So Jeo LeBlond is an artist of a very unique kind. Her canvas is an eggshell and instead of paint and brushes, her tools are wax and dye.
The beautifully coloured eggs are known as Pysanky or Ukranian Easter eggs. LeBlond, who crafts them at her home in Scotsburn, has become so good at it that her eggs are now sold throughout the world.
LeBlond was just a child when she first learned about Pysanky while watching a vignette on TV.
“The short film showed women sitting at a table heating up tools filled with beeswax, then drawing on their eggs with the beeswax. Then they dipped the eggs in jars of dye, dried them, then drew some more,” she said. “Over and over they did this, each time dipping in a different color until they finally removed the wax with a candle flame. The results were stunningly beautiful decorated eggs. I had no idea that such things existed.”
The eggs were a far cry from the very basic dyed eggs she and her siblings made in their home as children.
When she was about 10-years-old one of her brothers gave her a Ukrainian Easter egg kit as a Christmas present and she had her first chance to try making them herself.
“It was a very basic kit and I made a handful eggs, but I wasn't really happy with the results and the kit got put away and forgotten,” she said.
But more than 20 years later the interest would be renewed as Easter was quickly approaching and she thought about making some Easter eggs with her two children. She went online and purchased the supplies and tools and then researched how to make them online and at the library. She also joined a Pysanky discussion group online.
“When the supplies arrived, we set to work, but it was chaos at best,” she said. “The children were just too young to get the hang of the steps involved and we ended up using crayons to draw our designs before dyeing our eggs. Pretty, but not what I had in mind.”
She didn’t put this kit away though.
“In the evenings, after the kids went to bed, I would spend hours researching and practicing and practicing some more. I found that working with the eggs was very relaxing and it was kind of a little escape from reality, so to speak.”
The basic steps are fairly simple, she said. You wax what you want to remain white, put the egg in a yellow wax what you want to stay yellow. Then put your egg in the next dye and then wax what you want to stay that color and go on from there. The wax resists the next color and preserves what you have drawn.
While it may sound easy she said even drawing a straight line takes a lot of practice because you are drawing on a curved surface. She said it was months before she was happy with the results.
Even though she’s now well practiced a basic egg takes about a day to make, and the more intricate ones of the same size take 3-4 days.
“They are quite involved, every part of the design in hand drawn and for the jewelry there are many small steps involved over several days.”
But the satisfaction of the finished product is well worth it to her.
“The best part about the eggs is that you really don’t know what it will look like until the final step when you remove the wax,” she said. “The beeswax is dark so that it contrasts with the shell, and after you have waxed your full design, you cannot see what you have done in the previous steps. Melting the wax off and revealing the beautiful design beneath is a truly magical part of making Pysanky.”
She’s also found that she can make some money at it. While researching online, she said she realized that people actually sold their eggs and that it was something collectors were interested in. She set up some listings on eBay and was encouraged as people responded to purchase them. She has sold throughout North America and as far away as Australia on a regular basis.
She has also designed a website and also a Facebook page dedicated to the eggs, opened an Etsy store and just last fall started selling locally.
“A lot of my regular customers are collectors who purchase eggs year round, not just for Easter. Many are of Ukrainian descent and are interested in art that reflects their heritage. However, I don’t often use traditional Ukrainian designs, but instead I like to incorporate traditional symbols in my own unique way to create one of a kind designs,” she said. “Most of my designs are inspired by the natural world around me, I love gardening and flowers and animals and these reflect in my artwork.”
She’s also able to make a custom design for people on request, which has appealed to a lot of customers.
Her jewelry is another item of particular interest. LeBlond said there are very few people who create jewelry out of eggshells using this technique. She decorates the eggs in the usual way on a full egg, but then pieces are cut out with a cutting disc. She fills the backs of the pieces with a two part epoxy to give them strength and durability, then the edges are sanded down and holes drilled. The tops are then finished with the UV resistant, eco-friendly epoxy to protect the design and to give them a brilliant shine. She even makes the ear wires by hand, purchasing spools of silver wire and then cutting and hand shaping them into hooks with pliers and then tumble polishing them.
Her eggs and eggshell jewelry can be found year round at Water Street Studio in Pictou and for the month of August, she will be attending The Artisan Market at the Creamery Square in Tatamagouche from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Sunday.
“I am hoping to expand into more stores featuring handcrafted works in the near future and plan on devoting more of my time to my jewelry line and local sales,” she said.
She’s hoping to pass on her love for the art form soon by creating YouTube videos to teach people how to make the eggs and jewelry.
To learn more check out her website: www.sojeo.com.