I’ve had a busy few weeks, but my project for underGROWTH is coming along apace! In my last post, I wrote about the research process: reading, amongst other things, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Gathering Moss, and learning to see through ‘moss coloured glasses’. In this post, I’m going to focus on the content creation for the zine: taking photographs, making illustrations, and conducting interviews.
One of my objectives for the zine is to invite people to take a closer look into the miniature worlds of moss and lichen, and see the beauty that is hiding at the edge of our perception. I’ve written before about casting these organisms in resin, to encapsulate their intricate shapes and textures. But it is also important to see these miniature worlds in their natural environment, undisturbed. Taking high quality photographs of moss and lichen is one way to access this; my hope is that these photos will also encourage people to go and search for them in their own localities!
Kimmerer talks of mosses as taking ‘no technology but time and patience to perceive’. To take good photographs of mosses and lichens, time and patience are key. My family have certainly had to have patience on our walks, when I stop to take pictures of the new sights or species I find!
I’ll admit, I’ve been known to become very, perhaps overly, excited when I find many different species all on the same trunk or twig. Together, with their varied shapes, colours, and textures, they create such wonderful compositions – and photographs! It’s also telling of the wonderful biodiversity of these organisms and their environments, when you see different species growing side-by-side like this.
Sometimes, it’s all about taking a new perspective. Mosses and lichens exist in the boundary layer, in the sheltered micro-climate just above the surface of a substrate. Getting down on their level, and looking through their leaves and stalks as if it were a full-size forest, can create a unique snapshot. Sometimes, these organisms grow where you wouldn’t otherwise think to look: on the underside of logs, on the water-level of a riverbank, or on a rocky overhang above your head. Looking closer doesn’t always mean looking straight forward.
I want the zine to have quite a homely feel to it; I want the pages to feel like they could have been collaged together from bits of old almanacs and botanical studies. Illustrations are a great way to add colour and to fill out a page. I experimented with drawing mosses and lichens in a few different mediums: I used pencil and gouache paints, and even tried printing using the lichens themselves!
What I found worked best were watercolour pens. The pens themselves are quite vibrant, but by dragging the ink across the page with a damp paintbrush, I could add a softness that more closely resembles the leaves of mosses, or textured surfaces of lichens. Light and dark green, brown, yellow, and pale blue created the rich palette of colours.
I focused on four mosses and four lichen species throughout this zine, and did an illustration of each that will be made into a spotter’s guide.
- Lyell’s Bristle Moss, Common Feather Moss, Common Haircap Moss, and Pincushion Moss
- Yellow Scale Lichen, Common Greenshield Lichen, Oak Moss Lichen, and Pixie Cup Lichen
The illustrations will then decorate the corners and edges of other pages throughout the zine. Here’s just a few scans from my sketchbook.
As I mentioned in my last post, I did not want mine to be only voice in this zine. I have only a limited knowledge, and a single perspective, into the world of mosses and lichens. I invited two other voices to share the page with me.
My first conversation was with Lauren Sheerman, a poet, performer, and teacher who has blended the folkloric and the ecological in her creative works on mosses. I love anything folkloric, and we had much to talk about. Lauren shared the ways in which folk beliefs were present in her childhood – building homes for fairies in moss-lined jars – and how they continue to enchant her today. She talked with me about her research, and her interest in how the folk uses of mosses are largely unknown, due in large part to it being women’s history, and thus left untold.
My second conversation was with Uta Hamzaoui, a bryologist and botanist who is drawn to these organisms for their structure and their beauty. Uta shared the fascination she holds for mosses, especially during winter ‘when they look their best’, and talked about taking photographs of these organisms under different lighting. Uta’s enthusiasm for mosses was electric, and just hearing her talk was so inspiring! I am really looking forward to the scientific perspective Uta will bring to the zine.
I am currently working in writing three poems that will also be included in the zine. My next blog post will go a little more in depth into this aspect of the project, looking at my inspiration, the writing process, and the story I am trying to tell through verse.
underGROWTH is a series of eco-art residencies designed to confront issues relating the Coventry’s environment. It is curated by Lauren Sheerman and George Ttoouli, with The Pod Cafe and allotments in Coventry. Learn more on Twitter at @underGROWTHcov, or on Tumblr here.