Creating Pysanky: The Unbelievable Art Behind Ukrainian Easter Eggs

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

Depicting tiny strands of wheat, lots of lines, and miniature, miniature horses on a raw egg is no easy feat. Add molten wax to the mix, and this Easter egg creation isn’t exactly child’s play.

“The pysanka, the Ukranian Easter egg, is vitally important and it goes back to probably pre-Christian times,” said Natalia Honcharenko, director of the Ukrainian Historical and Educational Center of NJ. “The eggshell was covered with symbols, and each of those symbols was meant to either bring good fortune or to symbolize something in nature.”

Now pysanky are considered both tradition and folk art.

She teaches this wax-resist method of creating Easter eggs, and today she’s got a new student.

“Of course, everything is in the planning. So, the first thing we would typically do is create some preliminary lines as a guide on our egg,” Honcharenko explained.

The eggs have already been bathed in a vinegar solution and either hollowed or left raw and whole. They’ll eventually be lacquered, but in the meantime, they’re very breakable. So being careful is key. Honcharenko uses a stylus, or kistka, to administer the wax.

“Traditionally, you heat the metal, little tube over your flame and then you get it nice and warm, and then you use beeswax. You always use beeswax. You have to use beeswax,” said Honcharenko. “And you just kind of scoop it up in your little cup here, and you can see it’s melting right away because the metal is hot.”

“Now just try and scoop up some of that wax. There you go. And heat that up just a little bit more, and you’re going to get a blob. See that blob came off?” she asked.

“Should this be on fire?” I asked about my kistka.

“You set it on fire. That’s OK. That means it’s too hot,” replied Honcharenko.

“So now we’re just going to trace all those lines that we made. And the easiest way to do that is to make those lines quickly, and it will help make them straight,” Honcharenko explained.

“So everything you’re doing now is going to remain white because it’s protected by the wax. … The first color is yellow…so your egg is dyed yellow, and then whatever elements of your design you want to remain yellow, you cover in wax.”

A simple design might take about an hour. More complex eggs can require six, seven or eight hours of work. Then it’s time to melt off the wax and reveal the final product.

“And then you get it nice and viscous, and you just wipe it off. And you just keep wiping it off,” said Honcharenko.

It looks beautiful.

The Center will host Ukrainian pysanka workshops April 9 and 12 in advance of Eastern Orthodox Easter.