The art and craft of pysanky

Christian life

It’s a God Thing!

Let me show you just how much God loves me.  First I have to take you back a few years when Dave and I were at the REI Raincoatgarage sale shopping for raincoats.  Sorting through all the racks of styles and sizes we came up with a dark grey coat for him but the only coat in my size was an incredibly ugly green.  I’m not kidding, the color on the tag said “Bog/Moss.”  At 50% off I figured I could live with it, but I was definitely not a happy camper.  We bought the coats and when we got home Dave had the brilliant idea of checking the online outlet.  Miracle of miracles, for the same price they had the same coat in my size, but it was brown with rose accents on the sleeve.  We bought it, returned the ugly green thing to the store and I breathed a great sigh of relief.

 

bootsFast forward to 2016 which finds Dave and I preparing for a long walk in northern Spain, the Camino de Santiago.  This, of course, involves properly equipping ourselves for the journey which means REI is now our new favorite store.  First off we needed sturdy, lightweight boots.  One more a trip to the REI garage sale and Dave got great boots in his size at half price but this time there is nothing for me.  As we waited in the incredibly long check-out line I found a good pair of boots on the clearance rack in my size.  And they were brown with rose-colored laces.  It’s a sign, I just know it.

 

 

backpackNow to find our backpacks.  Dave did weeks of research to find the perfect balance of size, style, and weight.  Off to REI once more and we discover those backpacks come in male and female versions.  And the female version sitting right there on the shelf is a lovely shade of rose.  Wow, it matches my boots and my raincoat.  God loves me!

 

traveltowelSince we will be carrying everything in our backpacks we needed to buy small lightweight travel towels.  And so we can tell ours apart we bought two different colors.  Dave got blue and mine is…you guessed it rose pink.

 

Lastly I knew I needed some sort of close-toed sandal to wear as an alternative to the boots.  Scouring the shelves on all the outdoor stores in our local area we came up empty.  Then one afternoon we happened to be in Roseville and stopped into an outdoor store we rarely frequent.  Without much hope I asked at the counter about the sandals.  As the sales clerk quickly walked to the back of the store, she called over her shoulder, “What size?”  Now you have to understand here that while I am about 5 foot 4 inches tall, I wear a whopping size 10 shoe.  I am definitely under-tall for my feet!  The store was practically empty so when I yelled back, “Size 10,” it felt like it echoed endlessly off the shelves.  Talk about embarrassing!  By this time the clerk had reached the shoe section and she called back, “Wow, we have one pair here on the sales rack and they’re your size.”  I ran back to find her holding up a box of closed-toed Keens and guess what color they were?  A beautiful shade of rose.  I am not kidding.  These big boats match my backpack and my boots, and my raincoat perfectly.  Unbelievable.sandals

 

And that’s how God showed me just how much He loves me.


Art and Faith

B&W flower rotating cockscomb face sm 1107814Back in 2010 I had a solo art show of my eggs in the Art & Soul Gallery of our church.  It was a huge leap of faith for me because it was the first time I really connected my art with my walk with God.

 

It ran throughout Lent, which is traditionally forty days of preparation for the Easter celebration of Christ’s Resurrection.  Fasting and prayer often accompany this time of waiting.  It is a season for reflection and taking stock.  A time of soul-searching and repentance.

 

As I gave this thought and prayer, I recalled my childhood experiences with Lent.  We usually chose to give something up as a reminder to pray and to look forward to the Easter celebration to come.  It took a while but gradually words bubbled to the surface to express my Lenten experience.  Fasting, prayer, listening, repentance.  But the story didn’t stop there.  At Easter fasting becomes abundance, prayer becomes hope, listening becomes growth and repentance becomes forgiveness.  God’s story of love and transformation became more real now that I had words to express it.

 

Now I wanted to experience and express visually what that time of preparation meant to me.  So the big question…how in the world do I take this colorful, traditional art done on eggs and give the viewer a sense of my own journey of faith?  Eventually this thought crossed my mind.  What if I gave up the use of color on these eggs?  What if I only worked in black and white?  My next thought was, “Are you crazy?”

 

I knew my designs would have to be strong enough to stand alone, without the distraction of color.  How in the world do I create interest using only lines?  I’d never tried this before and I was pretty sure I’d be able to do a few but could I create enough to fill the whole show?  And what if I couldn’t come up with enough material in time?  What if I failed?  Fear, self-doubt, and a sense of the enormity of this task sidetracked me for a while.Black and White -I Am the Vine (Front) 1001013

 

As the days ticked by I kept hearing a soft voice say, “Just make one egg.”  So I did.

“That wasn’t so hard,” I thought.  And so I made another…and another…and pretty soon the design ideas flowed until chicken, duck, goose, and finally an ostrich egg all in black and white covered every surface of my workroom.

 

The show looked great in the gallery but I have no idea if anyone understood what I was trying to say with these eggs.  And it doesn’t matter because the important part of the show for me was what I learned along the way.  Sometimes God doesn’t give you the big picture.  Sometimes you just have to start the journey and not focus on the goal.  And sometimes you will find a joy in that journey that surprises you.

eggs en masse


Letting Go

2011 mom cello aMany of you know that I play the cello.  I began as an adult and have been taking lessons for nearly seven years now and although I can see progress, I still can’t bring myself to claim the title of cellist yet.

 

The learning curve for this instrument is steep.  For each note the fingers of my left hand have to press an exact spot on the string to produce the correct pitch.  Depending on the sound I want and what the next notes will be, I have to choose which finger to use and whether to press just my fingertip or a flattened finger onto the string.  Do I hold it steady or rock my hand to create vibrato?  Meanwhile to form the purest tone my right hand controls the pressure, angle and placement of the bow as well as its speed across the string.  So many choices with each and every note.

 

Truth be told, practicing is not always a pleasant experience…for me or the other inhabitants of my house.  If I know my practice session will include work on some horribly hard stuff, I try to schedule my cello time when no one else is home.  If that can’t happen I warn my family with our code phrase, “It’s going to be two-door bad.”  That’s means I not only close the door to the room where I am practicing, but I also close their door in order muffle the sound as much as possible.

 

Over the years I do see improvement in my playing but it’s a painfully long and slow process.  Sometimes that’s discouraging.  Cringing as I hit yet another awful note can be debilitating.  If I stop my bow, the note is gone but its memory lingers to mock my attempts.  I often think, “Should I just give up now and spare the world this agony?”  Thankfully God whispers life lessons to me in odd moments like this.  It struck me recently that each time I pick up the cello I have a choice.  I can’t do anything about the bad notes I played before but I can make each note I am currently playing as beautiful as possible.  Those past regrets take away from today’s beauty and I need to let them go.  Learn from them but move on.  A valuable life lesson indeed.

Me and Eliza, m cello


Arts Camp 2014 Recap

Here’s a glimpse of our week at Oak Hills Church Arts Camp!

 

God blessed me with 12 wonderfully creative 5th and 6th grade girls, two loving shepherd helpers and a calm and cheerful assistant teacher this year.  Together we learned about God and His love for us while we learned the art of pysanky and how to create these jeweled wonders.  We also learned that occasionally eggs break but life goes on because you get to start over on a new egg.

All valuable life lessons in my book.


Broken Bits

Maybe it’s my “almost-an-empty-nester” stage but more and more I find myself taking stock of where I am in life, where I thought I would be at this age, and wondering what I will become in the future.  And of course those dreaded comparisons and regrets start creeping in.  The what-ifs and why-didn’t-I’s can all too easily overwhelm me and take away the joy of the present.

A while back I came across a line about allowing God to transform the broken places in your life into prisms.  Can’t you just see that?  What a beautiful word picture of redemption and hope.  That idea has been rolling around in the back of my head for a while and so I began to review my life again.  What if I start looking at my faults as prisms reflecting God’s beauty outside of my selfish little world?  How this happens I don’t know but I’m holding onto God’s goodness and grace and letting Him be in charge, or at least I’m trying to.

I love when God whispers His truth to me through my art.  I love it even more when I pay attention and actually listen.  Over the years I have collected quite a pile of broken eggs.  Some were completed and accidentally cracked.  Some didn’t turn out as I’d hoped and were abandoned partway through the process.  I couldn’t bring myself to toss any of them so they just sat in a drawer collecting dust.  Every time I opened the drawer they shouted at me that I had failed in some way.

Now what if I used those broken bits somehow?  Could I really transform them into something more?  After a lot of experimentation I can finally say yes.

GreenrosetteThese egg mosaics have been a challenge and a delight to create.  I’m still discovering new ways to improve my designs and having fun in the process.  Not only that, I will be teaching a class on this technique at the Pysanky USA retreat in Pennsylvania next week.

Pinkpurple2

So this is what redemption looks like.Matrushka


Arts Camp 2013

Arts Camp 2013 classThere is nothing better than combining kids and God and art all at the same time.  That’s what Arts Camp at Oak Hills Church does…and does very well I might add.  Our Children’s Pastor, Colleen Gray and her amazing team turn our church campus and hundreds of volunteers into a smooth-running, exciting, enthusiastic machine where nearly three hundred kids get to experience God for a whole week through arts such as Dance, Theater, Music, Visual Arts, Creative Craftsmanship, and Culinary Arts.

VA56_Pysanky-7

The seven fifth/sixth grade girls in my pysanky class accomplished much more than any previous year’s class.  Most of them finished four eggs and some more than that.  I beamed as they proudly showed their parents the results of their focused work in class.  And their excitement spilled over at home as parent after parent reported back to me how their child couldn’t stop talking about their eggs and how sad they were when Friday finally arrived.

VA56_Pysanky-13 VA56_Pysanky-16 VA56_Pysanky-37 VA56_Pysanky-43 VA56_Pysanky-46It’s an exhausting week but well worth the effort.  After a few days of restorative quiet here at home, I find myself wondering…is it too soon to start looking forward to Arts Camp next year?VA56_Pysanky-39


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.