Marie Heerkens has become nationally known for her illustrations of plants and animals, and her unique mushroom art. Her study of fungi during the past 18 years has led her not only to create artwork with fungi as the subject, but also to use mushrooms as a medium for her art, with surprising results.
“I use Ganoderma applanatum, commonly known as shelf fungus or artists’ conk,” she explained from her studio in Fairport. “The technique I use is pyrography, which literally means ‘writing with fire.’”
Pyrography is usually done on wood or leather, she said. Heerkens has taken the technique in an entirely new direction.
“I did my first pyrography on a shelf fungus in 1991, which depicted one of my favorite mushrooms: the Morchella esculenta, or morel,” Meerkens related. “Since then I have done many more, which I display and sell at exhibits and art shows.”
She picks the mushrooms during the summer, when they are actively growing and the surface is fresh, then she dries them out for a few weeks. The art part begins when she lightly scratches a preparatory drawing on the mushroom with an etching tool.
“I typically choose wildlife, wildflowers or other fungi as subjects, planning the composition of the piece while visualizing what will fit the particular shape of the mushroom,” Heerkens said. “Then I start drawing with a wood-burning kit while wearing a protective mask.”
She pointed out the importance of working in a well-ventilated room or outdoors, since the smoke from burnt fungi can cause sinus problems.
“Occasionally, I also apply watercolors which soak into the pores of the undersurface,” she continued. “Another quintessential aspect of my work is that I incorporate leaves, twigs, feathers and other materials that are often found naturally attached to the outside of the fungus.”
Heerkens is the co-author, illustrator and photographer of the 2003 edition of The Field Guide to Mushrooms, based on the classic Field Book of Common Mushrooms, originally published in 1928 by William S. Thomas. Her pyrography was recently featured in the book Mycelium Running and the magazine HerbalGram.
Heerkens is a Signature Member of the Artists for Conservation Foundation, and a member of the American Society of Botanical Artists, the Genesee Region Orchid Society and the Nature Conservancy.
Examples of her artwork can be seen at www.natureartists.com/heerkenm.htm and members.aol.com/heerkens. She can be contacted at P.O. Box 506, Fairport, New York, 14450 or online at firstname.lastname@example.org.