Birnam Wood : A Journey into the Sublime

It’s not easy to put my experience of Birnam Wood into words. With each visit, I embark on a new voyage of discovery which triggers all of my senses; I witness transient sights of weird and wonderful species, smells which range from smokey winter fires to wild garlic and pungent herb Robert, sounds of the ever present choir of birds and enjoy the sensation of my bare feet treading on the mossy carpet or the leaves crunching underfoot. In the book Birnam Wood. A Journey into the Sublime, I have attempted to document my experience of the wood, taking you off the beaten track of the well worn paths, cutting through the deep undergrowth and lush vegetation to view some extraordinary specimens which lurk in this ancient woodland. Many of these strange phenomena are both fascinating and yet at the same time repulsive or a bit frightening, leaving me with an unsettling curiosity and a cautious awareness of my surroundings.  Below you can view the book by clicking on the link, where you are also able to purchase the book if you wish.

Birnam Wood. A Journey into the Sublime (36 pages)

My Landscape Book


Mushroom Magic!

Recently I came across a method (online) of making paper from mushrooms. Apparently the cell walls of fungi consist of a biological polymer called chitin, similar to cellulose—which just happens to be the key ingredient in plant-based paper.   I found a few pages detailing how it can be done, and also a YouTube video. I decided to give the technique a go, as I thought it might be an interesting way to use some of the plants and fungi I have been finding…and perhaps I could then make the handmade paper into a sculpture to art form of some sort.

The information advised the use of Birch Polypores and also Tinder (Hoof) Fungus, and luckily I knew of a few places where I could source these. After a few hours I had gathered an impressive selection, so headed home to begin the experiments.

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Above: A birch tree bearing fresh Birch Polypores

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A substantial harvest! 

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Above: Tinder or Hoof Fungus (Fomes Fomentares)

The next stage was to soak the fungus overnight. The “hooves” were so hard, I realised that they needed to be soaked for a longer period of time, so I stuck to the polypores on this occasion.

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I began by putting the softest pieces of polypore into a blender with a small amount of water, before liquidising the mixture. In the first experiment, I also added a small amount of shredded paper, and some dried Himalayan Balsam petals.

Initially I tried to follow the YouTube video, but realised that it was literally impossible. Either the maker had added a secret ingredient which made the pulp really strong and bonded it together, or he had edited the video and waited a few days until the piece was almost dry.

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Above: My first attempt – a DIY disaster!

It was impossible to flip the mixture over onto a cloth without it sticking to the mesh or the cloth I was putting it onto. So I decided it might take a bit longer, and that I would resign myself to leaving the paper on top of the mesh for a few days, to dry naturally before I attempted to remove it.

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 Ingredients added were elderberries and himalayan balsam petals

The second experiment was pure mushroom pulp (without any shredded paper) with dried nettle leaves. the mixture looked like homemade mushroom soup and was much more gloopy than the first.

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I also added a few larger pieces of nettle into half of the mixture, and lichen into the other half…

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I fear that I may have poured this a bit to thickly, but I will leave it and see what happens!

My final experiment was to see if I could shape the pulp over a mask form. If this works, I would be a potentially great way of making a human form from foraged woodland materials.

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Mushroom Mask!

Having left all three experiments to dry for a couple of days, so far only one of them is dry enough to remove – the first one. Here it is below:


The paper is a shade of light grey and has a translucent quality in parts


Above: Note the translucent areas at the top of the paper


Elderberries have left their red stains in places

The other two pieces are still not dry. The mask is looking more promising, but I have left them both outside today in an attempt to “bake” them in the sun. The jury is still out  on whether they will work or not, but alt least it is another technique explored which may be of use to join my natural materials together.


If the two experiments made solely from mushroom pulp don’t work, I may resort to adding in the paper again, and perhaps to keep the integrity and concept of the piece going, I will shred the lines from Macbeth and add these into it. I especially like the translucent areas in the paper (which were created by a very thin layer of the mixture), as I am always drawn to the illumination of sculptural pieces.

Hoof Prints

Having experimented recently with painting from mud, soils and ash, I wanted to try making marks which involved walking, and I came up with the idea of attaching paper to the soles of my shoes, hoping that it would capture some traces and impressions of my walk.


I used an old pair of sandals with thick soles, and found a pack of Khadi paper, and set about fixing it to the shoes using drawing pins.


It seemed like perfect weather to try this, wet and rainy, so there would be plenty of mud I reckoned. I drove to Birnam, and headed up the Inchewan path, one of my favourite places to walk.


I took a few photos of the rain on the delicate foliage on the way up…


The wall on the way up the path is like a mossy carpet…in fact the whole walk is probably the mossiest I have every been on.


Delicate young ferns covered in raindrops

IMG_7498Small plants growing on the mossy wall


     A really wet, lush, green environment…with the sound of a fast flowing stream and lots of very fresh air…just beautiful

I walked up the path until I reached a decent patch of mud, and proceeded to swap my crocs for the paper-soled sandals, which I wore to squelch through very wet mud.




My first attempt was a bit over zealous…I completely ruined the paper, tearing a big hole into it, and realised that I had walked too far for the paper to survive. My next attempt was a bit better, the paper had a slight rip in it, but was still useable. Some of the mud that I stepped in was so wet that the prints showed very little colour, although the patterns on the soles of my sandal created a nice embossing on the paper. I also tried walking over moss a few times, but it barely showed, instead I seemed to gather fragments of leaves and bark.


A few walkers passed me on route, stopping to watch what I was doing. I felt like I was doing a performance, and realised that I should have “killed two birds with one stone”.

Further up the path, there was slate from the nearby hill which had slid down and was lying in piles in reddish looking puddles. The soil here seemed different, in colour certainly, and this might have something to do with the minerals I am guessing.  The soil here printed a very different colour, a light red/brown, and I felt excited about the contrast that this would give against the previous prints.



A strong result…and a much lighter, redder soil

I also walked down toward the stream, where the terrain was gravel and sand, and this also gave a similar red/brown colour.


As I changed the papers on my shoes, the removed papers were left at the side of the path, to be collected on my way down. I met a few walkers on the way, and told them that the papers weren’t litter, just incase they felt it their duty to remove them.

I made my way down the hill, and luckily all of the prints were still where I left them. On my walk back to the car, I came across some fallen tree trunks, and noticed the same black, wiry fibres I had seen growing inside a piece of bark a few months ago. I stopped to peel a few from the trunk, sure that I might be able to use them for something interesting.


Interesting string-like fibres attached to the fallen bark of a tree…what I now know to be rhizomorphs of Armillaria, a type of fungus.


I’m already seeing mapping possibilities in this amazing natural fibre…


I headed home to dry them (and myself) off, apprehensive to see the results of my walking/prints.

Once back in the studio, I used the hairdryer to dry the papers, and also removed some of the larger chunks of soil which has been stuck next to the drawing pins.


Some of the marks are really quite beautiful, although they are a bit paler since they have dried. I am still considering how best to use these, although I have a feeling that they will end up as a book.

I’m also keen to try a few experiments with the Armillaria, and am especially excited by the fact that it might have bioluminescent qualities!

Inchewan Path


Broken bark revealing


Parasitic maps of life


Sarked limbs avoiding the chill


Behold the blanketed boughs


Wooden veins descend their roots


Shattered shards cascading


Hooves that tread by nightfall


Resting on the beech by day


 Floating ephemeral hemisphere


Rapid reflections descending


Foaming spectres spirited away


Trapped by the tip of the iceberg


 Man’s endeavours softened by time


Shrouding symbiosis


Severed fingers pointing toward


Pachydermal protrusion


Striped antennae break the ice


Arches to unknown dimensions


Impressions on the beaten path


Escaping frozen sunbeams

Shadow Walker – A journey through Scott’s Wood

Shadow walker watching…


Clouds float in calm blue waters


Grasses puncture serenity


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Window to a parallel world


Beckons us to enter


Sunlight breaks the liminal veil


Twisted arms reach skyward


Gazing up to the unknown


Unfortunate adornment


Severed trunks await their fate


Ironically consumed by growth


Tangled veins extrude from earth


Remnants of life and hazardous paths


Exit shadow walker


Ice Magic

Some photos with my new iphone I took whilst out walking yesterday morning. The sunshine was beautiful, and made the icy pools sparkle.


I had no idea how this photo would turn out, and was really pleasantly surprised, especially as I didn’t use any filters!


10001523_10205911746255065_1776190848869353775_n                                                          Trapped under ice!




These photos have inspired me to try a few experiments with ice soon….watch this space!

The Exotic Seed Company

As part of my upcoming exhibition at Scottish Natural Heritage, BattIeby, I had the idea of creating “fake”seed packets of highly invasive and prohibited plants, which was based on the fact that in the past these seeds and plants were distributed in the US and Europe, long before it was realised what a devastating effect these aliens could have on our environment.  Also, in connection with the site of the exhibition, the grounds are listed on the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland, because of the fact that they have a very important exotic plant collection and arboretum, which were planted by and cared for by a team of 10 gardeners when Battleby House was owned by Sir Alexander Cross, between 1947 and 1963. 

I had a look at some vintage seed packets online and found a variety of beauties…

$_35These are from the 1950s….very colourful and well illustrated


Love this anthropomorphism (above), but not really a route I want to go down                      for this piece


8f0c48555a1954973bcecae688a6c01cKeep coming back to the two above…I think it’s the limited colour palette which I find appealing.

The Exotic Seed Company is a fictitious company which sells these seeds, and advertises them in a lighthearted and positive way, promoting these rogues as hardy, exotic plants which will last forever, with no mention of any regrets you may have later. The typeface is reminiscent of the 1950s, and the adverts typical of this era when political correctness was non-existant, and companies put a positive and most often sexist slant on marketing their products with no evidence to back up any of their claims, in an era when consumerism was on the up and society was ignorant of the detrimental effects these products could have to our health.



 How ridiculous are these strap lines, yet consumers of the 50s would                   have no idea!

I designed three packets, illustrating the 3 current most invasive and threatening plants to our environment in the UK- Giant Hogweed, Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed. At my tutorial, I was a bit concerned that I may not have enough 2-dimensional work to show, so Caroline suggested that perhaps the seed packets could cover one of the walls, like a sort of installation. I toyed with the idea of this, and also felt that it was important to make the packets by hand, although I know that I could have made much more convincing packets with the aid of the computer, and made them much faster too. Having a love of printmaking, I decided that linoprinting would be a feasible option, so I set about drawing out my designs before getting stuck into the carving.


Because the packets were relatively small, I soon realised that the lettering would not be easy, and although I managed to carve the plant variety, I felt that the Exotic Seeds lettering at the bottom of the packets did not work…in fact I hated it!


Luckily, I have a box of alphabet stampers, so instead I opted to stamp Exotic Seeds onto the packets using these – with a much more pleasing result.


I stuck to the green palette which I have been using throughout the work created for this exhibition, but used a different shade of green for each variety.




Once I had created the seed packets, I decided that I would prefer to see them hanging up on hooks, just as they would be sold in a garden centre. I managed to source a suitable board and some metal hooks, and I painted a sign for the Exotic Seed Company using a 50s style font.

This was them fixed onto the board above the hooks, and the seed were hung up to finish off the piece. I didn’t put any seeds into the packets, although I did think it might make the audience curious, but was concerned that it might be detrimental to the packets, which were made from handmade Lokti paper.


Finally, I made a two page ad for the Fanzine I am creating, in the optimistic spirit of 50s advertising…


ZINE8 I feel that the end result is quite satisfactory, and hope that it raises questions/debates and provokes curiousity amongst the audience.

The Bluebell Wood

This morning I took a trip to a nearby ‘bluebell wood’. We drove past it last night, but it was getting a bit dark, so I promised myself I would return this morning.


In folklore, it was said to be bad luck to walk through a wood of bluebells, because it was full of spells. I can well understand why people believed this, as it is one of the most magical places I have ever experienced! It was considered to be the house of the flower goblin, and was also said to have fairies living inside the bells. It was said to be bad luck to pick bluebells…oops! I just picked a few to go into my dye pot, but was careful not to uproot any.

If worn as a wreath,  the wearer would be compelled to speak only the truth. This may be the origin of the “…something blue” which a bride should wear on her wedding day, as it is also a symbol of constancy.


The Latin name for the bluebell is Endymion, the lover of the moon Goddess, Selene. The goddess put Endymion into an eternal sleep, so she could enjoy his beauty all to herself.

It is an extremely poisonous plant, especially the bulb, but at present is being researched as a potential from which to develop medicine to fight cancer.

There was something extremely surreal about walking through this wood… Alone… peaceful… unspoilt…I almost expected to meet the white rabbit or some other magical creature, it was like being in a dream.

20140509_105720Lush, velvet mosses adorned the trees, and a variety of lichens, which indicate just how good the air quality is here.


 Above : One of the many oak trees dripping with Oakmoss lichen

The trees in the wood are predominantly beech (below), oak and birch. Some of these trees must be at least 150 years old.


This impressive beech tree (above) was starting to show some damage from fungus and storms. Near this tree, there were some fallen branches, and I noticed amazing gnarled textures on them, which I later confirmed had been caused by Tinder Fungus ( a type of fungus named after its use in kindling fires).


Tinder fungus creates these amazing gnarled textures on beech trunks and branches


I found a small piece of branch covered in tinder fungus which I put into my bag…I think it may make a really great sculpture, if I can take a mould or cast of it somehow.

Walking on a bit further, I encountered some bracket fungi. These are called false tinder fungus, or  hoof fungus, as they do resemble the hooves of a horse somewhat. These strange parasitic entities actually suck the life out of the trees which they are attached to, becoming so hard that they begin to grow as part of the trunk and are almost impossible to remove.



The substance found just under the skin has its uses, and is known as Amadou. When soaked, it swells, and can be flattened out to use for fuel for fires, but more bizarrely it has also been used to make hats in Eastern Europe!


I found a fallen “hoof” next to a large beech tree… and have plans for it when I get home!


Finally I picked some nettles. Some of the leaves on these were the biggest that I had ever encountered. I’m guessing that their sting may be even more powerful, given their size, so I was very careful to use scissors when picking them.

It was certainly an amazing experience here today, and I feel that I have found a few more inspirations and materials to keep me going for another few weeks.


Rashielea Wood

Recently a friend informed me of a local area, Rashielea Wood, where there was a lot of deforestation taking place. I had been discussing the fact that I wanted to find a slim tree trunk to cover in tissue paper, and he suggested I might find one here.

20140508_104213The site was very messy, as he had told me, and there were piles of trunks and branches being left to rot. He had “salvaged” some of this for his wood burning stove, but warned me to take care where I stepped, as there was much unsafe ground around the site.

I had a look around first, and (above) it looked like some kind of apocalyptic nightmare, however to the right of the site, there was a swathe of yellow of gorse bushes, a stark contrast to the devastation of the big tree graveyard.

20140508_105319I also came across some interesting fungi in this area: toadstools, bracket fungus and what I think may be evidence of tinder fungus.

20140508_105134A solitary specimen growing in the midst of bark chippings


Tree fungus which I think may be sulphur polypore otherwise known as sulphur shelf or chicken mushroom


Some loose bark which appears to have had tinder fungus growing under it

I took the bark (above) away with me, and also found a couple of slim trunks (below) which I think I may be able to use. My next plan is to cover the trunks with tissue paper, to recreate them as a sort of installation. The bark has possibilities too, and I’m thinking that I may use it as a mould to fill with paper pulp, as it is very delicate and will probably break quite easily.



The Trees Have Eyes



I wanted to make a few more impressions using the air drying clay, which must be used up quite quickly or it will dry out completely. I had noticed some trees on a walk which I usually take which have particularly gnarled trunks, parts of which resemble eyes, so I decided to have a go at pressing some of the clay onto them to see if I could capture their textures.




I’m really pleased with the results of this experiment…Again, like the hogweed, they might be used to document fragments of the landscape. The white clay has been tainted with the moss on the tree trunks, but is useful in these photos to show the contrast and give more definition to the shapes which have been captured.

My love of minimalism is leading me to imaging these in pure white, perhaps positive casts being made from these (or others which I might take) using plaster of paris, or better still, clear resin….Something which I may explore another day, although first I would need to source materials and some good tutorials on Youtube!