Pysanky, these Ukrainian Easter eggs are decorated using the wax-resist (batik) method. Covered in stunning motifs often taken from Slavic folk art
Pysanky (plural form of pysanka) is from the Ukrainian word “pysaty” meaning “to write.” Pysanky eggs are hand-drawn creations—first in pencil using guidelines to section off eggshells into a grid pattern, and then with detail within the grid. Afterward, pencil lines are covered with beeswax using a stylus or writing pen called a kistka and dipping in dyes of progressively darker shades. Similar to the batik work done on fabric. The last step is to remove the wax with a candle flame to reveal the beautiful design hidden beneath.
But the intricacy of the design is not the only thing that makes a pysanka beautiful. Even simple patterns can be just as striking as detailed ones. The key to beautiful traditional decorating for easter pysanka is symmetry and precision (although symmetry does not always play a role in contemporary patterns). By precision, I mean that the design is drawn within a grid that has been laid out meticulously, I use a lathe and see-through the ruler/stencil for drawing circles. If a pysanky is only divided in half, each half will measure exactly. Similarly, in quadrants, each will measure the same. The entire design, whether simple or detailed, depends on these first measurements to be exact. This is especially important if the egg will be very intricate.
If you have decorated an egg, then you have participated in one of the oldest decorative arts. Archaeologists have long known of egg art if the form of decorated ostrich shell pieces and empty eggs in Africa of great antiquity, found in tombs or archaeological digs, but they did not know how old this custom was. In 2010 an important find was announced that a team led by Pierre-Jean Texier found a cache of decorated ostrich eggs in layers in South Africa dating from 65,000 to 55,000 years before the present. They had been whole shells but crushed into fragments over time. These eggs were likely used for storing water, as hunter-gatherers of the Kalahari desert do even today. It is speculated that the designs might have been the mark of individual owners of the shells. An interesting find was that the scratched decorations on the eggs changed over time. Earlier eggs had cross-hatched designs that looked like railroad tracks. Later designs used finer parallel scratches inside of lines. Archaeologists have unearthed ceramic decorated eggs in Ukraine dating circa 3,000 B.C. For those ancients worshiping the sun god Dazhboh, decorated eggs were an affirmation of spring following a harsh winter. The eggs were also considered protection against illness and other forms of misfortune.
When Ukrainians adopted Christianity in circa 988, the practice of easter egg decorations continued but with the focus on Easter. Every egg coloring design has meaning. In the first century A.D. Christians took the ancient legend of the phoenix (one symbol of the sun to the Egyptians) as a sign of the resurrection[i]; in illustrations the bird stands on the egg from which it has risen. Hence, the Easter egg. The first color used to dye Easter eggs was red, symbolizing blood and its life-giving qualities. For several centuries early Christians observed all the traditional Jewish festivals, and thus Easter and Passover coincided. Colored eggs are also used in some Passover celebrations, but whether it was a tradition borrowed from Christianity or not remains a mystery. In ancient China eggs, dyed scarlet, were given as gifts in the spring. A circle represents the sun and integrity, also nature’s triumph over evil. Dots stand for the future. A star or “rosetta” is used to convey life itself, the source of light, beauty and perfection. Triangles are air, fire and water. Straight lines indicate eternal life.
There is meaning to the colors, too. White represents purity, birth, light and rejoicing. Green is fertility and hopefulness, the sun and life’s joys. Purple means faith, trust and patience. Black symbolizes constancy, eternity and the dark before dawn. Throughout history, eggs have been at various times magical, protective, divine — even evil, and they are an obvious fertility symbol. In Buddhist, Taoist and certain Russian rituals they are offered to the dead as representations of the revitalizing powers of nature.
I think the best learning egg dyeing videos are from Lorie Powpow master pasanky artist. Some tips of mine for in addition to Lorie are: 1) Double down on yellow aniline dye, 2) use a 1 tsp citric acid and 4oz of distilled water and submerge egg for 15min to remove egg membrane and make a perfect canvas, 3) use magic eraser Mr Clean sponge and a drop of water to remove pencil lines never use a rubber eraser. 4) if you love it invest in an electric kistka (wax pen).
How to draw pysanky designs. Here below is a step by step illustration for a few easter egg designs for pdf download.
For more detail on pysanky using natural dyes and other egg decorating techniques and folklore see the pamphlet “Egg Art,” Library of Congress American Folklife Center (1982).
The current Pysanka Museum building was built in 2000 in the western Ukrainian city of Kolomyia, Ivano-Frankivska Oblast. Previously the pysanka collection had been housed in the Kolomyia church of the Annunciation. The museum is part of the National Museum of Hutsulshchyna and Pokuttya Folk Art. The central part of the museum is in the shape of a pysanka (Ukrainian Easter egg). This is the only museum in the world dedicated to the pysanka, and it has become a calling card of the city. In August 2007 the museum was recognized as a landmark of modern Ukraine.
The video below is how I set up batik dyeing.
Egg Art by Visual Artist Nancy Tranter
source: Ukrainian Ethnological Center of the Maksym Rylsky Institute of Art. Book: Makovsky S. Folk art of Subcarpathian Russia, So Jeo, Laurie Popow, Luba Perchyshyn, Gail Lamba, Texier, Pierre-Jean, Library of Congress cataloging Slavic materials, St. Clement of Rome, First Epistle to the Corinthians, Euromaidan Press, Slavko Nowytski, Authentic Ukraine O. Yasinska & I. Fediv, wikipedia.org, American Folklife Center Librarian J. Gray
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