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Monday, October 27, 2014

Drawing mushrooms

The schedule for our weekend mycology camp included a session Friday evening entitled “Drawing Mushrooms.”

For me, “drawing” falls into the category of “things I am not good at.” I haven’t picked up a pencil and tried to draw since the 5th grade. I remember sitting uncomfortably in art class, fingers feeling stiff and uncooperative, unused to holding chalk or crayon, charcoal or water colors. Furthermore, I sat next to Ron Bustamante whose pencil drawing of a Log Cabin Maple Syrup bottle  captured the three dimensional volume with intricate shadows and contours of its multifaceted sides - while my rendition of the same object was flat and distorted. Ron could also reveal a classmate’s face and within minutes you knew exactly who it was. My attempts at drawing the human form rarely advanced beyond geometric forms representing general body proportions: a circle for a head, trapezoid for a torso, rectangles for arms and legs.

I knew then that I had no talent. So why bother? And I have rarely tried drawing since.

Friday’s assignment: Stop and pick up a mushroom specimen to bring with you to camp. Taking a detour to check out a waterfall off of Highway 101, I spotted a clump of small, bright, yellow/orange mushrooms clinging to dead branches near the trail. I was captivated by their color and form. These look simple enough to draw - even for me.

I wasn’t very enthusiastic about being reminded of my weakness in the drawing department, but had nothing better to do on Friday evening. So I joined about 40 of my cohorts at long tables. I put the clump of mushrooms down on my sheet of drawing paper, ready to begin, when the instructor came by and recommended that I draw just one of the mushrooms. The whole clump, while more interesting, would be too difficult she counseled.

As I pulled one mushroom away from the clump, a little brown twig came away with it and fell onto the white paper. After a minute or two, the “twig” came alive and began to move – standing up on tiny hind legs as if looking around at its surroundings. It then put its “head” down and crept forward on three sets of skinny legs at one end of its body. It surprised me by drawing its diminutive body up into an arch and then extending forward. I was captivated. "Oh, it’s just an inchworm, nothing special" my neighbor said. I gently tried to move it to the side so that I could proceed with my drawing when it  immediately stiffened up, inert. Did I kill it? But no, after “playing dead” for a minute, it came alive again and continued its exploration of my drawing paper.

In the meantime, my drawing started to take shape as I started with rudimentary rectangles to outline the proportions of the mushroom.  I had to look really closely: What were the proportions of the cap to the stem? Was the stipe (stem) long or short; skinny, or fat and bulbous? And the cap – is it rounded or pointed or convex, slimy to the touch or even fuzzy? There is tremendous variation in gills when you look closely. What color are they? Are they flat like blades or spongy or tooth-like? Does the mushroom have spots or scales, warts, cups, or veils? I began to understand the meaning of the exercise; not as art, but as practice in discernment. 

I became absorbed in my mushroom drawing, trying not to look at my neighbor’s image which had much more complex volume and color than mine. I am still aware of my limitations as an artist, but it did help my powers of observation and identification. Hypholoma fasciculare - it’s a poisonous mushroom! I’ll remember it the next time I see it in the woods.
And my little inchworm? One moment he (or she?) was happily eating his way through a tasty mushroom dinner when he was suddenly kidnapped - awaking to find himself under a blinding white interrogation light and repeatedly knocked about by an enormous giant. . . .

I finally had pity on him and released him back into the wild beyond the cabin back door. I tried to find a welcoming mushroom home for him, but fear that it will take him a very long time to travel the twenty miles back to his home and family - one inch at a time. :-( My only hope is that he will find enough to eat so that he can spend the winter in a warm cocoon - ready to fly back home next summer on his new fuzzy moth wings. 

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