“Eggstraordinary”

12 04 2012

It had never occurred to me to paint elaborate designs on an egg.  Eggs were for making puffy omeletttes and béchamel sauces.  To me, egg painting was an old Ukranian tradition, kind of in the vein of painting entire landscapes on a grain of rice as the Japanese do.  I just didn’t see the point of either. I am from Canada, where we like to make giant creations (giant goose, giant tomato, probably even a giant Ukranian egg somewhere on the prairies.) Besides, my paintbrushes were much bigger than an egg, which could never survive my exuberant brush strokes anyway.  Even if it did, an egg painted by me would look as if a dog with purple saliva had licked it. But that was all before I met Jan Buley, the wife of my daughters’ piano teacher.

I agreed to attend Jan’s Pysanky class, only because I was sure nobody would show up and I felt sorry for her.  I even dragged a daughter or two with me. It was a small class in the basement of Sutherland Hall that early spring evening.  I was nervous, because I hadn’t painted since the boys were born.  I was convinced that I had flushed down any artistic talent while washing dirty diapers out in the toilet.  Surely, I had rocked it away while comforting a wailing toddler.

“Today we are honoured to have a special artist in our class today,” I heard Jan tell the class.  “It will be interesting to see what extraordinary designs she comes up with.” When I realized that she was talking about me, I seized up completely.

After a brief history of egg painting, Jan produced little wooden sticks with copper cones wedged into one end of them.  She called them kistka pens.  You scoop beeswax into the cone, then hold it over a flame until it melts, then draw your design onto a raw egg with the pointed end of the cone.  The waxy lines dry instantly.  Then you submerge the egg in a light value dye (like yellow).  After rubbing the dyed egg dry, you draw more designs on the yellow with the beeswax, and then submerge the egg into another colour that is a bit darker (like, orange).  Then you draw some more wax lines or shapes on the orange with your kistka pen , and then submerge it in a bit darker dye (crimson).  You carry on the process until you finish with black.  The fully painted egg is placed inside a toaster-oven, just long enough to melt the wax.  You rub off the melted wax with a clean cloth and, voila, you’ve got a work of art on your egg.

Only mine didn’t work. My “eggstraordinary” creation was an embarrassing, slobbery mess.  But, my daughter painted an exquisite egg.  For that reason, I bought the whole kit for us to try it again with my sisters, sons and nieces at Easter.  That was over 10 years ago.

Pysanky, which means “to write” now has become part of our annual, family Easter tradition.  I’ve gotten a bit better at it since Jan’s class, even though my eggs are still sloppy.  I love seeing how all the different, creative personalities come out in the egg designs.  Jamie, who is marrying Gillian in a few weeks, wrote love notes to Gillian over his egg.  Sarah’s and Emily’s eggs are perfect and exquisite miniature masterpieces.  What I like is the happy, social time with my family as we chat and laugh and joke while we make art together around the big kitchen table. Traditionally, the Ukranians painted eggs to keep evil away.    My family paints them to create art, fun and family togetherness.  While painting is usually a solitary occupation, pysanky proves that it doesn’t have to be.

I am very thankful to Jan for introducing me to this unusual but lovely tradition.   Now that I come to think of it, Grandma Beer from the great Canadian frontier of Haliburton used to paint scenes on fungi that she broke off of tree trunks.  Now, I wonder what the Ukranians would think of that?

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5 responses

12 04 2012
Jane Nigh

Elizabeth, what a lovely creation this eggstraordinary blog is! I took our bowl of beautiful eggs to use as a centrepiece at a fair trade clothing sale. The eggs were a wonderful point of conversation. People loved them. Keep up the good work!

12 04 2012
ejohnsonart

I’m glad they are still being enjoyed somewhere.

12 04 2012
Jean Ankenmann

Elizabeth, We wanted to do pysanky eggs again this Easter too but could not find our kit. Need to buy another one. The kids were disappointed too. Anyway – thanks for re-sparking the interest in such a fine, delicate fun activity. Your writing is wonderful – keep it up!

12 04 2012
ejohnsonart

Maybe we can do some together next Easter. I’m so glad you are enjoying the blog. Thnaks for your support.

12 04 2012
feistyredhair

I love the post, Mom. I kind of regret not doing an egg myself this year, but you know how finicky it is – I didn’t want to get started, only to have to stop within minutes to chase my kid around! Next year I’ll try again. P.S. It must have been SJ who did the amazing egg at Jan’s class…

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