Pysanka — the Ukrainian Art of Decorating Easter Eggs

Pysanka is a Ukrainian Easter egg decorated with the batik method. The word comes from the verb pysaty (писати) “to write”, because the decorations are not painted, but written with wax. Pysanka is not a general term for eggs decorated with the wax method, but refers specifically to Pysanka eggs, which depict Ukrainian folk patterns. Pysanka is a traditional Ukrainian egg decorated with wax and natural colors and used mainly as a decoration during holidays.

The tradition of Pysanka unites Ukrainians, it is worn by both people connected to the church and those who are not connected to the church. The exchange and gifting of Pysanka eggs has an important meaning for people. Pysanka eggs are not meant to be eaten, they are stored.

Pysanka eggs made by Velida Kent. Photo: Velida Kent

The history of Pysanka dates back to pagan times, when eggs were used for ritual purposes. In ancient Ukraine, an egg was believed to represent new life and a new beginning, so it was considered a meaningful gift for the new year, wedding or birthday. With the arrival of the Christian era, Pysankas began to be decorated with Christian symbols. These ornaments were used to decorate church holidays such as Easter and Christmas.

The art of decorating Pysankas has been passed down from generation to generation. It has been an important part of Ukrainian culture and today it can be found in other countries with a large Ukrainian community. Pysankas are known for their intricate decorations and symbolism, which gives each Pysanka a unique meaning.

Bird — the symbol of happiness.

Just before Easter, vivinauts had the opportunity to learn how to make Pysanka, under the guidance of Velida Kent, who has been learning and sharing this art for decades. At the beginning of the workshop, Velida introduced the history and cultural background of Pysanka to the children. The children listened with interest, and were especially impressed that making Pysanka is very important for preserving Ukrainian cultural heritage — learning this art helps children to understand and appreciate the traditions of other cultures.

After listening to the theory, vivinauts started to act! Since Pysanka is made on deflated eggs, the children were able to try out how deflating eggs actually works. Since none of the kids had ever done it before, blowing the eggs was equal parts exciting and a little scary at the same time. However, the scraps and egg whites blown out of the eggs from Ahisilla Farm were immediately used in the kitchen — Vivita’s kitchen wizard Carlo made wonderful muffins out of them.

Experiments with emptying eggs and finished delicious muffins.

Patterns were drawn on the empty eggs according to Velida’s instructions, thanks to the simple and logical instructions, making patterns was fun and affordable for everyone. Velida had prepared worksheets for the children with different symbols, motifs and their meanings. Making Pysankas is time consuming, but the children were very enthusiastic and learned quickly.

Applying patterns and symbols to eggs.

Once the patterns were drawn on the eggs, the game of colors began! In order for the colors to remain on the eggs exactly in the places and in the colors the children wanted, the eggs were gradually covered with beeswax. First, the areas that were supposed to remain white were covered with wax, then successive layers of wax and colors — it was important to remember that the colors are applied in order from light to dark.

Decorating eggs in Pysanka style.

Velida had prepared a wide color palette so that even the most exciting color combinations could be applied to the eggs. One important thing to remember when decorating the Pysanka egg is that if the egg accidentally falls, it unfortunately cannot be used anymore and you have to take the next egg-easel and start drawing the pattern again.

Applying colors to the Pysanka eggs.

The children were very brave and creative in coming up with patterns and applying them to the eggs, and the finished eggs were real works of art!

Pysanka eggs made by vivinauts.

If you want to try making Pysanka yourself, here is a simple tutorial:

  1. Choose fresh eggs and let them sit at room temperature for a few hours to make them less fragile.
  2. With a small needle, make a gentle hole on both ends of the egg.
  3. Blow into one hole until all the egg mass comes out of the other hole.
  4. Heat a special wax brush over the candle and take the wax. Be careful, the wax becomes liquid and is hot!
  5. Using a narrow wax brush, apply wax to the egg to form the first motifs. You can draw geometric patterns, flower crowns, sun rays, clovers and other shapes. You can use different colors.
  6. Dip the egg into a mixture of boiled water and wine vinegar — this will help the colors adhere better.
  7. Dip the egg into the paint. For this, you can use natural dyes such as beetroot, onion skins, chamomile, etc. Leave the egg in the dye until the dye has reached the desired shade.
  8. Remove the egg from the paint and let it dry.
  9. Repeat the process of waxing and painting until the eggs are covered with the desired motifs.
  10. Allow the painted eggs to dry completely.
  11. Remove the wax from the surface of the egg by heating it over a candle flame.
  12. Let the eggs dry completely.
Velida Kent and vivinauts.

Decorating Pysanka is a great way to introduce children to a new cultural tradition and develop their manual dexterity and creativity. By introducing children to different cultures, we can help them develop open-mindedness and greater intercultural understanding. Children learn to understand that there are different perspectives and understandings and that their own culture is not the only possible way to live. It is important to show from an early age that all cultures are valuable and that differences are something that should be valued and respected.

Thank you Velida Kent for sharing your time and knowledge with vivinauts!

Thank you Ahisilla taluaed for the beautiful and delicious eggs!

Text and photos: Vivita Estonia