texture: noun  

1. the visual and especially tactile quality of a surface.

2. an essential or characteristic quality; essence.

3. the quality given, as to a musical or literary work, by the combination or interrelation of parts or elements.


This is where I leave little offerings of words regarding the creative process as I know it: inspiration, perspective, synchronicity, experiment and reflection on the creative process, including my experiences under its spell.

Making Ink from Inky Cap Mushroom (Coprinopsis atramentaria)

inkycap ragged.JPG

It was a beautiful Fall afternoon, with crisp Autumn sunshine and an occasional lazy breeze.  There it was, pushing the sugar maple leaves aside as it reached up out of the soil: an Inky Cap! Some people hunt these critters to eat them, but this encounter was exciting to me for a different reason.

"Where are the other ones?"

Strolling up and down the dirt road, lined with sentinel sugar maple trees, I searched the ground within the leaves for more Inky Caps. As I walked I imagined the underground web of the Inky Cap's body, the silky tendrils of mycelium that live under our feet and allow life to be what it is. As I held this image in my mind's eye I silently expressed my intentions to it:

"I want to make ink with your fruit" (mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of the much much larger organism).

That is when I found several more at various stages of development. Some of them were just peeking up out of the leaf litter, while others had been standing there long enough for the rims of there caps to exude and even drip with an inky black liquid. After taking a bunch of pictures and leaving a simple offering of gratitude, I carefully harvested six of the most degraded Inky Caps (cutting them at the base with my knife, rather than pulling them out of the ground) and brought them home.

Spore prints of six different Inky Caps.

Spore prints of six different Inky Caps.

First, I made a spore print with each of them, because spore prints are cool and are art in their own right. Then, I simply put them into a glass jar and let them hang out there for a week or so. Each day I would check on them to see what was happening. Over time the solid, whitish-gray parts of the mushroom transformed into a black, almost oily liquid. As time passed the smell of my little experiment also took on a greater presence. What started out as a pleasant earthy aroma gradually morphed into something that resembles rotten fish! I was curios to find out if that smell would mellow as the ink 'brewed', It didn't.

Ink from Inky Caps, Nick Neddo

When it seemed that all the solids had converted to liquids I strained the ink solution through a fine-mesh filter into another jar and decided to try it out without adding any ingredients as a binder. The six mushrooms were now a bit more than a half-cup of stinky ink.

The ink that these mushrooms made was a deep, dark black-brown and was impressive in its workability and responsiveness. It worked well with my turkey quill pens, bamboo and reed pens, as well as my paint brushes for doing ink washes. I would even go as far as saying it was a pleasure working with it, despite the strong smell. I look forward to playing with it some more.

Inky Cap and Sugar Maple, Nick Neddo, 2014, ink painting with wild-crafted ink made from Inky Cap (Coprinopsis atramentaria) mushroom.

Why do we stop drawing?

hand with pencil

I love children's art. I find it refreshing and honest, pure and profound. I learn a lot from observing and hanging out with young children. They have a way of showing us things that we once knew, but have somehow forgotten or left behind.

Do you remember the first time you picked up a crayon or marker, pen or pencil and discovered that you could make marks on paper (or other surfaces) with them? Well I don't, but I do remember enjoying myself and being very content to scribble pictures, laying belly-down on the floor with a stack of paper and scribbling sticks. I would draw for minutes or hours, making visual narratives as documentation of my exploration of both my inner and outer worlds. Even at such a young age, I felt the power of creativity, as the master of my imagination. It was fun to draw and it felt good.

I was about to write that "I'm grateful that my parents encouraged us kids to draw", but they didn't really do that; they didn't have to. Instead, what I am truly grateful for is that my parents never discouraged us from drawing. They never once said anything that made us question if what we were doing was worthwhile. Not once did my Mom or Dad say anything that made us feel like we were not good enough to draw or paint. They didn't critique our drawings, or persuade us to do something 'more productive' with our time. For this I feel thankful, for I was one of the lucky ones who made it beyond the age of six, or seven or eight without the seed of artistic self doubt planted and germinated in my mind.

I think that all of us are innately creative and enjoy drawing and painting for the first several years of our lives. But at some point in our development, as we become more self-aware, many of us experience a shift in regards to how it feels to draw. For one reason or another, we get the idea that if our drawings don't look 'perfect', than we shouldn't even bother to try. We start to tell ourselves the story that "I'm not good at this" or "this is not my thing". For a lot of people this marks the premature end of a critical part of their creative and cognitive development. Ending the practice or activity of drawing not only stops a certain kind of perceptual searching and exploring, but it also removes a powerfully therapeutic tool from our human tool box.

What a shame, to make something so beautiful and primal tainted with expectation and nasty judgment! Its fascinating to me how self-critical we can become around our drawing, as if we were supposed to be born with the skill of a renaissance master! Some kids have such an aversion to drawing it seems like it has been used on them as a punishment. Why should something that once offered us lighthearted joy be corrupted into an uncomfortable, even embarrassing experience? And what's up with the obsession of drawing something perfect or not at all? Why are some of us so terribly afraid to fail? Where does that come from?

Regardless of how this fear of drawing has come to be an epidemic, there are some simple things we all can do to reclaim our relationship with drawing. I would like to offer you what I think is one of the most important ways to fight artistic atrophy: relax. For real, don't take yourself so seriously. Lighten up and put things into context for a moment. So what if you mess up? What, are you not allowed to make mistakes? If you don't give yourself permission to make mistakes than you are cutting yourself off from the most powerful learning tool there is. Mistakes give us the best feedback. If you take yourself too seriously you will 'miss' the opportunity to 'take' the lesson. Cut yourself some slack and enjoy your blunders; you're only human.

Now go grab a piece of paper and something to scribble with.