I've spent the last month seeking out, studying, drawing, and painting as many mushrooms as I can find. In the process, the fungi world has earned my respect with its amazing variety, beautiful adaptability, and mysterious workings.
I've learned a lot, so I thought I would share several of my nature journal pages along with my process of drawing and painting mushrooms. I hope this encourages you to discover new worlds also!
Mushrooms seemingly spring up overnight and disappear by the next sunrise, aptly fitting the axiom, “Here today, gone tomorrow!” I would rarely have more than a day to study a species. Most often, I had but a few hours before the mushroom would drastically change or start decaying. I learned to sketch quickly!
Even though time is of the essence, there is much to study. And when drawing mushrooms, it’s extremely important to observe each species well.
To succeed in nature journaling and field sketching, one of the first hurdles to overcome is to draw exactly what is seen and not what one thinks is there.
My first faulty assumption was that all mushrooms had gills. Not so! Another misassumption was that a single specimen wouldn’t change color or shape. Definitely not so! Sometimes simply touching a mushroom can drastically alter its color, and what was an ovate cap early in the morning can be bell-shaped by lunchtime.
Since I’ve previously written about mushroom identification and field study, there's no need to say any more about that here. Today, I’ll simply share a bit of my mushroom sketching strategies, and since these same processes are how I sketch a variety of subjects, maybe it will help you also.
I'm not a stickler for en plein air sketching. I think sketching and painting on location can be extremely important, but not always. Like most folks, I often have limited time to hang out in the woods perfecting a painting. I also live in a very humid, windy, bug-infested climate. Enough said.
I’ve learned the hard way (see this post) that what IS important is taking good field notes. I often do a quick field sketch, writing down everything I can observe and measure, and then take a couple of photos. At that point, I feel comfortable moving on, if needed.
If I wasn't able to finish, as soon as possible and while things are fresh in my memory, I often redraw and/or paint right on top of my field sketches and rewrite my notes, cleaning things up as I go.
In the examples above. I did light pencil work and detailed notes in the field. As soon as I got home, I went over everything with pen and then added watercolor. Going over everything twice really helps me learn and remember!
At this point, I may also search for identification help and additional reference photos, if needed. I've noticed that the more time I spend drawing, painting, journaling and jotting notes, the more I learn about and appreciate the world around me.
I'll often completely repaint my field sketches at home albeit in a more pleasing manner. I always work closely from my original notes and photos. As much as possible, I try to not add additional information but keep true to my field notes and studies. Like in the example above, I’ll often paste or tape any original notes beside the more carefully rendered sketches.
However, sometimes it’s fun to let loose with the paint and make it pretty! After all, I’m not doing scientific drawings for a published journal; I’m doing this for my own education and enjoyment.
Recently when my daughter and I were out together, we happened upon an extraordinary cluster of mushrooms. At the time, a thunderstorm was moving in, the mosquitoes were swarming, and we were desperately trying to find a path that would get us close enough to identify a large bird before it flew away. There was no time to stop and sketch.
My daughter patiently waited as I quickly snapped a few photos and took one measurement, and then we resumed our mission. I went back the next day, but the mushrooms were gone. And that's okay. Because sometimes life is like that.
I recognize that these sudden and fleeting glimpses of profoundly glorious things— these solitary, splendid moments of magnificence— are gifts.
Gifts aren't always meant to be measured, prodded, weighed, and examined but simply enjoyed. I want to remember and document these gifts even if I wasn't allowed to fully explore them. Regardless of not being able to study these mushrooms further, I had a wonderful time painting what I did see. (However, if these mushrooms decide to spring up again, I've left room in my sketchbook for further notes!)
As you can see in the example above, I don't always move from pencil to pen to watercolor. After lightly sketching in pencil, I will often add pen or move straight to watercolor. Or I may paint for a bit and then add pen. Or I may work solely in watercolor.
How I move through a sketch or painting depends on what my goals are. Drawing and painting mushrooms was an exploratory and educational experience for me. Since my main priorities were to capture shape and details and to take accurate notes, I worked mainly in pencil and pen. With the exception of only a few sketches, watercolor was more of an afterthought and used only as a representation of color.
I enjoyed the looseness and quickness of the sketches, and I met my main goal: I learned a lot about fungi. However, I'm thankful that the learning is never over! Below are more mushroom sketches from this month, completed both in and off of the field. Now I'm off to discover more!