Monday, October 12, 2015

My “Wicked Plants” Entry: Tangled Toadstool

Enjoy the “darker side” of botanicals at the Rocky Mountain Society of Botanical Artists’ exhibition, inspired by Amy Stewart’s book Wicked Plants. The exhibit is at the Aurora Cultural Arts District (ACAD) Studios and Galleries, 1400 Dallas St., Aurora, Colorado. It runs for the rest of the month ending with a special reception on Halloween.

I chose to illustrate my favorite fungus that has captured the imagination of cultures and is widespread in art, literature, and culture worldwide, the Amanita muscaria. Commonly called the fly agaric or fly amanita in English, it is the quintessential toadstool because of its audacious appearance and active botanical properties. But it's the person who flies when intoxicated by consuming even small amounts of this spotted toadstool. Bright orange to red with white spots, this mushroom screams "beware!" Though classified as poisonous, the fly amanita rarely causes death when eaten except by flies. Slices of the mushroom were often soaked in a dish of milk to attract those pesky insects to their death after they savored the sweet treat. But the fly amanita is most noted for its hallucinogenic properties, with its main psychoactive constituent being the compound muscimol. Native throughout the temperate and boreal regions of the Northern Hemisphere, Amanita muscaria has been unintentionally introduced to many countries in the Southern Hemishpere. 

This illustration is meant to be fun, rather than a serious, botanically accurate piece. I sought to convey the mushroom's hallucinogenic properties that the snail is experiencing as it nibbles on the bright magical cap. And what works better for that than the swirling Zentangle patterns that fill the background? It was quite an artistic challenge to mix the two completely opposite styles: traditional scientific illustration and the Zentangle drawing method. It took a lot of colored pencil layering on top of the pearlescent liquid acrylic by FW that I applied with different nibs and a quill to integrate the two styles. I sought to make the patterns take on an antique quality, and to do so I also distressed the surface. 

As a teacher, I am all about the process and show you with a series of photos how I got from a botanical illustration to my final "Botangle." I hope you enjoy its wickedness!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Pretty Pumpkins!

Can you believe it’s already October? Where did the summer go? I hope these "tangled" pumpkins get you into the mood for Halloween. It’s one of my favorite days of the year, holding a special meaning for our family. Our American kids moved to Germany at ages seven and nine, and they weren’t about to give up the ghoulish fest just because Germans didn’t celebrate it. No worries, Grandma and Grandpa sent seeds from Illinois, and we gave them to local farmers to grow for us. By fall we had our big bright orange “Kuerbise,” and all was well.

We got together with our American friends and carved our exotic produce (in costume of course), and the kids even went door to door for treats, explaining themselves as they went. Our German neighbors were wonderful, and adapted quickly; always eager to pop a milk chocolate bar or other goodies from their pantries into our homemade sacks. From year to year it got easier – no more explaining and better treats! I can’t help but wonder if we started something because it’s now customary to celebrate Halloween at least in Bavaria where we had lived.

So when the air gets crisp, the Aspen gold starts to fall, and fog snakes through our valley revealing only the mountain tops, I know I better get to decorating my pumpkins. No matter how busy I am, I carve out the time!

Grab your double-pointed (fine and large) Identi.pen and tangle right onto your pumpkins. Sharpies work as well. I wash my subjects first with mild soapy water so the ink takes nicely. The mini and pie pumpkins are especially fun to do, and gourds really lend themselves to the Zentangle style.

Spray your finished pumpkins with a mat varnish or sealer of some kind (all over). Then they hold up for quite a long time if you don’t let them catch a hard frost.

Don’t forget to get the kids involved!

Happy Halloween!