What are Pysanky?
Pysanky are Ukrainian Easter eggs and can be stunningly beautiful works of art. They are made by "drawing" on eggs with hot wax and dyeing the eggs a succession of colors. At the end, when the wax is melted off, the patterns and colors beneath are revealed, and the results can be amazing.
Now you can learn how to take part in this great Eastern European tradition. Pysanky is a wonderful hobby that can be done year-round, and you can show off your creations at Easter with pride. Even kids can enjoy making pysanky, with adult supervision. Follow the steps outlined below and discover a unique artistic tradition.
Drawing with a kitska
Pysanky requires some special tools, and there are several kits available online that will get you started. The main tools you'll need include:
- kitska, your drawing device (a metal funnel attached to a plastic or wooden stylus)
- beeswax (either in stick form or block form)
- dyes in various colors (use dyes specifically for pysanky, and store in jars)
- raw eggs at room temperature
- paper napkins or rags
- pump to suck out the egg's innards at the end
Optional tools include:
- drying rack
- electric kitska
Some great resources to learn about pysanky are the books Decorating Eggs: Exquisite Designs with Wax and Dye by Jane Pollak and Ukrainian Easter Eggs and How We Make Them by Anne Kmit, Loretta L. Luciow, Johanna Luciow, and Luba Perchyshyn.
You will need to let some raw eggs sit out until they are at room temperature. Cover your table with newspapers or some type of drop cloth because you're sure to make a mess with melted wax and dyes. Have plenty of paper towels or rags at hand to wipe up spills and set the eggs on while they dry.
The pysanky process involves starting with the lightest color desired and working your way from lightest to darkest. So most designs usually start with white (the egg's natural color) or a coat of yellow (the lightest dye) and end with a dark color such as dark blue, black, or scarlet.
To begin, hold the end of the kitska and heat the funnel end over a flame. When it is hot enough, the wax will melt into the funnel. Blot the point of the funnel on a napkin to avoid getting large blobs on your egg. Now you can begin "drawing" on the egg. Whatever lines or spaces you cover with wax will remain that color.
Once you have finished the first layer, select the next color dye, a darker color like light blue, orange, or green. Carefully lower the egg into the dye jar with a spoon and let it sit in there for a few minutes. The longer it remains in the dye, the richer and darker the color will be, so experiment a little. When you have the desired shade, pull the egg out with the spoon and let it dry on a napkin. Pat it dry to get off the excess dye and begin drawing with the kitska again. Continue this process, going with a darker color for each stage, until you finish drawing the design. Then, dye it one last time with your final color, and let it dry.
The next step is to melt the wax off the egg, which will reveal all the colors hidden beneath. Carefully hold the egg to the side of a flame. The wax will become shiny or runny as it melts. Use a rag or napkin to wipe it off. This can take a while, depending on how much wax is coating the egg, so be patient and give your eyes a break from staring at the flame! You can use your fingers to feel for any wax residue on the egg. You can now see the colors, patterns, and designs previously hidden beneath the wax. You are almost finished!
The final stage involves draining the inside of the egg. Pysanky eggs will last for a time with the yolk inside, but they will eventually rot. To save your egg, you need to use the pump, or egg blower. Hold the egg over a sink and poke a small hole into its base with the thin needle attached to the pump. The needle will break up the yolk inside. The pump acts as a bellows, pumping air into the egg and forcing the insides to come out through the tiny hole. When the egg is emptied, pour water into the pump to flush the inside of the egg. Let the egg dry, hole-side down, for a day or two. You can then add a varnish coating if desired and put it on display!
Lightly trace out your patterns with a pencil before using the kitska.
There are several books that show traditional pysanky designs you can try. Truly, there are no limits to what designs you can create. Experiment with diamond and circular patterns. Draw rings around the egg, horizontally or vertically. Go for symmetry, or let loose with freestyle patterns. Most pysanky have thin, precise lines, but see what happens when you pour wax from the wide end of the funnel, creating splatters and blobs of color.
If you're struggling to come up with a design, try copying a fabric pattern. You can display the egg with its matching cloth.
Never get too attached to an egg, because some are bound to break. It's sad and frustrating, but it happens. Store them in a safe place, in a basket or on individual egg stands.
If you want the egg to have dark outlines, you can do the pysanky in reverse, from darkest to lightest colors. Start by dying the egg black and draw the design you want. Dip the egg in bleach to return it to white and rinse the bleach off. You can then dye it a series of lighter colors and fill in the black outlines.
Browland (author) from Georgia on June 06, 2011:
I'm glad you found it useful, GrantGMcgowan! Thanks for reading.
GrantGMcgowan on May 20, 2011:
Hey, Thanks for the information.
Browland (author) from Georgia on April 06, 2010:
Thanks ladyjane1--I'd love to visit Eastern Europe some day! And I hope you get to try making them, Rachel B.--it's a great project and you can impress all your friends! :-)
Rachel B. on April 02, 2010:
These eggs look beautiful! However since Easter is only two days away I think I might have cut it too close this year. I'll have to work on them for next spring!
ladyjane1 from Texas on April 01, 2010:
Wonderful hub these eggs remind me of the eggs from Russia that I bought while I was there. Nice.
Browland (author) from Georgia on March 28, 2010:
Debbie Tidwell on March 28, 2010:
These eggs are beautiful!
Browland (author) from Georgia on March 28, 2010:
Thank you all! I have a lot of great memories of doing Pysanky. I asked my mom to find all the equipment so we could do it this last Christmas. And now Easter's approaching, hmm...
Faye Constantino from Florida on March 28, 2010:
Beautiful art. I would break the eggs! I remember trying when we were kids, with wax crayons, if you can believe it. Of course they were hard boiled.
Congratulations on the Hub Nugget Nomination!
shazwellyn from Great Britain on March 27, 2010:
Brownland - what a star you are! Well done for another nomination and such great subject material - oops, you have done it again Virginia! :)
Beth Morey from Montana on March 27, 2010:
My mother and I used to make these when I was a kid. Congrats on the HubNugget nom!
Sage Williams on March 26, 2010:
I love Ukrainian Easter Eggs, talk about an art! You have done an amazing job with this hub. Very informative and great pictures.
Congratulations on being nominated for a HubNugeet and Welcome to HubPages.
Browland (author) from Georgia on March 26, 2010:
Thanks, ripplemaker! I'm excited to be nominated.
Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on March 26, 2010:
Hi Browland, I am simply bowled over by these Easter Eggs! They are so totally cool! And Easter is coming up soon too! Amazing artwork! Of course, anything great would not pass by the Hubnuggets team! Announcing gleefully that your hub has been nominated! Yup, you are a Hubnugget Wannabe! For the details, I will zip you to the galaxy where the Hubnuggets Event is being held. Be sure to vote and promote your hub! Here you gooooooo......https://hubpages.com/hubnuggets10/hub/A-HubNuggets...
Browland (author) from Georgia on March 14, 2010:
It's fun just to try different patterns. Anyone can be an artist with pysanky eggs. The only way you can really "mess up" is by accidentally breaking the shell!
Amanda from Michigan, United States on February 22, 2010:
These pictures are beautiful and this was very well written and informative! I wish I had the artistic ability to do eggs like those ones.
Browland (author) from Georgia on February 21, 2010:
That's amazing. What's crazy is that it snowed last weekend, and today it was in the 70s!
Carmen Borthwick from Maple Ridge, B.C. on February 21, 2010:
Ukranian eggs are beautiful. Snow in Georgia, wow, we could use some here in Whister for the Olympics. And some people say there's no merit to global warming. One of our hubbers lives on the Mediterranean and posted a pic of himself amid falling snow!