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Making Mycological Masterpieces

Identifying mushrooms can be a lot of fun, but it can also leave you with beautiful artwork. Today I would like to tell you about the mycologist’s art: spore prints.

When identifying mushrooms, one of the key features is spore color. The spores of a mushroom are its reproduction unit, think of a plant seed if you will. The spores are produced along the gills (or pores, or teeth, or in mucous sheaths) but for today we will only worry about gills. With that in mind you may think, “Well if I look at the gills, that will tell me the spore color.” However, if you did think that, you could very well be wrong. The spore prints I made for today are from some Meadow Mushrooms, which have brown gills and brown spores; but also from Green Spored Parasol Mushrooms, which have white gills and green spores. You can look as closely as you want, but without collecting the spores themselves, you will not be able to identify some mushrooms… And if you happen to be interested in eating them, that is pretty dang important if you wish to remain healthy.

The most common way to collect spores is by creating what is known as a spore print. This is done by placing a cap from a mushroom on a flat surface and letting the spores fall on their own. As the spores fall onto the paper, they slowly stack up underneath the gills they fall from, creating a print of the mushroom’s underneath in spores. And this spore print will be the color of those unseen spores.

But before you can make a spore print, you have to collect a mushroom. Luckily, I happen to know where some are, be right back…

A bunch of Meadow Mushrooms.

A bunch of Meadow Mushrooms.

A Green Spored Parasol

A Green Spored Parasol

Another Green Spored Parasol

Another Green Spored Parasol

Collect your specimen.

Collect your specimen.

Alright, lets go make some spore prints!

First gather your materials: The mushroom(s) in question, a piece of paper (or in this case canvas), something to cover the mushroom with so that wind stays off, and a fixative (Nothing work better than good ol’ Aqua Net).

Supplies: Mushroom, canvas, cover, fixative.

Supplies: Mushroom, canvas, cover, fixative.

Place your cap flatly on the canvas.

Place your cap flatly on the canvas.

Cover up the specimen to keep air current away.

Cover up the specimen to keep air current away.

Try to keep as much air from getting to the mushroom cap as possible.

Try to keep as much air from getting to the mushroom cap as possible.

In this last image you can see one of the mushroom caps under glass. I did that for you. The cap under glass allowed me to take a couple of pictures from the side so you can see the print developing. This did leave the slightest crack under the cover, which allowed air underneath. This combined with the convex shape of the meadow mushroom caps caused a certain amount of drifting spores. But that is ok! When you make a spore print for art, you can play with air currents to get all kinds of interesting shapes as the spores drift in whatever direction the wind carries them. You will see in the final product that the meadow mushroom spore prints I made look faintly like a bird and a fish (not on purpose, that’s just how the spores landed). But back to the pictures: these next few pictures are of the cap under glass, while the rest are hidden beneath their turkey pan covers.

I put this cap under a clear cover to show the process.

I put this cap under a clear cover to show the process.

Mushroom cap under glass, at the beginning.

Mushroom cap under glass, at the beginning.

The glass covered mushroom after 2 hours.

The glass covered mushroom after 2 hours.

And finally after 8 hours under glass.

And finally after 8 hours under glass.

You will leave your mushroom specimen on the canvas for several hours; I try to leave them for at least 8, and often up to 24 hours to ensure a strong print. After that its time to take the lid off.

Lift up the cover and your mushroom cap to reveal a spore print!

Lift up the cover and your mushroom cap to reveal a spore print!

Sometimes you get bugs or debris you missed when you first put the mushroom down, tidy those up carefully.

Sometimes you get bugs or debris you missed when you first put the mushroom down, tidy those up carefully.

Spray your fixative from a long distance. Remember, spores are tiny and very light; they can get blown away very easily.

Spray your fixative from a long distance. Remember, spores are tiny and very light; they can get blown away very easily.

Don’t spray from too close or too much!

See what happens when you over spray!?!? :-(

See what happens when you over spray!? 🙁

After you fix the spore prints to canvas with a gentle spray of your hairspray fixative, you can later go back with a more permanent gloss or sealer to finalize your new art collection.

All the spore prints for this run.

All the spore prints for this run.

The spore print and its owner.

The spore print and its owner.

A green Spored Parasol and its print

A green Spored Parasol and its print

Spore prints of meadow mushrooms, caught in an air drift.

Spore prints of meadow mushrooms, caught in an air drift.

Perhaps my favorite thing about spore prints is that when done well, you get a reflection of the gills themselves, laid gently upon the page.

Perhaps my favorite thing about spore prints is that when done well, you get a reflection of the gills themselves, laid gently upon the page.

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Chris T.

Chris T.

Chris is a microbiologist with a passion for nature. He has a degree in Natural History and spends his time taking pictures of mushrooms, riding his bike, painting, and watching tv.

5 Comments

  1. September 3, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    OMG this is SO beautiful!!!!

  2. September 3, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Thank you! 🙂 I am thinking about buying a big canvas and next year making a whole years worth of prints in one piece.

  3. September 3, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    So neat! Love the smokey look of the air drift prints.

  4. September 3, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    Thank you!
    Yeah. As the distance from the cap increases they have more of a chance to drift wherever they want, so you can get all sorts of wispy patterns. You could also get a pattern by tilting the canvas for a little bit and letting gravity drop the spores at an angle… Maybe even rotating it every now and then to see what happens (you could also direct light air currents from different directions to “force” a drift pattern).

  5. September 29, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Very cool!

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