Holden’s home to spend the better part of the day making pysanky. Pysanky are Ukranian easter eggs and the process consists of decorating eggs using a wax resist similar to batik. The process is also similar in ways to a particular hydro-abrasion process that a certain potter uses on his wares. What one needs nowadays is a pysanky kit (I think you can get them online) which you only need really for the dyes and the little wax styluses… then you need candles, beeswax, raw eggs and plenty of patience. I love doing this because we showed up at around 10 and there was coffee, bagels and fruit and we sat around a big table sometimes chatting but mostly quietly and intently decorating our eggs. Before I knew it, it was 4 in the afternoon.

I often romanticize about this sort of thing because it reminds me of the manner in which previous generations entertained themselves before television. Usually, I think about it in terms of playing cards, especially poker, because as a boy I would wander over to my grandparents’ home which was the same house as I was in and there would be a poker game going at least 3 or 4 days a week. The regulars from the neighborhood might drop in or maybe it was just family but it was always a festive atmosphere and it became clear to me in later years that it wasn’t so much about the card game as it was about an activity that required everyone to stay put, focus on a common thing and socialize. So anyway, here’s a picture of the styluses or styli, you put little pieces of beeswax in the tiny cup on the end and hold it over a candle until the wax starts to flow, then you draw with the wax on your egg…

OK, so here’s the process in a nutshell… you draw with wax on an egg and dye it, then you add more wax and dye it again and repeat until you’re done and then you melt the wax that’s accumulated and wipe it off with a napkin. After that you carefully put holes in the ends of the egg and blow out the insides. Later, varnish is applied to all the eggs. So, if you start with a white egg, for instance and you draw a big “X” on it and dye it yellow, at that point you will have a yellow egg with a white “X”. Then if you draw your name above the “X” and dye it orange, the orange will cancel out the yellow and you will have an orange egg with your name in yellow and a white “X”. If you add circles all over the egg and dye it in green, you will have a green egg with orange circles, yellow name and white “X”. And so on and so on… so most people dye from light dyes to dark dyes because once you put a dark dye on, you can’t really get it to be lighter after that. This is similar to the shellac technique that it used on my pots because you have to think backwards a bit if you’re gonna do more than one layer of shellac. So here’s some pysanky-ers intent on their eggs…

And here’s the dye station with dyes segregated into lighter and darker…

And of course it always makes me happy to see children playing with fire (right Gordo?)…

It takes quite a while to complete one pysanka because you have to constantly immerse the stylus in the flame and load up the little cup with wax. I was there for 6 hours and only completed 3 and of course some get lost while the innards are being blown out, some get lost from merely dropping them on the table, some get broken when little girls play with them and some get squished when you’re rubbing the wax off after the dying is finished like this one…

So here’s the a couple shots of the finished ones up until the time we left…

And of course Sofia was way to impatient to make pysanky and the process is a bit abstract for her still (maybe next year) but Susie was gracious enough to help her use some different techniques to dye like just drawing on hard-boiled eggs with a crayon, then dying and using food coloring to do a rolling tie-dye method in a colander. Keeping her busy resulted in almost 2 dozen eggs that Sofia dyed. She was beside herself and loved playing with the dyes. When she wasn’t doing that she was harassing the dog named Simone that Jeff calls Skeletor. Here’s Sofia’s collection…


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11 Responses to “Easter Schmeaster But Thankie Pysanky…”

  1. Michael Says:

    Confession, I fast forwarded to the pictures of the eggs, which are amazing! Wow, I can see how this relates to your designs as well! Now I’ll go back and read after I finish listening to Mary Barringer’s keynote at the pre-con!

  2. gary rith Says:

    I love the blue and black skeleton, wowie!

  3. meredith Says:

    those are lots of fun and I would love to give it a go!
    We are still a game, card stit around and scratch and tell lies kind of family.
    We, my family, buried my grandmother with a purse- with coins in it- and 4 aces up her sleeve.
    She loved to play cards and I learned to play while sitting in her lap.
    She was a became very good at cheating as she got older.
    really- who is going to call out an old lady?
    Happy -damn- Easter to you.

  4. Eugene Hon Says:

    I can’t remember when last I made one of those. Loved at the time – great fun, especially if you like to decorate as much as I do. It keep you out of mischief. I vaguely remember drinking allot when we sat around a table painting away merrily. Holidays soon – I cant wait – time to get into the studio – keep well and enjoy Easter

  5. Supersillyus Says:

    Gosh. You guys have all the fun. Thanks for explaining that process. I never really understood it before.

  6. ang Says:

    groovy man and a great day too…

  7. ron Says:

    That’s totally cool.

  8. Cathy Says:

    …lovin’ the skeleton egg!

  9. gz Says:

    I always thought that you’d blow the innerds out first….

  10. Susie Says:

    Thanks for documenting our Pysanky (Zanker) Fest. Jeff, Holden and I continued to decorate through Easter Sunday. All of the eggs have been blown out and our only remaining task is to varnish. Let’s do it again next year!

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