With a little bit of help from mother nature, anybody can produce totally original and unique art like this.
What is a spore print?
Spores are the seeds of a mushroom or toadstool. they are very tiny and ever so slightly sticky. Each mushroom produces millions of spores. Normally when they fall from a mushroom, the wind carries the spores away. Although many mushrooms are dull brown shades, the spores come in a vast range of colours. For example, the famous cep mushroom which has a white stem and golden brown head actually produces olive coloured spores. Bright purples, yellows, greens, black, white and a thousand different fascinating tones are out there. It is just a question of finding the right mushroom.
How to make a spore print
Making a spore print is easy.
When you stop the wind from taking them, the spores will fall straight down leaving a perfect pattern of lines on whatever surface is below the mushroom. So if you cut the stem off a mushroom and place the head face down on good quality thick cartridge paper and cover it with a bowl to exclude draughts, within 6 – 24 hours you will have a totally unique piece of natural art.
Obviously, white spores will not show up on white paper, so once you know what colour spores a particular mushroom produces, choose a paper colour to complement it.
If you are lucky, more than one print may be obtained from a single specimen. My record is 4 good prints from a bay boletus (a big, fat and delicious mushroom) which took just 6 hours each.
How to preserve mushroom spore prints.
Obviously a photo will do, but if you spray the actual spore print itself with fixative (from art supply shops – they use it for preserving chalk and pastel drawings) you can keep your print for a lifetime.
If the spores are disturbed by the fixative spray, then spray the paper with a slow drying glue (or even water will work on some papers) before letting the spores fall on it. In this way the spores will stick to the paper and then be set when the glue or water has evaporated.
People of all ages can produce spore prints from mushrooms and toadstools. Find a nice large specimen, cut the stalk off, turn the head of the mushroom onto a piece of paper and wait. It really is that easy.
Are spore prints useful?
Yes, spore prints are really helpful in correctly identifying different species of mushrooms and toadstools.
Please take care when picking wild mushrooms. Never pick a species unless you know it is safe to do so.
Photographing Spore Prints.
The detail is what you want to capture and there are basically two methods for photographing mushroom spore prints.
The more difficult one is to make a print as in the steps above and then set up your camera and lights with a macro lens and try to get a good shot.
The easier method is to use a scanner. Simply leave your mushroom on the scanner glass for 24 hours (again, beneath an upturned bowl to stop air currents spoiling the pattern), lift the bowl and mushroom away with care and press the scan button. hey presto, a beautiful print. Set your scanner to highest resolution and you will be rewarded with beautiful scans in an instant.
Health and Safety when working with unknown mushrooms.
The vast majority of mushrooms and toadstools are harmless. However the few bad ones can really spoil your weekend, so follow these simple rules.
1) Never taste an unknown mushroom
2) Never lick your hands when handling mushrooms
3) Wash your hands and face thoroughly after handling mushrooms.
4) Don’t breath in the spores of unknown mushrooms.