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….  ; )


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. ; )

What, me go Modern?

Since I first learned to create Pysanky in 1972, my designs have been based on traditional Ukrainian colors and motifs. That’s over forty years! Those patterns and styles are etched solidly in my mind. Here is a picture of some of my first eggs from ’72.

eggs 1972 a

Here is a sample of eggs that I made in the 80s.

eggs traditional

These were made using an electric kistka, but the designs are still traditional.

Last year I looked up Pysanky on the internet (I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to look before that), and I was blown away by the modern designs! Artists were also using new techniques that freed up the order of colors in the dyeing process. That was huge because now we could use dark colors followed by light colors….such freedom. These modern creations are referred to as Batik eggs instead of Pysanky since they aren’t traditional in design or process.

In the past year, I have learned how to use a weak muriatic acid to etch the egg shell to add dimension. My designs have changed, but I have found it difficult to move beyond the traditional motifs. I do more filling in of backgrounds behind the linear patterns to give the shape a contrasting color to the overall background. If you look at the three eggs from the 80s, you can see the dark background throughout all of the designs. If I were to do them now, I might make the background of the bands a different color which would really make them stand out. Yet, the overall appearance would still be traditional.

So, it is time to really go for something new! The next egg I am working on is a Rhea egg. It is 5.5″ x 3.5″…much larger than the chicken and turkey eggs I have been using.

I am basing the design on this small wool rug that belongs to a friend that she found on a trip to Egypt.

Tree of life rug

I have been sketching out the tree to get the layout that will work.

Tree of life sketch

I am planning on making the tree on the egg proportionally wider than the rug. I printed a photograph of the rug and drew a grid on it, and I am using a grid on the graph paper to adjust the design. I am thinking I will have this on the front and back of the egg, but I have not figured out how or what I want to do between the two images or above and below them on the egg. But, I am so excited! I will update its progress each week…that will hold me accountable to keep pushing myself to work on it.

My goal is to have the design sketched onto the egg next week, so I’ve got quite a bit of figuring to do!

Be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead!               1 Peter 1: 6  NLT

Creating a Pysanka Part 2….the Finish!

Let’s see…..where we left off last time…..the design was penciled in, and the white parts were waxed over and the egg is ready to be dyed gold.

This egg is already blown, so I have formed a wax plug in the hole to prevent dye from getting inside; that is the dark circle you see in the picture.  Because it is hollow I have to hold it under the dye, and I turn it around to coat it completely.

01 Dip white egg02 dyeing egg gold


Now I have waxed over the areas that need to be protected and kept gold. In this case it is the sunflower petals and the wheat heads, beards, and stems. I also added small marks between the ram’s horns in the band.

1 Gold egg


I like to use two greens for this design. I start with a lime green that I use to write in the stems and leaf outlines for the small flowers and large sunflowers. Also, notice the small leaves in the band, they have been waxed in solidly. In the end, those leaves will show with white outlines and solid lime green.

2 Lime green


Next, is the dark green. I only use it to fill in the large sunflower leaves and small flower leaves. I like to see the contrast with the two shades of green in this design.

3 dark green


Now the egg is white! This is process I learned just last year….etching. I first use some dishwashing liquid and suds up the egg to wash back a lot of the dye. Then I use a weak acid; in this case some weak muriatic acid. It eats away some of the shell, but the waxed areas are protected and are not damaged. The end result is that the waxed parts will be raised somewhat from the rest of the egg adding some textural interest. Plus, the ability to get the egg back to white opens up the opportunity for a wide variety of dye sequences.

4 first etching


In this stage I only need some small parts of the egg to be pink and blue, so instead of dyeing the whole egg, I just drop in some dye to those areas with a small paintbrush. So you can see that I need to wax the pink and blue petals.

5 spot dye

Now I need to attend to the cones of the coneflowers and the face of the sunflowers. I have dropped in the rust dye in those areas, and I will wax the cones. The sunflower faces are so prominent that I want some texture added. So, I write in some cross-hatching lines with the kistka. Then I take water and a paintbrush and do a light wash back of the rust color….just lightening it a little. In the end it will have darke cross hatched lines with a lighter background. Now, I will wax over the whole face.

6 spot dye7 sunflower face


I want background of the bands to be black to contrast with the blue that I am planning for the background of the flower bouquets. So, I dye the whole egg black. I will now wax a solid layer over the bands. I don’t need to wax over the small sunflowers and leaves (since they are already protected), but it won’t hurt them if I do. This step seems very simple but it takes some tedious patience to be sure that not a sliver of the black egg is left uncovered within the bands….it must get a solid coat.

8 black dye for band


Oh dear. When I get close to finishing an egg, I lose track of other plans….I forgot to take a picture of the next steps.

After finishing waxing the black for the bands, I etched the egg again to take it back to white. I like to do that before the final color because it is a great way for me to look the egg over and see if there are some spots that I have missed in the waxing process. If I have missed something, I can lay in small spots of dye and wax in what I need to.

So imagine, most of the egg is now white except for the back bands.

Next, imagine that I dye the egg into a nice medium blue.

This shows that the egg has taken a blue dye bath and is ready for finishing. The shine you see on it is from vegetable oil. Before melting off the wax, I wipe on a coat of the oil because the melted wax comes off the egg better and doesn’t leave smudges.

9 completed egg ready for melting

I love using a candle to melt the wax. You can use a heat gun and quickly melt it, but it is fun and relaxing to play with a candle. ; )

This first picture shows where I have melted and wiped off an area of the band. You can see the white outlines, green leaves and black background. It’s so exciting to see the bright design pop out from behind the dark gloppy wax!

10 wax removed from band

Now, you can see the sunflower (notice its center with the cross hatching) and small blue flowers.

11 wax removed from flowers

Here are some final pictures of the Kansas Summer Bouquet egg. My final step is to give it a protective coating of varnish. I hope you have enjoyed reading through the steps of creating this egg. If you research “Pysanky” on the internet you will see a lot of gorgeous eggs and a number of YouTube videos demonstrating the process. There is a wonderful Facebook group dedicated to Pysanky for artists from very beginners to professionals, and everyone is very welcoming and helpful (It’s called Incredible Eggs). Let me know if you would be interested in joining this group.

12 finish13 finish

ps….the dirty fingernails in these pictures are from the dyes. lol.

What’s in a Gift?

Well, if it’s a gift from God, then we are in for an exciting journey! Our gifts are meant to be prioritized and used—even the creative gifts.

Too often, I know I have felt overwhelmed just keeping up with life’s necessities. Really, who has time for artsy stuff? But, if we ignore our creative gift, it’s like telling God, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve got this, and I’ll enjoy dabbling with your gift once in a while when I have time.”

Where does that put us in our relationship and our journey with God? If we really believe that His plan is perfect, then we need to follow through with giving time and attention to the gifts we have been blessed with.

What might happen if we were to grab hold of His creative gift and prioritize its importance? We can’t know how He intends to use this gift through us, but we need to be ready for however He chooses. I think that’s where the excitement begins because we all know that His plans surpass anything that we can ever imagine. So, let’s think about how we can work to find ourselves devoted to nurturing this incredible gift.

Sunflower egg and sketch