Monday, June 22, 2015

Egg #21- Welsh Dragon, etched and dyed goose egg from the "50 years all cooped up, what's an egg to do?" series

     As part of my family's heritage, the next egg is dedicated to my Father's maternal side of the family, and for my grandmother, Betty (Elizabeth) J. Williams-Starling. My great grandparents emigrated from Wales, trading work in the Welsh coal mines and hearth and home of green valleys for work in the slate quarries of Poultney and Fair Haven and the green hills of Vermont. My great grandmother, Elizabeth Williams was born in Bethesda, and resided in Caernavonshire, and my great grandfather, born in Wales and resided in Yorkshire, England for a while. The two were married, and shortly after, left for America. Once here, and settled, my grandmother was born in Poultney, Vermont, December 6th, 1918.
      There is still one piece of furniture that survived the trip over that I know of. It was my great grandmother's rocking chair- with the arm rests worn down smooth by the constant rubbing of her hands over the wood as she rocked. Also, some lovely dishes that I imagined decorated a Welsh cupboard that the family might have displayed along with other dishes and tankards in a small cottage.
      My great grandmother spoke very little English right up until her death. My grandmother remembers only a few Welsh words from her childhood- probably some of her first to ask for her favorite breakfast: bara, menyn, and triog which translates to bread, butter and treacle (molasses).
     These are some of the only photos that I have of my grandmother. I remember that she had the most beautiful green/blue eyes, and had very little gray in her hair. Her favorite colors were turquoise and chartreuse.  She was constantly solving cross word puzzles (she was a Master at them!) There are no younger photos, as there was a great fire in the Salisbury farmhouse in 1947 where my father and his siblings lived with my grandmother and grandfather and my great grandmother. Sadly, my great grandmother put a kettle on the Roper range, thinking it was filled with water to make some tea. Instead, it was filled with kerosene. No lives was lost that day, but the family lost all, to my grandmother's indomitable spirit, this egg is dedicated to her. Here we go!
     I start with a reference photo of the Welsh Dragon on its green and white fields. I will have to simplify the dragon a bit, as it will have to fit on a goose egg. I have decided to challenge myself to make a double-sided egg with mirror images, and a horizontal decorative band that cuts the egg in half. The egg will be one of the few in this collection that will have a horizontal orientation.
     I am sure, as I go forward, that when I translate this drawing to the egg, there will be several alterations to the design to be able to fit the image in the allotted space. You can see that I have chosen a Roman key border that has some Celtic knot work elements in it. The reason for this, you ask? There are still many surviving foundation walls from the Roman occupation of Great Britain which are visible today in Wales, and most were built over and upon. I had the pleasure of visiting quite a few of those sites when my husband and I traveled over there in 1994. Can I say how welcoming and wonderful it was? I felt like I had come home...
     I start by dying the egg with a dip in PUSA asparagus, and then UGS black. This color combination gives the egg a richer and denser black than just the UGS black dye alone. I divide the egg in half horizontally on my egg lathe with a silver quilter's pencil so I can see the lines better. I then divide the egg into quarters. This means there are now 8 sections- 4 on top, 4 on bottom. I use a measuring tape and pick a vertical line and measure a 1" border all they way around the top and bottom of the egg. I divide that border into a 1/4"x1/4" grid, 4 squares wide. I start plotting my interlocking knot work for the vertical border.
     I draw a grid on the front side of the egg, and plot out my dragon within the confines of the medallion I am filling with this image. I turn the egg around and am hit with the realization that the first drawing has the dragon facing the bottom or larger part of the egg. I now have to adjust my drawing for the other side, as my dragon is facing the small or top part of the egg. Not quite a mirror image, but these are the adjustments that you have to make when you are doing a mirror image on the front and back of a horizontal and learn.
     I have recently purchased a white pigmented wax to melt through my electric kitska called "Super White" from Pysanky USA. Several of my egg peers have touted this wax as being easier to see when waxing on a dark surface of an egg. I thought I would give it a try. It definitely made my job a lot easier. Thanks for all who suggested it!
     The border is my own design, and I think it worked out okay. I have combined to types of keys that interlock in an over/under pattern. That white wax is working great so far! So much kinder on the eyes!
     Now for the dragon. I am using a fine tipped kitska for the outlines.
     So far so good. You can see that the design is somewhat simplified. I needed to do that to be able to have it fit on the egg, but also, leave open work and have the detail work not too fussy, as I am planning to etch back to the white of the egg.
     Here is the other side of the egg. The orientation of the dragon is the same, facing left, but he is facing left on the small part of the egg, and the photo before shows he is facing the bottom or large part of the egg. I thought that the adjustment in the design went okay...
     I want a thick black outline band with beading and the inner interlocking key in the border to be solid black as well. I switch to my medium tipped kitska and fill in. I also add the beads on either side of the 1/8" thick border. I have to say that although this is not the end result- I do like this look of the white wax on the black egg. It reminds me of "Jasper ware" or Wedgwood.
     Once I have waxed all of the black outlines, I am ready to acid etch back to the white of the egg. With proper protective gear and ventilation, I use Acid Magic to take down the shell. I lightly scrub off the shell with a piece of Mr. Clean Magic eraser, and make sure I get all of the dye and shell debris out of the nooks and crannies. I rinse the egg, brush a little ivory dish soap and rinse again to neutralize the acid. I let the egg rest for at least 30 minutes before touching it again.
     Here is the egg at rest, drying out and the pores allowed to close back up. There is a nice black outline under what looks like gray wax. I give the egg a quick 10 second dip into vinegar- I don't rinse, but plunk right into the next dye. This gives the shell a "mini" etch to better receive that next dye.
     Just look at how brilliant this UGS scarlet comes out on the egg after the mini etch I've given it. Had I not done that, you might be looking at a lighter, less vibrant red or pink after the initial etch.
     After the egg has dried, I take my extra fine kitska and start waxing in scales that are staggered like brick work. I am adding some texture here. You'll note that the only scales on the Welsh dragon on the flag are in the neck region. I like how it looks, so I add it over the entire body. I plead artistic license.
     Here comes the fun part. Adding some depth by shading. I use a brush to apply UGS red dye, and start shading parts of the body and wings. It takes a while to do this, and then I must let that side dry before I do the other side with the same.
     Here is what Y Ddraig Goch ("the red dragon") looks like so far...still more to do.
     Now to make him really pop. I brush UGS dark red into the very interior of where I have just shaded with the UGS red. This makes the lighter scarlet red almost "glow"! I am very happy with this egg so far!
     As you can see in the above photo, I have wax over the scarlet blocks in the interior of the interlocking design, and I use a big, thirsty watercolor brush and brush on the UGS dark red over the band work. Why not dip the whole egg, you ask? Because I plan on washing back, once I wax over the dark red and dragon. It will be easier to wash back the lighter scarlet red, rather than 3 reds dipped over each other.
     After waxing the dragon and the border, I wash back gently, with Ivory dish soap and a soft brush. It gets a rinse, and we are back to white again, and I let dry before touching it again.
     I am now going to draw a light line that divides the egg horizontally for the white and green fields.
     I brush in PUSA Christmas green into one of the border lines and wax over after it has dried.
     I brush the PUSA Christmas green on the bottom part of the egg and let dry. I do this for the other side as well.
     Here we go with the artistic license again...I decide that I would like some greenery to mimic a woven tapestry, rather than the plain, flat green field. I start waxing in curls that connect to each other, and then add leaves onto those stems. I am using my extra fine kitska, and the regular tinted dark beeswax now.
     I do this for both front and back of the egg until I have filled up the bottom green field with this ivy-like pattern.
     I now brush on UGS light green. I do both sides and let dry. I decide there is not as much contrast between the two colors, so I will add one more color on top to make the lighter green stand out.
    I brush on PUSA forest green, let dry. This makes the lighter Christmas green stand out more. I then wax over the entire green area. Now for the white field above.
     I would like the look of clouds on the white field, so I brush on Pusa dolphin gray. I do this a couple of times in between drying until the desired shade is reached. I don't want the cloud lines to dark, just dark enough so that they are subtle when I wash back to white once again.
     I use my extra fine kitska and start waxing in clouds in a wave-like formation. I do this for both sides.
     I take time to admire this fiery guy. I love the glowing scales against the cool green ivy.
     I decide after waxing in the wave of clouds that I will bleach back to white and rinse the egg. I want a bright white shell to show off that white field. I rinse the egg under water until it no longer feels slippery. I let the egg rest another 30 minutes before I touch it again.
     The last section is second part of the border. I hand paint the same two green that I used for the green field. I let dry and wax over that and the white field. Now I am ready to unwax.
I plunge the kitska into the drain hole plug, and rub the egg with a little olive oil. I am unwaxing with a heat gun today, not my usual oven routine. I thought I would give that a try instead, and also wasn't sure about the white pigmented wax.
      I line a paper coffee cup carrier with paper towels, and nestle the egg in a paper coffee filter. I use my heat gun to melt the wax off. I must say, it is fun watching it come off fast like it does, as the oven takes much longer. This method would be handy if you are in a class and don't want to use a candle flame method.
     Here he is! Wax is melted, and you can see the nice, thick raised black outline. It is wonderful to have such a nice deep etch to run your finger over. I am very pleased with the shading, and the tapestry feel that I have achieved with this egg! I will photograph it before I vanish, but wanted you to see him as he was being dipped into Golden Acrylic MSA Hard solvent-based varnish with a glossy finish:
     That gloss brings out the shading and depth to this egg beautifully! Here are some views of the finished egg:

I hope you've enjoyed the process and a little family history that inspired this Welsh Dragon egg. I will leave you with a quote by Huw Morgan from the film "How Green Was My Valley":

"There is no fence nor hedge around time that is gone. You can go back and have what you like of it, if you can remember. So I can close my eyes on my valley as it is today, and it is gone, and I see it as it was when I was a boy. Green it was, and possessed of the plenty of the Earth. In all Wales, there was none so beautiful. Everything I ever learned as a small boy came from my father and I never found anything he ever told me to be wrong or worthless. The simple lessons he taught me are as sharp and clear in my mind as if I had heard them only yesterday. In those days, the black slag, the waste of the coal pits, had only begun to cover the sides of our hill. Not yet enough to mar the countryside, nor blacken the beauty of our village, for the colliery had only begun to poke its skinny black fingers through the green."

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