I have a fondness for mushrooms. Not to eat them, but instead to look at them both in nature and in artwork. The fly agaric mushroom is especially captivating to me because of its bright red color and white spots that look like little pieces of popcorn stuck to the surface. Richy Coelho, a fellow artist on YouTube, did a painting of a fly agaric mushroom and I just loved it. In fact, I liked it so much that it inspired me to create the artwork that I will be sharing with you in this blog.
Watch a time lapse video on YouTube of the artwork being created by clicking on the icon to the left.
As I said, Richy has a YouTube channel, where he showcases his artwork. Mostly he does pyrography artwork and he has been posting tutorials that are very informative. I recommend checking out Richy’s youtube channel. Here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUISS_MsvzUYeymQNZDcA-A
What really amazes me about Richy is what an accomplished painter he is.
This is Richy’s watercolor painting of the fly agaric mushroom that inspired me. I just love the color and detail he got on this painting.
This link will take you to his video showcasing the mushroom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLtIJin3P4M&t=2s
I went searching the internet for a picture that called to me. When I found this picture on Pixabay I knew I had found the perfect reference photo. I loved the color and how the background was out of focus. The photo was uploaded by user Steffiheufelder. Here’s the link to the photo I used. https://pixabay.com/en/fly-agaric-mushroom-autumn-1006896/
I printed the photo on regular copier paper and used that to trace the basic elements onto the wood. Then I started burning in my trace lines. I used a shader on the background to keep the lines a little blurry or less sharp.
For the mushroom I used a writer pen tip as I wanted crisp and clearly defined lines on it.
Then I started blocking in the dark underside of the large mushroom cap. I wasn’t trying to get the color level perfect or include all of the details at this point.
I also burned in a few of the shadows under the flaps of skin on the mushroom stalk.
Continued work on the stalk.
Then I started burning in the background. What I’m doing is trying to determine what tonal values the different areas need to be.
The mushroom stalk has a cast shadow from the mushroom cap, but the overall darkness level needs to be lighter than the cap. Also, the stalk needs to be dark enough to stand out from the background.
The stalk in the reference photo stands out very plainly from the background. Replicating that means I have to assign a tonal value to the background that allows it to be seen, but I also need to keep it pale enough that the stalk stands out. Plus I also need to make sure that the stalk remains paler than the mushroom cap.
I bounced back and forth between the background and the stalk while I worked on achieving the right tonal values for each item.
Working on the cast shadows under the skin flaps on the stalk. You know, I have absolutely no idea if that’s what they are called, but that’s what I’m calling them.
Another thing I want to point out, as I have numerous times, is the need to keep the pen tip in optimal position when burning along edges of an object. This is what keeps the edges clearly defined.
Along the lower edge of the mushroom cap are lots of lots of tiny white spots. They were too small for my shader to burn around, so I switched to a writer pen tip to work in the area.
I also used the writer pen tip to draw (burn) in gills on the underside of the cap. The gills were tough to see in the reference photo, but zoom in far enough and you can see them.
With the gills along the front of the cap defined, I’m burning the area immediately behind them to a dark brown – black color. This will make the area recede into the background giving me depth to the underside.
Now I’m burning the mushroom cap to a uniform color. Again I’m just burning it in so I can determine how dark it should be compared to the background.
I’m using a micro J shader for this step as it’s small enough to easily avoid the white spots.
I want to mention that I did not change the heat setting on my burner the entire time I worked on this project. Instead I adjusted my hand speed to get lighter and darker burns. I also re-burned over areas numerous times to slowly build up the color.
Finishing up. In this photo you can see that the mushroom cap is fairly uniform in color. If it wasn’t for the dome shape and the white spots that get progressively smaller, the cap would look completely flat.
With the cap blocked in, I’m working on the background again. Now I’m trying to determine how dark the mushroom cap needs to be.
I’m using circular motion to burn in the background. Circular motion tends to create lots of little variations in the burn and it is less likely to create clearly defined lines. I wanted the background to be blurry with color variation that subtly shifts in tonal values.
Even with the little bit of background work I did, I discovered my mushroom cap wasn’t dark enough. I’m re-burning over the mushroom to darken it up. Hopefully you noticed that I’m burning it to a uniform color again as I’m just trying to determine a good tonal value for the cap.
Switching to the background again.
At this point I decided that I would just get the background done as I had determined how dark it needed to be.
I have a lot of shader pen tips and I tend to use just a couple of them. When I’m working on something that doesn’t need precision, I try to force myself to use some of my less used pen tips to get more familiar with them.
While all shaders can do the same essential things, some are easier or more comfortable to use than others. That is due to the shape of the pen tip and how you hold the pen. With this project, I decided to get some practice time in with Colwood’s S shader. This shader burns a wider stroke than the J shader I normally use, so I got the background done a little quicker.
Here’s a progress photo of the artwork.
Burning in the cast shadow on the stalk of the smaller mushroom.
In the area around the little sprout, I needed a bit more precision so I switch to my J shader as I have a lot more experience with it. I could have probably done the work with the S shader, but I’m a lot more comfortable with this one. Plus the J shader is smaller and that makes it easier to work in tiny areas.
Now I’m starting on the ground around the mushrooms. This area had all sorts of stuff in it, but it was hard to really identify anything. I have no idea if the thing I’m burning in is a piece of tree bark, a curled up leaf, or something else entirely.
Keep in mind that I’m not trying to replicate every feature in the reference photo. Instead my goal is to convey the basic concepts. The ground was filled with lichen and mosses that were out-of-focus in the foreground of the photo.
I decided to turn the entire ground into little mounds of moss.
Moss, when viewed closely, can look like small blades of grass, so I used zigzag strokes to create each moss mound.
Here’s another progress photo. The background is very soft and lacks detail. The ground, on the other hand, has detail and this makes the background seem even further away.
Continued work on the mossy mounds.
The right side of the photo has little rocks, a bare patch of dirt, or something in it, but I decided to keep things simple and covered it with moss mounds. I did included some hints of objects, like the pale white mushroom, but didn’t give the objects much detail.
Todd suggested I include a leaf, so I’m burning in the outline of it here.
Even the leaf is rather vague. I doubt anyone looking at the artwork for the first time would notice it.
Here’s how the artwork looks with everything done except the mushrooms.
I used these brass metal stencils to keep the edges of the frame crisp. I had several stencils, so I could switch them out when they got warm. Let me tell you, it didn’t take long for the metal to heat up and become uncomfortable to hold!
Using the torch and a metal stencil worked wonderfully along the edges. Plus, it was a LOT faster than burning the edges in with a wood burner.
Below is a before/after photo of the frame burned in. Keep in mind that I had to photoshop the pale frame as I forgot to do a “before” picture. I wanted to show you how the feel and look of the art changed with a dark frame around it.
I think the dark frame makes the artwork stand out more. I also burned the sides of the board to the same dark brown-black color.
Now I’ve got to get the mushrooms finished up. I started working on the stalks to get them correct in tonal value.
The lower part of the stalk was very white in color, but had some irregularities on it which I’m burning in now.
Working on the other mushroom stalk.
The stalks would look flat if I left the wood unburned. More than likely the viewer would assume I forgot to work on them.
The below photo shows a before/after shot of the stalks.
The stalks on the left look flat and featureless, whereas the stalks on the right have a rounded shape to them.
Even though the reference photo didn’t show gills along the back of the mushroom, I burned them in anyways. That’s the great thing about creating your own artwork, you can choose what to include, add, and omit from it.
Now that the gills are burned in, I’m adding gradient color to the underside of the cap. When I’m done the center will be darker than the edges, and this will make the cap look domed.
In this photo, I finishing up the uniform color on the top of the cap.
To make the white spots look elevated from the mushroom surface, I’m adding dark shadows under them.
In this photo I’m burning a layer of uniform color onto the smaller mushroom.
Finishing up the first layer.
Now I’m re-burning to darken and contour or give shape to the mushroom.
In this photo you can see how I’ve shaded the mushroom so the left side is darker and seems to be in shadows.
Re-burning along the bottom to make it look rounded and curving inward.
With the larger mushroom, I re-burned along the left and right edges to give the mushroom shape. I also reburned along the lower edge of the cap to make it look rounded.
To help the white spots along the top of the mushroom stand out, I’m re-burning the background behind them.
Another re-burn along the lower edge of the small mushroom.
Now I’m starting to burn over the white spots. The spots along the lower edge are in shadows, so I’m burning them in first.
When I burned over the larger white spots, I didn’t burn them uniformly.
Looking at the reference photo reveals that the spots are like bits of popcorn with lots of ridges and valleys on them. So I burned here and there on the spot to replicate this.
Continued work on the white spots.
Finishing the last of the spots and burning in the shadows the spots are casting onto the mushroom cap.
Continued work on the cast shadows.
Burning over the white spots and adding cast shadows on the large mushroom cap.
Lastly, I used a white colored pencil to add some highlights along the peaks of the white spots on the smaller mushroom.
Giving the spots on the larger mushroom highlights with a colored pencil.
I saved the color pencil work for the very last step. You don’t ever want to burn over colored pencils as it will melt the wax and cause it to char. For this step I did not want to use white charcoal as it is very prone to smearing.
There are some colors that, when in the same photo, can be difficult to determine a tonal value for. I had this problem with the red and green in the mushroom reference photo. I couldn’t really decide if the red should be darker or lighter than the green. To help me decide, I turned the photo into a black and white image which I put below.
Seeing the photo in black and white helped me a lot. I decided that I liked how the little mushroom was a lot darker than the background, so that is how I decided to burn in my mushrooms.
As you can see, I deviated from the reference photo, but I’m still pleased with how the artwork turned out. There is enough stuff on the ground to give visual interest and keep the eye looking around. More importantly the mushrooms are the focal point and the first thing you notice.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, the fly agaric mushroom helped influence the some of the imagery associated with Santa Claus. The article states that central Asian shaman would dress in red garments that had white fur trim to collect the fly agaric mushrooms when they appeared during winter solstice. The shaman would return to the village and enter a yurt through the smoke hole in the roof and then “consume and share the sacred mushrooms with the participants.”
The article isn’t very long, but talks on a few other points of interest. Here is a link to the article: https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethnobotany/Mind_and_Spirit/flyagaric.shtml
I had a lot of fun working on this artwork. Richy occasionally visits my website, so I didn’t mention the art on my ‘Current Projects’ page while I was working on it. I wanted to make sure it remained a secret as I planned to surprise Richy with the YouTube version. The YouTube version has gone public and to find out what Richy’s reaction is, click on this link: https://youtu.be/ONy373lP3Cs
Richy, if you should read this, thank you for the inspiration and being a friend!
Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently. This artwork was burned on basswood that measures 8 5/8 x 10 inches (21.9 x 25.4 cm). It took me 14 3/4 hours to complete the artwork.
Until the next blog,
Jan 18, 2019
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