An Ancient Conversation: Creating Ukrainian Pysanky
by Georgine Muc, Project Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
How does one join in on an ancient conversation? Settling down with a candle, a crude wooden writing device, and the mystifying smell of melting beeswax, is how my journey begins. Like many endeavors, it is good to pause before you decide on that first stroke that commits you to travel in a specific direction. When creating pysanky, if you cradle the egg before you begin, many believe the egg will guide you as you draw.
Tradition dictates that we clear our minds of any negative thoughts and refrain from gossip as we “write” on the egg.
The process begins, tiny chunks of wax are lifted with our tool, the kistka. The kistka is exposed to the heat of the candle, but only briefly to prevent the tool from overheating and dropping an unwanted wax blob across carefully placed lines. If the tool becomes cold the flow of the wax stops and our sweet smelling writing implement turns into a unwanted scratching device, threatening to pull off the delicate lines already accomplished. If we find our equilibrium in this meditative endeavor, we achieve a rhythm between heating and drawing. On a curved surface, a straight line is not a successful line. It is the relationship between the lines we must strive to maintain.
Fortunately, there are unexpected gifts in the midst of the challenges: many times a “mistake” becomes a launching point for the next design.
We heat, we draw, we guide the egg into its first jar of dye. Every line drawn appears black, with the lines drawn at the very start revealed as white at the end of the process. The black lines encapsulate the egg’s current color, concealing and protecting the underlying pigments. The entire egg will become darker as you dip into colors, moving from light colors to dark. With the time the egg sits in a glass jar measured in terms of hue and not minutes, this is our time to pause and connect with all the pysanky makers of the past.
When we feel the egg is complete, we carefully utilize the heat of the candle to melt and remove the beeswax in small sections to prevent from scorching the outside shell. Our patience is rewarded as the vibrant colors emerge.
So pause yourself, cradle your egg, clear your mind, and light your candle.