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Drawing and Painting Fungi by Claire Kathleen Ward

Drawing and Painting Fungi explains clearly how to discover and depict fungi and lichens in a wide range of media. Claire Ward uses her extensive knowledge of her subjects to explain their particular features, including some of their fascinating life cycles and how to identify the main groups of fungi. There are all sorts of interesting observations about fungi and lichens, which means this book will appeal not just to artists but to all who wish to find out more about these organisms.

Reviewed by: Pam Taylor, Botanist, Botanical Artist and ABA Committee and Education Team Member


Claire Ward begins by asking the question “Why paint fungi?” The introduction shows how concepts and understanding of this diverse group of organisms have changed over time and how important fungi are to humans and indeed the whole world.

Fungi lend themselves to being portrayed in an array of media and this is reflected in the diverse range of materials and equipment introduced in chapter 1. I particularly enjoyed reading Claire’s description of her experiments to make ink and paper from fungi and then seeing the photographs of how she used the products.

Shapes of Cap (image courtesy of publisher)
Shapes of Cap (image courtesy of publisher)

Finding and identifying fungi can be challenging when you begin and chapter 2 gives very helpful guidance with clear drawings showing the different parts of toadstools and diagrams illustrating the range of shapes of the cap and stipe (stalk) which may enable you to identify the type of toadstool.

The chapter on sketching includes many different types of sketch book as well as the basic kit which Claire’s wide experience has shown is needed for working in the field.  

A collection of drawing materials including charcoal, graphite pencils and toned papers (image courtesy of publisher)
A collection of drawing materials (image courtesy of publisher)

Numerous images, such as the page on oak boletes, show how wonderfully diverse and useful these sketch books or sheets can be for recording peculiarities as well as colour studies and details of fungi, and there are also useful tips for beginners.

When it comes to drawing fungi in monochrome, Claire covers basic techniques, such as tone, shadows and mark making with special reference to features such as the gills on fungi. She does not restrict herself to graphite and ink, and includes charcoal and toned papers in imaginative and dramatic ways.

Chapter 5 explores how colour can be used to illustrate fungi, including their form and texture, and has very useful sections on the science of colour and the specific range of colours needed to paint fungi, including a fungal colour chart. The sections on techniques to capture forms and textures were supported by associated step by step examples. Although most of the chapter is devoted to watercolour, gouache, painting on vellum and using coloured pencils are included.

Assorted painted textures and details seen on many fungi subjects (image courtesy of publisher)
Assorted painted textures and details seen on many fungi subjects (image courtesy of publisher)

Fungi do not exist in isolation and chapter 6 is full of ideas for compositions which include elements such as bark and mosses which may be associated with the fungus being depicted. There are also examples of how to tell a story in your illustration, such as including the chemical structure of the 'magic' in magic mushrooms!

Life cycle of the fly agaric (image courtesy of publisher)
Life cycle of the fly agaric (image courtesy of publisher)

There is a huge diversity of fungi which Claire tackles in chapters 7, 8 and 9.   Basidiomycetes - The Classic Mushroom includes many interesting facts about the subjects being depicted. A feature that stood out to me was the way the compositions often show how fungi are part of the ecosystem, such as the inclusion of birch leaves and pine needles which are mycorrhizal tree partners with the fly agaric.   

Turkey tail (image courtesy of publisher)
Turkey tail (image courtesy of publisher)

Basidiomycetes - The Unusual, covers, amongst others, jellies, earth stars and bracket fungi, and in an imaginative artwork a compass point is used to etch a toadstool on a bracket fungus! The next chapter deals with the Ascomycetes - The ‘Cup’ and ‘Sac’ Fungi and the variety of media in which Claire portrays her subjects is illustrated in the step by step of a morel in water soluble graphite. Throughout the book I enjoyed seeing the way Claire experiments and in this chapter she shows four different ways of illustrating shadows, with the conclusion that there is no right or wrong way.

Golden Eye lichen, watercolour on vellum, four times life size (image courtesy of publisher)
Golden Eye lichen by Shevaun Doherty, watercolour on vellum (image courtesy of publisher)

Chapter 10 introduces the microscopic world of lichens, with notes on their forms and clear diagrams and photographs explaining their structure and life cycle. The chapter is packed with facts about these amazing symbiotic organisms from the time they first evolved to the present day. Moving on to painting and drawing lichens, Claire includes a specific lichen colour chart, as well as examples where lichens have been magnified to show the detail of their form.

Throughout the book I love the way Claire explores using different media, and sometimes combining them, to produce original and often dramatic artworks.  

Her fascination for discovering, observing and sketching her subjects in the field shines through. Using her knowledge as an ecologist also means the book is full of interesting information, which makes it so much more than just a guide to drawing and painting fungi!


Author Biography

Claire Kathleen Ward studied botany and field ecology, and combines this with her other passion for watercolour and oil painting as a botanical and nature illustrator and tutor. She has won many awards for her work, and has a painting in the Hunt Institute. Claire is currently co-president of the Society of Botanical Artists (SBA) and lives in West Wales.

To purchase this book: Published by The Crowood Press, ISBN 978-0-7198-4332-7

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