The art and craft of pysanky

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Go See Dimitri

You can now find my eggs at Village Treasures in Fair Oaks Village.  This eclectic shop combines jewelry services with interesting art, and fine olive oils, chocolate and honey. The owner, Dimitri Grekoff, is quite familiar not only with the art of pysanky but also with its cultural heritage.  Besides that, he’s just fun to talk with, so if you’re looking for a field trip as we head into fall, wander over to Old Fair Oaks and stop in for a visit.

Village Treasures is located at 10144 Fair Oaks Boulevard, Fair Oaks, California


My People

Pysanky artists seem to be few and far between here on the West Coast.  This art originated in the Eastern European area of Ukraine, Poland, Russia, Lithuania etc. and immigrants brought it to this country.  Like my dad’s family, most of them settled on the East Coast or across Canada and not so many came to central California where I live now.  As a result it is rare for me to meet others who share my love for creating this type of egg art.

Thankfully the internet has put other artists within my reach.  Just over a year ago I joined an online pysanky chat group and began learning new techniques and tips from our discussions.  I thought I knew a lot about creating these eggs already, but found a whole new world of fun to explore.  These new-found friends willingly shared knowledge and sparked a renewed excitement in me and my work.

A couple of weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to meet some of these people face to face at a pysanky retreat.  Forty of us spent time hanging out together at a beautiful retreat center in Dalton, Pennsylvania.  I walked into that place never having met anyone but immediately I felt like I was among “my people.”  The names I knew became faces as we all spoke the same language and got excited about the same things.  Together we took classes, admired each others’ work, freely shared ideas, and continued our own projects.

 

 

 In short, I lived and breathed pysanky.

I think I just got a taste of heaven.


Happy Blues

In case you couldn’t tell, I love the color blue.  For as long as I can remember, blue has brought me joy.  In this colorful world, those calm and peaceful blues always capture my eye first.  That’s why it has been such a pleasure to immerse myself in creating a batch of blue eggs these last few months.  In order to stretch myself artistically, I chose a limited number of simple design elements yet combined them uniquely for each egg.  What do you think?


Playing It Safe

Years ago we added onto our house and remodeled our kitchen, a project I had dreamed of for decades.  New cabinets, new floor, new appliances, and new countertops…a dream come true.  In all the decisions that come with a big project like this, the most stressful for me was choosing the countertop.  Fairly quickly I decided on the material, but picking the color was another story.  House décor trends called for warm tans and golds but I really prefer the cool colors like white, grey, and especially blue.  I knew this was a once-in-my-lifetime commitment and I didn’t want to make a mistake so I spent most of my time debating over light colors like grey and white.  They were all nice, clean-looking, neutral (because what if we had to sell the house???) and I didn’t love any of them, but they were all “safe.”

In the midst of all this, I spoke with my sister about my color angst.  She listened patiently and then said, “If you really like blue, then pick blue.”  What?  Blue countertops?  I’d never seen it in any fancy kitchen magazine, or home show, or in real life either.  Who would put blue counters in a kitchen?  It’s just not done!  At least that was my initial reaction.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized she was right.  I like blue.  In fact, I love blue, and this was my kitchen, and I plan to live here with those countertops for a good long time and who cares about resale value?

I realized my reluctance to choose blue came from a desire to do the reasonable thing, to play it “safe,” to not make waves, to not attract attention, or ruffle anyone’s feathers.  And that is my nature.  I like being behind the scenes, unnoticed, invisible.  But that’s not really how God calls us to live, is it?  A life spend hiding is a life half-lived.  How many experiences have I missed because I wasn’t willing to be bold?  To put my toe outside my comfort zone and risk a little?

These days I still love my blue countertops and I’m so glad I didn’t go the safe neutral route.  Now if I could only remember that lesson every single day…


Floral Blues at the Kennedy

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As part of the 4th Annual Spring Flower Show at the Kennedy Gallery you can see some of my classic blue and white eggs in various sizes from quail to ostrich.

Join the artists this Thursday, April 12,  from 6 to 8 PM  at the Preview Thursday Reception.

And don’t forget the Second Saturday Artwalk April 14 from 4 to 9 PM.


Intersections 2012

I believe God built into each of us a desire for community, both with Him and with our fellow travelers on this earth.  As an artist, I find that rubbing elbows with other artists inspires my in my art and in my spiritual walk in a way nothing else does.  And I don’t get to experience that very often.  That’s why I so look forward to the annual conference on faith and art called Intersections, held at Oak Hills Church in Folsom, California.

This conference covers a broad range of the arts, from drama, to dance, to music, to film, to visual, technical, and even the culinary arts.  Throughout the day we were encouraged to use the supplies on our tables to paint a small section of plastic that we could stick to a window in the back of the auditorium.  As the day progressed, so did our group “stained glass window.”

The visual artists were easy to spot.  They dove right into the paints and started producing multiple pieces right away.  I found watching the non-visual artists even more interesting.  In some I saw the initial reluctance give way to experimentation and finally a joy at simply playing with paint.

Even more fun, was watching people add their painted pieces to the growing design on the window.  Intricate designs and plain colored pieces randomly combined to create beauty where before there was nothing but empty space.

Great speakers, God-breathed conversations, and thought-provoking words filled our time together.  The icing on the cake for me came as we wrapped up at the end of the day.  With the light from outside shining in, our group “stained glass window” became a physical representation of community to me.  And I needed that.  I really needed that.  In fact, we all do.


Etching

Normally the designs on these eggs fill the eye with color but if I use the same wax-resist technique in a slightly different way the resulting monotones are surprisingly beautiful.

A bit of explanation here.  A brown chicken egg is only brown on the outer surface.  Just underneath that dark layer it gets progressively lighter and lighter until the shell become nearly white.  To decorate these eggs I use acid to eat away layers of shell and reveal what’s underneath.  And by protecting my design with beeswax, I can preserve the darker colors on the finished egg.

As I worked on a sample etched egg for a class, God began to whisper a metaphor to me about the process of etching.  Acid is tough on the egg, but getting down to the pure white layer is the only way to reveal the beautiful design created by the darker outer shell.

This is the part that started me thinking.  Often when life doesn’t go as planned, I grumble and complain.  I like my familiar, dark “outer layers” and that “acid” in my everyday life interferes with my personal agenda.  But if I sit in the moment instead of avoiding the hard stuff, I come away changed in some way…hopefully for the better.  God can make my deep, dark outer layer into a beautiful, intricate design if I give Him space to work.  He doesn’t take away my faults, He just transforms them into a thing of beauty.  Wow, that’s a lot to ponder.

If you’d like to try your hand at acid etched eggs, I’ll be teaching this class March 24, 2012, at Craftology in Fair OaksVillage.  Here is the link for more details

Do Over

This time of year often brings thoughts about new beginnings but a profound insight hit me recently.  As I reached for a fresh egg to begin yet another project I realized that each egg gives me another chance to have fun, to change my approach, to improve my skill, to make a completely different egg than the last one.  In other words, every egg is a “do over.”  And I am so thankful that I don’t have to be stuck with the past, but can grow and change and develop as an artist as I work on the next egg.

Here’s the amazing thing though.  This principle applies not just to egg art, but to life as well.  All of life is one big “potential” when you think about it.  Each day is a “do over” that waits for me to move forward one small step at a time.  I really like that perspective.  So look out 2012, here I come.


Miss February!

Pysanky artists are few and far between here on the West Coast so I was glad to find an online group centered around these eggs.  Over the past year I have been enlightened and encouraged not just in this art, but in friendships across the world as well.

Recently one of our more computer literate members put together a 2012 calendar featuring pysanky from group members.  As I flipped through a preview of the pages I was surprised and delighted to find a photo of my eggs graces the month of February, which also happens to be my birth month.  A wonderful early birthday present!  Just call me Miss February.


Eggs in Red at the Kennedy Gallery

 

 

 

The changing season brings a new pysanky display to the Kennedy Gallery.  Ostrich, goose, duck, and chicken eggs in brilliant reds offer lots eye candy just in time for the holiday season.  Take a peek at these and all the other art in this wonderful midtown Sacramento gallery.


New at the Ordaz Gallery

Need an excuse to go for a short drive?  Come see some of my Christmas pysanky at the Ordaz Gallery in old town Auburn, California.  Frank Ordaz, an award-winning oil painter, specializes in portraits and you can chat with him as he works in this downtown gallery/studio Tuesdays through Saturdays.


A Matter of Perspective

My husband, Dave, is quite tall and I am not so it has led to many interesting “discussions” over the years.  Hanging a wall picture practically guarantees the inevitable “height war.”  Higher, lower, no higher, how about here, no lower and eventually we settle on some middle ground which neither satisfies nor offends either of us.

And while I sincerely appreciate the fact that Dave can reach a serving dish in a high cupboard so I don’t have to climb onto the counter to get it, there are other times when it’s irritating dealing with things like a car seat so far back I can’t even touch the pedals.  There’s no getting around it, we just live in different height worlds.

A while back Dave called me to look out our window onto the backyard.  “Isn’t it beautiful?” he asked.  I couldn’t see anything but dim shadows of trees and was frankly wondering what my thoroughly analytical, practical husband was talking about.

“There, look at the pond,” he said, and still I saw nothing out of the ordinary.  “Don’t you see the full moon reflecting off the water?” he asked.

Mystified, I answered no.  That’s when it hit us both.  Dave could see it and I couldn’t because I wasn’t tall enough.  When I stood on a chair the landscape changed dramatically and a brilliant full moon sparkled on the black pond water like none I had ever seen before.  It was a gorgeous sight, but one that I simply couldn’t see until I changed my perspective.

I learned a valuable lesson that night.  Sometimes a change in perspective makes all the difference.


Black and White at the Kennedy

My eggs go formal at the Kennedy Gallery, 1114 20th Street,Sacramento,CA,95811.  These black and white pysanky feature a wide variety of designs without the distraction of color.

And if you’re looking for an excuse to get out and about, Second Saturday Artwalk happens this weekend and provides a great opportunity to explore the art galleries in midtown.


Arts Camp 2011

What a joy to spend a high energy week teaching kids about art and God.  And I don’t say that very often because I highly value my personal, quiet spaces in life.  I am definitely not a high-energy extrovert but I love watching kids blossom as they discover their own artist within.

This year’s class was the best ever.  My five fifth and sixth grade girls picked up the basics of using the wax and dyes very quickly and soon began experimenting with colors and designs on their own eggs.  And best of all, as they concentrated our classroom became a tiny quiet oasis amidst the chaos of over 400 smiling kids, helpers, teachers, musicians, and support staff across the Oak Hills Church campus.  I think my class, students and teachers alike, especially enjoyed that part of each day.

The week finished on a high note with a Friday night Showcase for all the parents.  Afterwards exhausted but excited, I found myself already looking forward to next year’s Arts Camp.  Incredible, isn’t it?  In spite of the hectic schedule, the crazy hours, and the energy it took many of us felt this same way.  It’s a God thing.


If a Tree Falls in the Forest…

Sharing our art with others brings up the question, “Is it still art even if no one else ever sees it?”  I used to think the answer was a total yes, but now I’m not so sure.  Art has both a giving and a receiving aspect.  It involves both the artist and the art patron.  I believe it was actually meant to be shared with a wider audience and not hoarded by its creator.

As some of you may know, in addition to being an egg artist, I also play the cello.  I have been taking lessons for a while now and find it’s the most absorbing and yet most difficult thing I’ve ever attempted.  I work hard when I practice and enjoy it tremendously.  What I don’t enjoy are the recitals my teacher schedules two or three times each year.  Thankfully he has separate ones for his younger and older students.  Believe me, it really helps to know I won’t have to follow a fourth grader playing a piece much more difficult than mine.  Still, I get nervous at the thought of playing in public.  And just so you understand how much of a weenie I am, this particular “public” is only the other adult students and sometimes a few family members.  Even so, it is PUBLIC playing, not my usual me-and-the-cello-with-the-door-to-the-rest-of-the-house-closed.

I’ve been told repeatedly that the more you do something, the easier it gets.  I know lots of “real musicians” who say they love playing before an audience.  I have to say I’m still waiting for that to happen with me.  On the feeling scale from “terrifying to fun,” my score is still a lot closer to terrified.  But I keep at it because I want to be able to share my music with others.  As a growth area in my life, this is not easy but I’m convinced it’s absolutely necessary.  My prayer is that I will continue to step outside my comfortable boundaries to see what God has in store for me out there.  In the meantime, I  have to go practice!


In the News

Here’s a link to the May 2011 Sacramento Talent Magazine.   Check out page 16 for an article on me and my eggs.

And if you want to see how they are made, come to Bella Fiore on Saturday, May 14 where I’ll be demonstrating the process from 5 to 9 PM.


Second Saturday in Fair Oaks Village

April 9, 2011 from 7 to 9 PM

Enjoy a relaxed evening at the Fair Oaks Village Second Saturday Art Walk.  I’ll be a Bella Fiore  Florist from 7 to 9 PM answering questions about these eggs.

In addition this Saturday evening will be a time to say farewell to current owners, Bill and Deborah Brown, and say hello to new owners, Dawn and Chris Conyers.  See their blog for more details.


Now Appearing

From now until April 30 you can see a wide assortment of my pysanky eggs at the Kennedy Gallery, 1114 20th Street, Sacramento, CA, 95811.


St John’s Art Festival

St. John’s Art Festival opens with a reception Saturday, March 12, 2011, from 5 to 9 PM at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 1701 L Street, Sacramento.  This collection of religious and spiritual works runs through Saturday, March 19.

One of my pieces was accepted to this show, and submitting a piece to a juried art show is scary, there is just no way around that.  Fear can keep an artist from sharing and sometimes even creating work.  I know because I’m all too familiar with the self-talk that tells me my pysanky eggs are just a “little thing I do” and not really art.

When I stopped to think about my art-related fears, I realized they mirror my personal fears.  “Will-anyone-else-like-my-eggs” is really just me saying “will-anyone-else-like-me?”  “My-art-is-no-good” becomes “I-am-no-good,” and on and on.

I know to survive as an artist I must learn to separate my art from own self-worth.  And to grow and thrive as a person I need to embrace this separation.  The tricky part is putting this simple truth into practice.  But practice takes…well, practice, so one step at a time I’m working on this personal spiritual discipline by putting my art out into the “real world” beyond my comfort zone.  It’s not always easy, but it’s worth the effort.


Lenten Prayer Project

It is such a privilege to connect my spiritual life and my art…and to see it reach farther than I ever thought possible boggles my mind.  Recently I submitted a photo of my work to Clayfire Curator and just yesterday found out it was chosen as part of a Lenten Prayer Project.

Lent, the season of reflection leading to Easter, brings to mind different images to different people.  Growing up it always meant giving up something important to me, like candy.  Avoiding sweets didn’t usually last very long, and then it was merely a matter of confessing my sin and waiting for the Easter bunny to bring goodies.

Last year my Lenten experience changed that mental image dramatically.  Preparing for a gallery show of my pysanky and working only in black and white challenged me both as an artist and a Christ-follower.  Through that experience I understood, possibly for the first time, what it really means to depend on God for my very next step.  And the celebration of Easter felt so much sweeter with the joy of adding color back to my work.

I don’t know what Lent will hold for me this year, but I find myself looking forward to learning more about myself and about God through it all.  What about you?


Giving Yourself Grace

Creating these eggs is a never-ending adventure in experimentation and I’ve made my share of poor color and design choices over the years.  It took me quite a while to realize it is okay to dislike a piece enough to destroy it and try again.  Now I give myself permission to cut my losses and move on sometimes.  It hasn’t always been this way, though.

Let me tell you the story of what we refer to in my family as “The Ugly Cake.”  Years ago when my oldest son, Ryan, turned 14 I decided to try making an ice cream roll birthday cake like the ones at Baskin-Robbins.  The yellow cake part baked without incident and I dutifully rolled it up in a towel when it came out of the oven just like the cookbook said.  As I finished rolling it, I noticed a wrinkle in the towel so without thinking, I stretched the two side edges to get rid of the wrinkle.  Unfortunately the hot cake was firmly attached to the towel at this point and it split crosswise into two rolls.  Oh well, I thought to myself.  I can glue it together with the ice cream filling.  No one will ever know.

Once cooled, I gently unrolled the cake to find that not only had it split into two rolls, it unrolled with a series of cracks so deep that I could see the towel below.  Still believing I had a chance, I dutifully spread softened chocolate ice cream over the pieces of cake and rolled it back up as I went.  I could tell it looked pretty pitiful at this point, but hoping for the best, I stuck it in the freezer.

When I checked later, I realized the ice cream must have been too soft because the weight of the cake caused it to ooze out of all the edges of the cake.  Alarmed, I yanked it out of the freezer with perhaps a little too much vigor.  Because the ice cream wasn’t hard all the way through the cake, the top half slid right over the edge of the pan and onto my arm.

Ever the optimist, I scooted the pieces back together and decided I could still save it if I just made a chocolate glaze and covered up what I now referred to as the “Ugly Cake.”  I quickly threw together a decadent shiny chocolate glaze to try to hide the many mounting flaws.  However, I forgot the cake was cold and instead of flowing gracefully over its sides, the warm glaze just sat in a lump on the top of the mess.

Desperate now, I spread the glaze as far as it would go, shoved the cake back in the freezer, and drove with Ryan to Baskin-Robbins where we chose a cake from the many beauties in their freezer.  I did finally show the “Ugly Cake” to the rest of the family and we had a good laugh at my adventure.

The lesson here?  There are definitely times to admit your mistakes, give up, and move on.  You might even laugh about them someday.


Layer by Layer

…or Making the Leap from “I Do This Art” to “I am an Artist”

It’s taken me years to actually refer to myself an artist.  And I think I’m not alone in my reluctance to claim the label.  There is something mysterious and wonderful and scary about that term.  If I call myself an artist, then I have to produce art, and be good at art and sell art, and make money selling art, or so we think.

Truthfully the title “artist” is helpful because it describes a way people look at the world…not simply as things you can see and touch and define, but in a way that pierces the thin veil between our finite world and God-breathed eternity.  And whether I call myself an artist or not doesn’t change the fact that I am an artist.  Simple, huh?  Well, not really.

Let me take you layer by layer through my own gradual journey to claiming the title artist.

Layer 1—I Can Create.  As did many others, I began exploring creative avenues early in life.  For most of us it starts with school projects.  Those simple drawings led me to creative writing to playing at miniatures to quilting to cross-stitch to clothespin people and eventually to discovering the fascinating world of pysanky.  And now looking back I can follow the thread of creativity through the years.

Layer 2—I Can Do This Egg Thing.  Pysanky, the layering of wax and dyes on eggshells, is a simple art yet it holds endless possibilities in terms of color and design.  I taught myself the basics from a book and found I loved the challenge presented by each new egg.  Even the failures provided valuable lessons as I honed my craft.

Layer 3—I’m Improving.  The finished egg was never the goal for me but the process of creating was.  I treasured my quiet time creating, leaving the rest of the world behind.  My family got to see those works but rarely did anyone else so years of finished eggs lay hidden away in a closet.

Layer 4:—Am I an Artist?  Eventually I began to give away some of these treasured creations to family and close friends.  I was so used to seeing these eggs and thinking them commonplace, that the response they evoked surprised me.  It made me realize that in sharing my work, I not only gave pleasure to others, I felt incredibly blessed as well.  Gradually I let others into the private world of my art, and with much prodding from other artist friends, I “went public” with a solo show at the Art & Soul Gallery in 2006.  Developing a website seemed like a reasonable next step but it took years and much hand-holding.  Making the eggs is easy, marketing myself and my work is not.

Layer 5—I Am an Artist…I Think.  By releasing my work to the world at large, I opened myself to praise and to criticism.  This is where real and imagined fears come to the surface and they can paralyze an artist.  I know, I’ve been there.  And sometimes I’m still there.  Thoughts like these race through my head.  What will they think or worse, what will they say?  What if they don’t like my work, and by extension me?  What if my work really isn’t good and no one told me?  What if…?  I have to remind myself continually that what people think of my art, doesn’t change my work or my passion for it.

Layer 6—I Am an Artist…and So Are You.  Having come this far, I sometimes have the privilege of seeing and encouraging other fledgling artists in their own journeys.  Being an artist is mostly a solo gig.  There’s no getting around the hard, often solitary work it takes to produce art.  But because of that, there is great need for community among artists, for standing shoulder to shoulder, for walking together, for helping others to see themselves as God-created artists.  Whether we practice our art or not, each of us is an artist and fellow traveler in life’s journey.  How much sweeter is the trip when we link arms and help each other along the way.


The Art of Christmas

Oak Hills Church in Folsom, California, houses a lobby art space called the Art & Soul Gallery.  This Advent season it featured “The Art of Christmas,” a very atypical collection of Christmas art  The show was the result of local artists meeting together regularly for the past few months to encourage each other in creating art based on Scriptures related to Christ’s birth.

If you missed seeing the art in person, you can still enjoy our combined efforts on the Covenant Artist’s website.


Morning Light

I store pysanky-making supplies all over my house. Eggshells live in a file cabinet in the garage, tools stay in my studio and I keep egg dyes in our front hall closet. The boxes filled with dye jars sit on the floor and even though I clearly labeled the lids, it’s not always easy to find the color I need.

During the day there’s enough light for me to read the labels, but last week I was trying to work early in the morning while the rest of the house slept. Creeping quietly down the hall, I opened the closet door and reached in for the green dye, but out came the blue one. Okay, put that back and try again. Frustrated after my third attempt I decided I had to turn on the hall light. Even with the light on, I still struggled to read the labels because my own shadow got in the way. I scooted to one side, spotted the correct jar, reached in and came up with the right color at last. And went on to happily play eggs once more.

Later this small incident got me thinking about light and dark in a spiritual sense. Darkness didn’t leak out when I opened the closet door, the light entered. Said a different way, the darkness was overpowered by the light. And it happened that morning because 1) I opened the door and 2) I got out of the way.

Now the bigger picture started to dawn on me. On a much grander scale God’s light overpowers spiritual darkness in this world. I came to realize it’s God’s job to set the world free spiritually. My job is just to open the door, and then get out of the way so God can shine His light to those who need it. Big thoughts for a quiet early morning playing eggs, wouldn’t you agree?