Friday, February 19, 2010

Artist Conk

Nature doesn’t provide very many materials that you can draw on directly without a lot of preparation. Forget papyrus or canvas or deerskin—they take work to prepare.

There’s the tooth of the sperm whale (used in scrimshaw), white tree bark (birchbark), and cave art on rock walls.

One of the finest natural art materials is called Artist’s Conk or Artist’s Fungus (Ganoderma applanatum). It grows on the side of rotting deciduous trunks throughout North America, and can reach sizes of up to 20 inches wide. It has a gray, furrowed crust on the top surface, resembling a horse’s hoof, and a clear, smooth, milk-white under surface.

The white surface bruises under the touch of a sharp nail. Artists can etch extremely detailed drawings on the wide, arching shape. As the fungus dries, it becomes hard and lightweight, and the drawing naturally darkens and cures to a solid, permanent texture like wood.
More about preparing and collecting.
Thomas Volk, Mushroom expert's site.
Information from the National Audubon Field Guide to Non-Flowering Plants.


Dan Gurney said...

Wow. Now there's an idea! Ganoderma applanatum.

Remember skin! Your hand is a good place to write the key words of a speech if your mind can't remember them. Or draw a happy face.

In regard to conk, "permanent" is probably overstating it a bit. Lasting, yes.

Unknown said...

Awesome. A reason to tromp through the woods more often. That sounds like a blast to try.

In regards to skin, that was my most used notebook in highschool.

Steve said...

Traveling in the Adirondacks, I've seen some examples of this artform from the 1800s. Very detailed, soft sepia colors -- the perfect medium for Arthur Rackham!

Shane White said...

They're plentiful up in northern New York and I used to use them as steps to climb dead trees. Unfortunately as I got old they would give way under my weight.

I always thought they were pretty cool though.


Craig Elliott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Craig Elliott said...

Whoa! That's cool. I'm switching form paper right now.... can I eat it if I don't like my drawing?

Craig Elliott Gallery

Keith Carter said...

My mom used to do this all the time after taking hikes in the woods! I remember thinking when I was younger that it was strange, but now I look back on it as being one of my first introductions into the many different ways to express yourself artistically. Thanks for posting, just had a flood of old memories.

James Gurney said...

Great memories, everyone. Craig, actually I read somewhere that you can't really eat artist's conk, but you can make it into tea.

Tim said...

I sketch on nothing but whale tooth these days. Feels more authentic ya know?

draigstudio said...

Because of this post I dreamt last night about trying to find the perfect conks to draw on and then drew on them all night in my sleep!

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid, my dad would find these and paint scenes on them.

Craig Elliott said...

Thanks Jim, Ill fire up the teakettle. Sadly, we don't have these in California, at least not nearly so large!

Craig Elliott Gallery

Kathryn Cramer said...

I live in the Adirondacks and bought a few artist's conks at an estate sale last summer. They had probably been in storage for about a decade.

Today, I painted a scene of a friend's farm (plus a few additions such as a dragon) on one of the. This is how it turned out.