Inktober is a month long art challenge created by artist Jake Parker, that is focused on improving skill and developing positive drawing habits. Every day for the month of October participants create an ink illustration based on a word from the official prompt list, and share it online with the community.
This challenge was an opportunity to not only foster a consistent art practice, but to also experiment with new materials that I normally might not have been so comfortable with:
- Sakura Pigma Micron Black Archival Ink (003, 005, 01, 02, 03, 05, 08)
- Sakura Gelly Roll White (05, 08, 10)
- Rotring 500 0.35 (B)
- Carta Pura Black Eraser
- Hahnemühle Kraft Paper 120 gsm (A5)
Because constraints foster creativity, I decided to add another layer of complexity and based all of my illustrations on a common theme that I am very passionate about: mushrooms. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to learn more about this fascinating kingdom, but this also meant that the daily artwork had to be as close to nature journal quality as possible, one species at a time.
Day 1: Fish
Commonly known as the turkey tail mushroom, it derives its name from the very colorful rings that resemble patterns found on the tails of wild turkeys. Because it can even have a green appearance caused by algae growing on it, I thought it would be a good tie-in with the fish fossil, despite the fact that that this mushroom actually grows on dead wood.
Day 2: Wisp
Commonly known as the lilac bonnet, this delicate mushroom seemed appropriate for showing how spores are released into the air as wisps of future mycelia, almost mystical in their appearance. It’s hard to believe that this happens all around us, but at a very small and unnoticeable scale.
Day 3: Bulky
Commonly known as the porcini, this bulky mushroom used to be a tasty delight back when I was a kid in Romania and my folks would forage for it when the season came. Since then I haven’t had it quite as often, but I’m now rediscovering it here in Germany as Steinpilze (en. stone mushroom).
Day 4: Radio
Commonly known as the common bonnet, this mushroom grows in clusters on rotting wood as its mycelium slowly breaks down the wood fiber. Somehow that’s what I imagined an old pocket radio would look like in a post-human era, when nature starts to reclaim everything even if the plastic cannot decay like wood does.
Day 5: Blade
Commonly known as the blushing wood mushroom, its Latin name “silvaticus” quite literally means “of the woods” and as I learned more and more about foraging, I also inevitably came across this special knife that Opinel made explicitly for mushroom hunters. I don’t have one myself, but I thought it was the perfect blade to feature in this prompt.
Day 6: Rodent
Commonly known as the saffron milk cap, this species is widely spread in the Iberian peninsula but was initially mistaken with the even tastier Lactarius sanguifluus, which is actually how it got the epithet “delicious”. I found out about this mushroom from a Spanish friend of mine, because it’s actually the most sought after wild mushroom in the country.
Day 7: Fancy
Commonly known as the morel, this is the most familiar of the family but still quite a rare find, so I’ve never seen one myself nor have I eaten it yet. The morel grows under hardwoods and conifers during a short period in the spring, and I’ve always thought it to have such a unique and fancy appearance.
Day 8: Teeth
Commonly known as St. George’s mushroom, this one is considered to be a delicacy and has been highly regarded since medieval times. In Western Europe it is now being imported in commercial quantities from Romania, and given how tasty it is when fried in butter, it seems like just the kind of mushroom to sink your teeth in.
Day 9: Throw
Commonly known as the death cap, this is one of the most poisonous of all known mushrooms having been involved in the majority of human deaths from mushroom poisoning. Native to Europe where it is widespread, when ingested it throws your body into a series of symptoms ranging from abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, to delirium, seizures and liver failure, ultimately leading to life-threatening complications like intracranial bleeding, acute kidney failure and cardiac arrest.
Day 10: Hope
Commonly known as the liberty cap, this mushroom contains the psychoactive compounds psilocybin and baeocystin, being not only one of the most widely spread psilocybin mushrooms in nature but also one of the most potent and actually the first European species confirmed to contain psilocybin.
This day’s prompt is especially important as it overlaps with World Mental Health Day, and psychedelics have been proven by institutes like the John Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research to have therapeutic effects in people who suffer a range of challenging conditions including substance addiction, existential distress caused by life-threatening disease, and treatment-resistant depression. As research continues, there is hope for psilocybin to be used as precision medicine treatments tailored to the specific needs of individual patients.
Day 11: Disgusting
Commonly known as the inky cap, this mushroom looks quite normal in its young stage but as it matures the grey-brown cap disintegrates and the gills liquify into a black “ink” that is used to disperse spores more efficiently. The gills liquefy from the bottom up as the spores mature, thus the cap peels up and away, and the maturing spores are always kept in the best position for catching wind currents. Quite an interesting evolutionary tale, but also a somewhat visually disgusting one.
Day 12: Slippery
Commonly known as the gilded brittlegill, it’s not a very common mushroom to come across but one that my family and I would somehow always find while mushroom hunting, and one that I could identify very early on in my childhood. Unfortunately for my folks, most of the specimens that I would collect would also have some other slippery critters on them like worms or snails, that were equally fascinating to me.
Day 13: Dune
Commonly known as the deceiver mushroom because it varies so much in color, it’s actually pairs well with this prompt because it reminds me of the mesmerizing dunes of a desert which can play tricks on you as your wandering around thirsty and disoriented, not able to tell reality from mirage.
Day 14: Armor
Commonly known as the bridal veil stinkhorn, this mushroom not only looks like it has a natural chain mail around it but in fact it has been recognised to have antioxidant and antibacterial properties, even being used in soup broth to prevent it from spoiling for several days. It might not be your conventional armor, but it is one nonetheless!
Day 15: Outpost
Commonly known as the stump or honey mushroom, this is yet another species that I would forage for with my family as a kid. Tasty as it is, the mushroom itself is actually a pathogen that causes root rot in the trees that it infects but at least its mycelium is capable of producing bio-luminescence.
Day 16: Rocket
Commonly known as a puffball or less common as the devil’s snuff-box, this small brown mushroom has an opening at its top and when its body is compressed, either by touch or falling raindrops, it shoots a plume of spores into the air similar in appearance to the exhaust of a rocket.
Day 17: Storm
Commonly known as the parasol mushroom because of its umbrella shape, this seemed ideal for this day’s prompt. Very sought-after and popular in Europe, this mushroom is actually called the snake’s hat in Romanian (ro. pălăria șarpelui) and can be used to prepare quite a variety of dishes.
Day 18: Trap
Commonly known as chicken of the woods, this bright golden-yellow mushroom is a polypore which means that its underside is covered in many small pores from where it disperses spores. Growing on or at the base of living or dead trees, this is a very tasty mushroom, and as the name implies it can actually be a great substitute for meat in almost any dish.
Day 19: Dizzy
Commonly known as the anemone stinkhorn or the starfish mushroom, this very weirdly shaped fungus almost looks like it belongs on the sea bed instead of the forest floor. Much like other stinkhorns, this mushroom also produces a brown slime called “gleba” which gives off a very off-putting odor similar to that of rotting meat. While that might smell horrible to us humans, it’s actually a great way to attract some dizzy flies that will ultimately help spread its spores.
Day 20: Coral
Commonly known as the pink-tipped coral mushroom, this fungus could not have been a better fit for this day’s prompt, though interestingly enough we actually call it the rooster’s crest mushroom in Romanian (ro. creasta cocoșului). This was probably one of the first mushrooms to really stand out for me as a kid, mostly because its appearance is anything but normal when compared to your typical mushrooms.
Day 21: Sleep
Commonly known as the fly agaric, this has to undoubtebly be the most iconic of mushrooms. From fairly tales to garden ornaments, this white-specked red cap mushroom grows under coniferous trees across the Northern Hemisphere and is classified as poisonous.
All variations of this mushroom contain the psychoactive neurotoxins ibotenic acid and muscimol, which actually gained it religious significance in some cultures, like the Sámi or the peoples of Siberia. In fact a fascinating theory puts this mushroom at the very origins of Christmas tradition, as shamans would collect them, hang them on tree branches to dry and then offer these red and white “wrapped” gifts to people on the winter solstice as part of a spiritual experience.
From Santa Claus to vikings going into a state of berserker rage, there are plenty of resources online if you want to go down this rabbit hole, but suffice to say that the fly agaric is one very special mushroom.
Day 22: Chef
Commonly known as chanterelles, the fruity aroma and widespread distribution of these mushrooms means that they are easily found in both restaurants and markets, which is why they are also my favorite edible mushroom and a known treat in Bavarian cuisine. Interestingly enough, their somewhat mild peppery taste is also why Germans call them Pfifferlinge.
Day 23: Rip
Commonly known as the oyster mushroom, this fungus draws its name from the oyster-like shape of its caps. Don’t know if I’ve ever seen one in the wild but I’ve definitely eaten plenty of them. Interestingly enough it’s actually one of the few species of carnivorous mushrooms whose mycelia is known to eat bacteria and nematodes, making it a good fit for this day’s prompt.
Day 24: Dig
Commonly known as black truffles, these delicacies are the most expensive edible mushrooms in the world. Though they have been traditionally searched for and dug up from natural forests for over 200 years, due to high demand and climate change, these fungi are nowadays mostly cultivated and exported from the Southern regions of Europe.
Day 25: Buddy
Commonly known as the magpie inkcap, this beautiful but poisonous mushrooms starts off in a more egg-like shape but as it gradually grows it begins to break open the velum which then remains stuck to the cap in small pieces, making it look like the plumage of a magpie.
Day 26: Hide
Commonly known as the apricot jelly fungus, its Latin name is derived from the ancient term “helvella” used to describe a curly-leaved aromatic herb. Rubbery as they may look and feel, these gelatinous mushrooms are actually edible and sometimes added raw to salads.
First time that I ever came across these weird looking mushrooms was on a hike when I found some growing in an old decaying tree trunk, safely tucked away and hidden from prying eyes, and they’ve fascinated me ever since.
Day 27: Music
Commonly known as the horn of plenty or the black chanterelle, this almost flower-like mushroom is sometimes also referred to as the trumpet of the dead. One possible origin for that name is that they were seen as being played like trumpets by dead people under the ground. Creepy as it might sound, the mushrooms themselves are actually edible and have a complex, almost truffle-like flavor.
Day 28: Float
Commonly known as the purple pinwheel mushroom, this delicate fungi is so minuscule in size that its parachute-like cap and thin hollow stem almost make it seem like it’s floating. You can usually find these growing on dead wood, peaking out from underneath moss, or on wood debris like twigs or sticks, and sometimes on decaying leaves.
Day 29: Shoes
Commonly known as shrooms or magic mushrooms, these fungi seemed appropriate for this day’s prompt as you don’t really need shoes to go on a good trip, and the potential long-lasting benefits that these bring are not to be disregarded.
Much like the P. semilanceata from Day 10, this also contains the psychoactive compound psilocybin which institutes like the John Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research are now studying as a new therapy for opioid addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, PTSD and alcohol addiction.
Day 30: Ominous
Commonly known as the destroying angel, this pure white mushroom is deadly poisonous, with just one cap being enough to kill an adult human, but it was its Latin name that made me pick it for this day’s prompt. Not only was it fitting with COVID-19, but as I think back to early 2020 when I was wearing a plague doctor mask at an event, I couldn’t have foreseen how ominous that would be for the pandemic to come.
Day 31: Crawl
Commonly known as king oyster mushrooms, these have a habit of ending up in my grocery basket on quite the regular basis. Not only do I like them because of their long shelf life, but also because if you sauté them in butter with a bit of garlic and a pinch of salt, they develop this nice meaty texture and a very rich umami flavor.
Like other members of its genus, the king oyster also attacks minuscule crawling worms called nematodes, unlike the giant creepy centipede featured in this illustration.
In The Wild
Challenges & Learnings
There is a reason why this is called a challenge, because it definitely wasn’t easy to see it through. Despite being able to stick to a consistent practice on an almost daily basis, roughly two thirds in I actually ended up fracturing my right wrist in a snowboarding accident. Being right-handed, that meant I had to pause any illustration work until my arm was healed and its mobility was regained a couple of moths later. This might have not been finished in October, but it was finished!
Apart from learning a wealth of knowledge about fungi, this has also taught me that probably the most important thing in maintaining a consistent (art) practice is to show up. The outcome itself comes in second place, but as long as you have the grit to show up, day in and day out to do the work, progress will be inevitable.
Learn more about this challenge on the official Inktober website.