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…
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).
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.
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.
Don’t spray from too close or too much!
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.