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Making Paper Mushrooms

A collection of paper mushrooms and other autumn inspired paper sculptures.
A collection of paper mushrooms and other autumn inspired paper sculptures.

I love to get inspiration from the world around me and spend a lot of time out and about looking for things I could potentially recreate in paper. I'm very lucky to live in an area that is abundant in fungi, with different species popping up at different times of the year so there's usually always a mushroom to spot and try to identify. I've now got quite a large collection of paper fungi, inspired by all the local species as well as a few from other parts of the world that I've researched in books and online. I mostly tend to make them in the autumn as this seems to be when they're most celebrated and I find searching for them gives me a good reason to get outside and immerse myself in nature even though its getting colder and darker at this time of year and I just want to stay in the warm!

Mushrooms are fascinating. They can be found throughout the year growing in all sorts of different habitats including parks, gardens, grasslands and woodland. Most of the mushroom is found underground as a huge web of roots called mycelium. They can span great distances and will connect to other plants and fungi growing in the same area. What we traditionally refer to as a mushroom is just the fruiting part of the organism which, when the conditions are right, grows up, above the ground so it can spread its spores far and wide to create new fungi.

Mushrooms don't have chlorophyll (the stuff that makes plants green and helps them produce food) so they have to find it in other organic material like animals do. Some love rotting wood and leaves while other varieties love pastures that have been grazed by animals (so are covered in poop!) and some will even grow as parasites on a host plant or insect.

If you want to try looking for fungi and don't know where to start there is lots of information about finding and identify mushrooms online, including through the Woodland Trust and Wildlife Trust websites.

Paper artist Kate Kato photographing a real mushroom on the grassy hillside of Hergest ridge where she lives.
Photographing Field Mushrooms on Hergest Ridge where I live.

I try to take as many photos as I can when I go foraging for mushrooms, which I will then refer back to when I'm making in my studio. I prefer to take photos of mushrooms in their environment instead of picking them and taking them home with me as they don't always last very long and some will often have shrivelled up by the time I get home and start making it. By taking lots of photos I get to capture the life like details I want to include in my sculpture but leave the mushroom to spread its spores and let others enjoy it too.

When I do get back into the studio I always start by making sketches of the fungi I've found and draw a template from my photos which I will then use to build my paper version from. I also experiment with my watercolours and try mixing different colours and shades until I get a colour that is similar enough to the mushroom I'm making. I try to decide what other elements of the fungi's habitat I'm going to include with the sculpture such as leaf litter or a grassy tuft.

a collection of fly agaric mushrooms made from recycled paper and fabric.
The first mushrooms I made in 2015 from recycled paper and fabric scraps.

I make all my mushrooms out of reclaimed paper, mostly old book pages. They make fantastic looking gills when fanned out and help to create the perfect structure to Paper Mache the mushroom cap to. When I first started making mushrooms I used fabric scraps and hand stitched them to make the dome shaped caps. I really loved how the fabric would take the watercolour paint and the colours would spread through the damp fabric in a very organic way. It was quite a time consuming process though, and a bit fiddly to get the shape right. I eventually switched to Paper Mache and began using tissue paper as it was thin and created a nice smooth surface that followed the curves of the gills nicely. The paper also made it easier to create the different textures found on different fungi, like the white scales on a fly agaric or the fluffy sides of a shaggy ink cap.

The mushroom stalks are also created using Paper Mache and wire and the whole thing is painted with watercolours. It can take a really long time to create a mushroom. The initial experimenting and testing of colours and template shapes can take days to get right. Once I've worked out how I will go about building the fungi it becomes a bit more straight forward although the process can be quite drawn out, waiting for glue or paint to dry. It can be 2-3 days before a mushroom is complete, particularly as I like to add as many of the tiny details as I can like the slug eaten holes or the bits of dirt stuck to the bottom of the stalk.

a set of three tiny paper mushrooms growing from a collection of paper leaves and pine needles.
Some of the tinier fungi I've created!

If you'd like to have a go at making your own paper mushrooms I've created an online course, describing all the steps I take, from how to photograph a mushroom and make a template from your pictures to adding extra forest floor details. Its also got lots of resources to help you, including a foraging guide, a list of useful books for identifying and ready made templates if its tricky to get access to fungi when you're out and about. You can find out more on my Paper Mushroom Making Online Course page.


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