A Small Wonderful Lesson

This little mighty mite is a Bantam egg and is less than two inches in length. The photograph tricks you into thinking the egg is larger, but it’s really quite small. I was inspired to create the overall floral design from the millefleurs in the background of “The Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries. They are in Paris’ Cluny Museum. http://www.tchevalier.com/unicorn/tapestries/

However, I was not in Paris to see them….I was at a friend’s home participating in an “egging” weekend. There were four of us and we had a wonderful time. She had numerous needlepoints replicating the Unicorn Tapestries, and I was drawn to the use of millefleurs within the design. It didn’t take me long to decide what I was going to do for my first egg of the weekend!

Since I wanted the flowers’ outline to be black, that meant I had to begin with the egg dyed black originally. This was more of a free-form design so I did not do any sketching with a pencil; I just started writing with wax. I did not get a photo of this stage, but I wrote with black wax on the black egg. The sheen of the wax did allow a contrast that enabled me to see where and what I was writing.

This photo was taken after I had washed off the black dye and had etched (with weak muriatic acid) the egg back to white. …here is a clue for what comes later…the etching process removes layers of exposed egg shell…an important detail that I did not pay enough attention to.

Photo taken by Valerie Jurkowski

You can see the paint brush in the lower left corner that I was using to clean off the tiny eggshell pieces that the acid had eaten away.

At that point, I used a small paint brush to lay dye into the individual flower shapes, and then the green foliage. There were two more times that I did a quick etch to clean up the egg as I progressed through coloring and waxing it. Here is the egg ready for the final dye bath.

Photo taken by Valerie Jurkowski

The background color in the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries is a rich brownish red, so I needed to mix some dyes together to get that color. This is where things got out of control. In my rush, I neglected to do a quick soak in vinegar to rebalance the egg’s pH after the acid wash. (the vinegar bath helps the eggshell accept the dye) The dye did not take well, and I thought, “I’ll just quickly re-do this.” So, I washed it back, and during the quick acid wash, I noticed the tip of the egg had a suspicious looking spot. I held the egg under water and tried to stop the etch, but it seemed like it just kept going! By the time it was done there was much more than just one suspicious spot. I finished with a very gentle wash, gave it a vinegar bath, and ever so lightly brushed on the final dye color. Relief. The shell took the dye very well.

This photo shows the egg with the final dye, but the wax still covers the design.

Photo taken by Valerie Jurkowski

It looks fine, but the top of the eggshell is whisper thin, and I still had to melt and wipe off the wax. I used a heat gun to melt the wax and wiped it off in small sections as softly as I could. It all worked, and I gave it a coat of artist grade varnish. Whew. When it was dry I wanted to see just how thin the top was. Here it is held against a light, and you can see through the bottom hole in the egg through to its top, and you can tell how thin the egg is. I focused the camera on the hole so the rest of the egg is out of focus.

Looking at this I really think the top of the egg has etched down to the membrane. Yikes, that was a close call. I have been used to etching turkey, goose, and chicken eggs which all have much thicker shells than the little bantam eggs, which allowed more room for play.

Here is the completed egg again. I really enjoyed creating millefleurs and I plan on using them in future designs.

I loved how this egg turned out, but I came to the realization that I rush my work in too many places. I will be doing some reflecting on that, so  I can begin to dig deeper into creating designs and in executing the processes hoping to raise the quality and excellence of my art. So this egg has proved to be a beautiful little lesson!



How I Organized Those Broken Bits

Using eggshell pieces in my work has created serious and growing organizational issues. So far, each piece has used different eggshell colorations. For this sparrow, I used a variety of tan and brown pieces for his back, wing, and top of his head.

On this lace, I have used some pink patterned eggshells.

Now, for this sunflower that is in the beginning phase, there is a variety of golds, yellows, browns, greens, and blues. I’ve only got shells on the sunflower so far, but there are eggs ready to use for the leaves and background.

Already, this has resulted in quite a few different eggshells to store and manage.

Originally I used egg cartons and muffin tins to keep them all, but that became problematic when I needed to pull out a single color to use. Once the eggs were broken into tiny pieces it became difficult to get them out to use without disturbing the rest.

One night it hit me that those small plastic condiment cups would be perfect! Actually, that idea should have occurred to me sooner, but better late than never. lol.

They worked out perfectly. The colors are easily seen, and twenty cups fit into a shallow plastic tote. I did tape a sample of the egg shells to the tops of the containers, but now I don’t think they are necessary.

When using the shells, I spread them out on a small piece of particle board that is painted white.

At first, I used a notecard for this. However, every time I used a needle to break the shells down further into tiny pieces, all those eggshell bits would pop up and flip over face down. Oh, how frustrating that was. I would spend so much time tediously turning each tiny piece back over, only to have to do it all over again whenever the card happened to get bumped.

The surface of the particle board is sturdy enough that when it’s bumped or when I break down the shells, there is no more flipping!

Too often, my “next great ideas” create clutter on my desk which becomes burdensome in short order. These two things– condiment cups and particle board–have made such a massive improvement for me; isn’t it remarkable how simple things can make such a difference?!

Now, it’s time to get busy….  ; )


The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Psalm 19:1

This verse from the Book of Psalms was used as an open art challenge this past weekend. I knew I would use an egg, but what would I do on it? I am so slow when it comes to planning and executing an egg design that I had concerns that I would finish in time. But, I was thrilled with how it turned out!


When I thought of skies and heavens I knew I had to figure out the perfect blue dye to use for the background. To emphasize the sky I wanted it to be a simple yet complex design.

I used the top design for the sun and free-flowing vines on the bottom to represent the earth. Here are some better shots of the top and bottom of the egg.

I have always considered the circle to be one of God’s greatest creations. Think about it, it’s perfect and encompasses so much of what we use, and it shows up in nature everywhere….with no beginning and no end.

So I designed a center band of circles and kept their coloration as white on white depicting God’s purity.


Since this egg didn’t involve multiple dye baths, the steps were few, but because of the etching and white on white, there was some intensity involved. When you look at the finished egg notice the white on white to see the nice effect etching gives.

This photograph was taken after I had done an extensive etch in a weak muriatic acid bath. At this point, the acid has eaten away the egg shell that wasn’t protected by the wax. This resulted in the waxed portions being raised from the rest of the egg surface. After this period of etching, I went back and waxed over the portions I wanted to have white in the background. Look at the circles… the small ones I waxed completely over and the larger ones I only waxed in the bands solidly. On the top, there were some small bits I waxed in and also the large petal-looking sections. I finished the meandering vine by waxing in the leaves and small flowers. I missed photographing the egg from this point on because it was getting to be pretty late at night and I was on a roll. ; )

I had to experiment with the dye color. The blues I had were too “bright bluey” even after I had diluted them, so they would not work. Then I wondered about some old gray dye that was needing to be replaced, and I mixed some diluted blue dye with it, and I got the perfect blue I was after!

Here is the finished egg again.

I forgot to mention that this is a goose egg which is a little longer than the turkey eggs I often use and much larger than chicken eggs.

Doing this egg was not in my plans, but I’m so glad I participated in the challenge. I hope you enjoy it as well!

To God be the glory.





What is so special about a plain brown bird?

Growing up it seemed that my brothers and I all had our favorite bird Christmas ornaments. While the other bird ornaments were made of beautiful delicate glass with spun glass tails, my favorite was a chubby, papier mache, brown glittered, sparrow-like bird. I loved all the ornaments, but for some reason, the plain brown bird was special to me. Even though that bird has been worn out and is long gone; I have always imagined that I would try to replicate it. So, I think it is that ornament that inspired this journal. I was excited with how it turned out.

I used Golden brand liquid acrylic paints for the branch and bird and painted it on an old dictionary page using the definition of “sparrow.” Then to add some interest to it, I added a mosaic of brown egg shells to the back and wing area. I took an egg and waxed on some different textural patterns and did a variety of brown/tan/gray dyes.

After I added the bits of eggshell, I brushed epoxy on them to add strength. See if you can see the egg shells on the finished bird. After I added them I brushed epoxy on the shells to add strength.

So, what does make a plain brown bird so special? The brown bird doesn’t care that it doesn’t get the attention and adulation the other more beautiful birds get. He still sings his song adding his melody to the rest of the morning birdsong. He doesn’t waste time with comparing himself to others; he just goes about life doing the work he was put here to do. Yet, if we look at him closely we can see there is wonderful beauty in all of his browns. It’s just that we have to put in the effort to see it.




It’s time to start over.

Last August I embarked on a challenge that pushed me beyond my comfort zone in egg design. Inspired by this wonderful Egyptian Tree of Life rug owned by a dear egging friend.

This post shared that start.  What, me go modern?  I had the whole egg gridded out and I liked how the Tree of Life took shape on the front and back.

A couple issues had me puzzled. One was abundantly clear…how would I develop the design for the wide brown band encircling the Tree of Life. On the egg, it is a larger area in proportion to what it is on the rug, and I also wanted to capture the richness of life found in it.

I could not put my finger on the other issue, but something about the egg was bothering me. There are times when thoughts digest slowly and this was one of those times.

Of course, it was right in front of me. I had drawn out the design on the white egg, but I needed the outlines to be black. Oh boy. That meant I had to delete all the gridwork and tree drawing and start over.

So with the help of some weak muriatic acid brushed on, I bid farewell to all the drawing and was back at the beginning with a big beautiful white egg.

The next step for this egg is to go into a black dye bath and begin drawing in the grids and design. But in the meantime, this is a perfect opportunity to do a study egg to practice some of the birds and experiment with some design elements for the brown band.

I went small using a darling little Banty egg gifted to me by another egging friend. I was hoping the small egg would force me to narrow my attention and focus on pulling out some key features that I could add and build upon when I went back to the large egg. That really worked! I wasn’t frozen with the thought of planning out the whole large design.

At this stage, the egg has its start with the black dye, and I was ready to draw the designs.

Here I have waxed the lines over the black egg and it has also been etched back to white.

Using a paintbrush I dropped in dye (instead of dunking the whole egg in the dye) for the tree, leaves, and bird. It was etched back to white again, then using a heavy kistka (its tip has a larger hole allowing for more wax to flow) I covered the whole background of the bird so it would remain white. I repeated the whole process for the brown band. I was on a roll and neglected to take pictures of those stages.

Here are pictures of the completed egg study:

Reflections…I feel much more confident going forward in designing the band on the rhea egg. In fact, I’m kind of excited about it! I’m satisfied with the birds, but I was disappointed with how the black outlines lost some of their intensity. I’m not sure what to do to prevent that. The black outlines on the brown band turned out with a nice dark richness to them. Why there and not on the bird sections? Something to think on…

Adding to my list of summer goals is to complete the rhea egg. I am not putting a deadline on it, that would only haunt me and take the fun out of making it. I will add posts of its progress….stay tuned!

Perseverance is failing nineteen times and succeeding the twentieth. 

—Julie Andrews


At Long Last it is Complete.

This journal may appear to be full of blank pages, but those blank pages cover up the blood, sweat, and tears poured into it over the past months. It sounds embarrassing that I struggled that much in making it.

I found a plan for a handmade journal that I liked, and I thought it would be a hop, skip, and a jump to create what I had swimming around in my head. Challenge number one was what to use for the cover. I liked the idea of linen or other cloth, but couldn’t figure out how to keep the glue from seeping through the weave. So, I tried brown craft paper, but that was ho-hum. Time dragged on; I researched and researched and could not find a solution. One day out of the blue, I swear I googled the same topic name I had done before, but this time I stumbled upon the solution. Thank heavens. I needed to make it into bookcloth by adhering tissue paper to the back of the linen. Eureka; it worked!

To create the design on the cover I have had a number of ideas percolating in my mind. This is the first one. It’s a filigree design made of eggshell chips set on top of old lace. I designed the filigree pattern and traced it onto a piece of transparency with a sharpie. To transfer the design to the cover I held it down and lifted up a portion and drew a ¼ inch of the curve on the lace. I could only glue three eggshell chips at a time or they would fall out of line and make a mess, so the progress was slow at best.

These eggshells were made with the regular egg dye I use, and then I put some variations of alcohol ink on top to add interest. A  coat of varnish was put on the egg, then I broke it up into chunks and peeled the membrane from the inside of the shells. I continued to break the shells down into small pieces using a chenille needle. The best shapes I found to work with were the trapezoidal shapes. Thankfully, I have been able to pick up my speed in working with the shells, but this first design took me quite some time to finish.

While working with the eggshells I decided I wanted to make a pendant piece to accompany the journal as a bookmark. I had a bronze colored frame, so I took a small oval piece of linen, put lace on it, and then made a small circle with eggshells. I filled it with epoxy. It added a neat touch to the journal, and it sparked some new ideas which I can’t wait to work on!

Now it was time to finish it up with fancy paper on the inside cover and add the hand torn pages. The filler paper I used is sketchpad weight so it can handle various types of media. Holes were punched, grommets placed, and the whole thing bound together. What a happy relief to be done!

The whole idea of using eggshells to create designs on these journals is really resonating with me. Seeing beauty being built up from inconsequential eggshell crumbs is wonderful, and ties me back to the days of a girl growing up on a chicken farm.

Oh, will I ever finish?!

The inspiration to start creating handmade journals has been with me since last fall. But inspirations without sweat equity rarely amount to much. I have questioned why am I so driven to have the journals be handmade; why not just use ready made ones and go one from there?

It’s because there is something special and eye-catching about a hand drawn lines and handmade things. They grab and hold your attention through a direct connection to their creator and serve as a witness to the maker’s devotion to the endeavor.

That’s what’s pushing me to handcraft the journals; I want the whole piece to resonate with the personality of its designer. Then when the journal is filled with writings and drawings from its owner it can become a bridge of faith, love, and support that connects generations.

This is all well and good, but with no knowledge or experience with making books/journals, I have my work cut out for me. These journals have come a long way from me not even knowing what chipboard to use or what to use for the cover. The chipboard was easy to find, then I finally figured out how to use linen as a cover without glue soaking through the weave…that alone stymied me for a couple months.

I have several covers nearly finished, but this one will be the first one I complete. It has antique lace with a filigree design made from chips of dyed green eggshells. Again, why do all of these ideas have to take me outside of my comfort zone? Probably to keep me from seeking perfection which is my default setting. Instead, the pleasure of the piece comes from the emergence of its voice.

The learning and creating process is slow, but it’s proving to be a wonderful lesson in patience and perseverance.

Perfection isn’t a fruit of the spirit—joy is. Patience is. Peace is.

Ann Voskamp.

PS. I will have this journal completed by the next post. ; )

My Kindred Spirit

Belle Ray in 1891

Pauline Isabelle Ray 1870-1957

Dear Grandma,

I have wanted to write you a letter since I was six. It didn’t seem right that Mom wrote letters to my other grandma but not you. I knew you were in heaven, and the TV commercial said if we used the Zip Code our letters could be delivered anywhere. So, I asked Mom what the Zip Code for heaven was, and I learned two things. One, no one (not even the new preacher) knew where heaven was. Two, adults don’t really know everything.

I returned to the family room to think about things (or as my dad would say, ‘to figure’). If no one knew where heaven was, then maybe it was right here, and we just couldn’t see it. Then it followed that maybe you were sitting right next to me, and that made me feel good. At that moment you became like a kindred spirit to me, and quite often I consulted you.

Everyone always spoke of your humble kindness. When I was a teenager Uncle Roy sent us all the letters you had written to him. They spanned from the early 1920s into the 50s. In reading them I really felt I got to know you in addition to the stories I have heard.

Some things I have learned from stories about you….You must have been made of tough stuff. What determination. A young widow with three surviving kids living on a farm at the turn of the century. Splitting firewood, doing field work with horses, plus the regular house chores, and yet your focus was to keep the family together and you did not become bitter or hardened. When I have gone through what I considered tough times, I have often stopped to consider the circumstances you endured, and my perspective is quickly shifted into thankfulness for your example, and I am strengthened to keep going.

But, I always wondered what kept you going, and how you retained your kindheartedness, joy, and sense of humor through it all. Those letters have been a wonderful gift, but what I would cherish even more would be to read (in your handwriting) the scriptures you went to for strength, comfort, and encouragement. I know it was your faith that sustained you and being able to read those would make me feel like I was getting wise and uplifting counsel directly from you.

That persevering faith of yours has inspired me to create journals that can be written, drawn, and filled in with scripture, quotes, gratitude lists, and sketches. Hoping they will serve as bridges of faith, love, and support through the generations.

The letters you wrote all those years ago are like seeds that you planted and are still growing and producing love today. Thank you for that.

With much love, your indebted granddaughter,


A verse I can imagine you relying on:

For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.         Isaiah 41:13

Lincoln and Belle Ray with baby Frank 1913










Flowering of the Cross

One of the most beloved Easter traditions to me is the flowering of the cross at church. It is breathtaking watching the towering dark cross being transformed into a blooming masterpiece by the congregation adding a flowers one-by-one.

The Flowering Cross batik egg was inspired by this tradition. I wanted the egg’s design to have the cross formed only from flowers collaged together. I used a double yolk turkey egg, and I did not want the flower outlines to be white, so I dyed the egg gray before doing any sketching on the egg.

Once the egg was gray, I drew in straight guiding lines to help with placing the flowers. I made the flowers overlap each other and I tucked leaves in along with small circles to indicate buds and seed pods. The sketching seemed to take forever, and that was just with a pencil at this point. I started the wax writing process, and I wrote and wrote and wrote. All the lines I was making at this point would be gray at the end. It was exciting to see it develop. Once I was thoroughly involved and committed, I wished I had made the flowers larger.

I had a difficult time seeing the waxed lines on the gray egg. Finally! The outlining was done. Now, I etched the egg which removed the gray dye and etched away some of the shell preserving the waxed lines which made that part of the shell raised a little higher than the rest of the egg. I was so happy with how it looked!

The design is written with wax.

The waxed lines were fine (thin and delicate), and after the etching, I was concerned that I would lose some of the wax if I did further dye baths and etching. So, I used a paint brush and “dropped dye” into the sections–kind of like coloring in a color book. Then I waxed over the colors; this also strengthened the waxed outlines. I etched the egg again to clean it up. Now all that is left is to dye and wax the circles.

The flowers and leaves have been dyed and waxed.

The last of the circles were dyed and waxed, and it was been dyed in the final background color, turquoise.

The dyeing and waxing are complete. The egg is ready to have the wax removed.

It has vegetable oil rubbed on it at this stage. The oil prevents scorching from the candle flame when the egg is being heated to melt the wax which allows the wax to get wiped off….exposing all the preserved colors beneath.

This is the completed egg…a Flowered Cross!

The flowered cross!

He is risen!

He is risen indeed!


Wait. Don’t finish that.

Is this an excuse to procrastinate? Yeah right, that’s all I need. And yet, it has proven to be valuable advice from an art teacher. (I regret that I don’t remember which one in order to give him/her credit). But, how does this make any sense?

Finishing everything you can before leaving your project seems the smart and intuitive means to the end. But, have you ever felt good about completing a section you were focused on, then the next day you can’t really figure out where to begin…just what is the next best step? Precious time ticks by, and you start to feel like you’ve hit a roadblock. You just can’t find your groove.

The advice not to finish really helps. While working, stop before you complete the section you’re focusing on. When you come back to your piece, you will readily know where to start and exactly what you want and need to do. Your mind and thoughts naturally engage as you begin working, and then as you work, you begin to process what your next steps will be.

It allows a running start to the work at hand instead of trying to jump in from a stand still. I use this quite a bit and never regret it.

Creating prototypes for my handmade journals has been a struggle, and I have had to strategize many ways to avoid roadblocks. The perseverance is there, but the timeline is slower than I anticipated. I will share more information in future posts and elaborate with more detail of what’s going on with these journals.

….a work in progress.

Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlocking our potential.                                    —Winston S. Churchill