Just in time for Easter, artist Joanna Lohr will be teaching the Eastern European art of pysanky, or wax-resist egg decoration, at the Delaplaine Visual Arts Education Center in Frederick. She will will lead students through the egg waxing and dyeing process, emphasizing proper technique and encouraging individual design, according to the Delaplaine website. All supplies will be included.
How did you first become involved in egg painting?
We painted eggs at my home in Poland, but in a simple way. We boiled them with onion skins to stain them brown. The method I am using now I learned in the U.S. from my Polish neighbor. One spring she invited me for egg painting at her house with several other people. I liked the no-rush atmosphere, the opportunity to talk to others, and the surprise at the end of the painting process — a beautiful egg.
Describe the art of pysanky to those who aren’t familiar with it.
There are several things to remember: the egg has to be white; you dye the egg through colors from lightest to darkest; it is hard to apply wax over a big area, so lines and dots work the best.
You need to start by picking several colors to be used. If you want white to be part of the pattern, you cover these portions of the egg with melted wax first. Then you put the egg in to the lightest color dye you want to use. Let’s say it is yellow. Next, cover the parts with more wax that you want to stay yellow. After that, you put the egg into the next lightest color, for example green. You take it out and cover what you want to stay green with wax, and so on. Some basic rules of mixing colors apply and you need to keep them in mind. Once you used green you will not be able to have very radiant red on your egg, the red will be brownish red. You apply the melted wax using a special brass stylus-type tool called a kistka. You use candles to heat the kistka and to melt the wax. The fine point of the kistka allows application of the wax to create detailed patterns.
Why does it appeal to you?
It amazes me that a person who has never painted an egg can create something special even with their first egg. Last year I had a student who learned the technique during my class and made incredibly intricate and beautiful egg. She painted an island with a beach and palms, yacht and sea birds in the sky. It was shocking that 15 minutes of instruction can make somebody an artist. Not all students do as well, but, apart of some high achievers who set their expectations very high, people are pleased with the eggs they make and it is so rewarding to see them smiling and proud of themselves.
How have your own skills changed over time?
I pretty quickly started to design my own patterns. Once you are into it anything can inspire you: fabric patterns, aborigine art, Tiffany lamps, bugs and other creatures. During all these years, I have learned several tricks on how to avoid snafus with color mixing so I can have many colors on my eggs. I have learned how to dye eggs in reverse (from dark to light colors) and how to etch a pattern on them with acid.
What are your favorite colors and designs to paint on eggs?
I like nature so many of my eggs are covered with flowers and animals. One of the best eggs I made has a tiger face on it. Eggs look good with contrasting colors. I keep this in mind when I design my patterns.
When you teach people, what’s the most common mistake they make?
They set their expectation too high. Some people want their eggs to be perfect: all lines straight, no blobs, no messed up patterns. It rarely works like that. I tell them to start with an easy pattern to see how the method works. After that it is up to them how high they set the bar. The other mistake people make is dropping an egg. It happens at every class.
What do you think they get out of the skill they’re learning?
I hope they get a lot of fun. Often the class brings back memories from their childhood when their relatives showed them how to paint eggs. Many of my students have their origins in Eastern Europe. Taking the class allows them to feel connected to their roots.