Duck Eggs- the Book

front cover web

As you have probably noticed, it has been a year since I updated my Blog. That is because of several factors, the most outstanding being that I wrote a book. Entitled “New Canvases Daily”, it was not only a fun project, but also an amazing process. I had to analyze what I do with duck eggs and how I work. Many of the techniques in the book apply to other types of eggs as well. Here is the jacket blurb:

Many people believe that duck eggs are among the most difficult, if not cantankerous, eggs to use for the art of Pysanky.

Having worked almost exclusively with duck eggs over the past several years, I have come to realize that this reputation is far from accurate.

Like the ducks themselves, these strong, beautiful shells, require patience and gentle handling to be at their best. And, when they are at their best, no egg shell will take dye like a duck egg. The purpose of this book is to share with you my love for these amazing canvases and help you to discover what a delight these shells can be. Along the way, you may also discover the joy of owning these amazing birds who manage to turn a child’s wading pool into a beach party and their daily routine into a celebration of togetherness.

You will learn:

  • How to choose the best shells for dyeing
  • The best methods for preparing duck egg shells
  • Easy methods for blowing out and cleaning all types of eggs
  • Dyeing methods that work!
  • The “secrets” of how to do advanced processes on duck eggs.
  • And, if owning ducks might be right for you.

The book includes an appendix with design how-to’s and dye lists and is illustrated with color photos throughout.

The book is available through me at or through It is also carried by It is not listed on their website yet, but they do have copies and will ship internationally.  The book sells for $15.00 plus shipping which varies by vendor and location.

Tis the Season…

We are in the grip of winter. The days are short, dark, and this year, extremely cold.  Summer is a distant memory and spring seems to be far, far away. But a remnant of warmer days remains in my studio, the duck egg shells that were emptied this past season as they were laid by my flock. So every year, beginning in January, I write the eggs that will become the Easter gifts for friends and family. Each year I seem to plan more eggs than the last because the circle of recipients grows. New coworkers and friends are added to the list along with people who have touched my life. This year I will probably create three dozen eggs for gifts. That is not a large number as I have friends who make sixty or more eggs for gifting. Still, I need to begin now to reach that number by Easter.


The tradition of giving eggs at Easter time, particularly Pysanky, is ancient. Eggs were often written with the recipient in mind, each design on the egg tailored to the wishes and needs of the recipient. Once the eggs were blessed on Easter, they were passed out to friends and family.  I typically take a box of eggs to work. The box contains more eggs than there are staff where I work and everyone gets to pick an egg. I admit it is fun to watch my coworkers “ooh” and “ahh” and discuss the merits of each egg they like. Most have a hard time deciding, although sometimes people just look into the box and say “That one, that egg is the one I want!” It is almost as if the egg were written just for them.

I would encourage anyone who makes Pysanky, at whatever skill level, to make a few for gifts if you don’t already. The pleasure you will receive in giving them far outweighs the work it takes to create them.  And really, can you think of a better excuse to spend a cold, snowy day in a quiet space with a candle, the smell of beeswax heating, and summer in your hand?

First eggs of the season in beginning stages. A very good start!

First eggs of the season in beginning stages. A very good start!

Picture an egg…

I often get asked how I take photos of my eggs. Even more often, I get asked what brand of camera I use. I use a Fuji, but there is really no magic in the kind of camera one uses. Photography is all about the light; seeing and controlling light.  My photos fall into two categories, natural light and artificial lighting.

My dining room becomes a photo studio

My dining room becomes a photo studio

Natural light is pretty self-explanatory. The quality of natural light varies throughout the day. For photography the best light is morning or late afternoon. Midday light is very direct and harsh. Cloudy days soften colors and bring out the reds, yellows and oranges. During a course in photography, my teacher advised me to look for the light and the picture would be there. I still watch where the light is in the yard and take pictures according to that.

Artificial light is also what the name implies-manmade. It, too, has many different qualities. For instance, my studio lights are very warm toned and yellow everything they touch. The lights in my light box are cooler, closer to daylight. A light box is a fun toy, but not necessary. Some of the best pictures of my eggs were taken in my egg studio on the old paper towels I reuse to blot my eggs.

Most modern cameras have a way to adjust the white balance to compensate for different types of light. Each camera is different, but that adjustment is very important if you want to get true to life colors on your eggs. My camera has an actual white balance button. I am able to look through the viewfinder and change the setting to get the photo to reflect the colors my eye is seeing. I know many people adjust the white balance with software after the photo is taken. I don’t do this because I want the colors in the photo to be true to the actual colors on the egg. I think that is especially true with duck eggs because of their reputation for not taking color well. If you see brilliant color on one of my duck eggs, it is because that color is there, and has been reproduced as faithfully as possible by the camera, without any digital magic added.

Another feature, on many modern cameras, is “spot metering.” This allows me to focus anywhere on the egg I want, hold down the shutter button without taking the photo, and then move the camera to set up the shot with the proportions I want. This way I can control the lighting of the picture even more.

Mostly I would advise practice, practice, practice. Get to know what your camera can do. Find out what the “rule of thirds” is and learn how to apply it. But most of all, remember that the camera has no emotions and sees exactly what is in front of it.  I was photographing some eggs on black beans the other day. I was so pleased with the look, loving the contrast of the black texture and the eggs. It wasn’t until I looked at the actual photos I saw what the camera saw all along. One bean was split and had flipped over. In every shot there was this ugly brown bean glaring at me. I redid the pictures as the offending legume was too near the eggs to be cropped out. Remember the camera sees all.


Never count a duck out.

One of the nice things about Swedish blues is their ability to forage for food. Many modern ducks don’t do very well without a lot of human help. This fact probably accounts for some of the happy ending that took place today, but not all. The duck ShiShi that was attacked by the dog fled down an embankment into an area beside a brook that flows through my property. We searched long and hard that night and for days after, but she had totally disappeared. We have raccoons, foxes, coyotes, fishers, hawks, owls, and dogs-all of who would make a meal out of a domestic duck that cannot fly away. As a matter of fact, most ducks do not die of old age or sickness, but predation. We were sure ShiShi, if she had not died from injury by the dog and stress, had been killed by a predator her first night out.

Early this afternoon I received a call from a longtime neighbor about half a mile away. He said a duck had been hanging around his greenhouses for about four days. He described the duck as brownish-grey with a white bib. One of my closer neighbors had thought the duck as possibly mine, so the greenhouse owner had called. I told him, against all odds, it sounded like ShiShi. I got my great niece, some duck wrangling gear, some peas and a crate. Off we went on what was either a fool’s errand or a miracle. The attack had taken place July 7th, almost 6 weeks ago. Domestic ducks cannot fly and have almost no defenses. Yet, what other duck could this be?

When we arrived, ShiShi was chasing a frog on a swampy patch of grass near the front of the greenhouses. The owner said she had been there for four days and that he had been feeding her granola bars, which she liked very much. She looked well, fed (apparently frogs and granola bars are health food, who knew?) My great-niece and I put out one of those baby pens, leaving the ends open. In a few minutes ShiShi was confined inside a pen which we calmly closed around her, caught and placed her in a crate, and after profuse thanks to the neighbor, she was on her way home.

At home the gang greeted her with many quacks and a lot of head bobbing, because they knew who she was. That night she was the first duck in the duck house waiting for food and the good night lock-up.

It seems sometimes we live in a world with few happy endings, so it was nice to have one. I took some Pysanky to the neighbor and his wife. She wanted to know all about the duck, her breed and especially what her name was. When I told her the duck’s name was ShiShi, she commented that such a brave little duck deserved a better name. I agreed whole-heartedly. So she has been renamed- her new name is Grace.

“Through many dangers, toils and snares,

I have already come.

Tis grace that brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.”

From the hymn “Amazing Grace”

The fragile life of a duck

I had planned an entirely different post, but today our little flock is in mourning. Last night a neighborhood dog came over into the yard, and got inside the fence. The dog then chased one of the terrified ducks out of the yard and attacked it. A neighbor stepped in, but in the ensuing confusion the duck fled back onto my property and into a heavily overgrown area. Despite hours of searching, we could not find her. At this moment, I am assuming she is dead, probably of heat exhaustion from the stress of the chase on such a hot and humid day. I think what bothers me the most, is that the owner was unrepentant, even yelling at the neighbor for treating her dog badly as he tried to stop the attack. There was no apology, no how do I make this right, no promise to never have it happen again. Just a lame explanation that the kids open the door and the dog gets out. This morning I did something I did not relish doing, I called the dog officer and reported the attack.

So to that owner:

We have leash law. Your dog is supposed to be under your control at all times. I’ll give you once as an accident, but this was the fourth escape in a few weeks and the second full fledged attack.

Farmers have the right to protect their animals. I doubt I could kill the dog, even to protect my birds. But, this is a dog you supposedly love. Aren’t you scared about the danger from the cars? How about the danger to your children chasing after it?

You, as the owner of the dog, are liable for damages. You can be made to pay for the value of the bird

But most importantly…The duck’s name was ShiShi. I got her when she was three days old. She knew my voice and her friend Doodles misses her. I know because Doodles has spent the morning looking for her. Her eggs were large and wonderful. I will miss her. She was worth much more to me as a pet than any monetary settlement could cover. But you didn’t even come back to see if she was alive and well. She was a lovely, living creature who suffered greatly Shishibecause of your carelessness. She will be deeply missed.

Do Over…

There is an old Chinese proverb that says you can never step into the same river twice. I think that is doubly true with Pysanky.redo blog image

I decided this week to redo an egg that I had done in the past, but let it change however it “wanted to”. I was surprised at the results. Pattern wise the eggs are very similar, although, I am pleased to say, the skill level on the second,on the right, is better. Also, I did not get the size of the divisions the same as the first time. I apparently used different math or maybe, since the shape of the egg drives the math, the proportions of the egg caused the change. Whatever the cause, the result was that the design on the second egg seems more delicate than the first one. The color scheme on the first egg did not require any etching, but on the second one one of my goals was to experiment. Etching duck eggs can cause the colors to dye paler, but here, that kinda works. The etch gave me a soft mossy green that balances well with the oranges in the egg. I liked the power of the colors on the first egg better. It has a pizazz that the second egg, to me, lacks. The second egg is more subtle and has it’s own charm. It probably will grow on me with time.

So even when you copy a design, no two eggs are ever  be exactly alike. Some vary so much as to be a  whole new adventure. Find a pattern you like and play with it. Think music. variations on a theme, rather than a carbon copy. You will be amazed at the individual song each egg can sing.

No Place for Snow White

As I said, duck eggs have a bad reputation when it comes to taking dyes. Problems with dyeing are most usually associated with an egg that has been mishandled. More often then not it has been over zealously  scrubbed. If you look at the pictures of my unfinished eggs in a previous post, you will see they are clearly not pure white. Yet the finished eggs appear to be.pysanky june 22 crop

Let’s assume you haven’t scrubbed your eggs to death in search of snow white and are ready to start a Pysanky. How else could you mishandle them? Remember how you were taught to dip your eggs in vinegar before you begin the Pysanky dye process? Well, with duck eggs I don’t—never ever. I have found that duck eggs do not like the vinegar dip. Yes, the yellow will take well, but all of a sudden the duck egg begins to resist the dye. The dye will literally bead like the proverbial “water off a ducks back”. The vinegar dip sets you on a road of unpleasant outcomes, so my advice, don’t go there!

What is happening with the vinegar to cause this? Pre-dipping really helps with chicken eggs. We have all know it, have done it and were probably taught that way. The problem is, the vinegar eats away at the cuticle of the duck egg. That is the layer that is put on last by the bird to protect the contents of the egg from bacterial intrusion. Chicken eggs from the store already have this removed by detergents used to sanitize the shell. Often commercial eggs receive a coating of oil to reseal the egg, replacing the cuticle and thus improving the storage time in your refrigerator. Chicken eggs seem to dye well even with the cuticle compromised, but not so with duck eggs. So, if  you followed my directions, and washed your eggs carefully, the cuticle is still there. Now is not the time to lose it, so no vinegar dip. The vinegar in your dyes will supply enough acid to allow the dyes to take. My advice: save the vinegar for salad dressing–no dipping!

Consider the source

There is intent when a Pysanky egg is written. This is another reason I made the choice to raise my own eggs. If you consider Pysanky to be energetic objects, then the source and energy of the egg is of importance. Because of my beliefs about energy, I found it harder and harder to justify making my Pysanky with eggs bought at the supermarket. Commercial production of most eggs is very much a factory process. While there are farmers who produce white eggs with humane methods, these eggs are not readily available in New England where brown eggs are the norm. The most bird friendly white eggs available here are “cage-free” which simply means the birds are not kept in tiny cages 24/7. It is better, but does not mean the bird is happy and free roaming. It is simply a little more humane.

saddlebag pysanky 61313I wanted to use only “happy” eggs from “happy” birds. At first I thought I would get white leghorn chickens. They produce a bounty of lovely white eggs and as a child I had had chickens in 4-H. But after working on some locally grown duck eggs, and doing research into the care of ducks, I decided on ducks. They are extremely hardy, disease resistant, and it turns out, a barnyard comedy act to boot.

So now I work on eggs collected fresh each day from ducks that roam around the whole fenced in back yard. They play in the pool, take naps in the shade, and if not thwarted, steal ripe tomatoes from the garden in the summer. A day does not pass that they don’t make me laugh. So, now I have “happy” eggs on which to write with wax and dye wishes of peace, wisdom and joy.

Duck Eggs for Pysanky: Are they really hard to work with?

When I first started to use duck eggs for Pysanky, I was not aware of the fact that duck eggs can be difficult to work with. Sometimes ignorance is really bliss. It turns out duck eggs can be persnickety about taking dyes. But, by following a few rules, they are, for the most part, well behaved.  Coincidentally, that is pretty much how I would describe the ducks: mostly cooperative, but with definite quirks.

The first rule is start out right!  One of the most important things I would tell any Pysanky artist who wants to work with duck eggs would be to handle them with care. Any sort of abrasive washing can damage the cuticle, or outer layer, of the egg. This, in turn, will cause the dyes to take poorly. My procedure for washing my duck eggs is simple: I do as little as possible. Most of my eggs are laid in the duck house which has fresh bedding added every night. This means the eggs start out cleaner. Once I bring them in the house, I wash them in warm water using only the abrasion of my hands and gentle rubbing to clean them. This leaves the protective coating on the outside of the eggs intact and protects contents from bacteria entering the egg. After the eggs are blown and the inside of the egg is completely rinsed, they receive one more gentle washing . This cleans off any egg that might have dripped onto the outside of the shell during the blowing process. The eggs are allowed to dry in a rack and then are put away to be used for Pysanky. I find this gentle care makes all the difference in how the shells take the dyes. It’s the old adage: “Less is more.”