The detailed designs and vibrant colours on a pysanka egg are enough to turn heads, as they’re more than just an Easter decoration – they’re a genuine art form.
Olga Lang, the Ukrainian Canadian Cultural Society of Vancouver Island’s pysanka expert, says the process for the pysanka maker should be a spiritual activity, too.
“It is an exercise on how to cope with recognizing that bad thoughts come into your mind, and staying in a prolonged state of grace,” she says of being able to put your heart and mind into the art.
“Hopefully that state of grace will carry on throughout the year. You have that control over your thoughts; bad thoughts, you recognize them, but they don’t have to change your emotional state.”
pysanka eggs date back to at least 988 AD when Ukraine adopted Christianity and pysanka became entrenched in the religious symbolism of Easter.
Making the decorative eggs is a repetitive process of melting wax onto the surface to preserve the colour underneath and then dyeing the egg.
“It’s a long process, but they’re meant to be given away when they’re done. It’s altruistic, to write loving messages to each other in the form of symbols, colours and lines. I think that’s why the activity perpetuated for thousands of years,” Lang says.
“This is something that’s really a wonderful gift from our ancestors – to give ourselves the freedom of time to actually sit for several hours and create things.”
The Ukrainian Canadian Cultural Society (3277 Douglas St.) hosts an Easter Traditions open house on Sunday (March 24) from noon to 4 p.m.
Participate in a pysanka making class, enjoy Ukrainian food, watch demonstrations on traditional Ukrainian crafts, and visit the gift shop to buy all the supplies you need to do pysanka at home.
A step-by-step guide to pysanka eggs
1. Clean the surface of your egg using vinegar. A dirt and oil-free surface helps retain the dye.
2. Heat the copper end of the kistka (stylus) above a candle and scoop a little bit of beeswax into the top of the metal funnel. Reheat the tip of the kistka and, using paper towel, wipe away any excess wax that melted onto the wires holding the funnel to the handle.
3. Let the melted wax come out of the fine end of the kistka and draw on the egg’s surface. Use the wax to “seal” the colour in on the egg. Any white spot you cover in wax will remain white on the finished product.
4. When you’ve finished your white designs, carefully place the egg in the yellow dye bath. Let it soak and absorb the colour for a few minutes.
5. Repeat Step 3. Any melted wax that hardens on the now yellow surface will seal in the yellow and that colour will remain in those spots on the finished product.
6. Soak the egg in the red dye-bath, then use the wax to seal in your red designs. Then repeat this step using the black dye. (Since it’s your last colour, you don’t need to seal in your black spots with wax.) Once you’ve gotten the hang of three colours, consider adding orange, green and blue.
7. Remove the wax by carefully holding your egg above the candle flame. Wipe the wax away using paper towel. “Keep the clean end downward to avoid getting smoke on the exposed egg. Likewise, when wiping wax away, push the stroke away from the clean part of the egg,” Lang advises.
8. Apply a coat of varnish to your egg to seal in your colours and make them more vibrant. “Pysanka is meant to last 70 years or more,” Lang says.