Artist Coreen Weilminster describes the technique for creating Ukrainian Easter eggs, pysanky. When creating pysanky, use smooth, unwashed, raw, white eggs. To ensure the shell will take the dye, wash them with dish soap and wipe them down with white vinegar. Eggs such as goose, duck, pheasant, turkey or ostrich eggs require some additional preparation. Check for cracks in the eggs before you begin. Keep your hands clean to avoid depositing natural skin oils onto the shell. Only when the design is complete should you blow out the white and yolk of the eggs.
Apply pure beeswax with a stylus, or kitska. Pure beeswax has a high melting point, which helps it maintain even lines. It also covers well and provides a strong resistance to dyes. Write eggs on a soft work surface. Weilminster uses a tiny pillow, but in her classes, students use folded white towels. The soft surface stabilizes the eggs while working and can prevent cracks in the eggs if you inadvertently drop them during the process.
Work with colors in order from the lightest to the darkest. To achieve the correct color, you’ll need aniline dyes, available from specialty art stores. (Weilminster recommends storing the dyes in recycled pickle jars or wide-mouth, 1-pint canning jars.) Since these dyes are not edible, work on clean, dry eggs devoid of the interior yolks and whites or raw eggs that you’ll empty afterward.
In the old days, people used natural ingredients for dyes. Yellow or gold was derived from boiling onion skins. Red was made from a plant called logwood. Black dye traditionally came from walnut shells, and green and violet were prepared from husks of sunflower seeds.
Weilminster describes the design of the eggs as “a mental shift from ‘coloring the egg’ to ‘protecting the current color of the egg’ with beeswax.” The technique, called wax resist, is used in other art forms like pottery and batik.
Keep the eggs away from direct sunlight—decorated eggs will fade. Use paper egg cartons to store the eggs and place the cartons in plastic bins in a cool, dark place.
Kitska (the stylus, or writing tool)
- Wash and dry the eggs thoroughly.
2. Using a pencil, draw lines on the egg to serve as guidelines. The lines won’t show at the end of the process. Don’t erase the pencil marks—erasing may scratch the egg and prevent the dye from taking to the shell evenly. If you make a mistake, use white vinegar to remove any stray marks.
3. Heat a kitska with a candle flame until the kitska is almost smoking.
4. Scoop beeswax into the heated kitska. Apply wax to the white eggshell. This wax application protects the white parts of your design.
5. Moving from lightest to darkest shades, continue to change the color of the egg using desired dyes and apply wax to protect the colored parts of your design. Weilminster explains that on the design she created, she waxed the lines, dividing the egg, the star points and the lobed accents on the corner lines of the star when the egg was white to keep these elements white. She placed her egg in yellow dye for several seconds, dried the egg and waxed the parts of her design that she wanted to remain yellow—a second interior star; pine boughs on the north, south, east and west compass points; accent dots at the tip of each point and radial points inside the star. Since hot pink was the next darkest color in her design, she placed the egg in the hot pink dye and repeated the process of protecting the pink parts of the design, followed by dark orange. Weilminster then waxed these parts of her design before adding the final dye color, purple.
6. When you have completed your pattern, hold the egg to the side of the candle’s flame for a few seconds until the wax starts to melt. If you hold the egg directly over the flame, the egg will turn black from the carbon and your design will be ruined. Use a cloth to wipe away the melted wax, a small portion at a time, revealing all of the brilliant colors.
7. Hollow out the egg by poking a small hole at one end and a slightly large one at the other. Place the egg over a bowl, and blow the contents out through the larger hole or use an egg-blowing tool to pull the contents out. Another method of removing the wax is to place the empty, waxed egg on a paper towel in the microwave for 7 to 10 seconds. Caution: The egg will be very hot. Handle the egg carefully with paper towels and rub the egg vigorously until all the wax is removed.
You can display the finished eggs in bowls, shot glasses or egg cups. Sometimes artists will sell the eggs to be hung from egg tree display stands.
Pysanky artist and teacher
$3.98 to $18.98
$0.99 per color
3 pack of pure beeswax
1-ounce beeswax block
Coreen Weilminster recommends Luba’s Standard Kit #2 with delrin kitska for beginners. The kit comes with a block of beeswax, dyes (including black, red, light blue, green, orange and yellow), a kitska and design suggestions, and is available for $12.98.
Ukrainian Gift Shop
1008 N. Fifth St.
Minneapolis, MN 55411
“Divide and Conquer: 39 Pysanky Designs Based on Three Common Divisions”
by Susan Jones
“Endless Egging: A Design Resource for Batik Egg Artists”
by Jennifer E. Kwong
Both books available from blurb.com
“Eggs Beautiful: How to Make Ukrainian Easter Eggs”
by Johanna Luciow
“Ukrainian Easter Egg Design Book” (1, 2 & 3)
by Natalie Perchyshyn
“Ukrainian Easter Eggs and How We Make Them”
by Anne Kmit, Loretta L. Luciow, Johanna Luciow and Luba Perchyshy
Available from amazon.com and other booksellers