Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Capturing detail in water etching

As we were planning a water etching demo for class this last session, Maria Hartland (a new student), mentioned that she had done Ukrainian egg painting (Pysanky). It's a beautiful traditional wax resist and dye method of decorating eggs (like batik for fabric). She asked about using the beeswax and stylus (kistka) for water etching. I told her I'd seen it discussed as a possibility a few times on the Yahoo Metal Clay group over the years, but didn't know if anyone ever really pursued it - and I'd never had the chance to try it myself. We were all excited when Maria generously offered to bring her stylus to class for us to try.

The following week, Maria not only brought in the stylus, but some of her beautiful eggs as well. These large ones are ostrich eggs, they're amazingly detailed.

The wax is melted until it flows and is applied with the kistka (stylus). Different size tips give different lines. The painting and dying process builds the colors and takes a great deal of time. She also brought several of her smaller eggs as well, also beautifully done.

Maria brought in two electric kistkas and showed us a traditional one too. The traditional ones are heated with a candle flame to melt the wax. We played a little bit with the electric ones in class, but didn't really have time to do much. She kindly offered to let me borrow one for the week.

Well, darn if the week didn't fly by (as usual)... but the night before I had to return the kistka, I grabbed a couple of dry pieces of clay and played. Let me first say that I've always really loved the brush painting and the flow of the liquid wax (and still do), but after using this handy-dandy little wax application device, all I can say is "wow."

Now, these examples were just tests... but what really impressed me was the control and level of detail I was able to get. The images above are two sides of the same piece. It's PMC+ which is the best for water etching and especially for fine lines. It's only one inch tall after firing and just look at the tiny lines - which dried immediately!  These lines withstood the etching process much better than similar fine lines painted with the liquid wax would have. Unfortunately, I didn't have a lot of time to play - so I only tried the one size tip - but there are several sizes available.

This example was the first piece I tried when I was getting the hang of using the kistka and melted wax (hardly a work of art) it's even smaller - only 1/2" tall!

Yes, of course I ordered myself one of these amazing electric kistkas... (now if I could just order some time to play with it!). Will it change the way I water etch? Guess we'll just wait and see.

If you're interested in more info on water etching, Here are some resources. I wrote an article in Art Jewelry Magazine in September 2006. You can also find the instructions I contributed to Sherri Haab's revised and expanded edition of The Art of Metal Clay. And then there's my own little book... The Little Book of Water Etching and Enameling for Metal Clay. Water etching instruction by CeCe Wire can be found in PMC Technic.

If you're interested in getting in touch with Maria about her eggs, you can contact me via comments and I'll pass along your info to her (I won't publish any comment with an email address). 


  1. Fabulous as always! I've always thought about trying this tool, but I can't even seem to get near my bench let alone make anything!

    Sending you great big hugs! Hope your fall is filled with less deadlines than this past summer. May it be creative bliss as we settle into the holidays ;-)



  2. Cathy,
    This is so cool! The tool reminds me of a canting needle which is used in batik. I used to work in fabric and did a lot of batik in my former life. The canting, an Indonesian tool reminds me of a larger kistka. I'd love to try this out! Thanks for sharing.

  3. I see a demo in our Guild chapter's future! Would love to see this in action!

  4. Gorgeous & Brilliant!

    I'm vaguely familiar with the kistka & its use for wax designs on eggs. Hats off to Maria for her wonderful intricate eggs & innovative thinking.

    Perhaps designs from Ukraine/Poland/region can be adapted to this medium.