The art and craft of pysanky

Posts tagged “egg

Fragile Canvas

A Solo Gallery Show by Teresa Mihalko Harbert

April 2 through May 7, 2017

at the Art & Soul Gallery of Oak Hills Church
1100 Blue Ravine Road, Folsom CA 95630

Probably the number one question I am asked about this art called pysanky is, “Are they real eggs?”  The answer?  Yes, they are very real eggs.  God created an engineering marvel with those shells, sturdy enough to withstand the mama bird’s weight as she keeps them warm before they hatch and yet designed so the baby bird can still peck its way through to life on the outside.

 

Over the years I have accidentally broken eggs at every stage in this creative wax-and-dye process.  From exploding an egg while emptying it, to smashing one as I reach for it on my work area, to bobbling another as I remove layers of wax, and even dropping one or two as I proudly tried to admire my finished work of art.

 

Frustration does not adequately describe my feelings each time this happens.  And after mourning the loss and cursing my clumsiness I eventually reach for another egg and begin all over again.

 

This solo exhibition show has been a long time in coming.  It is the joy of creation and the pain of loss all tangled up in thoughts and eggshells.  Let me take you on my art and faith journey from the initial idea to the actual show you will see in the Art & Soul gallery.

 

It all starts with my love for tiny details.  I actually crave the quiet hours alone required to create these eggs.  That’s my time to push away the busyness of the “regular” world and focus on one small thing at a time.  And once in a while as I work God gives me an idea to ponder.  This time it started with the eggshells themselves.

 

The show title, Fragile Canvas, came quickly and I knew that somehow I needed to demonstrate it, not just tell about it.  I decided to create an egg and then break it on purpose for a photo for the show’s title page.  Creating the egg was a joy, but I was surprised at how reluctant I felt when the time came to break it.  It was much more emotional than I expected.

 

I finally got out my camera and readied the photo shoot area.  Then I took a few minutes to marvel at the designs and color choices on my finished egg’s surface.  This goose egg had been such a pleasure to work on because it was unusually smooth.  Most goose eggs have small bumps and pits on their surface so the wax lines appear to waver as they move across the egg.  Dyes don’t always adhere as brightly either but this particular egg behaved perfectly every step of the way.  Looking at the finished egg I started to doubt myself, did I really need to break it?

 

I wrestled with my decision quite a while before bringing the egg down sharply onto my desk.  Hearing that distinctive “crack” actually sent a shiver up my spine and I felt an immense sense of loss.  I had changed that egg forever with one swift movement of my hand.

 

As I inspected the damage and gently picked up the pieces, I marveled at the beauty of the egg, even in its broken state.  This is where God again gently spoke, reminding me that our lives are also fleeting and must be handled with great care.  We are all made of fragile canvas and yet even in our broken state, we still have beauty.

 

Fragile canvases indeed.


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


Quilts and Eggs

The Art & Soul Gallery sits in the lobby of my home church, Oak Hills, and we rotate art through there every couple of months or so.  Currently we’re showing a collection of quilts by Debby Schnabel, a local artist, and the colors, variety, and workmanship are stunning to say the least.

Debby Schnabel, quilterI had the privilege of “hanging” this gallery, which simply means I took part in arranging the quilts and physically mounting them on the walls for display.  It usually takes two or three people to do the work of hanging a new gallery.  This time Debby Schnabel, the quilt artist, and my painter friend, Randy Blasquez, formed the hanging team.

Just as we do with paintings we laid all the quilts out on the floor to arrange them by color.  Then came the process of figuring out how much space we had and making sure we had a good flow to the whole display.  Finally, we mounted the quilts on the wall.  Whew.  Job well done.

As we worked, I noticed both Debby and Randy had an eye for color and scale with those large quilts that I didn’t have.  And both could spot a quilt hung out of level quickly.  It was a different experience for me.  My eye works best in tiny details.  Working with objects this large, I found I was out of my element.

I love seeing those quilts on the gallery wall, but I really loved coming home to my studio and working on my newest series of quilt-inspired pysanky.  To each her own!Eggs in Basket


Pumpkin Choir

Sometimes I let go of my serious side and just play with eggs and dyes and wax.  This is one of those times!  Happy Halloween all.


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.


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.