Thursday, March 15, 2012

Artist Interview - Nicole from PysankyPanky

As an annual installment, I am highlighting artists who do the painstaking art of pysanky. It's a medium I can appreciate having done some of my own in years past. I just don't have the patience. This year, I asked egg artist, Nicole, about her work. Please visit her Etsy shop, PysankyPanky, where these beautiful creations can also be made for you and your home. (All photos from Nicole's shop.)

-How long have you been a creative person? When did you know that you wanted to pursue something artistic?
Oh boy, since conception maybe?  My mother is an incredible artist and I swear I was born with a box of pastels in my hands. I’m really not exaggerating either! On top of being super creative, my mother was also a diehard hippie and didn’t allow us to watch TV as kids.  Either we played outside or did something artsy. I usually picked the artsy stuff. By age five, I was making Native American seed bead jewelry. By six, I knew how to cut, file, and fashion sterling silver into jewelry pieces. This was also the year I did my first craft show and decided I wanted to go to RISD when I grew up. I wasn’t exactly your typical Kindergartener! It really only got worse from then on and the amount of crafty things I got myself into just kept increasing exponentially. I don’t think there was ever a doubt in my mind that art would be a part of my everyday life. I don’t feel whole unless my hands are doing something artistic.
-How did you get involved working with the art of Pysanky, a more traditional method of creativity versus something more common like painting on canvas or ceramics? Can you generally describe your artistic progression over the years? How did you get to where you are now?
I first started making pysanky when I was ten. My best friend was pretty crafty too, and that spring we found a pysanky kit together. We thought it looked like fun and decided to give it a try. We hunkered down at the kitchen table and muddled our way though our first attempts at waxing and dyeing eggs. We had a blast! We decided to make pysanky our yearly Easter tradition and we’ve gotten together every year, even through college, to make eggs together. In 2008, I went overboard and made 66 eggs in one month. I was hooked! I decided to switch gears and move from making handspun yarn to pysanky. I was really just trading one obscure craft for another, but hell, it was fun! I’ve made so many different things over the years; beaded jewelry, silver work, sculptural finger puppets, intricate polymer clay work, knit wears, hand spun yarn, three-dimensional paper cut illustration, and now pysanky. There are probably more creative cookie jars I’ve had my hands in, but I honestly can’t keep track of them all!  I think I’ve finally found my niche and settled on a crafty career path, though.

-Do you have formal art training?
I’ve taken quite a few classes over the years and I also went to a couple of art colleges. In high school I was a painter, focusing in photo-realistic oil painting. I was that crazy kind of painter that would paint a whole 5x5 foot canvas with a 0 brush. I ended up going to the Art Institute of Boston where I continued to study painting for two years. I then jumped ship and studied abstract sculpture and installation art. It was really fun, but I had to get honest with myself. What is God’s name was I going to do with my degree in installation art? So, I switched schools and majors, settling on something really marketable…fiber art! (That was dripping with sarcasm, if you didn’t pick up on it already.) I spent a year at Massachusetts College of Art, studying dye mixing and silk screening. I absolutely loved it, but figured I could do all of that stuff at home without having to pay every last dime I had in tuition. I have to say though, those years of color theory and dye mixing 101 came in very handy once I started making eggs full tilt. While I never actually finished my art degree, and I now owe Sallie Mae my first born/soul in student loans, the experience I had at art school was amazing. My professors were fantastic, and I really got to explore every aspect of my creative self. It also kicked my OCD into high gear, which was actually a blessing considering the kind of art I’m doing now!

-Are you a full-time artist? If not, what else do you do with your time?
While I would love to do my eggs full time, I also have a second love; special education. I've worked as a teacher assistant in the special education program at one of our local elementary schools for the past seven years, and I absolutely love it! I worked with children on the Autism spectrum for five and a half years and now as a 1:1 aide for an amazing little boy with Williams Syndrome for the past year and a half. I'm fascinated by the inner workings of the mind and love cracking the code and finding the key to open up each child's potential. The boy I work with is such a ray of sunshine, he has taught me so much about persistence and perseverance. Things are so hard for him, but he still pushes forward with a huge smile on his face. He's only ten, but he's one of the strongest people I know. I feel truly blessed to have had the chance to work with and learn from him. Teaching is one of the most rewarding professions in my opinion, and I love the opportunity to help these children learn and grown into strong and confident people. I am constantly amazed by the children I work with, their wisdom and strength of character are something we all could learn from. I feel lucky to be able to go to a job I love so much during the day and then come home to yet another job I love so much at night. I'm a teacher until 4:00 p.m. each day, then an artist until late in the night -to the wee hours of the morning I work on my eggs. Making pysanky has become my second full time job, which totally blends with your next question…

-Is Psyanky a meditative practice for you?
As much as I love my job teaching, it can be really stressful at times. Pysanky are an amazing escape for me. Working on an egg is such a Zen experience! When I focus on an egg everything else just falls away. All I see it my stylus and my egg shell.  All I think about is my next set of lines and what colors to use. I can shut out the world when I sit down to work. It really is the best stress reliever I’ve ever found!
-Have you been to Eastern Europe or traveled to other places that have made a lasting impact on your work?
Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to go anywhere in Eastern Europe yet, or really anywhere! I really haven’t traveled at all, which is tragic! It’s certainly a dream of mine to head to Europe and ogle over all the beautiful authentic pysanky!
-What types of eggs do you use, and where do you get them? What was the largest type you’ve ever done?
If it lays an egg, I’ve probably used it! Right now, I currently work on zebra finch, parakeet, cockatiel, pheasant, bobwhite quail, bantam, chicken, duck, goose, turkey, swan, rhea, emu, and ostrich eggs. How’s that for a list?! I’m always interested in trying new shells and seeing what they have to offer. The biggest egg shells I use are ostrich eggs.  They take 100+ hours to complete and are the biggest egg shell laid on earth today!  They run about 16-18 inches in circumference and can fit 2 dozen chicken eggs inside their shells. And if you wanted to hard boil one, it would take you 3 hours! I’m an absolute font of useless egg knowledge, sorry!

-What is your work about? Can you explain some of the symbolism?
Ooh, this is one of my favorite parts of pysanky! Every single line and color put on your pysanky means something. When you start picking apart the imagery on each egg, you end up finding whole stories put onto the shells. There are some eggs that were made as talismans for a successful harvest or good health. Some were made to celebrate marriages or the birth of children. Others still were buried with loved ones who passed to take with them to the next life. I just love that history! Some specific examples of pysanky symbols are, for example, the color blue representing luck, health, and magic, while red symbolizes passion and hope. The star motif is a symbol of knowledge and beauty, and a basket weave pattern represents motherhood. When you start piecing together all of these little images on an egg, the story begins to unfold. (See more on symbolism and color below.)

Pictured above left - patterns based on Neolithic pottery found in central Ukraine, near the village of Trypillia. 
-Who or what is your work influenced by? Do you have particular favorite artists (in the pysanky world or otherwise)? 
I really love traditional cultural art as well as strongly modern and geometric abstract art.  I think my eggs are a mish-mash of the two. I like to use traditional patterning with bright bold colors and sharp geometric lines.  In the world of pysanky, SoJeo LeBlond is absolutely awe inspiring.  She does a lot of Persian inspired and floral motifs with the finest precision I have ever seen.  She’s on Etsy and Facebook…you MUST see her work! 
- What three words would you use to describe your work overall?
Hrmmm...tedious, obsessive-compulsive, and Zen. Although, that could really describe my whole life!  I really thrive on tedious obsessive tasks, they seem to mellow me out. 

-What is your favorite piece of all time that you’ve created and why?
My favorite piece is a tie between an ostrich egg I made two years ago and this piece. The ostrich egg was just amazing! It had two intricately designed peacocks on each face with finely detailed, almost Moroccan looking designs on each side of the bodies and feathers. It took me forever and it came out exactly the way I wanted it to. And then disaster struck…I brought my masterpiece to a craft fair I had the next week, hoping that someone else would love it and scoop it up for themselves. Someone did alright, a five year old who just had to share it with his friend, the sidewalk. It took everything I had to keep myself from totally blowing a gasket in public! Then his mom wandered up and it just got worse.  At first she offered to pay for it, thinking it would only be a few bucks, but when it wasn’t she rolled her eyes and said there was no way she was going to pay that much for a broken egg, stating that it was ‘just and egg’ and ‘it’s not a big deal’. I think I blacked out at that point…and the next thing I knew, they were gone, and I was left with the fragments of my hard work. It was tragic! But, I promised myself I would make something good out of it. So I saved all of the pieces in hopes that I would think of something. Later that summer I came across someone selling jewelry made out of broken china plates. She bound the edges with silver and hung the chips to make earrings and pendants and the like. That was when it hit me, my ostrich fragments were just about the same thickness and just as lovely. Why not make them into jewelry too? I grabbed my soldering iron and some silver solder and got to work. They came out great! To this day, I’ve made more profit off of the egg shell bits that I would have if I sold the egg whole! It was one of the best creative growth moments for me and really made me think outside of the egg crate, so to speak. Everything about making and breaking that egg has turned it into one of my favorites. The second egg I mentioned is just a fascinating division. It was a pretty difficult egg to complete and I just love the way it came out. I just finished it recently so I’m kind of stuck on it still!
-What is your work space like?
This is kind of a running joke with me, because up until a few weeks ago I didn’t have a work space!  I used to work on my kitchen table/top of the dryer, which really didn’t work too well. Then I had a corner of our futon and the edge of a night stand to work on. I put all my styluses and dyes on the night stand and would hold the egg against my knees to work. Now, I finally have a whole work table and shelves, but I almost don’t know what to do with all the space! I’m so used to working in tiny cluttered areas that it’s really hard for me to spread out. I tend to keep my work space cluttered with dye pots and egg shells, teacups and paper towels. To an outsider it may look like chaos, but to me, it’s quite organized! 

-Where do you like to go for inspiration? (A favorite museum, your own work space, or enjoying nature, etc.)
I live right near the beach and some wonderful walking paths, so I like to go there and soak up the sun and the sound of the waves. My husband and I will leash up the pups and go for long walks in the woods, listening to the birds and the wind in the trees. Being outside is really rejuvenating for me and gets me in the zone to focus on my work. Fresh air and sunshine is all I need to inspire me to work. What’s more inspiring than all of the natural beauty and wonder surrounding us?
- Do you have any special goals, projects, or exhibitions coming up in 2012?
I would love to be able to teach classes and that’s a big goal for me in the upcoming year. I also plan on completing my Masters Certification in Pysanky through the International Egg Art Guild. I’ve been meaning to do that for a while now. I would just love to be able to throw that one on a business card, Nicole Bergeron: Master of Pysanky! Business-wise, I really want to branch out into more retail locations. Right now, I just sell through my website and summer craft fairs, but I would love to get into a few shops. It’s always been a dream of mine to be able to do my art as a full time job, so I’d really like to start expanding my sales field. 
-And finally, (as an artist, this should be a hard one) - do you have a favorite color?

Ooh, yes I do!  Well, a few actually…

This one…and this one!

There’s a billion more, but I’ll keep it down to the two for you!


Ribbon or Belt: Eternity

Triangle: The triangle is a very basic ideogram and, like the tripod, always signifies a trinity. In pagan times, the trinity represented was the elemental air, fire and water or the heavens, earth and air. In Christian symbolism, the Holy Trinity is most often represented.

Saw: Line variation indicating fire as the symbol of the sun or life-giving heat

Star or Rose: Purity, life, the giver of light, the center of all knowledge as well as beauty, elegance and perfection

Churches: The basic outline depicts stylized versions of the beautiful wooden churches of the Carpathian mountains, with their characteristic triangular roofs.

Stag: Leadership, victory, joy and masculinity

Embattled Line: This variation signifies a forest or enclosure, something to be contained.

Plant Symbols: New life, plentiful growth and harvest

Sieve: Dividing good from evil

Meander: Harmony, motion, infinity, immortality

Spirals: The mystery of life and death

Circles: Represents completeness, continuity, unity. This particular design has many wedding themed images too. The circle patterns represent unity and completeness, while the green and plant symbols represent new life and beginnings.

Two Line Cross: The simplest form of the star, this cross represent four cardinal points of reality, or the four ages of the world; child, youth, man and elder. The maltese cross is another variation of this motif

Ladder: Overcoming the petty problems in life

Poppy: Joy and beauty

Dots: Dots of all sizes represent the stars in the heavens, tears, or fixed points that have no beginning or end. They may represent a cuckoo's egg, which is a symbol of spring and carries with it the magical powers of predicting the future.

Apples or Plums: These orchard motifs denote knowledge, health and wisdom

Sun: The pre-Christian interpretation denoted the sun as the center of the universe, the giver of fertility, the victory over evil and darkness

Fish: A symbol of Christianity, the fish represents regeneration, abundance, baptism, and sacrifice

Fish Nets: Mesh pattern which represents the fisherman's net. Christ asked his apostles to be fishers of men.

Pine: Strength, boldness, growth and eternal life

Two Line Cross: The simplest form of the star, this cross represent four cardinal points of reality, or the four ages of the world; child, youth, man and elder. The maltese cross is another variation of this motif

Engrailed and Invected Line: This suggests a place of meeting of union of opposites such as land meeting water

Basket: This ideogram suggests contained knowledge, motherhood as well as the giver of life and gifts

Wheat: Wishes of good health and a good harvest

Flowers: Happiness and joy


Red: Happiness in life, hope, and passion

Orange: Power, endurance, and ambition

White: Purity

Blue: Air and good health, truth, fidelity, higher life and trust

Black: The darkest time before dawn, a time when souls of the departed were thought to travel

Yellow: Moon and stars, generally symbolized a successful harvest and wisdom

Orange: Power, endurance, and ambition

Green: Rebirth of nature

Monday, March 12, 2012

Road Trip - Larchmont

With temps in the high sixties and access to a car last week, I went for a stroll up the road apiece to broaden my horizons. This post is part "road trip" and part of my "walk around the neighborhood" series. How would you like this view to be within the confines of where you live? The lucky residents of Larchmont get to enjoy the fresh air and fabulous sunsets of Manor Park right in their backyard. The rocky coastline of this little New York village has a walkway with gazebos and benches for gazers to stop and rest. I happen to know the area from the other side- that is, the water side. After learning to sail last summer, our racing team spends a lot of time in these waters. Just a 20 minute ride from City Island, it's a nice place to get a little exercise or sit and read a good book. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Artist Portrait - Polly Apfelbaum

Polly Apfelbaum in a vintage Lanvin shirtdress that is as colorful as her work
(photographed in front of a Sol Lewitt wall drawing at the James Cohan Gallery - April 16, 2010)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Quilt Patterns - Lancaster

Both simple and complicated styles and all of them gorgeous. During a recent road trip to Lancaster (previous post), I was able to admire the work in hundreds of individual quilts both antique and brand new. I tended to lean towards the older styles and if it weren't for the prices, I would have certainly brought one or two home with me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Road Trip - Lancaster, PA

Having lived in New York for the last decade or so, one would certainly label me a city girl. I am the first to admit that I love the country life too. When a family member made the decision to look into some property in Lancaster over the course of several weekends, I jumped at the chance to make a road trip or two. Lancaster is pronounced with the heavy accent on the "Lan" followed by "kisster" as it would be in England. Similarly, the symbol for the region (and seen all over) is a red rose opposite the white rose symbol for the York family in the Wars of the Roses commencing in 1455.

The area is also known as "Amish Country" and you can regularly share the road and parking lots with horse buggies (like the one above) and dining rooms and grocery aisles with Amish and Mennonite farmers. It's a fascinating unique cultural mix for this New Yorker who lives admidst a whirl of every other possible language and ethnic heritage that makes the big city what it is.

I loved driving through the spectacularly open spaces and seeing the sun set behind the laundry lines and silos. I also loaded up on hard-to-find penny candy treats, locally pickled beans and vegetables, and other bulk supplies at Yoder's grocery store. Lancaster offered me the unique mix of fresh air and shopping while sorting through the thrifty treasures of the area's many "Re-Uzit" shops. The hundreds of quilt designs were my favorite (separate post coming soon). 

I'm already looking forward to more exploration on my next visit!