Phenomenal feather frost and other frozen finds

I had a lovely walk in Birnam Wood yesterday morning, it was sunny for the first time in ages, but really, really cold! I went to gather a few samples that I could experiment with in the lab at work…this time I took some soil from under the Birnam Oak, and I also scraped a bit of green lichen from the trunk too.



Above: The Birnam Oak on a sunny morning

Below: A soil sample taken from the hollow in the oak 


Below: Green lichen and moss on the trunk of the Oak 



A sample scraped from the trunk of the Birnam Oak

I walked down the path towards the river, and found a few pools where the river had flooded into the woods, so I also took a few samples of water from the pools, and sandy earth from the bank nearby.



As I was gathering samples near the river, I noticed what I thought were white birds feathers stuck to a small log. I assumed that maybe a bird had died, and the feathers had somehow got caught in the log – or maybe the log had been part of a nest and the feathers had somehow stuck to it. I stroked them, and a few fell off. I walked back into the wood, and found another smaller branch lying in the undergrowth with the same sort of feathers stuck onto it. Very strange, I thought, but I resisted the temptation to pick it up and bring it home.


An amazing sight…what appeared to be (and felt like) feathers stuck to a log



Having googled a few key words, I have discovered it is a phenomenon called feather frost, which is quite rare, and only occurs under very specific circumstances. Apparently ice filaments are  pushed out from pores in the wood as they freeze, forming what appears to be, and feels like feathers.

I also found some frozen fungi, another sight which I had never witnessed. These are the Wood Blewits (Lepista Nuda) below that I took a sample of:


Wood Blewits above and close ups of them with “icing”  below


Mother nature’s bosom?

My other finds were the last of the leaves; oak, sycamore and larch in various shades of green, yellow and brown.


These were all pressed when I reached home – a job that really has become such a chore, but a necessary one unfortunately!


My next plan is to take swabs of my sample collected in the woods, to see if I can grow anymore fantasy landscapes, or symbolic images. I won’t be able to get into the lab again until Friday morning, which will give me the weekend to grow the samples, the results of which I hope to upload in the nick of time before the crit with Les Bicknell on Monday evening.

Lab work

Recently I have been collecting a variety of fungi from Birnam Wood, picking them and storing pieces of them into small sterile specimen bottles. I wanted to do some experiments which would involve taking swabs of them and growing them on agar jelly under lab conditions. Too often we get swept away with what we see around us, but forget about all the existing entities that we don’t see….I want to explore this theme through using bacterial growths and possibly microscopic images too.

I purchased a consignment of round petri dishes from Amazon, 150mm in diameter, and was also given some smaller 100mm diameter petri dishes from Maggie Fenton, the lab technician at work. She sterilised the dishes for me, and made up some agar jelly, which was poured into the dishes to set.

I took a few different samples up to her, and she showed me how to spread sample onto the plates, and also to bury small samples of the fungi into the jelly.


The petri dishes…I ordered the largest size which would fit into the steriliser, but wished I could have used some that were much much bigger!


Some of the samples that I used from Birnam Wood


The bottles had been sitting in my studio for a few weeks, and the smell was very strong when they were opened. They were held next to the bunsen flame to kill off any spores that might be present. Samples were sucked up and squirted onto the plate, before being spread around over the agar gel.




I did 9 samples altogether, which included Common Puffball, Oyster Mushrooms, Boletus Subtomentosus and Common Bonnet . Some of the samples were applied to both a small and large plate, and were distributed both by spotting and by spreading. IMG_2847


They were then put into the incubation unit where I have left them to work their magic. I’m feeling excited about what the results might be, but realise that they may also be a huge disappointment, so I’ll just have to wait and see. I’m going to leave them over the weekend, and will return on Monday to see what has developed.

Shaggy Ink-caps

I spotted some Shaggy Ink Cap fungi in Birnam Wood this afternoon. I’ve been looking for these for the past couple of years, so I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw some lurking up the bank above the path.As they mature, the Shaggy Ink Cap (Coprinus comatus) opens its cap (though not out flat) and eventually dissolves,  releasing an inky black fluid, which can be used as ink – hence their name.    white

A clump of young ink caps..looks like something has been feasting upon them

Some of these fungi had already begun to disintegrate, and were covered in the black gooey “ink”


(Above) My bag full of ink caps


When I got home I placed them into a clean coffee jar and will wait till they dissolve into the ink. I’m excited but apprehensive too, as I’m dreading the fact that there may be a lot of bugs or maggots inside them.

With the ink i plan to do some drawings of plants and fungi found in Birnam Wood, and perhaps even some calligraphic writing of some of the lines from Macbeth. I plan to keep the ink until “making day” (Sat 7th October) and do some experiments with it then.

Hoof prints

Having experimented recently with painting from mud, soils and ash, I wanted to try making marks which involved walking, and I came up with the idea of attaching paper to the soles of my shoes, hoping that it would capture some traces and impressions of my walk.


I used an old pair of sandals with thick soles, and found a pack of Khadi paper, and set about fixing it to the shoes using drawing pins.


It seemed like perfect weather to try this, wet and rainy, so there would be plenty of mud I reckoned. I drove to Birnam, and headed up the Inchewan path, one of my favourite places to walk.


I took a few photos of the rain on the delicate foliage on the way up…


The wall on the way up the path is like a mossy carpet…in fact the whole walk is probably the mossiest I have every been on.


Delicate young ferns covered in raindrops

IMG_7498Small plants growing on the mossy wall


     A really wet, lush, green environment…with the sound of a fast flowing stream and lots of very fresh air…just beautiful

I walked up the path until I reached a decent patch of mud, and proceeded to swap my crocs for the paper-soled sandals, which I wore to squelch through very wet mud.




My first attempt was a bit over zealous…I completely ruined the paper, tearing a big hole into it, and realised that I had walked too far for the paper to survive. My next attempt was a bit better, the paper had a slight rip in it, but was still useable. Some of the mud that I stepped in was so wet that the prints showed very little colour, although the patterns on the soles of my sandal created a nice embossing on the paper. I also tried walking over moss a few times, but it barely showed, instead I seemed to gather fragments of leaves and bark.


A few walkers passed me on route, stopping to watch what I was doing. I felt like I was doing a performance, and realised that I should have “killed two birds with one stone”.

Further up the path, there was slate from the nearby hill which had slid down and was lying in piles in reddish looking puddles. The soil here seemed different, in colour certainly, and this might have something to do with the minerals I am guessing.  The soil here printed a very different colour, a light red/brown, and I felt excited about the contrast that this would give against the previous prints.



A strong result…and a much lighter, redder soil

I also walked down toward the stream, where the terrain was gravel and sand, and this also gave a similar red/brown colour.


As I changed the papers on my shoes, the removed papers were left at the side of the path, to be collected on my way down. I met a few walkers on the way, and told them that the papers weren’t litter, just incase they felt it their duty to remove them.

I made my way down the hill, and luckily all of the prints were still where I left them. On my walk back to the car, I came across some fallen tree trunks, and noticed the same black, wiry fibres I had seen growing inside a piece of bark a few months ago. I stopped to peel a few from the trunk, sure that I might be able to use them for something interesting.


Interesting string-like fibres attached to the fallen bark of a tree…what I now know to be rhizomorphs of Armillaria, a type of fungus.


I’m already seeing mapping possibilities in this amazing natural fibre…


I headed home to dry them (and myself) off, apprehensive to see the results of my walking/prints.

Once back in the studio, I used the hairdryer to dry the papers, and also removed some of the larger chunks of soil which has been stuck next to the drawing pins.


Some of the marks are really quite beautiful, although they are a bit paler since they have dried. I am still considering how best to use these, although I have a feeling that they will end up as a book.

I’m also keen to try a few experiments with the Armillaria, and am especially excited by the fact that it might have bioluminescent qualities!

Playing with shadows (Lichen)

Following on from my last experiment with shadows and fictitious wire maps, I decided to make a map from lichen – this time in the shape of the Braan path and the Hermitage at Dunkeld, where I gathered all the windfall lichen a few months back.


When the map was complete, I hung it from the ceiling in my studio and tried a few different types of lighting on it.


Above and below : Soft lighting using an anglepoise lamp 



Using the torch on the iPhone


Beautifully dark lacy shadows, but jagged and a bit sinister too


Huge shadows which swamp the wall…would make a very dramatic installation if I had the right space for it


These shadows are very powerful, although they don’t have the 3-Dimensional effect that the wire shadows have.  I will also have a go at videoing the map rotating, as it would be interesting to see how the shadows work with movement.

Ascending Inchewan Path


Broken bark revealing


Parasitic maps of life


Sarked limbs avoiding the chill


Behold the blanketed boughs


Wooden veins descend their roots


Shattered shards cascading


Hooves that tread by nightfall


Resting on the beech by day


 Floating ephemeral hemisphere


Rapid reflections descending


Foaming spectres spirited away


Trapped by the tip of the iceberg


 Man’s endeavours softened by time


Shrouding symbiosis


Severed fingers pointing toward


Pachydermal protrusion


Striped antennae break the ice


Arches to unknown dimensions


Impressions on the beaten path


Escaping frozen sunbeams