Ukrainian decorated Easter eggs pysanky

Pysanka is Ukrainian name of an Easter egg, ornamented with different folk patterns and motifs using wax and colorful dyes. The word “pysanka” originated from Ukrainian verb “pysaty”, which means “to write”.

History of pysanka in Ukraine

Ceremonial eggs decorating have a very deep history in Ukrainian culture. According to archeological excavation results the most ancient pysanka (approximately 15th-16th centuries) was found in Lviv. It remained almost intact and had wave ornaments. Another one dated to the end of 17th century was excavated in Baturyn. It was made out of a chicken egg and had geometric design. The most ancient ceramic finds dated to Kievan Rus times.

By the end of 19th – the beginning of 20th centuries pysanky decorating was widespread through the whole Ukrainian territory.

With the coming of Soviet regime this kind of art was in the period of decline as pysanky were considered to be the church attribute that was unallowable during atheistic propaganda.

In 1960-70s the art of the pysanky was reactivated on the territory of Western Ukraine, where such Easter eggs were decorated for sale at the fairs. During that time wooden souvenir pysanky became popular with tourists and were colored with watercolors.

Since independence declaration Ukrainians began to find out more and more information about their national customs and traditions, so the art of pysanky took its special place in folk art system.

Ukrainian Easter traditions

The art of pysanky in Ukraine had always sacral meaning and was a part of ritual sphere. According to Ukrainian tradition the process of pysanky writing started on the first day of the Holy Week. Women were responsible for egg decorating. They selected smooth and regularly shaped eggs most suitable for dyeing.

People believed eggs for pysanky should be fertilized as they brought wealth and fertility to the family.

According to another belief, pysanka would look perfect if during the creating process all members of family were asleep. Women made pysanky mostly at night, keeping in secret their family patterns and color combinations.

At Easter all decorated eggs were blessed in the church (as a part of Easter basket), then shared with relatives and friends or kept at home as the protection against evil spirits. Ukrainians believed in magic powers of blessed Easter eggs.

Ukrainian Easter eggs ornaments, patterns, symbols and meanings

The tradition of egg writing in Ukraine is represented by a great amount of ornaments and patterns. They are usually depicted by certain scheme that enables to create main ornamental designs. First an egg is covered with a certain amount of base lines.

There are such schemes of pysanky decorating:

  • bisecting the surface;
  • longitudinal surface division by meridians;
  • cross division by latitudinal lines;
  • concurrent division by meridians and latitudes;
  • division on four spherical quadrangles;
  • diagonal division.

Traditional Easter eggs designs can be divided on several groups depending on depicted symbols:

  • Geometric patterns are the most popular. Their basic components are points, stars, rhombs, lines, triangles and double crosses. Pysanka is usually divided into equal sectors by straight lines. Each geometric pattern has its meaning:
    • triangle is the symbol of the Holy Trinity;
    • spirals symbolize protection against evil spirits;
    • diamonds are the symbol of knowledge;
    • points are considered to be the symbol of seeds and fertility.
  • Phytomorphic ornaments (naturalistic, plant) symbolize awakening of nature after winter sleep. Leaves, branches, blossoms, trees and flowers were also the symbols of strength, growth, youth and eternal life.
  • Zoomorphic motifs contain stylized images of wild and domestic animals. They are less popular in the art of pysanky comparing with aforementioned patterns. Hares, horses, deer, birds and fish are depicted in the abstract, with some identifying features. Animal motifs usually symbolize strength, endurance, prosperity.
  • Anthropomorphic motifs, more often women, are written full-length with their hands up. Sometimes female images are intertwined with phytomorphic or zoomorfic motifs.
  • Cosmomorphic patterns are connected with worshipping the sun and celestial bodies. Such motifs contain solar signs (oblique cross, swastika), the image of the sun framed with straight and roundish rays. Solar patterns were especially in high esteem, as they believed to bring good luck, protection against evil spirits.
  • Agricultural motifs are presented by such symbols as sieves, ladders, rakes, hayforks and sickles, which symbolize rain, sun and good harvest.
  • Religious motifs include the images of biblical stories. Various types of churches and church symbols can also be seen on pysanky, especially in the works of Hutsul regions and Bukovyna.
  • Decorative motifs are usually depicted on the egg surface in a scattered way.

How to make pysanky: techniques

All hand painted Ukrainian Easter eggs can be divided onto two large groups according to the technique of their making:

  • using wax-resist method;
  • dyed without wax.

Easter eggs created with wax-resist method

The procedure of decorating eggs with wax includes its gradual applying on certain areas of the eggs. There are several variants of wax applying:

  • Krapanki (from Ukrainian “krapka” – a dot) – eggs, decorated by dripping hot wax onto the eggshell. After dipping the egg into dye, the wax is removed creating unique shimmering effect.
  • Two-color pysanky are made as the result of writing with hot wax on the natural white or beige surface. When the wax is cool off, the egg is immersed into dye. Then the egg should be heated to remove the wax.
  • Writing with a firm piece of beeswax, when the wax-pattern is applied on the pure eggshell without kistka.

Easter eggs dyed without wax

  • Krashanky (from Ukrainian “krasyty” – to decorate) are traditional one-colored Easter eggs. This type of eggs is very popular throughout Ukraine. Krashanky are made by plunging boiled eggs into dyes.
Marble-like pysanka
Marble-like pysanka
  • Marble-like decorated eggs are popular since 19th Eggs are wrapped by pieces of colorful cloth or paper, then tied up by thread and boiled for several minutes.
  • Dryapanky (from Ukrainian “dryapaty” – to scratch) are made by scratching different types of patterns on the colored egg surface.
  • Malyovanky (from Ukrainian “mal`uvaty” – to paint) are Easter eggs, painted with brushes using oil, waxy, watercolor paints.

Ukrainian Easter eggs decorating supplies

There are several items you will need to decorate eggs for Easter. They are:

Pysanky dye. There are two types of dyes: natural and chemical. Natural dyes are made from plant materials (roots, blossoms, leaves, bark, onion peel), insects and berries (raspberry, cranberry). Chemical dyes are also popular nowadays as they have a large variety of colors.

Beeswax. It is the most popular type of wax for its higher melting points comparing with paraffin.

Stylus (kistka, pysachok). Instrument, which is used for decorating eggs with wax. Traditionally kistka is made of wood, but today one can find a great range of electric kistka, which help to write more even lines.

Blas-fix. It is very useful device that allows emptying the contents of the egg.  It consists of bellows, tube and blunt needle. One needs to make a tiny hole in the egg and to pump its contents with blas-fix.

How to decorate Easter egg step-by-step

To create traditional pysanka you need one white egg, candles, beeswax, pencils, one kistka, dyes and paper napkins. Follow our recommendations, and your Easter egg will be perfect.

  • Blow out the egg contents using blas-fix or making two little holes in it.
  • Take the pencil and mark the center of the egg, putting a dot. Divide the surface into four equal parts writing a cross to make the pattern more equal. There are a lot of simple pysanky designs, so choose any one you like and draw it.
  • Hold kistka with chopped wax over the candle flame to melt wax.
  • Apply warm wax along the pattern contour.
  • Dip the egg into yellow dye for several minutes, and then leave it for drying. Take an egg with the napkin and blot it.
  • Cover with wax the areas that should be yellow. Sink it into red dye.
  • Cover with wax the areas that should be red. Sink it into green dye.
  • When all the layers are completed, hold the egg above the candle flame to melt wax, but do it a little bit aside.
  • Wipe your decorated egg with napkins. Your pysanka is ready.

Pysanka monuments

Pysanka is honored by Ukrainians and Ukrainian diaspora abroad. That`s why there are a lot of Easter egg monuments in Ukraine and overseas.

Easter egg in Vegreville (Canada)
Easter egg in Vegreville (Canada)

The biggest Easter egg in the world was considered to be in Vegreville (Alberta). It was established in 1974 as the symbol of peace and security. The 10-meter “Pysanka” was decorated in mosaic style and consisted of 534 stars, 1108 equilateral triangles, 3512 outer edges and 6978 pieces. It was made of plane fragments and was rotating by the wind as weathervane.

Pysanka museum in Kolomyia (Ukraine)
Pysanka museum in Kolomyia (Ukraine)

In 2000 first Ukrainian “Pysanka” museum in Kolomyia was opened, which became the biggest pysanka monument in the world. That architectural building was unique not only for its egg shape and sizes (14 m height and 10 m in diameter), but for its specific structure – it was made of colorful glass and had no roof. Museum has three levels and contains more than 6000 pysanky from all Ukrainian regions.

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