April 2, 2010

Artist of [Undetermined Timeframe] #4: Pisanki Artist Samantha Michel

Blog, I recently discovered a Facebook friend of mine, Samantha, has an unusual hobby and talent. She makes pisanki.

I know pisanki sound like they might be pancakes made of beets and topped with boisenberries, but they’re not. They are also not colorful waist scarves traditionally worn on the Eastern European holiday of Główna Wygrana (which, by the way, is Polish for “jackpot”). There IS no holiday called Główna Wygrana, I made it up.

No, Blog, pisanki are Polish decorated eggs, and as you can see by Sam’s collection of creations, they are gorgeous.

She explains, “I have been doing Pisanki for about four years. It is a Polish folk art, and although I am not Polish, I love the art of it. I learned from Fr. Czeslaw Krysa who is a nationally recognized folk artist, specifically in the art of Pisanki, which he has studied for years. He has an enormous collection of his own eggs, some of which have been shown in the Smithsonian and at other museums. He traveled all over Poland compiling designs and stories and pictures of the art.”

And how is Pisanki done? Samantha shares the process: “You start with a whole, raw egg. Farm fresh eggs are best because they hold colors better than store-bought ones. It’s good to use medium-large eggs because they tend to be sturdier than the bigger ones. The wax used is pure beeswax because it’s smoother than candle wax.

“You use a stylus, which is a plastic or metal rod with a little cup on the end, which has a hole in the bottom of it. You heat the cup of the stylus in a candle flame and dip it into the wax, until you have a reservoir of melted wax. Then you ‘write’ with the tip of the stylus. There are a few different sizes of styluses you can get for different work.”

“Anything you write over with the wax will stay white. When you have finished everything you want to be white, you submerge the egg in a dye. You can buy dye packets (they are non-edible and very rich colors) from internet sources or sometimes at craft stores. Some traditional pisanki are made with dye from onion peels, which produces a brownish-red color.

“After dyeing the egg, you write more. You layer on colors and patterns until the egg is finished, light colors to dark. When the writing is complete, the egg with be somewhat covered in blackened wax (the wax becomes black from the candle soot.) At this point, you hold the egg to the side of candle flame, then wipe off the melted wax with a tissue. Continue until the egg is free of wax and the colors shine!”

Obviously you’re not going to want to crack these babies and make the insides into scrambled eggs for the holiday of Znak Zapytania, Blog. Yeah, yeah--no such holiday, it’s Polish for “question mark.” Anyway Sam tells us, “We coat the eggs in two coats of polyurethane. When they are dry you poke a hole in the bottom of the egg and blow out the insides. Some people don’t blow out the eggs, and over time the egg will dry up, but sometimes it cracks or explodes from the pressure so it’s usually better to blow the egg out.”

And that’s the kind of “Spring Break” no one enjoys, Blog.

This photo shows some of Samantha’s favorite eggs grouped together. I’d be hard pressed to pick the one I like best. She says, “I really enjoy creating the eggs. I’ve done some of my own designs, and many are ones I’ve copied from Fr. Czeslaw’s collection. And there are endless others that I still want to do!”

I learned from our buddy Wikipedia that the pisanka (singular) tradition is over a thousand years old. In fact, they are probably the origin of the entire custom of the Easter egg. Says Samantha, “Many of the symbols used in the designs represent new growth and life and faith, and the actual act of melting the wax off the egg after coloring is known as the ‘resurrection’ phase, going from the blackened wax to the beautiful colors of the final design.”

Wikipedia adds, “Today in Poland, eggs and pisanki are hallowed on Easter Saturday along with the traditional Easter basket. On Easter Sunday, before the ceremonial breakfast, these eggs are exchanged and shared among the family at the table.” Cool.

This last photo shows Samantha’s favorite design of pisanki. I bizarradore them. Sam says, “It takes a lot of practice, and a willingness to overlook imperfections (they are never perfect) and lots of time, but for me it’s totally worth it for these gorgeous works of art.” And whether you are Christian or simply live in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s a wonderful time of year to ponder the unconquerable powers of life and creativity. Thanks for brightening our Triduum with your lovely hobby, Samantha!


  1. These are AMAZING!!! What a cool craft of which I was completely unaware! I love these and the story behind them, particularly relating to Triduum :) Fabulous work Samantha!!!!!

  2. Gorgeous! I love these, they are so unique and beautiful.

  3. Samantha, these are fantastic! I stand in awe of the patience and steady hands required to create such beauty.

  4. I know that Sam went "internet dark" for the Triduum, so I can't wait for her to get back online and see all these compliments! Thanks again for participating in A.U.T., Samantha, and Happy Easter to you!

  5. Awww thank you all so much for the kind words! It's cool to be recognized for something that I enjoy so much.

    Diana, thanks for featuring me on the blog- I feel famous! :) And Happy Easter to you as well!

  6. Sam is very talented and this is just one more of her many talents. I am amazed at these eggs and hoping she will show me how in the near future. Talk soon HAPPY EASTER!!