Coprinus comatus, the shaggy ink cap, lawyer's wig, or shaggy mane, is a common fungus often seen growing on lawns, along gravel roads and waste areas. The young fruit bodies first appear as white cylinders emerging from the ground, then the bell-shaped caps open out.
Scientific name: Coprinus comatus
Higher Classification: Coprinus
Order: Gilled Mushrooms
Conservation Status: Common
When to see: August - December (peaking in October)
One of the great things about working in the Kemble Gallery & Art Shop is the interesting people you meet and the stories they tell. I first heard about using the ink from the Shaggy Ink Cap mushroom from Alan Wildsmith, when he popped into the Kemble Gallery & Art Shop to ask advice for choosing a calligraphy set. We began talking and the conversation turned to drawing and art, as do most of my conversations, and he told me about how he was going to make ink with the Shaggy Ink Cap mushroom and draw with it! I was instantly intruigued by this and he told me he had discovered the process from reading Merlin Sheldrake’s book - Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures.
I asked Alan if he would be kind enough to email some images of his Shaggy Ink Cap ink drawings and then later, some information about the process. Alan surprised me with a detailed account of the process in an email. I found out later through emailing Alan, that he is a psychotherapist by profession as well as an artist - a man of many talents!
I hope you enjoy learning about this interesting process to make your own ink to draw with.
I have been into foraging, thinking, learning and dreaming about mushrooms for a while now. I have a self-diagnosis of mycophilia.1 [mycopilia: a devotee of mushrooms especially: one whose hobby is hunting wild edible mushrooms - Editor's note.].
Mushrooms are amazing things - one of them, a honey fungus, is the largest living organism on earth, its mycelium (like wandering underground root system) stretches across 3.7 square miles and is thought to be between 2,400 and 8,650 years old.2 The mycelium isn’t just the roots, it is more like a whole tree and the mushroom we see is like the apple or fruit.
"I have been into foraging, thinking, learning and dreaming about mushrooms for a while now".
Anyway, here are some interesting facts linked to the shaggy inkcap mushroom I used to draw my sketch with. Despite the cap being very delicate to touch and being the main part of the mushroom that gives you the ink to write or draw with, shaggy inkcaps are so powerful they can push their way through asphalt and lift heavy paving stones’3. They are also quite tasty cooked and are best eaten quickly as they will decompose in a matter of hours. You can make risotto stock with them too, but I think this is a complex process involving microwaving and freezing.
I found my inkcap in a field near Hamsterley Forest. The UK season for them is between August and December, peaking in October.
"For my ink I placed one shaggy inkcap in a jar, put the lid on and left it for about two days".
Merlin Sheldrake’s recently published book, Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures, inspired me to sketch with the ink as at least one of the sketches in his book is done with the ink from a shaggy inkcap4.
For my ink I placed one shaggy inkcap in a jar, put the lid on and left it for about two days. The contents remaining were 30ml black liquid (which contains the spores of the mushroom) and the stem. I sieved the contents and used the black ink to draw my sketch.
I found that shaking the bottle before sketching was important as otherwise it comes out like a light pencil, light grey. The writing on my sketch was done with non-shaken ink. The paper I used was Daler and Rowney A4 90g/m2 calligraphy paper from Kemble Gallery. The pen was a dip nib pen from Kemble Gallery.
It would be interesting to find out if there was another local, natural, easily foraged product that I could mix with the ink to make it a bit thicker. If anyone knows of one I’d like to try mixing them both.
Please get in touch if you do:
Alan Wildsmith is a psychotherapist, and devotee of mushrooms, based in Durham and Newcastle.
1 Hoffman et al (2012). Entheogens and the Future of Religion, Vermont: Park Street Press, p88.
3 Sheldrake, M (2020). Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures, London: Bodley Head, p7.
4 Sheldrake, M (2020). Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures, London: Bodley Head, p8.
Photos: "Shaggy Ink Cap in a Jar" and "Drawing of a Cep in September", courtesy of Alan Wildsmith.
Foraging Advice: Please be mindful and take care not to damage plant life, habitats or pick rare specimens, when out foraging for mushrooms & fungi. Always wash your hands after handling any mushrooms & fungi and keep them away from children & pets. If you are foraging for mushrooms & fungi, please do so with caution, as there are many poisonous specimens out there. Many poisonous mushrooms & fungi are almost identical to edible specimens in some instances and it can be very difficult to tell them apart. Please seek the advice of an expert, if you are planning to eat any mushrooms & fungi you find. For those of you who have a keen interest in foraging, there are specialist foraging trips & courses available in the U.K..
If you would like to try out this method of making ink, we have a range of calligraphy supplies available from our Gallery Shop in Saddler Street and online.
Show us your work:
We’d love to see your Shaggy Ink Cap Mushroom ink drawings! Please email them to us and we’ll post them to social media.