LICHENS: FASCINATING, BEAUTIFUL & PART OF AN UPCOMING ART SHOW


In my previous post I wrote about the upcoming Creative Reactions art show, for which I have been creating fibre art lichens based on a collaboration with botanist Paul Sokoloff of the Museum of Nature and 3 experts Paul invited to provide input and feedback. The group of 4 botanists and lichenologists is pictured below. 

L-R Cassandra Robillard, Paul Sokoloff, Chris Deduke, and Troy McMullin


A goal for me was to create much texture and dimension in these fibre art lichens, bearing in mind it would be mounted on a canvas and displayed on an easel. During a recent Show & Tell with the Out of the Box Fibre Artists, I presented 4 of the 5 lichens I was working on - in various stages of completion - and was pleased at their interest, feedback and that they wanted to know when and where the show is. I've included some photos below but the photos don't do the lichens justice, so you'll have to come to the show on May 25 to see them in person, and to see the final art piece.

Elegant Sunburst

This lichen got my interest right away due to its striking beauty and the contrast of its orange colour against a gray background.

It seems this lichen feeds on the nutrients left by birds, and so is found in areas where there are lots of birds. And also explains the gray background colour.

I created this background on a brown paper bag, painted and scraped it with modelling paste and sand resin. To add more texture and dimension, I cut up an old tatted doily, painted it with the same gray colours, scrunched and stitched it to the painted bag.

From this doily 


To this painted and scrunched piece, and stitched to painted background

I discovered in my stash of materials a wonderful playful orange yarn, which very closely matches this orange elegant sunburst lichen. My final piece has 3 of these orange lichens on the background; the photo below shows just one section. The "leaf-like" part of this lichen swells when wet, which would be the case in the one shown here.

Elegant Sunburst



Fairy Puke Lichen

What can I say? This lichen was chosen because of its name - fairy puke - and it's brought a smile so far to everyone who has heard the name. Judging by the number of people who remembered this afterwards, they have proved that art can be used for learning. And if you try to picture what fairy puke may look like....

Since some of the reference photos shows this lichen growing on wood, I kept my eye out for some scrap wood, and found some fabulous pieces that a local handmade furniture store makes available to the public.

For the lichen, needle felted small pink over green wool "puke" balls seemed most appropriate, sort of randomly glued as if they had landed on a piece of wood.




Blue Felt Lichen

A third lichen - blue felt - was selected because of a project in which provinces had been invited to name a provincial lichen, similar to naming a provincial flower. Lichenologist Troy McMullin and researchers across the country have been leading this effort to create more awareness about lichens.

Narrowing down the choice could not be easy in each province. While I'm not sure if all have picked a lichen, I did want to highlight this project and chose Nova Scotia's recently named provincial lichen, called blue felt.

Creating this one in fibre art was challenging and it took a few starts and stops before I was happy with it.

I had played with some fabric cut-outs to create the shape and ripples, but none were to my satisfaction. Finding the right colour also proved to be a challenge. Then I recalled a piece of cotton I had indigo dyed last summer (it also has some rust marks) (see photo at right), cut circles from the dyed fabric and basted a hem which I pulled tighter to create the ripples. (Indigo dyeing is a thousand year old procedure using the indigo plant and used today to dye blue jeans as well as for tie-dyeing.)
                                                                                                     

Once I was happy with these shapes, I dry-brushed blue paint onto the surface to tone down the rust colour, and needle-felted blue and grey wool onto the fabric to tone down the rust even further and to add more depth and a felt-look texture. More blue paint was added to the edges of each lichen, then needle felted berries in shades of green and red added.

The completed pieces were glued onto one of the pieces of wood I had salvaged as this lichen is often found growing on the trunks of old trees. While not exact by any means, I'm quite pleased with the final look.



Alpine Bloodspot

The fourth lichen in this fibre art piece, alpine bloodspot, was chosen for its smooth texture and its colours, and because its an Arctic lichen.

For the background I again used brown paper bag, painted with acrylic paints and sand resin. This time I also added used coffee grounds to add a deep brown soil-like colour.  My husband had offered me some potting soil to use but as fibre artists will tell you, coffee grounds look more like soil than soil does!


With the background complete I began working on the bloodspot lichens. The red and white bits were made from polymer clay and sanded to smooth the rough edges. The white fabric background is strips from an old wool blanket, and rug-hooked onto an open weave fabric which added much dimension to the piece. I had first toyed with other off-white fabrics, but none came close to the texture I got from this blanket.



Arctic Orangebush Lichen

This last lichen took longer to choose. A number of ideas were presented by Paul and his team, but in the end this one became the  choice due in part to its texture, but more importantly because of its importance to those who specialize in Arctic plants. This Arctic orangebush lichen is only known in the western Canadian Arctic and is considered rare. 2017 saw an Arctic expedition in honour of Canada's 150th, here is a link to Paul's posting on finding this rare species during the expedition:
https://canadianmuseumofnature.wordpress.com/2017/12/13/two-rare-species-one-big-trip/

This one also took more experimenting on my part to find both materials and a technique that would work to create something similar. After a few false starts, I went back to the old tatted doily I used for the elegant sunburst lichen, cut more,  painted it yellow and added fabric stiffener. And stitched it to a background of needle felted wool roving. The roving has various sheep and llama wools in earthy colours and I was able to create small hills of "soil" in which this lichen could grow.


Alpine Orangebush Lichen


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This project for me has been a gift, one that pushed me to create more texture and dimension than I've done before. And it included an educational aspect about the lichens that I don't usually get with the subjects I work on. As I was finishing up these lichens and starting another project, I quickly realized I was already a bit bored with it without the challenge of creating  so much texture. 


I will definitely be keeping an eye out this spring and summer for lichens in the area, and will have my camera in hand to capture their beauty and, hopefully, capture them in fibre art too.

My thanks go out to Paul and his team for all their thoughts and feedback. And to Mirka Strmiskova for selecting me as one of the eight artists, and for organizing the Creative Reactions show. I can't wait to see what the other projects are and meet the experts behind them.

Again, the show Creative Reactions is Saturday, May 25 from 6:30 - 9:30 pm at the Plant Recreation Centre at 930 Somerset Street West. 


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