Jelly babies

I found some interesting species of jelly fungi in the wood yesterday, so I picked a few specimens to take away and draw in my studio. The first that I came across was Exidia Glandulosa otherwise known as Black Brain Fungus. It was growing on a branch of a beech tree, and was in reach, so I gently picked off a few pieces. IMG_8930Exidia Glandulosa or Black Brain Fungus

I find these jelly fungi really intriguing – on the one hand they are repulsive, brain-like, as if from another planet, but at the same time I think they are amazing and I am really excited when I find them.

IMG_9227I decided to make a study of this one, as it looked really strange…I also used a magnifying glass to try to get as many details in as possible.



Neobulgaria pura var. foliacea Beech Jelly Fungus 


 The same beech jelly fungus in a more shrivelled up state the next day


Auricula Judae or Jew’s Ear Fungus


Another Jew’s ear, but a bit less like an ear than the sample above


I have kept some of the samples that I collected, as apparently they dry out, and can be revived again when moist. I’m going to experiment with this to see if I can revive them so that they also might be used in a cloche as part of my installation.



Cultivating Oysters

Birnam Wood is ripe with fungi most times of the year, and i never cease to be amazed at all the different varieties growing there. Within the space of 48 hours, fungi can appear, then dry up, with only a few small traces of it ever existing. Some of the most impressive fungi was the Common Oyster, Pleurotus Ostreatus, which I found growing on a large log  just inside the entrance to the wood. This particular log has been host to a wide variety of fungi, and its occupants seem to change on a daily basis. For my show, I want to  try to bring some of the species growing in the wood into the gallery, so I managed to source an Oyster Mushroom growing kit online.


I soaked a bag overnight (which was filled with recycled coffee grounds and compost) and left it for a few days. The surface of the compost started to become very white, and small textured bobbles and stumps started to appear after a few days. IMG_7374

After a couple of days of being soaked, small white bobbles appeared on the surface
IMG_7791Tiny baby “oysters” started to form


Within hours, the babies grew into much larger mushrooms, just like the ones I had seen in Birnam Wood


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I was so amazed that these mushrooms were actually growing in my kitchen! Although edible, I really didn’t fancy trying them, so I kept them there for a couple of weeks and then I harvested them. I laid them on a plate to dry, in hope that I might be able to use the dried mushrooms for something too.

The kit is able to grow a second batch too, so I soaked it again, and this time I have cut the grow bag down so that it fits under a glass cloche, as I want to see how the mushrooms look when pressed against glass.





I need to find or make a suitable base for the cloche, but just wanted to try this out to see how it would look. I really hope the mushrooms grow, despite being taken out of their dark cardboard box and their grow bag. I have covered the cloche with a tea towel to darken their environment a little, so hopefully that might help.

If they continue to grow, and the experiment works, I will buy another kit and try this out for  part of an installation in my show. If this works I think it will be an interesting exhibit, especially if it appears that the mushrooms are pressed against the glass, trying to escape. I might even see if I could form a small hole in the glass and allow them to burst out, leaving the broken glass beside the cloche on a bench.


Are you ready for this jelly?

I came across a few blobs of what appeared to be clear jelly growing on an unidentified fallen log in an open area within Birnam Wood a few weeks ago. I assumed that they were some kind of fungus, so I took a sample home with me to see what might happen if I grew it in the lab.



I later found out it is Exidia nucleata or crystal brain fungus, a translucent/opaque jelly cell-like formation, which is quite tough and rubberyI took it into the lab last week, and as it was quite hard, I held it with a pair of tweezers and rubbed it around on the agar jelly, before sealing it up to incubate.


I decided to try a new approach in photographing the growth; instead of taking the picture in the lab, or at the window, I went into the wood near to where I had found the specimen, wedged the petri dish between a small branch and tree trunk, and photographed the result with a bit of light behind it.


I cropped and sharpened the image and altered the brightness and contrast to give the result below.


I’m really excited by this result, and feel it is a great way of photographing the hidden aspects of a particular part of the landscape. I used the same approach in photographing another less vigorous result which I had grown this week also, again from a jelly like fungus, Tremella Mesenterica or Yellow Brain Fungus.

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Above :Tremella Mesenterica or Yellow Brain Fungus.

I really love the photo of the first growth that I took, as it is more abstract and less obvious. I want to experiment more with this approach and need to get back into the lab as soon as it is free so that I can cultivate some more growths.

Romanticism, re-enchantment and retail therapy

Having a real interest in landscape, nature, folklore and mythology are great, however when it comes to narrowing down what I wanted to do for my MA I was finding that I had lost direction a bit, and had began to focus too much on the “magic and art” thread, and in doing so had lost my real passion which was in nature and the landscape around me.  A tutorial with Michele Whiting really helped me get back into the swing of what I felt was where I should be going with my final project, by bringing landscape back into it, and advising me to look at a number of books and artists, such as Mark Dion, Tania Kovats, Caspar David Friedrich and the writing of Simon Schama and Goethe amongst others.


A Walk at Dusk By Caspar David Friedrich (Getty Museum).

I had already been reading a book called The Dark Monarch which was a catalogue for an exhibition which was held in 2009 at Tate St. Ives, and the mention of Friedrich got me thinking about the 20th century artists who were inspired by him and other Romantics such as William Blake and Samuel Palmer.  Artists such as Paul Nash, Eric Ravillious, Graeme Sutherland and others who were known as the Neo-Romantics.

RAV33031 The Long Man of Wilmington or, The Wilmington Giant, 1939 (w/c on paper) by Ravilious, Eric (1903-42); 44.2x54.5 cm; Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK; English,  it is possible that some works by this artist may be protected by third party rights in some territories possible copyright restrictions apply, consult national copyright laws

The Long Man of Wilmington or The Wilmington Giant Eric Ravilious. Ravillious is an artist whose work really epitomises the beauty and mysticism of the British Landscape, choosing charming and alluring subject matter

These words by Michael Bracewell, from a chapter in The Dark Monarch really sums up what I am trying to show in my work:

“The Neo-Romantic sensibility is at one with the lowering sky and the unnaturally protracted sunset…it admits to the presences of magic as live spirits contained within nature, or as psychic vapour, colouring those hidden places just re-discovered.” (2009:15)

I took deliver of a really useful book which I ordered on Amazon last week called This Enchanted Isle by Peter Woodcock, which gives loads of information about the British Neo-Romantics, so I have begun getting stuck into it and find it easy to read, yet very informative.


I have also ordered The Spirit Of Place. Nine Neo-Romantic artists and Their Times by Malcolm Yorke, so if it’s in the same league as This Enchanted Isle I will be delighted.


Although I share the Neo-Romantic idea of portraying the genius loci (or spirit of place) of the landscape, my own interest in the landscape is more with the micro than the macro, so I have been considering the hidden, unseen, overlooked and unnoticed details and specimens and how I can present nature’s own works of art as exhibits. Having also been doing experiments in the lab and using scientific equipment has led me to consider the wunderkammern or cabinets of curiousity of the 17th century. I couldn’t resist buying a few books about these to feast my eyes upon!


Above and below: These two gorgeous books arrived on Friday with loads of weird and wonderful displays inside


These books have inspired me to make my own Cabinet of Curiousity to capture the genius loci of Birnam Wood. I’m thinking that this may feature as show case for all of my work and research throughout the final project, including specimens, photos and sketchbooks. Designing such a cabinet would also let me take into account some of the sensory elements that I want to include in my show, for example sound and smell, as these could be concealed within.

Pseudo-superstition, symbols and supernatural snapshots

This morning was lovely and sunny, so I decided to go to Birnam Wood to attempt to make some rubbings from the trees, rocks, and anything else of interest. Unfortunately, once I arrived at Birnam (which is about 5 miles from where I live), the temperature had dropped and the sun didn’t seem to be shining in the village. The trees in the wood were really wet, so my attempts at making rubbings were a complete waste of time. I did take a few photos of the Birnam Oak, which had an even larger pool of water around it then the last time I visited.



When looking into the pool, I began thinking about superstitions and sayings and that I could invent one about Birnam Wood and a flood…

“If Birnam Wood, e’re doth flood….

it won’t do man nor beast no good

the spirit will then change its mood

for forty days you’ll need a hood “

Just a nonsense rhyme, but probably not any worse some of these superstitious rhymes that already exist.

When I came home, I was playing around with the photos on my laptop, and I noticed when I rotated the “mirror image” photo of the Birnam Oak, a few unexpected “guests” appeared…


I say what I can only describe as a tree sprite down the centre of the image, with a grotesque beaked head near the bottom centre of the picture. I played around with a few filters to try to enhance the image, until I ended up with the result below.


I think this image looks really evil, and I noticed what looked like symbols drawn at the bottom of the page. Its amazing what you can find in a simple landscape shot when you learn to look in different ways.

I copied the symbols and enhanced them a bit using photoshop. They look like alchemical symbols, although the first one reminds me of the head of a wildcat with a figure standing above it, maybe it could represent a witch and her familiar.



I might try building these symbols from twigs and natural objects and perhaps hanging them in Birnam Wood.

Magic Mirror

Lecanomancy  is an ancient divination method which was practised by Babylonian priests, who floated oil and sometimes other foodstuffs on water in attempts to see into the future. Today I decided to play around with some marbling ink to see what random patterns came to light. I found 3 circular canvas boards which I thought would be an interesting format to use, as they reminded me of circular mirrors, and this also made me think of the magic mirror of John Dee which I have been reading about lately.


John Dee’s Mirror and some of his other magic tools, on display in the              British Museum

Dee’s magic mirror is a circular obsidian Aztec cult object which was brought to Europe in the late 1520s and was subsequently owned by Horace Walpole, an English art historian,  antiquarian and politician. Dee, a mathematician, astrologer, alchemist and student of the occult was said to have joined forces with Edward Kelley (a young con-man who practised the dark arts) and used the mirror, and other tools including a crystal ball to call on “angels” to scry into the future.

Dee’s magic mirror is an object which has inspired a few artists including Damon Albarn (who wrote an operatic work Dr Dee in 2012) and Joachim Koester, who made silver gelatine prints of his photos of the mirror (see below).joachim-koester

Joachim Koester, The Magical Mirror of John Dee, 2006, silver gelatin print, 25.5 x 33.5 cm

I filled my tray with water, and again, added a small amount of water from the sample bottles I had taken in Birnam Wood, before adding some black marbling ink.


I stirred the inky mixture using  a “wand” made from a piece of a beech branch which I found in Birnam wood. Beech is renowned for its divinatory properties.  First I made some prints onto A4 pieces of paper, before moving into larger A3 watercolour paper, and then finally marbling the circular boards.

Below : some of the first experiments on paper

The first circular board I used as a recycled one – it had a few traces of pink ink on it, and ironically – as I actually predicted it (through sod’s law!) it was the best print of all! An air bubble had  created a large white oval shape within the circle, and the marbling had created a beautiful border of mystical pattern around it.


I love the result of the first one – unfortunately it was printed onto a recycled board, and traces of pink ink are showing through. It appears as if one is looking into a hole or void of some kind, which allows the viewer to project their own thoughts onto the blank space.


This piece has a smaller void – is it a doorway into another galaxy, a a magic white stone (as was used by Scotland’s own Nostradamus, the Brahan Seer) a magical megalithic monument or an aerial view of the landscape such as a loch, hill or boundary?

magicmirror1The final circle is very beautiful, but completely covered, leaving less cause for consideration of space. I have an urge to paint over this one, picking out the shapes to create more blank areas within the swirls, and omitting some of the marks with white acrylic. But perhaps that is being just a tad self-indulgent, so for the moment I will resist the temptation.

I did take some film of the swirling ink, which again reminded me of Macbeth, and the cauldron of the witches. I wonder if this could be projected from inside a cauldron onto a ceiling, and how this might look as a video installation?

Divinatory Drawings

I have been looking at the connection between art and magic lately, and had come across parsemage– a technique used by Occult artist Ithell Colquhoun. I couldn’t actually find any pictures of her attempts at the technique, but that didn’t put me off. Tonight is December 20th Mother Night – The Beginning of Yule (Sacred to Frigga) Mother Night: As the night before the Winter Solstice, this is the time when the New Year is born. Although this is a time to burn Yule Logs, instead I respectfully burned some candles whilst trying the parsemage technique, in hope that Thor, Freya, and any other deities may aid the production of some symbolic imagery during the process! In the spirit of Macbeth, I have added some of the water I collected a few weeks ago from a pool in Birnam Wood – I think this will make the process more ritualistic and help any magical imagery to develop.


Cretacolour Charcoal dust and candles – ready for a chance encounter with “sacred” water, paper and a bit of mark making magic


Charcoal gently sprinkled into the water- “Fair is foul and foul is fair”


(below) Paper placed just under the surface to collect some of the patterns


Below are the results from the process – my divinatory drawings. I laid them out to dry on the kitchen table, taping them down to stretch them flat.


Aesthetically, I think they are divine, and would look fantastic in white mounts and frames on a large white wall. What are they trying to tell me? I’m not quite sure, as I haven’t really had  great deal of time to sit down and analyse them, but I will look at them more deeply soon.

Like the agar gel plates, these are glimpses into another world, another dimension, drawings from the other side, “…brought to you,” (as Rod Serling would say) “From the Twilight Zone” of Birnam Wood.

Happy Yule!