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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
…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.
Lest you think more highly of me as an artist than you should, I have to set the record straight. The photographs you see in my galleries are the cream of the crop of my pysanky. What you don’t see are my less than successful endeavors.
Sometimes it’s not my fault. Sometimes the eggshell is damaged in a way that doesn’t show up until near the end of the process. That’s why I don’t use grocery store eggs anymore. Mechanical rollers leave invisible scratches on mass produced eggshells. It’s very disheartening to put hours of work into an egg only to discover on the final dye that imperfections mar the design.
Lots of times, though, it is definitely my fault. I have mistakenly covered areas in wax when I shouldn’t have. I’ve forgotten to cover areas with wax when I should have, which means they end up a different color than I had originally planned. I have also dyed the whole egg the wrong color and there is no “undo” button for that.
Even finishing an egg isn’t any guarantee of success. More than once I have bobbled an egg just as I was taking off the final bits of wax. Sometimes they bounce on the table and stay whole, but twice I accidentally crushed the egg between my stomach and the table edge while trying to keep it from falling. And you can’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.
The most irritating of all are mistakes I make from inattention or impatience. Last year I was in a hurry because of a close deadline so I put the egg in an oven with the light on, thinking the warm air would help it dry faster. I foolishly thought the light would also warn my boys to remove the egg before preheating the oven. They didn’t and there is no “undo” button for a burnt, browned egg either. Trust me.
The photos here show a simple project that turned endless. On the first egg you can see some unattractive dye imperfections from hen scratches. So I tried again. The second egg burned when the tissue I was using to wipe the wax from the egg caught on fire. Egg number three turned out better than the previous two attempts but I was nervous the whole way through the process.
Whatever the reason for these mistakes, there is something to be said for the character quality of persistence. And that’s what God is teaching me through this art these days.
While working on my website yesterday I saw an announcement asking if I’d like to “get posts sent directly to you via instant messenger” and that started me thinking. Just how fast do I need to get posts? I mean, do I really need to know instantly when a new post is out there for me to read?
No one would deny that we live in a fast-paced world. Everything today is fast… email and instant messaging make the postman unnecessary… microwaves cook our food in minutes…online shopping can have your purchase on your doorstep overnight…digital photos go instantly from camera to computer to printer…and the list goes on. We just don’t know how to slow down anymore. Nor do we want to.
It feels like life speeds up with each passing year and there’s no way to stop it. And yet I find I crave the slowness found in the art of pysanky. Everything about it is slow, from melting the beeswax in the kistka to waiting as the egg sits in the dye to working layer by layer, color by color toward the finished egg. My soul grows bigger as I watch a design emerge, wrapping another egg in elaborate colors.
This is where slow is beautiful. And that’s a good thing.
Truth be told, I love stealing away to my workspace alone, leaving the rest of the world behind as I immerse myself in the work and play of wax and dyes and eggs. There is something healing and soul restoring about the quiet, repetitive actions these eggs require. I can’t seem to get enough time alone like this so when I do, I enjoy it thoroughly.
Interacting with other artists is just as valuable to my soul, yet I don’t make nearly enough time for it in my life. Why is it so hard for me? I understand the value of community, I enjoy learning about the art and soul journeys of others, and I get inspired when I hear other artists speak with passion about their art.
I realize I love my comfortable “alone” zone so to push against these introverted leanings, I meet monthly with other artists. In the Sacramento area, the Covenant Artists meet on the third Thursday of each month and artists of all media and skill levels are welcome. This group exists to share, discover, and learn about ourselves, our art and our God.
If you would like to stretch your artistic side, I highly recommend connecting with other artists. Isn’t it time for you to step out of your comfort zone too?
It’s a mystery to me that I can pick colors and create intricate designs on a tiny egg without a problem but when it comes to decorating my house, I am clueless. I have friends whose homes are beautifully color coordinated with wall hangings, knickknacks and furniture. They truly have the home decorating gene and it’s awesome to experience. I, on the other hand, have realized that if the area to be decorated is larger than about six inches, I have no idea where to start or what to do.
I’ve always loved miniature things. As a child, I delighted in making tiny items for my beloved troll dolls. A toothpaste cap became a bucket while pieces of string turned a toothpick into a mop. My shoebox dollhouse had “real art” on its walls made from wooden matchstick frames and small magazine clippings. When I learned to knit I created many mouse-sized stocking caps just for the fun of it.
Even now as I analyze what gives me pleasure I can see that I lean toward the little every time. Baby birds…well just about baby anything for that matter…miniature flowers versus their larger cousins… hummingbirds with their teeny tiny feet…1000 piece puzzles… cross-stitch patterns designed for 22 stitches-per-inch fabric…very petite Christmas ornaments…you get the idea.
So I take my hat off to those of you who enjoy working in larger slices of life. You have a talent I greatly admire but I think I’ll stay in my miniature world. And you’re welcome to come visit me anytime.
I don’t know why, but I hate the color orange. Intellectually I know a world without orange would be boring, but given a choice, I’ll pick any other color over orange. Even as a kid, I remember my orange crayon would remain in the box, tall and pointed, while the blue crayon wore down to a nub quickly. I don’t wear orange clothing, there is no orange inside my house and when I see orange in Fall decorations, I grit my teeth and try to remember that Christmas reds and greens will replace it soon enough.
This aversion creeps up more often than you’d think. A few years ago my husband, Dave, and I were choosing plants for our new back yard. When the landscape designer asked about our color preferences Dave responded “lots of color, all kinds,” while I said, “anything except orange.” Being the old married couple we are, we came to a compromise—bright orange goldfish in the pond but no orange flowers in the yard.
As a result of this dislike I tend to avoid orange in my art, a fact I did not realize until recently while going through some of my egg photos. When I compared color choices and looked at a wide variety of examples from other pysanky artists I saw what a difference it can make. I’ll even admit that orange can add welcome contrast and depth at times.
I still don’t like orange but if I want to grow as an artist I have to stretch beyond myself and experiment with new things, even the color orange. So I’ll try…if I have to…I guess.
Saturday August 14 from 5 to 9 PM— Enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the Second Saturday experience in Fair Oaks Village and be sure to stop by Bella Fiore Florist to see firsthand the painstaking work that goes into creating these eggs.
Personally, I really enjoy the opportunity to explain how I make pysanky (Ukrainian eggs). Most people are unfamiliar with the wax-resist process and find it hard at first to envision the steps it takes, layering wax on the eggshell as it is dyed color after color. The fun part for me at these demonstrations comes when that light bulb of understanding dawns and the onlookers grasp the whole concept.
Bella Fiore’s owners, Bill and Debbie, have transformed part of their shop into an art gallery where you can see some of my pysanky as well as works by other local artists. Take some time on this Second Saturday to explore and enjoy this wonderful venue.
Several years ago my sister and I attended a weeklong class on artisan bread-baking at the John C Campbell Folkschool in Brasstown, North Carolina. It was kind of like summer camp for adults, except that the setting was spectacular, it runs year round and the food is a whole lot better. Their website states they “provide experiences in non-competitive learning and community life that are joyful and enlivening” and I can say firsthand they certainly met that goal.
As I absorbed the atmosphere that week, attended class or extra activities, and enjoyed conversations with other campers during our communal meals, I realized that we tend to relegate learning to the young. Once we graduate from high school, or college, or beyond we don’t always give ourselves the permission to explore new things, to try and possibly fail, or to devote time and energy to an endeavor just for the fun of it. During that week I talked with many fellow students who were discovering a passion for some new art that they had never known before. How sweet to see eyes light up as they talked about their class and their projects.
On a more personal note, at the grand old age of 50, I picked up the cello for the first time. I can honestly say it has been challenging, fulfilling, frustrating, and beyond fun. My point here? There is never a “too late” when it comes to learning something new.
If you are interested in learning how to make these pysanky eggs, the next introductory class will be Saturday, August 21, from 9 AM to 12 PM. You don’t need to bring anything, or know anything, or have any artistic talent. You just need to come with a youthful curiosity. See the “Classes” tab above for more information.
Here’s a simple truth. Life doesn’t always go as planned…and the same thing applies in creating these eggs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started with an idea in my head and then proceeded to do it differently on the egg. Perhaps more often I forget to cover an area with wax and don’t discover it until after the egg comes out of the next darker dye when it’s too late to change anything. That’s what happened on this cross in the photo to the right.
Sometimes I desire a specific color and the egg just won’t take the dye properly so the color scheme changes completely. The egg to the left was supposed to have brilliant clear colors, but instead looks like an ancient, well-loved quilt which I liked even better. In my family we call that experience an “unexpected extra.”
I admit it irritates me at times, but that’s part of the beauty of this art. It can be wonderfully unpredictable which means sometimes the results are more surprising and spectacular than if it had turned out the way I planned. A kindergarten teacher my boys had would always say, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” As I think about it, that applies to creating these eggs but it’s also a pretty good philosophy for life as well.
When people see these eggs for the first time, they often assume I’ve painted them. In reality I use a wax-resist process. “A what?” is the next question I hear. And “Is it hard?” closely follows.
To answer both these questions let me take you step by step through this process.
Next, I dye the whole egg yellow and draw more wax lines to preserve the yellow color. Green dye must be painted in small areas and then covered with wax.
Now the egg receives an orange dye bath. Anything that should stay orange on the finished egg must be covered with wax.
After the red dye bath, the egg is ready for another layer of wax to protect everything that will remain red.
To reveal the finished design, I remove the wax by holding the egg near a candle flame and wiping off the wax as it melts.
Several layers of glossy varnish protect the design and complete the process
With just a few simple tools and a lot of time and patience, these colorful eggs really come to life.
How can I describe the amazing experience we call Arts Camp at Oak Hills Church. You just had to be there. The air tingles with high energy and excitement as 360 first through sixth graders plus over 100 adult and student helpers explore all forms of art. Everywhere you go on campus you see kids in their classes learning dance, drama, music, painting, silk screening, woodworking, even the culinary arts and lots more.
For the second year now, I had the privilege of teaching ten fifth/sixth graders how to create pysanky eggs. It’s always a little scary to combine kids and candle flames but thanks to plenty of supervision and a couple of mini fire drills, we had no major mishaps. Most of my students managed to finish at least three eggs over the course of this week. And more than that, I could see that they really understood the step by step process as they designed and completed projects on their own.
The techniques as well as the historical significance of pysanky have been handed down through the ages from parent to child, from teacher to student, from one generation to another. And now, I’m proud to say, a new generation of pysanky artists is well on its way to carrying on this tradition.
I recently had my son and resident photographer, Ryan, take some egg photos for me. As he set up his camera, I collected eggs from their various resting spots around the house and together we staged shots that filled the photos with masses of eggs. Looking at the end result now I marvel at how many finished pysanky there are.
People often ask me how much time it takes to make one of these eggs. It’s hard for me to estimate because I enjoy it so much, but it can range from two hours for a very simple chicken egg to nearly forty hours for a large, multi-colored ostrich egg. And that’s just actual time working on the eggs. It doesn’t include the hours spent daydreaming about the next egg or figuring out a design problem in my head or sketching ideas into my notebook. All I can say is that individually they take a lot of time, but collectively it’s astronomical.
I’m amazed at the amount of time those eggs represent over these last fifteen years. And grateful for the life I have—a husband who supports me in my art and doesn’t mind eating Cheerios for dinner when I’m madly at work in my studio, three nearly grown boys who can operate pretty independently most of the time, a church that fully embraces the arts and the artists within, and a God who gave me this passion for creating beauty in small spaces. Life is good indeed…and it’s about time I stop and remember that.
A gallery show has a lifecycle of its own. First comes the spark of an idea…and then hours or days of contemplating the possibilities, working out the plan in my mind. Soon I’m taking a few first steps of actual work on the eggs. This is the fun part. Yes, this will work! I am convinced I can do it. More quiet hours at my desk steadily applying fine lines of wax or waiting patiently for the dye color to be just right. This is going to be a wonderful show, I can tell already.
Usually about midway into the process come the first seeds of self-doubt. Are my designs strong enough? Did I choose the right theme? Can I complete enough work in this theme? Will I finish enough eggs by the deadline? What if I can’t do it? Am I really an artist or am I fooling myself? What if I don’t make the deadline? Should I just give up now? Why did I ever agree to this gallery? What am I doing on this earth?
Okay, take a breath, I remind myself. You can do this. Remember to focus on one egg at a time. One line at a time. The work continues, slowly but surely. As the deadline looms ever closer I realize I’m going to make it after all. The completed eggs silently cheer me on and even in the final frenzy of setting up the show with all its time consuming details, I feel a mystifying satisfaction. I know deep in my soul that I am an artist because God created me that way. And it is good.
Now to start my next show.