Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Which came first? The chicken or the egg? How about a Ukrainian egg with a chicken motif?

Let's talk about creating a series of work in Ukrainian eggs. As you can see in the above photo, I have chosen a stylized chicken motif to draw onto my white chicken eggs. I have also decided on a color combination as well. I will do a dozen at a time when I do Pysanky. I do not do 12 of the exact same image, but a variation on a theme. When finished, the grouping as a whole is a cohesive and strong statement as well as being a full collection in itself that is appealing to egg collectors. It is much like doing a series of paintings and standing back and looking at the grouping which carries an idea from start to finish. I am applying what I have learned as an artist to the art of Pysanky. The egg above was divided into eight sections, and the design wraps around one half of the egg, and there is a mirror image on the other half. Whenever I draw in a section, I will turn the egg around and draw the same thing in the same section so it is easier to repeat the design one little bite at a time.

After drawing a general outline on the egg, I proceed to wax over the initial lines and add some detail lines by using a fine tip on my electric kitska.
I had a little room between the two opposing chickens to add a little chick in the space in between each.
On this egg, I divided the egg in half, and have a front and back medallion in which I placed a rooster in the middle of each. There is a vertical band that cuts the egg in half, and a smaller band on either side of the large middle band. I fill those bands with some geometric designs.
This egg is cut in half again, with a vertical middle band and two smaller bands that sandwich it, filled with more geometrics. The medallion has a diamond, and within the diamond, a triangular platform on which the chicken and her chick stand. The addition of the worm is just me being silly.
The chicken is a little more simplified than the first couple because there is less space to do all of the feathers, and the checkerboard triangle was already a little busy.
Same idea as the above egg, cut in half, vertical banding, triangular platform, but a Momma chicken with two chicks. Just by changing a couple of things slightly, you have a different egg design.
This egg was cut in half by a vertical band, and the front and back medallion have a Momma chick nestling her baby in her feathers. She is nestled on the left side of the medallion and curled around the oval. The smaller bands that sandwich the large vertical middle band have an eternity border with curly cues instead of geometrics, giving it a more organic feel.
Same egg, but without the chick, and her feathers have been elongated to follow the curve of the medallion.
Another rooster with different banding around the vertical axis.
This egg has a horizontal band that is divided into quarters with small banding above and below, and now has a medallion on the top and bottom of the egg. This chicken is a silly, comical chicken that makes me giggle!
Another rooster, front and back medallion, vertical banding but with an eternity band of leaves, and a diamond surrounding this shifty looking rooster. If you ask me, he looks a little guilty just coming from the hen house!
And last but not least, this egg was drawn in eighths, and in each of the compartments, a rooster and a chick looking up at a flower within a border. The bottom half of the egg is an upside down offset mirror image of the upper part of the egg.
Now let's finish up the series with the color choices I've made for this grouping. After waxing everything that I want to remain white on the egg, I dip the egg into a primary yellow.
I hand paint the chicken body with a brick dye, let dry and do other side.
After waxing in the brick color of the chicken's body, I hand paint the chicken heads with a lighter reddish brown and wax over those sections.
I then hand paint a pumpkin dye onto the chicken's crest and waddle, then wax in.
Then it's a full dip into a scarlet dye.
Everything that I want to stay scarlet, I will wax those sections over so they stay pristine.
Then it's onto the color black. This will be the final color on some of the eggs, and I will leave the large feathers unwaxed, but wax over the background of the egg to keep it black. I will wax in some of the large feathers so they stay black, and not wax the background of the egg. I have another color in mind and two more steps to go.
What happened to the black, you say? Well, everything that wasn't waxed over on the black egg came off when I put it into a bleach solution. It's called "bleach back", and it bleaches and removes colors back to the natural color of the shell, and if you remember, we started with a white egg. One cup of water and 1 tablespoon of bleach (which you will have to refresh every couple of eggs or so) is the recipe. After it comes out of the solution, it must be rinsed well in cold water until it no longer feels slippery. Then carefully pat it dry.

Here they are. No, we are not finished, but almost there! One more step to go. It is important to let the egg rest for at least a half an hour or more so that the pores of the shell can close back up.
Last color dip in a light turquoise dye, patted dry and let rest. As you can see, some of the eggs have the black background color, and the large feathers are turquoise, and some of the eggs have a turquoise background and the large feathers are black. They are similar, but different.
The eggs are placed in a cold oven in a paper egg carton lined with paper towels to catch most of the wax melting off. The oven is fired up to 175 degrees F.  The excess wax is gently wiped off until the eggs no longer feel sticky.
The last thing to do is to give them their glossy coat of varnish and enjoy them. As you can see, all of the colors are the same, the motif is the same, but they are all slightly different and all have wonderful variations. Hope you have enjoyed this!


  1. I really enjoyed your article. I'm an artist who is just learning about which sealants work on eggs drawn / painted on w India Ink & Watercolor. I stumbled upon your site & an very interested in your technique! :) I see I have a lot to learn! :) :) :)

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  3. I also write Pysanky, have for over 50 years. My favorite is the bleached background ones. I take my wax off in a very warm (yet comfortable to put in fingers) oil bath in a pot on electric stove. Warm the oil up to where its warm but you can still submerge your finger. Have about 4 inches of oil in small pot, submerge your egg and with spoon swirl oil around until you see wax coming off, every few times take egg out on spoon to gently wipe melting wax. This needs some practice to get it right, but eggs come out with beautiful sheen and the colors richer. I would not do it any other way for all my pysanky. No need to discard oil, use for the season at end, its stiff wax then discard.