Thursday, February 4, 2010

The first mushroom I ever loved

Several years ago my husband and I bought our first digital camera. It had a whopping 3.2 megapixels and I started carrying it with me when I walked at Howarth Park. I hadn't really figured out what to photograph or how. One morning the sun was shining after a day of rain. The woods were breathtakingly beautiful and I walked more slowly than usual. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something bright orange. Moving closer to see what it was I discovered a slimy, shiny bright orange yellow mushroom pushing up through the leaf litter. I discovered that these mushrooms were scattered throughout the woods and began snapping pictures. Every mushroom entranced me. It was love at first sight.

I'm still amazed to think that I walked those trails (and other trails in other places) for ten or fifteen years and never noticed one mushroom before that day. At first I took pictures. I got a camera with a few more megapixels and I learned to take notes to help with identification. The notes began to include schematic sketches and, in time, the camera stayed at home and I found myself sitting or laying on the ground sketching mushrooms in the woods. It had been a long time since I'd had that kind of fun drawing anything and the honeymoon isn't over yet!

I still feel great fondness for the mushroom that I eventually learned to call Hygrocybe nigrescens. Surprisingly, the bright orange color wasn't enough to identify the mushroom. Was the stem slimy or dry? What kind of trees were in the area around it? Did the stem and/or cap blacken when bruised? This particular mushroom had already begun to blacken when I found it and it was fruiting among oak trees. The stem or stipe was dry. If it survives the rain of the next few days, it'll eventually turn completely black.
I wanted to try painting it without inking the outlines first. I began the painting and then lost faith in it, so I put it aside and quickly drew it in black and white. When I got home I took out the first painting and felt remorse that I'd stopped, because time and some distance gave me the ability to really see it and I liked what I saw. I colored the ink drawing but hope to get a chance to try, once again, to paint a mushroom in situ and let the paint tell the story without help from lines.


  1. Your essay makes the drawing especially special. It reminds me of the first dragonfly we photographed about 5 years ago .... and about 5000 dragonfly images ago!

    I'm so impressed at allthe mushrooms you find close to home!

  2. Thank you Elva! Wow! 5000 dragonfly photos! That's a lot of dragonflies in a short time!

    I like your new profile picture!