And go wild we did. A fast-paced week filled with all kinds of art. My class was the BEST, of course.
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.
I love getting fun mail! Today’s was especially fun because I received my 2017 Incredible Eggs calendar and I’m proud to report that a collection of my Trypillian style eggs appears on the November page. This entire calendar is filled with an amazing display of colors and styles by lots of different egg artists from around the world. Click here to get the purchasing details and to preview each page. There is even a Canadian version for those of you north of our border.
Sometimes design ideas just pour out of my head and onto the eggs and I can’t find enough studio time to complete them all.
Then there are other times when I sit staring at a clean white egg and experience what I call “Blank-egg-o-phobia.”
You know the feeling. You want to create and yet you sit and stare at that unstarted project and the longer you sit and stare, the harder it is to get started and pretty soon you realize that your studio is a mess and you should really organize it better but first you need to move everything off your table and you discover it is incredibly dusty which requires a trip to the kitchen to get the cleaning supplies where you remember that you forgot to unload the dishwasher and two hours later you finally come back to your studio and decide you’ll try again tomorrow.
Please tell me I’m not alone here.
So how do I get past this? Artists everywhere have discovered that working “in a series” can help unleash creativity again. A “series” just means creating a body of work with a common theme. It doesn’t even matter whether you decide to link all your work by color, texture, subject, or style, a series will provide definition and boundaries.
It’s very counterintuitive, but limiting my choices requires me to think more deeply about the subject. It’s an opportunity to explore those ideas fully and to learn from each step. The same rules that limit me will keep me on track but free me to get creative in discovering new solutions to design problems. Fear of ruining a piece can keep me stuck but working in multiples can get me unstuck.
As I started thinking about this topic, I noticed that God also works in series. Think about trees, for instance. God designed all trees with the same basic parts… roots, trunks, branches, leaves. That could get boring pretty quickly but God, the infinitely creative artist, started playing with all those parts using color and shape and size. I’d venture to say there is an infinite variation in the tree world but all within the boundaries of those same boring parts…roots, trunks, branches, leaves. Take a look around you. It’s not just in trees, it’s in everything…clouds, rivers, rocks, and people too. Absolutely everything shows God’s creative handiwork within a set of rules.
The lesson here? Rules are your friend both in art and in life.
Returning to my studio here…Let me give you a peek at my latest series. Quite a contrast to my usual multi-colored eggs with lots of fine lines, these Trypillian-style eggs require only three colors…white, brown and black. The designs are very bold, simple and repetitive but as a group I find them fascinating. Hope you enjoy them too.
Her name is Fiona. At least that’s what I call this duck nesting in my yard. She actually belongs to my neighbor but kept finding her way back into my yard. Every day my neighbor would take her back home but Fiona got what she wanted. One day I found her sitting firmly on a nest and knew she was here to stay, at least until those eggs hatched.
A month is a long time to sit on a nest, but Fiona did her job well. She returned home very briefly morning and evening to eat but the rest of the time she sat…and sat…and sat. I found the nest empty once so I reached my hand in carefully to feel how many eggs she had. Unfortunately Fiona was just returning to my yard and she did not take kindly to me touching her precious eggs. Did you know ducks can hiss? And run really fast when they want to? It’s scary!
The big day arrived when nine little yellow puffballs followed their mama around my yard. There is nothing cuter than a baby duck! We ran out to snap a few photos, steering clear of Fiona’s fiercely protective pecks then left them alone to find their way back into our neighbor’s yard.
Fast forward a couple of days and now Fiona and her brood are regular visitors to our koi pond. She takes them back to her own yard to eat and sleep, but at least three times a day they make a field trip to go swimming. It would have been fine if they just swam, but now they were starting to dig in our plants and muddy up the water. I wondered what the fish thought of their new neighbors so I watched carefully. One of our bigger koi started nibbling on a baby duck’s paddling foot and that baby just gave him a good peck. Problem solved. I laughed at their antics but I knew we had to do something because I was tired of dealing with the muddy pond.
Last week as the ducks swam happily I found their secret entrance to my yard. Now to get the ducks out of the pond and back to their own home. I tried shooing them but that didn’t work very well. Next I used my arms and a pond skimmer which helped with the herding somewhat. I managed to get them back to the fence near their escape route but Fiona held her ground pretty well and wasn’t much interested in taking her babies home.
Next idea…maybe if I could grab a couple of babies and push them underneath the fence she’d take the hint. I herded them all against the fence and got close enough to pick up two babies and push them into the yard next door. Fiona went ballistic at that and started attacking me…and ducks peck hard! I managed to get another duckling under the fence when all of a sudden Fiona nipped the tender skin of my forearm and hung on for dear life.
It’s funny how your brain can operate on a couple of different levels at once. As I raised up my arm with the mama duck hanging in midair, one part of me thought, “That’s not right…and it hurts!” But the other part of my brain said, “Hey she’s occupied, now’s my chance to get the rest of those babies out of here.” So with my free hand I kept grabbing and shoving until all the babies were next door peeping for their mama. Fiona let go and I was able to catch her and shove her under the fence too. Whew! It took a couple of cement blocks to fill the space but we haven’t had any more duck visitations since then.
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.
These 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.
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.
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.
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.