With Easter on the horizon, this seems the perfect time to tell you about another incredible artist that I found at the Kit & Caboodle art fair a few weeks ago. Her name is Helen Chance and she creates the most beautiful eggs covered in super fine and intricate details.

I found it hard to imagine how it's even possible to make such elaborate patterns on such a fragile canvas and Helen explained that it's an ancient Ukrainian art known as ‘Pysanky’.

The geese came first

Asking the obvious and age-old question of what came first: the chicken or the egg? In Helen's case, at least, we have a definitive answer - her geese.

Helen and her husband moved from the UK to the Alentejo 20 years ago and have two geese that they named George and Mildred - after the 70s comedy sitcom. I would have liked to have visited their little farm and met this ‘giggling gaggle’, but unfortunately they live slightly out of my range.

Good for the gander

Luckily though, Helen came back down for another art fair in Vilamoura and we had more time to talk and for her to explain just how ‘eggzactly’ this came about and how she works her magic.

She told me that besides George and Mildred, they also have quite a few chickens and so regularly find themselves inundated with eggs. Helen has been painting and drawing since she was young and about 4 years ago started to wonder if she could find a way of decorating her eggs. She told me how she just painted on them to start with, but being a bit of a perfectionist, they just didn’t turn out as nice as she would have liked. She started to research and became very interested in this ancient art and managed to befriend a bunch of Ukrainian ladies on the internet who taught her their best tips and tricks.

Mind your beeswax

It’s quite a mind bending process and Helen had to explain it quite slowly to me. In the end, she basically told me to ‘mind my beeswax’ - which turns out to be the key to the whole thing.

You see, the art of pysanky (which comes from the Ukrainian verb ‘pysaty’ which means ‘to write’ or ‘inscribe’) is created, not by painting, but by using a ‘batik’ type method.

They use a traditional tool known as a ‘Kistka’, which works a little bit like a fountain pen, but in this case, the ‘ink’ is beeswax. The wax is added to a little copper funnel at the end of the kistka which when heated over a candle flows out of the tip.

Now, the mind bending part is that the beeswax isn’t the paint, it just acts as a sort of 'masking tape'. So, when you dunk the egg in a cup of dye everything changes colour except the pieces you painted. It’s only when you've finished and the wax is melted off that you finally get to see the result. Which I have to say, in Helen's case, is pretty spectacular.

Celebrating Spring

The patterns found on pysanky eggs are also highly symbolic with every colour, animal or symbol having either religious or cultural meanings.

Looking a little bit into the history, I found out the art of pysanky is said to pre-date Christianity. In ancient cultures, Ukrainians worshipped a sun god called ‘Dazhboh’ that warmed the earth and was the source of all life. Birds were said to be his creations and since humans couldn’t catch them but they could get their hands on their eggs, eggs were therefore considered magical - and used to celebrate spring.

With the advent of Christianity, the art was adapted and the symbols that were originally related to sun worship and the coming of spring were changed to represent Easter and Christ's resurrection.

Walking with eggshells

Helen's eggs don’t just work for Easter decorations, they also hang wonderfully on Christmas trees - and she even makes special birthday ones as well. Not to mention how she’s also skewered a whole kaleidoscope of butterfly chicken eggs that were sticking out of the ‘flower bed’ at her stall.

You can even wear her art, as I also spotted a lovely collection of earrings made from eggshells that feature the same beautiful colours and patterns found on her eggs.

Dragon Eggs

She doesn’t only stick to geese and chicken eggs though, she decorates whatever eggs she can get her hands on and there were a few massive ostridge eggs on display as well. She even had a ‘dragon egg’ in which she etched scales into the shell of one of her goose eggs to give a 3D effect to her little dragon. Which reminds me…

According to the Hutzuls, who live in the Carpathian Mountains of Western Ukraine there’s a terrible ‘dragon-type’ creature that is chained to a cliff. If they don’t manage to reach their quota of pysanky eggs every year, the chains on this monster will get loose and he will escape and overrun the world.

This is why, with the world in the state it's in at the moment, Helen told me that all the pysanky artists (and let's not forget George and Mildred) have been doing their bit to ramp up production this year.

If you would like to find out more about Helen, or order some of her exquisite eggs and do your bit to help keep this dragon in check, then follow her on Facebook @George and Mildred Decorated Eggs