Oyster Mushrooms

We went out just before Christmas to a fallen oak log in a nearby patch of woods. The log has been naturally cultured with Pleurotus ostreatus, and it fruits prolifically after stresses like rain and cold. I was fascinated by the forms and patterns these mushrooms make.

Oyster mushrooms are delicious and have the curious property that they contain a compound that will inhibit sweet taste receptors. Sugar tastes vaguely sweet, but mostly just grainy. It’s a strange sensation, and I always wait to have dessert after eating these mushrooms!

Their forms are fantastic, sculptural and nearly proud. I explored these with a series of watercolours and then also some graphite studies of the textures in the gills on the underside of the caps. I really enjoyed the subtle colours that make up the mushrooms, and after staring with a subtle almost monochromatic image, pushed the colour a bit farther in each painting. In the last one I used Purpurite from the Daniel Smith Primatek series, contrasted with a mix of Goethite and transparent yellow. There are very few red granulating paints to work with that I could mix a purple from. I started the series using PBr11, a very strongly granulating burnt sienna colour, then in the second and third paintings, added a bit more chroma with PR233 Potter’s pink. This still wasn’t strong enough to mix a satisfying purple, so it was time to reach for the Primatek granulating purples. These paintings used almost exclusively granulating paints, as I thought the grittiness of the granulation was appropriate for the grittiness of the mushrooms. How often do you find one that doesn’t have a bit of dirt on it?

For the graphite studies, I really enjoy seeing the forms as almost abstract figures. The directionality of the gills flows and curves, and the light on the surface makes them feel cavernous in places.

Mushrooms are a great subject, full of fascinating organic shapes, and are definitely fun to paint. See the whole gallery for the rest of the paintings.

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