Photo by Jesse Paulk

By Sue Kern-Fleischer

Jordan Byrd’s Mesa loft and studio are filled with eggs—but not the cooking kind. Instead, the 29-year-old artist and owner of Inside the Byrd’s Nest is one just a few artists in the United States who regularly practices, sells and teaches the method of egg decorating called “pysanky.”

Pysanky, also known as Ukrainian Easter eggs or batik-style eggs, originated in Ukraine and Poland close to 5,000 years ago. Byrd not only helps keeps this ancient art form alive with her traditional eggs, but she opens up the art to a whole new audience through her nontraditional eggs and jewelry.

Now, she’ll share her passion with a broader audience as one of nearly 100 artists also including comedian Joe Netherwood at the Arizona Fine Art Expo in Scottsdale. The fine art show begins Friday, January 10, and runs daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Sunday, March 22, under the “festive white tents” at 26540 N. Scottsdale Road, on the southwest corner of Scottsdale and Jomax roads, next to MacDonald’s Ranch. The 10-week event provides guests with a rare chance to meet the artists; see them in action; and learn about their passion, inspiration and techniques. 

Demonstrating the batik process

This is Byrd’s first year participating in the Arizona Fine Art Expo, and she’s looking forward to demonstrating her batik process on large eggs, such as rhea, emu and ostrich eggs, which when finished, are displayed on beautiful ceramic and glass stands. 

“I love to show and explain the process of pysanky,” Byrd says. “Batik eggs are dyed using a wax resist process—there’s no painting, which I think surprises people. While my geometric designs are intricate, if I do sketch on the egg, it’s lightly in pencil and freehand. I don’t use stencils or machine-made patterns or appliques. The eggs take on a life of their own, and the designs and colors present themselves based on the shape of the egg and shell composition.”

Using a tiny funnel attached to a stick, Byrd applies melted beeswax to a real egg. The wax adheres to the egg preserving the natural eggshell. The egg is then dyed. More wax is applied on top of the new color, preserving it. The process is repeated until the entire pattern has been encased in wax on the egg. The wax is then melted off to uncover every color used to create the unique designs.

Byrd estimates she works on close to 3,000 eggs per year, ranging in size from tiny to large. She sources her eggs from a California ornithologist who raises the birds with great care and then cleans out and sanitizes the eggs before shipping them.

Stating that she can be “nerdy” about the process, Byrd loves the challenge of creating new batik egg works of art.

“It’s a fascinating process because it is backwards from what painters do in terms of color scheme. I have to have a good idea of what the design will be before I get started, because I work from light to dark, with black as the final color,” she says, adding that she found a way to jump around when working with colors. “I still have to work front to back, so whatever will be in the foreground needs to be applied first, with the background of the egg being applied last.”

Working with the beeswax can also be challenging.

“I love the smell of beeswax and I find the process to be meditative, but because the wax is black, it’s easy to lose track of a pattern I’ve already completed. I have to remember what’s underneath the wax so that my lines and colors match,” she says.

Her career takes flight

As art careers go, some might think Byrd is just getting started, but in fact, she has been creating batik eggs since she learned the pysanky process at age 12.

“I took at class through my local 4-H club, and I fell in love with it,” she says. “I remember telling my parents that I wanted to learn more, and they said, ‘There are some eggs in the fridge—have fun!’”

A self-taught artist who grew up in San Francisco, she finally found some other pysanky artists to learn from, and now she enjoys sharing her knowledge with others.

“I have had some amazing mentors, and several of us meet for ‘egg play dates’ around the world. Last June, we met at the Ukrainian Museum of Canada in Toronto, and I’ve also traveled to Europe,” she said.

Like most artists, she also loves to experiment, and she has big dreams for the future.

“I would love to work on a rare, large egg, like a cassowary egg. The cassowary is said to be the most dangerous bird in the world because of its dagger-like claws, and their eggs are bright green. They’re found in northeastern Australia, New Guinea and a few other areas,” she says.

Season passes for the Arizona Fine Art Expo cost $10; season passes for seniors and military are $8; and children younger than 12 are free. Parking is free. For details, call 480.837.7163 or visit arizonafineartexpo.com.

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