I met Suzanne Walker at an event this year. I was impressed by her artistic talent and phenomenal attention to detail. While purchasing one of her beautiful eggs, I asked if I could interview her for this blog. So, here we are!
Suzanne Walker is definitely pursuing her passion — creating Pysanky eggs.
What got you started?
When I was about 12, my mom got me the book, A Summer to Die, by Lois Lowry. In the book, the protagonist blows out two eggs and then paints them with watercolors. I did that for years. And I mean YEARS. My mother still has lots of painted eggs from when I was younger. Then, when I was in my early-30s, I saw an egg in a friend’s house decorated in the Ukrainian style. I was flabbergasted. I asked my friend how the egg was made, and she said, “Oh, you know … the wax and dye method.” I had no idea what she was talking about. A couple of years later I was in a gift shop, with my mother, and we found a kit for making pysanky. My mother bought it for me, and I made my first pysanka (very poorly) that very day.
Who or what serves as your inspiration?
I don’t really need inspiration to do eggs anymore. I think originally I was inspired by the perfection, intricacy, and temporary nature of the eggs. I say temporary nature because these eggs are so fragile, and they can break very easily. I’ve learned to mend them sometimes, but sometimes they are beyond repair. Every time I finish an egg, I am egg-cited to remove the final wax and reveal the bright colors and detailed design underneath. That “reveal” moment can be wonderful, disappointing, surprising, or (as often happens) can be a learning moment. Just getting to that reveal moment inspires me to do more eggs.
Can you describe your creative process for us?
Making pysanky requires a technical process and a creative process. The very basic technical process is as follows (this is greatly simplified): empty an egg shell, and prep the shell with vinegar; draw some guiding lines on your egg with a pencil; apply wax using a special heated stylus to the egg in all the places that you want the egg to remain its natural color (usually white). Now it’s time for dye. Dye the egg a light color; we’ll say yellow. Apply wax again on all the areas that you want the egg to remain yellow. Dye the egg another color; we’ll say orange. Apply wax again on all the areas that you want the egg to remain orange. Repeat with other colors. Your final color, which usually ends up looking like your background color, even though it’s the final color you’ve applied, is usually the darkest color. You do not have to apply wax over this color. By now the egg should have a fair amount of ugly wax on its surface. Remove all that wax with a heating method and the design that you’ve been building underneath the egg will be revealed.
The creative process is the process of deciding what designs to use. Pysanky is full of ancient symbolism. One of the things that I love about pysanky is that it pre-dates Christianity, so it can give us a glimpse into the life of an early people who thought that pysanky held charm, luck, and protection. That being said, I will put anything on an egg. I usually have a list of eggs I need to do, whether they are to celebrate a special event like a wedding or to celebrate a holiday like Halloween. I like to use both old-timey symbols and more modern designs on my eggs. For example, I make have been making eggs to commemorate the Indy 500 for the past 3 years. This was certainly not done before Christianity.
Did you receive any training or take any classes?
I have not taken any training from anyone. I have read several books about pysanky … my favorite being Helen Badulak’s, Pysanky in the 21st Century. Her book helped me solve problem and think about the technical side of making an egg. YouTube videos and other websites are also very helpful.
What is your biggest challenge?
Finding time is always a challenge, but my biggest process challenge is to take my time at the beginning of an egg. The first lines that I write on my egg are the basis for the whole design. The division of the egg needs to be straight but above all else, balanced. If I can get the egg divided equally from the very beginning, then the end design will look much more amazing and professional.
Is this something you see yourself doing in the foreseeable future?
Yes. I really hope that I can continue writing eggs for the rest of my life. For me it’s “me-time.” It’s meditative. It helps me deal with the world. Sometimes I make eggs to commemorate terrible events, however, lately the terrible events have been coming fast and furious, and that just becomes depressing. Making an egg helps me honor and remember.
Do you have other creative interests that you would like to explore?
I have a half-written novel in a drawer. I’d love to get that done one of these days.
Do you teach others how to do what you do?
Yes! I’ve done two classes and one lesson. It’s hard to find time to plan these out, but I really enjoy teaching others how-to. I’m set up to give lessons for up to 16 adults now, so feel free to reach out to me if you are near Indy and want a class. Pysanky requires the use of a lit candle which is why I don’t mix kids and adults. I can teach kids as young as 8, but they need to be in smaller groups.
Do you do this full-time or part-time?
I do this part-time. I tend to do a lot in the months leading up to Easter. Sometimes I’ll have a summer that seems full of eggs. I’m quite busy from Oct-Dec with family and travel, but I usually manage to squeeze a few eggs into my schedule.
Do you have a favorite or special piece in your collection?
I have several eggs that I love and will never part with. My first pysanka is technically very poor, but it was my very first one, so I’ll never give it away. I like my Halloween eggs a lot. I have one that I made after the 2016 Brussels bombings that is very special to me.
Where can we find you?
I have a “show” that I do in the fall. I sell at “Shop ‘Til You Drop” at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church up on 106th street, in Carmel, IN, the third weekend in October. I’d like to do a show in the spring as well (looking for an indoor, well-attended craft show).
Otherwise, you can find me via my website — www.pysanky.net. I was pretty lucky in snagging that one.
Thank you, Suzanne Walker, for sharing your talent with us!
Friends, pictures do not do these eggs justice. They really are exquisite! The egg I purchased was an ornament egg. It’s hanging on my Christmas tree. My apologies for the flash spots on the egg. Despite the flash spots, you can see the intricate detail and what a gorgeous shine it has to it.
I highly suggest buying some eggs to display in a lovely bowl, or to adorn your Christmas tree, or a loved one’s tree. They make great gifts for those hard-to-buy-for people. And they can be displayed throughout the year.
And you can learn to make your own precious keepsakes by taking one of Suzanne’s classes! How awesome is that?
Check out her beautiful collection and class opportunities on her website: www.pysanky.net