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!