✒️🌱: Testing and bottling wild inks to bring to Saturday’s workshop. This is the scrap paper I put down to protect the counter and do quick checks. Isn’t it pretty??
Every splotch and blotch on this paper came from a plant, and can be made at home. From wild grapes and acorn caps and chokecherry berries and…
Some of these colours last longer and truer on the page than others. But what makes them beautiful isn’t limited to how they look on paper.
🐾🌱: Using wild inks reminds me of tracking animals in the winter. When I come across the tracks of a coyote or a bunny, it’s like hearing their echo. Like they’re there. And when I open a bottle of ink I made from a plant, I see sumac’s red panicle in winter and the sphinx moth I met on the grapevine.
🐞⏳: In searching for colour, I learn about the galls of aphids who have been living between sumac and moss for over *48 million* years. How to whittle invasive honeysuckle into a pen. How to find the pinks hidden in avocado stones and buckthorn bark. It’s adventures inside of adventures.
Wild inks are a little more… wild than what you’ll find in the store. A little less vanilla. They’re wilful and ephemeral and full of surprises. And that’s okay. I’m here for the ride. Besides, nothing gold can stay — though that wild grape purple lasts a good long time. 😉
🌱🎨: Discover the world of wild inks. Learn about foraging for colour, unlocking the secret pigments of plants and, best of all, make your own “Wild Inkling” art to take home! Together we’ll explore the world of pinks, yellows, greens, browns, blacks, and purples hiding in plain sight.
🌳👍: This workshop is hosted by and in collaboration with Lower Trent Conservation, so in addition to making cool art with plants, your registration supports our local conservation areas. Double win!
(Also I saw turtles basking in the quarry right beside the workshop site, sooo…. triple win!)
🔗: Link to register through Lower Trent Conservation is here. Hope to see you there! // Covid Notes: The workshop will be held entirely outdoors, based in the picnic shelter. Registration is limited. // 🌈🎥: Interested in making ink but can’t attend? The Colour of Ink featuring Jason S. Logan (Toronto Ink Company) — author of the incomparable ‘Make Ink’ — is now available to watch free online here.
I made wild grape jelly for the first time a few years ago. Y’know how when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail? Well once you’ve enjoyed homemade wild grape jelly, everywhere looks like a place to grow wild grapes… Old display stand? You could grape that. Extra bit of fencing? You could grape that.
🍇🌳: We haven’t planted any grapes here. They were here before us and they’ll probably be here after. Wild grapes are all over Ontario. Once you start looking for them you see them everywhere.
🧗♀️🍇: But we’ve set up a few places here to encourage wild grape to bear fruit in spots we can actually get to. Grape likes to climb, so sometimes it runs right up to the top of a tree. Where it dangles my jelly dreams out of reach. Look up, way up, and I’ll call Rusty… and tell him we’re out of jelly.
🍇🚧: But grape also likes to move side-to-side along a nice fenceline. So a couple of years ago when we installed a new fence, we also coaxed the grape growing nearby onto its wires. I checked it today to find it is very happy in its new home! Grapes on grapes on grapes. Enough for both us and the wild critters to snack on. Jelly is back on the menu boys!
🍇=🥒✒️🧵: In honesty the jelly is mostly for Neil, but I use wild grape to make a couple of other things here too. The leaves are perfect to pop in fermenting pickles, and I use the berries to make ink, and the vine to make drawing charcoal. In a pinch, I’ve used the vine as twine.
🍇☠️: A word of caution — wild grape is all over Ontario roadsides, but so are pesticides and poisons. Many cities (including ours) spray their roadsides, so be very very picky about where you forage wild foods. Toxic lookalikes like Canadian moonseed also exist. There’s no shame in enjoying a nice homemade strawberry jam on toast if you don’t feel you can forage safely. Strawberry jam is delicious.
🍄💙: Found these blue-tiful mushrooms in a friend’s forest on Sunday. I ID it as a Lactarius indigo. Lactarius are known as “milk mushrooms”, because when cut they “bleed” a milky fluid. And that liquid can be some fantastic colours! Just look at that blue!!
🍄✒️: I brought home a sample mushroom for some ink-speriments. I used the very technical approach of squooshing the mushroom cap and bottling what came out (bottom right). It’s a lovely colour in the vial, though natural inks sometimes don’t dry as vibrant as the source. But I had a feeling this ink might dry the exact colour of a nuthatch. And it did! Soooo…Lactarius nuthatchii? I’ll keep checking back on this little birb to see how the colour holds up over time.
👩🔧🎨: If you’re curious about wild inks, I’ll be facilitating a Painting With Plants workshop at the end of September. (Workshop will be held outdoors.) More details to come, but feel free to DM us if you’d like the full info when available!
🎨🌿: Nuthatch is painted with Lactarius indigo, acorns, oak galls, and goldenrod. Detailed with soot ink and a quill pen.
🍄☠️: Friendly reminder not to squoosh mushrooms you don’t know. Ontario also has deadly toxic mushrooms and some are fruiting right now. Squoosh responsibly friends.
This ink sample sheet is now ~5 years old. I made it to test if putting glossy or matte top coats over homemade inks would help preserve their colour (spoiler: nope).
🌳✒️: I made this sampler before I made some of my favourite inks — sumac, oak gall, soot… But it’s proven useful as a tool to see how some inks will age. Some natural inks start out incredibly vibrant, and shift over time to different tones. Buckthorn berries with lye are one — settling from a vibrant green to a mustard yellow. Environment and circumstance play a role too. The wild grape here has settled to more of a rust, while in other paintings I’ve made it’s stayed a bright purple. And that’s fair — I weather a lot faster when left in direct sunlight too.
🎨⌚: It’s a curious reflection and exercise in resilience. The inks will still be there, years later, still present on the page, just not the way they were. Knowing that, though I really enjoy the moments when the colours are vibrant and exciting, I try not to paint around particular hues. (Contrary to Robert Frost, gold is happy to stick around, while nothing green can stay.) So, instead, what’s the crux of a critter? What’s the deeper part that persists, when the superficial stuff goes… squirrelly?
🌱🎉🔄: Making homemade inks also doles out joy over and over. Much more than the intemperate high of a shopping spree. The joy of foraging for the plants, the joy of cooking up their colours, and of exploring their interactions as they run together on the page. Three joys for the price of none. And then the fascination of watching as the created image grows and changes alongside me. It’s not such a bad thing, this evolution and impermanence. Less like a moment lost, more an unfolding adventure.
Junk art! What do a box of cat food, a bit of sumac, offcuts of wood, and a smashed photo have in common? This hummdinger of an art piece!
📏🐈: First upcycled + DIY picture frame… complete! I made the picture frame from scraps I recut on the table saw/by hand, a piece of broken glass I recut, and cardboard from the boxes from Oliver’s cat food + Neil’s office chair…that I recut. Recut, remix, reward! 💚 (See previous post for parts prep.)
🎨🌱: I painted the hummingbird with inks I made from plants: buckthorn, wild grape, avocado pits, goldenrod, sumac, grapevine charcoal.
♻️💪: So satisfying to bring it all together in something more than the sum of its parts. Upcycle for the win!! Have a great weekend makers!
📺: “Junk art” is a reference to Beau Miles’ “Junk” series on YouTube. Highly recommend, two thumbs way up 👍👍
The story goes that King Alfred, exhausted from battle, filthy, and lost in the woods, was given shelter by a herdsman’s family. In his unkempt state, they didn’t recognize him as the king, and thought he was a tired soldier.
The wife was in the middle of baking bread on the hearth, and asked the King to watch the fire while she went to fetch more wood. While she was out, he fell asleep and she returned to find the loaves burnt. Scolding him for his carelessness, and the wife expressed surprise that anyone would not understand the importance of tending to the bread. What sort of person doesn’t understand such a basic household task?
In one version of the story, King Alfred scatters the burnt loaves in the woods to hide his mistake.
Enter Daldinia concentrica. Also known as “King Alfred’s Cakes”.
But the story of the burnt loaves is not this fungus’ only connection to fire…
King Alfred’s Cakes are also sometimes referred to as “coal balls” or “carbon cakes” or “carbon balls”.
But much like the legend, the exact details of why depend on who you ask.
Some say that the “coal” name comes from Daldinia‘s sooty spores. Spores of Daldinia are ejected through little tubes (perithecium) at the outermost layer of the fungus. You can see these tubes in the cross section photo below. The ejected spores look like a fine black powder, and the “soot” this fungus leaves behind certainly do make you think of carbon or coal.
However, there is another explanation. One that ignited my interest, as it were.
Because Daldinia has another unusual and interesting property: an ability to catch and hold fire. This fungus ignites quickly, but smoulders slowly.
This mushroom can carry fire.
Now, if you hand me information like that, there is one more thing you have to hand me. Matches.
I took my tiny Daldinia sample over to the fire pit, and, well, here’s what happened…
Now that’s what I call confirming an ID! I conducted this experiment around 6am one morning before getting started on work, and it made my whole dang day. I’m still high on it.
Daldinia are quite common, and this fiery property may have historically made this fungus a useful “tool” to forage: as a vessel for moving fire from one place to another, or as tinder. Using fungus as tinder would not be unique to Daldinia. This was also famously concluded as the reason that Fomes fomentarius, “hoof” fungus, was one of two fungi found in the travel equipment of Ötzi the Iceman’s 5000 year old mummified remains.
It’s all still there, even when we fail to notice. The raw materials for heart-rending heart-mending fascination. Both the tinder and the spark. The embers of science and magic in the tiny un-flashy fungi, and the sense of wonder we adult humans seem to constantly misplace, or dampen under the wet rag of a humdrum existence. But there it all is, smouldering away, waiting for our interest to ignite, and set it ablaze.
Note: According to some sources the species that grows here in North America should be identified as Daldinia childiae, instead of Daldinia concentrica.
Why build a nursery for your baby when you could have an oak tree do it for you?
The adult gall wasp lays its egg in a growing part of the tree, like a leaf bud, in the spring. The oak responds to the activity by forming a growth around the disturbance – a gall. The gall contains the wasp, but also… contains it. The little wasp egg gets a snug little nursery, both shelter and food – free room and board — as it feeds on the still growing and nutritious walls of its home. When the baby wasp is all done growing up, it chews a little round exit hole for itself (seen in the photo of galls above). Off the wasp goes to begin the cycle all over again.
There are many insects, fungi, bacteria, etc that result in the growth of galls. Large oak galls like the ones shown above are likely made by the Amphibolips quercusinanis wasp.
These galls often fall to the forest floor, bright green with red spots when fresh, drying to papery brown. They’re one of the treasures I keep an eye out for when I’m out for a walk, as they’re a key ingredient in a historic natural ink. I find the wild turkeys are great friends to me in this quest, as they seem to leave the gall behind when they dig up the forest floor. See the photo below for an oak gall as I found it, in a perfect tiny clearing. Thanks turkeys!
Mixing oak galls with iron salts results in a rich black ink (albeit one that sometimes eats through paper). It’s a project I’ve had percolating for a few years now, and I hope to make a batch this spring/summer. Collecting enough of the right galls has been a slow but very enjoyable process. And I almost always remember that I put a papery delicate gall in my pocket and don’t crumble it to dust by jamming a chilly hand quickly in a pocket later on the same walk. Almost always.
Nothing about this post is intended as an endorsement of eating any wild mushrooms. Including ones that look just like whatever this mushroom looks like to you. If you are not 100% certain a mushroom is safe for you to eat, don’t eat it.
There are deadly poisonous mushrooms in Ontario and some of the most toxic are common, widespread, and don’t look “scary”.
Be safe out there. Fill your eyes if not your belly with as many mushrooms as you like, and live to adventure another day.
Each year a Dryad’s Saddle appears on the Manitoba maple that hangs over our driveway. Not a mystical fairy apparition, but a pretty tawny mushroom with a lot of curb appeal. It is one of Ontario’s edible mushrooms, also known as Pheasant’s Back. Though I’ve never personally had opportunity to edible it, because some critters — and I’m looking at you squirrels — always spot it before I do. But it’s a pretty do-able mushroom to identify definitively. Even for an amateur mycologist with questionable morels like me.
A couple of weeks ago it rained near continuously for three days. Prompting the fungi to fruit fabulously practically overnight. Including the Dryad’s Saddle (Cerioporus squamosus).
I don’t begrudge the squirrels their seasonal wild treats, nor do I want to eat their favourite foods from nature’s pantry. So while I was definitely going to leap on this opportunity, I was not going to pick this branch clean of mushrooms. Besides being very poor foraging etiquette, it would be like cronching all the good potato chips while your roommate is away visiting their parents. I try to sample enough from nature’s pantry to keep my own wild self nourished, without leaving the shelves bare for others.
(Though, as Neil rightly pointed out, the squirrels already get lots of food from our household. See also: the “bird” feeder…)
I took one mushroom from the cluster. Not the largest nor the smallest, but one that was just right. The oldest can stay to spread their spores, and the youngest can grow to replace the oldest.
Having never prepared Dryad’s Saddle before, I did some reading, and found this recipe for Wild Mushroom Conserve. I began by scraping the pores off the mushroom, following these instructions. Since I wasn’t going to eat them, I returned the pore scrapings to the tree where the fungus was fruiting. Because if I wasn’t going to eat them, why not leave them for something else to nom? It might be a little like putting the good potato chip bag back in the pantry with just potato chip dust in the bottom, but I think my squirrel buddies know I mean well. Since I was prepping the mushroom well after dark, I put on my headlamp, popped outside and left the scrapings in a little pile on the branch for them.
The smell of fresh Dryad’s Saddle has been described elsewhere as cucumber-like, and the description is bang on. It smells just like a fresh cucumber, if a cucumber was pretending to be a brown mushroom, growing on the side of a tree.
After the pores were removed, the next step was to thinly and carefully shave the mushroom down with a mandoline, then let the shavings rest in the fridge overnight, before sautéing them with butter, salt and herbs, and finally packing them as a pickle.
I popped the now-marinated mushrooms in the fridge and left them to rest a few days. Then I had my first small sample, waiting to see if it went down alright before having more. (Safety first kids.) Verdict? Completely delicious. Those squirrels really know their potato chips.
Rating: 10/10, will ask the squirrels to share the bounty with us again.
p.p.s. (Puffball Postscript)
I also made this tasty Wild Mushroom Ketchup with one of our giant puffballs (Calvatia gigantea). A second puffball I dehydrated and turned to powder (it. got. every. where.).
Did you know “ketchup” basically used to just mean any liquid sauce? Language is so neat. Though I will not start asking Neil to “pass the ketchup” any time there is a liquid condiment on the table…. Probably.