I’m enchanted by lichen. Also, by moss, fungi and forest floor wonders, although to a slightly lesser degree. Sit quietly next to a tree, some old wood, weather-worn stone or metal and look….really look……..you can easily be transported into a micro magical world of different shapes, texture and growth patterns, not to mention the incredible subtlety of colours.
Just as we have omnivores, vegetarians and vegans etc, curly hair, straight hair or….no hair 😉, in the lichen world there are 3 main types – foliose, fruticose and crustose. The last two are almost self-explanatory – fruticose, bearing fruiting bodies whilst crustose is….well, crusty! This is an extreme simplification….so any lichenologists reading this (yes, I learnt there are such specialists, along with funginerds or funginuts), please – don’t shout at your screen!
Why do I love them?
Lichens are our pioneers. Generally, they are the first to settle anywhere, growing in so many different substrates and habitats including in some of our planet’s most extreme conditions (artic tundra, mountains, hot deserts, after fire destruction, even toxic environments) some even grow inside solid rock (!!!) and they cover about 7% of our planet’s surface.
Lichens are symbiotic so if they live on a plant, they only use it as a base rather than stealing nutrients. They can be used for food, dyes, and medicine and, due to their long life-span and slow regular growth (the world’s oldest living organism, Rhizocarpon geographicum, ‘map lichen’ is thought to be 8,600 years old) some lichen species are used as a means of telling the age of rocks. The oldest lichen fossil dates from about 400 million years ago. Generally, growth is extremely slow, with most crustose lichen growing only 1-2mm in diameter per year! There are about 20,000 known species and can be regarded as self-contained miniature eco-systems that often thrive in communities.
Wow – as humans we should be learning so very much.
Colours, depending on special pigments, can vary from reds, oranges, yellows and browns or bright green to olive grey and black. Then there is another whole overlay of colour depending on whether the lichen is wet or dry.
I’ve been fascinated for years with the amazing beauty of lichens and thought I’d finally do something about it.
So, I’m currently working on a personal project – translating what I see, and perhaps feel, into mixed media/textile creations. There are so many extremely talented artists, worldwide, who are recreating realistic representations particularly in textiles (Amanda Cobett is one such artist), that I’d fail miserably if I went down that route.
My goal is to ‘see’ either from life or research online photos (Richard Droker, above, is just one of the many amazing photographers worldwide) and interpret my findings using what I have to hand around me. At this point I need to add, that I’m a firm believer in the Spirit of Mottainai – the idea of respecting resources and not wasting them.
Yes, I will buy new supplies (I’m always being seduced by luscious yarns – who isn’t! – as evidenced by a recent trip to Germany), but I also want to repurpose and re-use where possible. I simply couldn’t throw out an extremely, seriously (you get the message!), wear-challenged sofa cover….it offered far too much potential. We won’t talk about where it will be stored!!!
I want simply to evoke the magical landscapes I see. Mmmm….’evoking’,’ Mottainai’, ‘re-purposing’….I didn’t set out to write a mission statement….😜
My poor EPH (Ever patient husband) dare not throw anything out. I often see a clutter of spent, used items (garbage in other words), on the kitchen work surface….
’What the devil?’
’I didn’t know if you needed them?’
Guaranteed the one item he does throw away was the very item I particularly wanted! Oh yes, my hairdresser, shop keeper and even our car mechanic haven’t escaped unscathed!
My experiments involve sewing both by machine and hand, crocheting (I dislike knitting intensely), ironing, printing, playing with liquids for chromatography, burning (many methods & always next to the sink – I value my house too much!), bending metal, soldering….in other words – I’ve been wracking my brain for every technique I’ve ever used….over very many decades!
I’ve also, mischievously (there’s always one!), taken the opportunity during our local textile group’s workshops to further my exploits.
Some experiments fall in line with Thomas A Edison’s theory – “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.
Having studied a great many lichens online, I tend to see something destined for the bin & then think ‘ah ha – that reminds me of….’
So herewith a few other experiments to date….
I also need to explain at this point that whilst I do have patience, I like the creation of individual elements to be the most effective and speediest….for me!!!! This involves challenging myself to find an easier method to achieve the same result – ie trying to create 3D mounds to represent moss, I tried several old techniques including velvet stitch and Victorian tufting, but my patience was not of the centennial variety. So, I thought long and hard and devised a method using the sewing machine and hand stitching. EPH reckons I only need a few more to make our new carpet!
The challenge also includes remembering to keep detailed notes 😉
All I need now is ‘time’ to put my experiments to good use….it is on my wish list!
I hope the next time you look at any lichen you will delve below the surface. Let us know of your findings.