In one short evening last November, Elaine Dudley became a Washington classic.

She had spent the previous two years as an odd-jobber in the Capital Hill office of a Florida congressman. But he neglected to notice that a challenger was creeping up on him. He noticed in a big way on Election Night.

Thus, that noise you might have heard was Elaine Dudley, landing with a thunk. She had a lease on a Southwest Washington apartment, a season's ticket to the ballet-and after January, no job.

In deference to the spirit of Easter, we will leave aside any remarks about Elaine Dudley's resurrection. Let us say isntead that she always had a hobby, and now its time has come.

Since January, Dudley has been stocking up on paint, having business cards printed, practicing her technique and soothing friends who paint out that an artist starves approximately once an hour.

As of next month, she's officially in business. Her company: Firebird Enterprises. Her speciality: hand-painting those wonderfully decorative, intricately patterned Ukrainian Easter eggs.

Dudley does not relish the hassies that will come with having to incorporate, and find an accountant, and hustle up orders. Nor will she love the feeling that she has to "do" eight eggs a day. In the past, her eggs had been therapy. Now, they're survival.

"I'm very confident," she says, "whenever I'm not in a sheer panic."

In slightly perverse why, Dudley looks forward to the careful skulking she will have to do through the egg departments of Wahsington groceries. She loves the wow-look-at-that-weirdo stares she already gets from stockboys as she opens carton after carton, looking for perfectly smooth specimens. "They must think I'm half-crazed by cholesterol," she says.

But most of all, Dudley is looking forward to more of what has started to become a routine-sitting at the work bench in her small apartment, with classical music on the stereo, an ostrich egg in one hand and a tiny painting needle (called a kistka) in the other.

"I wondered whether I'd go crazy doing this eight hours a day, but I haven't," Dudley said. "There's nothing I like better."

Dudley, who is 24, blonde and striking, comes by her Ukrainian Easter egg skill improbably, yet honestly.

Because she is of Danish and English extraction, Dudley was obviously never taken under the wing of a doting Ukrainian grandmother. But she was always artistic, and when she noticed photos of Ukrainian eggs in a Russian textbook during her undergraduate days at the University of Alabama, she decided to try to make some as gifts for her family.

On and off, she has kept it up, branching beyond the traditional red and black colors, and far beyond the traditional chicken egg. These days, it is nothing for Dudley to "do" a quail's egg in azure, or parakeet's in pink. After seven years of practicing an art where one mistake means the end of the line, Dudley, if she does say so herself has gotten pretty good.

Evidence? Well, instant, gooey disaster is the obvious occupational hazard of egging-and Dudley claims nto to crack too many any more.

Nor, she says, does she make many more "rookie mistakes"-like boiling an egg first (a raw shell accepts dye much better) or trying to "do" an egg that's still an egg (Dudley blows the yolk arid albumin out of almost all fo hers now).

But most persuasive of all, Elaine Dudley has sold her finished products.

She works as an usher at the Kennedy Center five nights a week, and as a result has gotten to meet most of the show casts. All it took was one order for one egg bearing Dracula's spooky face. It was soon followed by one that showed the entire Chorus Line-and Dudley's reputation was en route to becoming golden.

The craft she is practicing has a golden, and thoroughly mystical, history.

Ukrainian Easter eggs, or pysanky, were first concocted in primeval days. Whole bodies of mythology sprung up around them.

Farmers believed that burying a pysanka in their fields would assure a bountiful harvest. Unmarried Ukrrainian girls believed that the way to make Mr. Right pay attention was to hand him an especially colorful pysanka. And all Ukrainians believed that, if you hollowed out the end of an egg, you would ward off evil.

Futhermore, the actual decoration of the eggs was swathed in ritual. "Only women are allowed to do it, and no one could watch," Dudley explained. "It must have been a very spiritual experience. For me, it still is. I sometimes get so wound up I almost stop breathing. But you have to conscentrate, don't you?"

Apparently so, since Ukranian eggs are never made with decals, or rulers, or anything except two eyes and two steady hands.

"It'll never be systematized, and that's the charm of it," Dudley says. "You learn to incorporate mistakes. If a line goes the wrong way, all of a sudden it becomes part of the pattern."

Because most U.S. Ukrainians live in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, their eggs are relatively rare in the Washington area. Dudley is ever so aware of this, and hopes to capitilize. Her prices start at $10 to $15 for a chicken egg and end at $250 for an ostrich egg the size of a softball. "One good ostrich order, and I'll be off and running," she said.

And if it doesn't work out?"I can always go back to office work," she said. But her eyes silently say the opposite. These days, her cluttered workbench does, too. CAPTION: Picture, Elaine Dudley hand-paints decorative Ukrainian Easter eggs: "It'll never be systematized, and that's the charm of it." By Craig Herndon-The Washington Post