Acid-Etching is a technique of decorating eggshells that is a more concentrated form of the normal pysanky batik (wax resist) process. When creating normal pysanky, an eggshell is dipped in a succession of acidic dyes and wax is applied between each dip to mark off areas of color that should be kept the color of the previous dye bath. In acid-etching, the egg is dipped in a strong acid in between wax coats, but the principle is the same. Acid changes the shell, priming it for depositing color in one case, removing the shell’s calcium and changing the color, structure, or texture, in the other case. Aniline dyes used in pysanky are simply weak acids; repeated dye baths often have a similar effect as weak acid baths, as shown in the below details.
Many different effects can be achieved with acid-etching, depending on whether the artist writing their egg begins with a brown eggshell or white, or one from a breed of bird that creates blue, green, or ivory-tinted shells. Acid-etching can be done on many different types of shells, including chicken, goose, and emu. Each has their own unique characteristics, including size, range of natural colors available, thickness of shell allowing for length of dips or number of dips, creating a plethora of finished effects depending on the creator’s goals.
Acid-etching can even be combined with dyework to create unique effects that have the most tactile elements of acid-etching with the vivid color-blocking associated with pysanky and batik eggshells. However, it is a process that is easy to mess up, if an artist leaves the egg in the acid too long, if the acid is too strong, if the acid is not neutralized on the shell once the shell is removed, or if the egg is subjected to vigorous rubbing such as removing wax before the calcium has had the chance to re-harden after being removed from the wax. It requires careful attention to timing, the visual cues of the eggshell’s degradation, the physical force of removing degraded eggshell to reveal the intact etch, and dozens of factors not commonly associated with the art of pysanky.
Acid-etching has always held a special place in Nolie’s heart. They love the symbolism of it: the principle of exposing an eggshell to a destructive force, and watching something beautiful take shape. For them, it is a metaphor for moving through the world as a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual violence. There is often a feeling of longing when surveying people in one’s life who have not endured such experiences, seeing a ease of self and an openness that is difficult to come by when one must seek healing, peace, the ability to forgive, in addition to the usual concerns of being a human, such as ambition, health, stability. But, if people are eggs, some people are content for their lives to create omelets, or hatch chicks, and for others, we create our beauty and value and resilience through the act of storytelling that emerges when we are immersed in acid, and forced into a kind of metamorphosis that no other type of egg endures. If we evaluate ourselves by the standard of chick-hatching, or omelet-frying, perhaps our pain and scars seem nonsensical and cruel, a sign of the world’s tendency toward meaningless violence. However, once you evaluate these scars according to the meaning we have created in them–intricate patterns, tactile sensations, complex shifts of color, open filigrees where the shell has been eaten away–a different picture entirely emerges, where our pain creates stories that we are not able to articulate cracked into a shallow pan, or incubating future-food chickens.
Nolie has found a tremendous sense of purpose in that idea, that so much of these pains and traumas that they seek to visualize through their work, so that others can see their own lives in Nolie’s art, are themselves a form of acid that is the very thing that enables Nolie to develop into someone who can see with clarity, and kindness, and to draw up surprising connections to help others feel seen, too.
If you are in the acid, too, it is Nolie’s wish that you will find hope in the resilience of this unique form of art. It’s awful to endure pain, but being able to choose to turn it into ways of communicating and being that showcase your best traits, is the ultimate form of power and agency. Stick around a while longer. Trust that the acid will be neutralized, and the you that you’re left with will be a you that can bring so many powerful tools to bear reaching out to others. Trust that even if there are more acid dips to go, and your etching is not yet finished, your shell is strong enough to take it. Even when the acid changes you, it won’t make you less beautiful. It won’t make you less yourself. It is simply showcasing different aspects of yourself.