Saturday, December 26, 2009

By the lake

At the end of most of our walks at Howarth Park, after Chloe has been forced to sit quietly while I draw at intervals along the way, we stop at one of two spots where ground squirrels hang out. This one is my favorite. They dance along the rocks and, on sunny days, will stare at us while we stare at them. Chloe sits entranced whether they're visible or not. Even when I see no sign of them, Chloe's nose waving wildly back and forth tell me that they're around.

The day I drew this it was just beginning to rain and the light was flat and gray. You can see the one ground squirrel, barely, on the highest rock, but she was gone quickly. Without the squirrels to distract me, I saw the rocks differently and admired the way the tree's exposed roots wound down the hill every which way. I had to rush to finish and didn't like the sketch and mostly forgot about it until a couple of days ago when I went back and tinkered with it to try to capture the mood of that day. Unsuccessfully. Today I dove in once more and think I got it.

Two trees and, if you look really close, some mushrooms

I've been trying to draw some Jack O'Lanterns (Omphalotus olivascens) for a week or so but it rained one day, then it was cold, I wasn't in the mood. On Christmas Day I waited until the sun had warmed things up a bit and went over to Howarth Park to do some sketching. The midday light lit the meadow leading into the dell where they're fruiting and I was utterly entranced by the silhouetted trees and the shadows they cast. I kept moving farther back to try to capture it and by the time I'd found a sweet spot, the mushrooms were relegated to the chorus while the trees sang their duet.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bleachy Mycena

These little mushrooms are sprouting in armies all over Howarth Park. If there are trees they're there. I've seen them in grassland, as well. If you walk off the path you're forced to step on some! If you pick one and sniff it smells like bleach, which makes identification a bit more likely than if there was no smell. They're fruiting on the ground, not on wood, so that narrows it down even further.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fallen warbler

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery was full of mushrooms today. I collected several to take home and sketch in my nice warm studio and was on my way out, trying not to look too carefully, so as not to find any more mushrooms that I HAD to take home, when I came upon a beautiful but dead Townsend's Warbler (Dendroica townsendi). I couldn't pass up an opportunity to sketch this lovely creature so when I got home I put all of the mushrooms in the refrigerator and set to work on the bird. Birds are much harder to draw than mushrooms! I managed to get one okay sketch after several that weren't even close to okay and decided to put the warbler in the freezer with the Junco from earlier this fall so that I can spend some time with both later, when I hope to be a bit more comfortable with watercolor.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tricholoma dryophilum

An oak-loving mushroom that I'm finding a lot of this season, mostly under coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Like a neon light

Another Cortinarius. Most of the corts I've run across, so far, are big hulking mushrooms, with thick, stubby stems, that hide under the leaves and forest debris. I usually find one by tripping over it or by a telltale lump on the forest floor. This brightly colored mushroom had pushed right through the duff and seemed to glow on a gray day. I could see it from quite a distance.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Lovely in lavender

I was lucky enough to find this Cortinarius before the spores turned the gills brown. Finding this intoxicating color under layers of decaying leaves and dirt and a rather plainly colored cap never fails to take my breath away.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Another Russula

Painting a drab, slimy, brown mushroom was kind of challenging. The slime dried up before I really got to it. I probably could have spritzed it and gotten some reconstituted slime but decided the debris stuck to the cap would be just as good. Once I was done painting, there was more fun to be had. Well, actually, I had to taste the (mildly spicy) cap and gills first, then it was fun. See the smoky smudging on the stem? That's what a graying Russula looks like. When I cut into the stem, it instantly turned bright red (upper right). Ten minutes later it was smoky gray. When I dissected the mushroom, the flesh looked like it was getting an instant sunburn (1). As I painted it began to turn light gray (2) and finally, dark gray (3). How cool is that?! Because of these color changes it might be R. densifolia. I couldn't get any spore print so will have to leave it at that, for now.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Russulas are here! The Russulas are here!

Okay, they've actually been here for a while but, suddenly, there seem to be several varieties and they're kind of everywhere in the woods where I walk. Russulas are a varied group, coming in all sorts of colors and flavors. Identifying Russulas requires
tasting the cap and gills which kind of grosses me out, but if it's mild tasting you have one group of Russulas and if it's peppery or acrid you have another. Some of them smell good, and some smell bad. Some of them turn black when bruised. Or gray. Or red. Or red then gray. Or red then black. Yikes! It's enough to make a mushroom hunter's head go spinning! The pretty pink Russulas in the picture on top are Russula maculata. They didn't have any noticeable smell and tasted mild. Their spores were a pretty buff orange color. I don't know what the dark red one is. It might be R. xerampelina or R. placita. Whatever it is, it's awfully pretty.

Pudding, fruit or mushroom?

Even though this mushroom is supposed to be quite common, I'd never seen it before, so when I spotted it tucked away in the woods I felt as though I'd found treasure. Tricholomopsis rutilans is it's official name, but it's commonly called Plums and Custard because of the creamy yellow gills and the plum colored scales on the cap and stem. This one had no scales on the stem, probably because it was an older mushroom. I was pleasantly surprised to see the white flesh of the stem and cap turn bright yellow around the edges when I cut it. I've found no mention of that in online descriptions.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Two for one

If I'd found this Cortinarius sp. earlier in it's short lifespan, the gills and, probably, the cap would have been lavender like the upper stalk. Alas, it's glory days are over and, yet, it's still very attractive. Many Cortinarius are notoriously hard to identify to species. This one is no exception and I'm no expert. Do you know it's name? I'd love to hear from you if you do.

This brightly colored mushroom, Hygrocybe persistens, is one of my very favorites, partly because it's the one that got me to notice that there were mushrooms everywhere in the forest during the fall and winter. I still can't imagine how it was that I never saw these, in all of my years of walking in the woods. They're fairly common and have some relatives that are also brightly colored and easily found...if you're looking. These mushrooms are viscid, or slimy. If it's rainy and wet, pulling one out of the earth can be a real challenge! By the way, the Cortinarius would have been viscid, too, when it first emerged. Debris stuck to the cap is usually a clue, even if the slime is dried up.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mushroom litter?

This mushroom is littering the woods and trail of Howarth Park right now. It's hard to walk in the park without tripping over one. It's name is Russula brevipes. What you see is pretty much what you get.

Friday, December 4, 2009

In a rocky place

Today I walked in the afternoon, rather than my usual time in the early morning, because it's been too cold to draw in the mornings! By the time I got to the park the sun was going down instead of coming up affording me the opportunity to see things that are usually hiding in the shadows when I walk. These rocks are so big and dramatic that I had, of course, noticed them before, but this was the first time they were lit by the sun, so I parked myself and drew them.

Lovely cortinarius

Perhaps I should temporarily change the name of my blog to "Mushroom A Day". Despite the fact that we've had a ridiculously small amount of rain this fall, mushrooms are everywhere at Howarth Park. Which means they're plentiful in my refrigerator. There's still a little space for food, but it's shrinking fast. I'm going to try to paint at least one mushroom every day. I see this as an opportunity to really work with the watercolors and try to get myself to stop being so afraid of those silly little pans of color!

Today's mushroom is Cortinarius glaucopus, identified by it's association with oak trees and the gently bulbous base (as opposed to abruptly bulbous). Corts, as they're fondly referred to, are among the most beautiful mushrooms. They're also quite variable in appearance. This one probably had a lavender cap when fresh. There were still a few hints of it when I found it. If I'd found it later, the cap would've been cinnamon brown. Cortinarius are named for the cobweb-like veil or cortina that turns brown as the spores are released from the gills. On the left side you can see where I held the stem and crushed the cortina.

In northern California corts like to hang out with oaks. They're perfectly happy to never see the light of day and I've been developing the ability to recognize the bumps in leaves and debris that signal a mushroom.

Mushroom Hobby

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Another little mushroom

This plain little mushroom caught my eye because it was pink and unfamiliar to me. I found it at the edge of a meadow with several others of it's kind. My backpack was already crammed with mushrooms in (unused) dog waste bags but I couldn't stop myself. Do you suppose there's a group for mushroom-collecting addicts?

Some clitocybes have interesting fragrances, so I was disappointed to find that this one just smelled like mushrooms at the grocery store. I did find out that it's not a good eating mushroom. According to Introduction to Mushrooms: "it produces a violent poisoning due to the presence of muscarine. In addition to vomiting and diarrhea and sharp abdominal pains, the victim will experience profuse sweating, uncontrolled salivation and tear formation. Their pupils will shrink so that the victim thinks they are going blind."

Well, gosh, doesn't that sound like fun?


Friday, November 27, 2009

Sneaky mushroom

This little mushroom is an Amanita phalloides, also known as the Death Cap. Although they're not native to North America, there are scads of them where I live in northern California.

Amanita phalloides are mycorrhizal, meaning that they grow in association with a plant. Both the plant and the fungus benefit from the relationship. A. phalloides appear to be especially enamored of oaks (Quercus sp.). No one knows for sure how they arrived in North America. Although they may have arrived on the shores of North America on imported cork oaks (Quercus suber) they're now found flourishing alongside our native oaks, especially live oaks.

I've seen and drawn many since I began noticing mushrooms three years ago. Until now, I couldn't imagine every mistaking A. phalloides for any other mushroom. This one fooled me, though. Those that I usually see are stocky, often quite large and have a metallic greenish-yellow cap with white veil remnants on them. This slender, delicate mushroom caught my eye and led me to believe that I'd found an Amanita I'd never seen before.

As I drove home, and mentally reviewed the mushroom's characteristics, I began to think that it might indeed be a Death Cap. When in doubt I always go to Mushroom Observer and that's where I confirmed the identification of this deadly little beauty.

Bay Area Mushrooms
David Arora, Mushrooms Demystified, Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 1986, pp. 269-270.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

At the cemetery

I had great plans to go out sketching this morning, but the sky was dark gray and it was spitting enough rain to make it hard to see out of my glasses so I gave up and came home. I had a bunch of things I should be doing and thought I could catch up on some of them. At noon the sky suddenly turned blue and everything was so perfectly beautiful that I tore myself away from cleaning the bathrooms and jetted off to Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery to do some sketching. For about half an hour the light was perfectly inspiring and I sat down and began to draw. Within 45 minutes the sun was low in the sky (at 2:45!) and I had to put my sweatshirt back on. Well, it was fun while it lasted. Still time to clean those bathrooms! Yippee!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What to draw on a rainy day?

When I'm out walking I often find and bring home things that I just know I have to draw. Then I never get around to drawing them because I find newer things the next day or I forget about the finds that I just had to have the day before. Consequently, I have little boxes and bowls and some plates full of found objects from out and about. So, on rainy days like today it's possible for me to draw something from outside while staying warm and dry. Perfect! Today's rainy day sketches were a Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii) leaf and acorn.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Not the prettiest kid in town

These are big, heavy, stumpy mushrooms. They're not so pretty and rather awkward and yet, I find them rather endearing. This one was fruiting with some buddies in an ordinary lawn with a coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) which happens to be one of the trees that this mushroom, Boletus amygdalinus, likes to spend time with. One of the many cool things about mushrooms is that some of them change color when bruised or cut. This one instantly turned deep blue. Tom Volk explains very nicely what makes boletes turn blue in an article about a different blueing bolete.

You might be wondering why I drew this mushroom upside down. Remember the big, heavy part? All attempts to keep it upright failed. It just kept tipping over. Without the earth to hold it upright this mushroom likes to stand on it's head.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Manzanita tree

Just the name of these trees is gorgeous. I like the latin name, too --- Arctostaphylos. Manzanitas have shiny burgundy colored bark that sheds in late summer, breaking into small curls that fall off or can be easily rubbed off. They're beautiful, small twisty trees. I've wanted to try to draw one for a while. I'd like to try again with color.

Friday, November 13, 2009


One of my favorite places to explore is the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, an easy walk from my house. There's a great deal of the history of this town there, beautiful gravestones and some very old and beautiful oaks. Because the oaks are there, some fabulous fungi fruit during the winter. This one is Amanita calyptrata...oops, now it's Amanita calyptroderma. It's said to be a choice edible. I haven't tried it, but do love to find and draw them. It's common name is Cocorra.

You can see photos at MushroomObserver but watch out! If you use the search engine you'll have to look under Amanita lanei, an earlier name for this mushroom. Sometime I'll have to write more about the naming of mushrooms. It's more dramatic than a soap opera.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tasty fern

There are ferns sprouting all over Howarth Park, now that we've had some rain. There are scads of them among the rocky places. Isn't it funny how you see something every day of your life without really seeing it and then, suddenly it's right there and you're smitten? That's what's happened to me. I've found four different kinds of ferns in the park and have been learning about these delicate and amazingly hard to draw plants. This is the most common one, Polypodium calirhiza. I was able to identify this fern by it's habitat and by the peppery, sharp taste of the rhizome, or underground stem. Ferns produce spores rather than seeds and it turns out that they have various ways of storing the spores until they're mature. That makes it easier to identify them, too. Polypodium spores are gathered in sporangia (spore cases, not surprisingly) which are then gathered into groups called sori. So each of those little ovals on the back of the leaflet is a sorus which is full of sporangia which is full of spores which, in this case, aren't yet mature. Apparently, when mature they'll be a different color. I look forward to seeing what color that'll be!

• Steve J. Grillos, Ferns and Fern Allies of California, University of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1966.

• Cofrin Center for Biodiversity, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Introduction to the Identification of Ferns.

• Cazadero Performing Arts Camp, Ferns.

• Byzantium, About Ferns.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mushrooms in the neighborhood

This great big beautiful Chlorophyllum brunneum was found standing tall and proud in a thicket of ivy underneath a spruce tree in my neighborhood, near the beginning of my walk. I was so covetous that I plucked it right then and there, which forced me to stroll about with a giant (14cm across the cap) mushroom clutched in one hand and my dog's leash in the other.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Among the eucalyptus

This morning I walked in Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, amazed at how green everything has become, seemingly overnight. A little more than a week ago the predominant colors were tan and dark gray. I'm always thrilled by the sudden transformation of the landscape here in northern California, when it starts to rain at the end of a long, dry summer.

Anyway, I noticed a spot of orange far away, in the stand of eucalyptus along a creek at the edge of the property. Whipping out my binoculars confirmed my suspicion that I'd stumbled upon a lovely specimen of Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus gilbertsonii). I decided this was a perfect opportunity to try out my adorable new travel watercolor set. Uh, well, it actually took an hour just to draw everything. All of that peeled eucalyptus bark can take a while to get down on paper! I had to be somewhere so I left, hoping I could make it back later in the day, which I did. Luckily there was cloud cover all day, so the light was unchanged when I returned at the end of the day. Painting in the field isn't so easy, I found. It didn't help that Daylight Savings had begun, and it was growing dark as I painted. I worked a bit more on the sketch after I got home.

Laetiporus gilbetsonii fruits on decaying wood and will reappear each year. Although I've never tried eating it, some people find it quite tasty while others get an upset tummy. The upset stomach may be due to eating older mushrooms, or mushrooms that haven't been thoroughly cooked. I love finding this mushroom. On a gray, dreary day, it's bright color just makes me smile!

Oh, the white blob on the left is last year's fruiting and the white "bloom" at the bottom of the new fruiting is white spores.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

They're melting!

This mushroom (Coprinopsis lagopus) emerges from the ground and releases it's spores in less than a day. It belongs to a group of mushrooms called Inky Caps because it eats itself as it releases those spores, creating an inky black substance that was once actually used as ink, so I've heard. Once it's done, all you're likely to find is a nice white stem and a blob of black goop. Cornell Mushroom Blog has a wonderful time lapse video of the whole process along with a detailed description of how and why Inky Caps digest themselves. The drawing above is of a group of Inky babies, which emerge looking a bit like grounded pussy willow catkins. As the cap opens the fuzz usually flakes off. I find these mushrooms fruiting in piles of wood chips at Howarth Park, created a couple of years ago when several stands of trees, near the park borders, were thinned, and turned into mulch which was left behind.

I think Coprinus lagopus is a lovely mushroom. I tried to bring a couple of the mature, but not yet deliquesced (melted) mushrooms home to draw, but within an hour they had changed from ethereal beauty to black goop so I've included a photo I took three years ago. At the bottom center of the photo you can see one of the mushrooms that's already turned to goo.

Cornell Mushroom Blog, The Dish on Deliquescence, Jonathan Landsman, July 1, 2008

Monday, November 2, 2009

Slime mold and wolf spiders aha!

Still no rain here so the fungi are scarce. Most of what I find are fruiting on wood and last week I found several groups of a slime mold that I'd never seen before. I thought it might be Stemonitis sp. but was informed on MushroomObserver that it's called Arcyria nutans.

One of the groups was along a trail at Howarth Park in Santa Rosa CA on an old, fallen branch that was well-decayed, which appears to be where Arcyria nutans like to hang out. I stopped to admire them and found two wolf spider den openings just below.

When I first began looking for mushrooms, I found many of these at the bases of trees. Most were under Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and incorporated needles from the tree, as well as silk and debris from the immediate area. One was near madrone and was made of mud and about a half inch tall.

I had no idea who was making these fascinating little doorways. Searches on Google for "cunning hole in ground" didn't yield much and I stopped looking, knowing that one day, when I least expected it, the answer would come to me. And it did, two years later when I was trying to identify another spider and came across a picture that looked nearly identical to the holes I was finding and which also pictured a wolf spider.

Today while I was drawing, a spider lurked in the doorway, obviously waiting for me to disappear. I could see legs while I drew and every now and then she'd jet out the door only to do a complicated twist when she saw that I was still in the neighborhood and pop back down the hole.

I ran out of time to draw the Arcyria but plan to go back tomorrow or the next day and finish the drawing.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Today I began my walk at Howarth Park later than usual. I'm always amazed at how an hour or so can completely change the look of the park. These ferns (I don't yet know what they're called) are sprouting in large groups everywhere. I began by trying to draw a group of them nestled among some mossy rocks and backlit by the sun, but found myself mesmerized by the detailed structure of the leaves, so I gave up on the group and allowed myself to utterly dwell on the details of one individual. Oh what fun that was!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sad and wonderful all at once

Yesterday my husband came home from his morning walk and said he had a surprise for me. Some guys will give you flowers, or chocolate, but mine brought me a recently deceased Junco hyemalis of the Oregon species, female, I believe, because her hood was dull brown rather than the natty jet black of the males.

Last spring I found a recently deceased Cedar Waxwing and brought it home to draw but got squeamish when it came time to do the deed. It seemed creepy to be staring at that poor, dead bird and I gave up. This summer and fall I've been drawing more wildlife out in the field, mostly through binoculars, and have come to appreciate the gift of an animal or bird that will hold still while you draw it up close. This time I was rock-steady and able to appreciate the chance to closely examine a beautiful creature.

I found her feet really fascinating and tried to do a more detailed sketch of one. Each toe has little pads on the underside. Our fingers have padding built in but these are little extensions to the otherwise twig-like toes. And I was amazed at the length of those claws. Interestingly, underneath the white and tan feathers on her breast are jet-black feathers. You can see then poking through in the center of her breast.

I hope to get a chance to do a color study tomorrow.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Woodpecker granary

After two days of unrelenting sunshine, today was foggy and cooler. The sky was a pleasant gray, easy on the eyes. I wandered about, not sure what I was in the mood to draw when I heard some Acorn woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus). I found them stuffing acorns into what looked like a million holes in this phone pole. I love the way California buckeye (Aesculus californica)looks when the leaves have dropped and the nuts are still on the trees, looking like rough green Christmas tree ornaments. Well, I pretty much love California buckeye in all it's seasonal forms.

Halfway through the drawing I was attacked by a yellow jacket. This is an ongoing problem for me that started three years ago. They go for my head and, apparently, get tangled in my really short hair. Usually I'm moving and in the woods and it's only one individual coming after me. Usually, since the first attack, I'm wearing a hat. Today I wasn't and got stung many times before I prevailed and a dead yellow jacket fell from my head to the ground. Wow! That hurt. And left me with all of these questions about why yellow jackets would want to dive into my hair at high speed. What's that all about? All I could find out was that they're aggressive, duh, and will go after people who disturb their nest. But I'd been sitting on the same rock for half an hour. I also found out I was lucky because if you murder a yellow jacket they exude some kind of pheromone that alerts the rest of the gang that they've been killed, so they'll come after you with vengeance on their insect brains. I guess my attacker was far from home. Anyway, I'm thinking I won't be forgetting my hat again, anytime soon.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Urban" sketching

I've been following Urban Sketchers and being inspired by all the great sketches of civilization. I decided to try my hand at a more urban setting. Greg and Chloe and I went to Railroad Square in downtown Santa Rosa CA. Our first stop was for fuel at Flying Goat Coffee. Then we walked around while I looked for inspiration. I couldn't find anything I wanted to draw. There were some nice buildings but I wasn't inspired. Then Greg suggested we go over to Prince Memorial Greenway along Santa Rosa Creek. We entered at Olive Street and were amazed by how un-urban looking it's become in the few years since we'd been there before. There's a big hotel behind me and an old city neighborhood behind the trees. Greg and Chloe went exploring while I did a sketch. Well, it is in the middle of downtown so that makes it urban, right?

A bit obsessed

I didn't much like the painting I did Thursday of this earthstar. Today I had more time and better light so I tried again and am a bit happier with the result.

Although it's still humid here the earthstar had closed up quite a bit when I fetched it to draw. The outer covering of an earthstar expands when moisture is present and contracts when it's dry. In the past I've been able to spritz other earthstars I've found during dry times and getting them to open up as though it was raining. This one was mostly uncooperative. It opened up a tiny bit, briefly. It's the first Astraeus pteridis I've had to play with so that might be why. Or it might be because it's younger and hasn't reached full maturity yet.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It lives!!!!

This is the same earthstar (Astraeus pteridis) I drew Saturday. I called it Astraeus hygrometricus but I was wrong. It's 6cm wide and growing, so I think it's more likely to be A. pteridis.

I got clever and put it outside while it rained two days ago and then again today. Late this morning it finally broke open and it stopped raining so I was able to sit outside and draw it. It's not supposed to rain for a while, now. I might try spritzing it to get it to open full out. These fungi are just amazing, I think. It'll open like a star to expose the spore sac (which has already opened) to rain drops, which will fall on the sac and cause the spores to puff out. My favorite part is that it'll push up on the points of the star rays to maximize distribution of the spores. One of my favorite winter sights is an earthstar up on it's tippy toes, trying to send it's spores out into the world.

If you'd like to know more about earthstars check out Tom Volk's article and movie of an earthstar opening up.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Can't seem to stay away

Yesterday it rained like crazy. Apparently, it was the most rain in October in 47 years. It was a wild and wonderful storm. Today, Howarth Park was utterly changed. The moss had all come alive and was greener than green. The red dust that covers everything at the end of summer was gone. I was curious to see how the Laetiporus gilbertsonii fared during the storm. It was pretty soggy on top and covered with moisture droplets below. It's grown 2.7 cm in two days. I did the coloring after I got home, using my new travel watercolor set that's only a bit bigger than my cell phone. I also tried using brushes that come with their own water reservoir but was disappointed because they just kept spitting out water, making it hard to get very strong color. Photoshop helped me add some color when I scanned the image. Do you use those brushes? How do you keep them from diluting your color? They're a great idea, if only I could get them to work. Help me, please!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Back to the fungus

Today I just had to go back and spend some more time with the Laetiporus gilbertsonii that I found yesterday. I went in the early morning and found that it had already grown 1.3cm wider than it was yesterday. I don't think I caught the color well at all. Tomorrow it's supposed to be raining hard but maybe on Wednesday or Thursday I can try again and capture it better.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I love surprises!

I went to Howarth Park in the late afternoon, an unusual time for me. Chloe (the serious looking dog below), my walking buddy went with me, as always. It was a cold, gray day which meant that the trails were empty, allowing me to make believe that it was my own private park. My favorite time to be in the park is winter, partly because there are fewer people around. I like to check up on places I've been before, which is easy in such a smallpark. I went to the tree I drew last Sunday and found a lovely Laetiporus gilbertsonii squishing itself out of a hole in the tree, a black oak (Quercus kelloggii). These usually fruit in late summer or early fall but this year the few that did dried right up in the unseasonable warm weather, so this was a welcome surprise for me. Not so much for Chloe who isn't as big a fan of mushroom season as I am.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

In the neighborhood

Where I live, the first mushrooms appear in civilization, specifically in the parts of town where people still water their lawns every night. As someone who's serious about the environment, I'm not a big fan of this practice. As someone who likes to find mushrooms I admit to some conflict. That said, I found a lovely little troop of Agaricus xanthodermus. Although A. xanthodermus and A. californicus can be found in the same places, I'm pretty sure of my ID because the base of the stipe bruised bright yellow when cut, as did the cap margins. It had a phenolic smell. I wondered what that was during my first year learning to identify mushrooms, then found out that it's the smell of the paste we used when I was a child. David Arora describes it as a terrible smell but it brings back fond memories for me, not the least because I liked the way it tasted as much as I liked the smell.

That brown blob on the right is one of my favorite fungi, an Earthstar (Astraeus hygrometricus), but it's young and hasn't unfurled to it's full glory yet. Or any glory. I found it at the edge of an alley underneath an old Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia). I'm hoping to convince it to open up here in my studio so I can draw it as it does so.

Friday, October 9, 2009

I meant to draw a landscape...

...but, while wandering among the woods, I found a lovely Inonotus hispidus that was at eye level and decided to draw it and use color for a change. Later, I went to where the Acorn woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) hang out and did a few sketches of them.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fruiting fungus party!

This fungus (Inonotus hispidus) is pretty common this time of year at Howarth Park. However, this is the first time I've seen more than one fruiting body per year, per tree. There were several remnants of previous fruitings on this black oak (quercus kelloggii). I frequently walk by this place but never noticed them until today. I walked a bit later than usual and the sky was gray, causing warm colors like this to brighten and stand out. I like the spores covering the bark under and around the fungi.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Drawing moving animals is a lot different from drawing trees and plants. I've been working on it for about a month. I started with California ground squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi) because they're plentiful and easy to find at Howarth Park. There are some colonies in areas with a lot of human traffic so they're not as shy and will often stand and stare right back at me while I draw, holding perfectly still. Sometimes, they seem to almost get used to me sitting there with binoculars and drawing stuff. Then I get up to leave and my model begins shrieking at me for being such a nuisance.

I've just added Acorn woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) to my repertoire. I found a group of them filling hundreds of pre-drilled holes with acorns, in a dead tree. They work for a while, then take off. Then they come back and work some more.

Drawing through binoculars takes some getting used to and I'm relearning gesture drawing, something I haven't done since I was in college and going to figure drawing classes. Hmmm.

Ah, inking again!

Now that I'm more comfortable going out and sketching I thought I'd experiment with turning one of my sketches into a more developed image. Today it's brush and ink. Here's the sketch I'm working from.