I am excited to announce my partnership with the very talented ladies at B&K Crafts. Natalia and Madhu are local artists and jewelry makers who love to incorporate Bay Area nature into their unique wood pendants and earrings. Please check out their online store on Storenvy to see their beautiful creations, and if you browse through the selection, you just might see a couple of my own paintings now in a wearable form!
By mid-November, the first soaking rains fall in California and the temperature begins to drop. Members of the Mycological Society of San Francisco (MSSF) watch the weather forecast closely, hoping for a downpour so that mushrooms will blanket the forest floor during their annual trip to Mendocino Woodlands Camp.
These mushroom hunters are scientists, hikers, chefs, and artists, brought together by a love for fungi. They are all there to enjoy the woodlands, to eat prized mushrooms, and to nerd out over beautiful, unusual, and delicious fungi. Every year, new people join the MSSF, and I was one of those new people last year.
Mendocino Woodlands Camp was built in the 1930’s and is a National Historic Landmark (photo: Julie Himes)
In 2013, a mycophile friend of mine suggested I paint a series of watercolor mushrooms for the MSSF’s annual Fungus Fair. To prepare, I started going on forays with him to learn about fungi and painted some of my favorite species. I set up a booth at the fair in San Francisco that December to see if I could sell a few prints and cards of my paintings. I received a warm welcome from Curt Haney, the president of the club, and he asked if I would paint a poster design for the next year’s fair. In exchange, I would get a free ticket to mushroom camp. Mushroom camp? You mean, drive six hours up the coast to camp in the woods with a bunch of mushroomy strangers? I said yes, and also asked my mycophile friends if they wanted to come along. The experience was incredible. It felt like we had walked into a mushroom wonderland! We left camp that winter with a car full of chanterelles, candy caps, and boletes, and our calendars marked for next year’s camp.
Excited for my second trip to mushroom camp, I leave my office in Monterey this past November and drive up the coast through San Jose and San Francisco. The drive is a spectacular gradient from busy bustling city to peaceful quiet forest. I arrive just in time to eat the night’s meal; lasagna with king trumpet and maitake mushrooms, and chocolate brownie with candy cap creme (mushroom enthusiasts know how to cook!). I meet up with my friends and we haul gear up to the cabin. Our cabin is rustic with a sense of history. Built in the 1930’s, the cabin is made of redwood from the surrounding land and a has a sturdy stone fireplace. We sleep on cots around the fire, four in our cabin. The following morning, we gather for breakfast (biscuits with porcini gravy of course) and split up into smaller groups to hike and forage the surrounding area.
Tiny mushrooms and cup fungi nestled in the leaf litter (photo: Julie Himes)
Mendocino is known for its mushroom diversity. During a good year, hundreds of species can be found in Mendocino Woodlands State Park. Last November, the MSSF campers found over 300 species in a single day. This year is not a “good” year. With the ongoing drought, we haven’t seen enough rain to bring out the mushrooms. While last year was filled with diversity and lots of edible mushrooms, this year is characterized by a many very tiny species.
We take the mushrooms we find to the display tables for identification (photos: Julie Himes)
We hike most of the day, collecting anything new we find, always keeping our eyes open for a tasty chanterelle or prized porcini. After the forays, the campers gather at the Dance Hall to turn our haul over to the experts who identify each mushroom and display them on labeled paper plates. Seeing all of the species side by side is striking. There is so much diversity of form, color, and size. That night is spent eating wild mushrooms around the campfire, chatting about our best mushroom hunting days, and attending a talk by mushroom expert, Gary Lincoff. As we collapse in bed, the rain begins to pour outside, and we all dream about the mushrooms that have been waiting underground for the rain.
Chanterelles are among the edibles found in Mendocino. (photo: Julie Himes)
This Sunday, December 6th, the MSSF will host its 67th Fungus Fair at the San Francisco County Fair Building in beautiful Golden Gate Park. My fellow mushroom hunters will spend all day tomorrow foraging in the Bay Area to bring examples of our local diversity to the display tables. I too will be there with my watercolor paintings and to share in the excitement for this winter’s mushroom season.
It's fall and I am painting mushrooms non-stop! Tonight, I thought I would take some step by step progress photos and show how I go about painting a mushroom.
Step 1: Find a mushroom. (Or if you live in California... and it hasn't rained enough yet... look some up in guide books and online).
Step 2: Sketch! I like to do sketches in a very light pencil (3H) directly on watercolor paper. Keeping it light helps when I make the inevitable mistake and have to erase. I think I erased this mushroom four times before getting the cap shape right. For mushrooms, it's important to pay close attention to the shape of the cap (is it rounded? bell-shaped? is there a dent in the middle?), the texture of the stalk (is it smooth? fuzzy?), and other structures such as the volva (that's "volva", not "vulva") and annulus (also not what it sounds like).
I have picked the Fly Amanita (Amanita mascaria). This species has a rounded cap covered in white warts, a skirt-like annulus, a smooth stalk, and a bulbous base.
Step 3: Block in some of the colors. For this species, I know that the top of the cap shades to a red-yellow, so I put down a layer of yellow that will get covered up with red paint later. I always test colors and color combinations on a sheet of paper before using them on the real painting so that I know how they will turn out. At this point it looks super ugly. It is very difficult to get past this point and realize that it will look better later, but you just have to keep working on it until it improves. Don't give up!
Step 4: See? It looks a little better after filling in the rest of the cap.
Step 5: Shading. I use an even mix of ultramarine blue and burnt umber to make a gray shadow color. Shading the white parts of the mushroom involves a teeny amount of paint applied in the shadow areas and then blended using water to make it look more subtle.
Step 6: Darken the darks. I picked a dark green to add to the red for shading around the cap. I also stuck some dark gray under the cap and around the base of the stalk. Aaaaaand it's done!
Everything is happening this fall, my favorite time of the year! The mushrooms are coming out and I'm busy painting them. This fall, I have artwork on display in two art exhibits, and I will have a booth up in a holiday art fair and the fungus fair. I hope you can make it out to these events to check out the beautiful work from local artists and learn a couple of things about fungi.
I recently had the opportunity to collaborate on another paper about the evolution of eusociality in bees, this time with Beryl Jones, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Jones uses comparative genomics to understand the mechanisms behind social evolution. Eusocial insects exhibit a division of labor among individuals in a colony (queen, workers, soldiers, etc.). Jones' paper in G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics looks at the developmental transcriptome of a facultatively eusocial bee, Megalopta genalis. This species is a useful study system because it exhibits and range of solitary and eusocial behaviors, whereas many bee species are exclusively solitary or social. By investigating this species, Jones aims to learn more about the underlying genes involved in eusociality.
As an illustrator, my task was to depict a developing bee and also show the tissues where different genes are expressed. For each illustration, I created paintings separately and then compiled them using Adobe Photoshop. For example, the nest was a stand-alone illustration upon which I layered the life stages. One of the most interesting parts of this project for me was painting the bee brain. I previously did not know what a bee's brain looks like, and it was fascinating to see how much of the brain is involved in the bee's sensory organs such as eyes and antennae.
Figure 3. Functional annotation of genes showing differences in expression associated with pairwise transitions between life stages. Terms above transition arrows indicate genes that are more highly expressed in the life stage to the right of the arrow, while terms below the arrow indicate genes that are more highly expressed in the life stage to the left of the transition arrow. Terms in black are PANTHER Pathways, while blue italicized terms are GO-Slim Biological Processes. All terms listed are statistically overrepresented with a Bonferroni-corrected P<0.05. Artistic renderings of different life stages and tissue types are not representative of every sample included in the analysis, and only represent one particular life stage, sex, or tissue. Drawings by Julie Himes.
Here you can see progress shots from very rough sketches into final paintings. The rough sketches give me a sense for composition and allow me to make sure I have the anatomy and proportions correct before transferring the sketches to watercolor paper and adding pen and watercolor to create the final illustration.
Different species of bees exhibit a range of social complexity from solitary to highly social. For example, blueberry bees are solitary while honey bees have large highly structured colonies. A new study by Dr. Karen Kapheim and colleagues compared ten bee species representing the spectrum of social complexity in order to discover the underlying genomic basis for the evolution and elaboration of social structure. The research discovered that there are multiple pathways toward sociality, but the evolution of social complexity always involves an increase in genomic complexity.
This study was published in Science last week, and the authors asked me to illustrate the species represented in the study. Illustrating these species involved research into the behavior and social structures of each species. Some of the solitary bees pollinate only specific flowers while the social bees have fascinating behaviors associated with their queens or honey pots. I incorporated some of these particularities into each illustration. The paper can currently be found online and will be published in print later this year.
The Ventana Wilderness Alliance (VWA) is an organization that strives to protect and restore the native biodiversity of the public lands along the Big Sur coast. Living in Monterey, I am lucky to be able to hike and camp in the vast Ventana Wilderness, thanks to the efforts of this organization. When they asked me to paint the cover for the spring newsletter, I thought this would be a nice way to say thanks for all that the VWA does.
Much of the work that VWA volunteers do involves restoring native seacliff buckwheat (Eriogonum parvifolium). This plant is an essential part of the critically endangered Smith's blue butterfly's life history. A strict mutualism exists between the butterfly (Euphilotes enoptes smithi) and buckwheat. The butterfly larvae feed exclusively on the buckwheat and adult butterflies return to pollinate the buckwheat. VWA volunteers preserve buckwheat populations on the Big Sur coast in order to provide the necessary habitat to sustain and hopefully increase populations of the Smith's blue butterfly.
Here you can find a link to the VWA Spring Newsletter. For volunteer opportunities and information about the Ventana Wilderness, check out their website http://www.ventanawild.org/.
Below are progress photos from painting this image. I included the female (bottom), male (top), and underside (middle) of the butterfly.
Every year, the California chapter of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators puts on an exhibit at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. This year, I am excited to announce that two of my paintings are on display in the show. Stop by the museum to see beautiful artwork by California's incredible science and nature artists.
Where: Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History
1305 East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, CA 95062
When: April 10 - June 21, 2015
Poster art for this year's show by the talented Fiona MacLean. Check out her work at http://www.fionaleestudio.com/