Thursday, October 22, 2015


I've been an occasional forager for mushrooms for over 20 years......I'm cautious after working for a few months in the San Francisco Poison Center in November, when new immigrants would occasionally ingest seemingly familiar mushrooms with deadly consequences or we'd field a call about a child who'd eaten a mushroom off the front lawn.

My first solo foray was in Pt. Reyes State Park and I picked and filled a big hat with mushrooms I picked off the damp forest floor.  I'm a good observer and I sort of figured out what were probably edible boletes, probably russole, and probably amanitas.....I wasn't intending to eat any based on my untutored hunches but they were confirmed at the parks entrance when a couple with a basket Full of Porcini and chanterelles stopped me to tell me that the amanita I'd picked was indeed poisonous.

Since then, I've been to mushroom fairs, guided forays, hung out with mushroom experts and read lots of books. I'm not an expert, but there are a few that I can reliably identify, a few more that are hard to get wrong and a bunch more that I find now and then that I'm "pretty sure" are this or that but won't eat them until I can find an expert to confirm what I think.

While in Santa Fe, I'd regularly find Porcini and chanterelles and shaggy manes, here in Italy we find on our property lots of common field mushrooms (agaricus) sp., chanterelles, puffballs, lactarius, once a truffle, and I'm still hoping to find a morel.
We have poisonous mushrooms too. Amanita's fruit regularly, I think they're Grisette's (so probably edible) but I won't eat any of the Amanita's and I check EVERY mushroom to make sure there's no volvulus (the sac at the base that means it's a potentially deadly amanita).

This is a big mushroom.

 This year I was surprised to find a large fruiting of a very large agaricus. Driving in I saw what looked like a dozen white plastic plates in a distant field and told my son, we have to go check those out....they're probably Horse mushrooms!    I did check them out. We picked some and I ran them through the algorithm in the David Aurora's wonderful book,  Mushrooms Demystified that is useful for identifying mushrooms.
Large white agaricus, non-staining, tan to pink to brown gills, no phenolic smell.....that sure sounds like Agaricus Arvensis (the horse mushroom--a good edible). But nearby I found another very similar grouping, and these did stain yellow (a bit) and did have a funny smell......that would mean Agaricus Xanthoderma (not edible/poisonous). Neither had the almond smell that was supposed to mean the edible type. Spore print-chocolate brown (like all the agaricus) I cooked a tiny portion of one and didn't have to even taste it as once cooked an odd, medicinal, odor came out of them that convinced me that they were probably not something to eat without a better confirmation than, "probably".
This clump had some yellow staining at the base and a funny smell. ? Agaricus Xanthoderma?

Agaricus? xanthoderma or arvensis?

Slippery Jacks and Field mushrooms (agaricus campestris) and chanterelles under both.

Fortunately, it's been wet and there was a whole field of mushrooms I knew we could eat.  I picked some slippery jacks (Suillus Granulatum) and Field mushrooms (agaricus campestris) and Chanterelles and we cleaned those and cooked them with garlic, olive oil,  and a little soy sauce.
Chanterelles from the front lawn!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Baren Tests

I spent a few hours yesterday testing my home-made barens and comparing them to the professional-grade Murasaki (strong) and the ball-bearing barens that I already own.

These tests were performed on damp, double-weight, coated bond paper for inkjet papers.
It's what I use for demos and proofing as it is easy to register and prints well when damp.
Then the heavier barens were also tested on Magnani Incisioni, a 190g/m2 etching paper that I use for some of my smaller moku hanga works and that prints well when a good baren is used with lots of pressure.
Not surprisingly, the best impressions, cleanly and efficiently printed with little effort were with my $150 Murasaki Baren.  More suprising, instead, was learning that my twisted-cord Barens all worked reasonably well. They needed more work and rubbing and left a lighter impression but improved greatly by printing twice.
My Thumbtack baren was too strong for this small piece of wood, printing over the grain and causing the paper to slip. With extra care to keep the paper from moving, it also gave a decent impression.
My Ball-Bearing baren was surprisingly weak on thick paper.

My twisted-cord barens all performed surprisingly well for a cheap baren made from humble materials and designed to be suitable for beginning users.
They needed more concerted pressure to get an impression, but with TWO passes, yielded very satisfactory results. This impression is from my nylon twisted-cord baren, printed Twice.
Baren #4, printed twice.
 And here is one printed with a twisted hemp cord coil: one impression on damp bond paper.
Baren # 8 Hemp cord and vinivil
While my thumbtack baren was harder to use. I had paper slippage (three times) with the dampened bond paper which wasn't a problem with any other baren. With incomplete rubbing I got Baren-suji, the marks left by the baren path.
But with care to make sure the paper didn't move, the impression was good, but heavy. The wood grain was partially lost, and there is some color that squished out here and there from the heavier pressure.
Thumbtack Baren, Rives etching paper.

Thumbtack Baren/Bond paper

Thumbtack baren, suji and slippage.

The Murasaki Baren printed cleanly on both the etching and bond papers.
Surprisingly,  My expensive ball-bearing baren was the weakest:
Ball-Bearing baren

This was not a blinded test. I knew which baren I was using and varied the pressure and effort of rubbing to match the baren.  My goal was to find out if I could get a decent impression from each baren not how they would all print with the same effort.
I'd like to go back and retest the ball-bearing and thumb tack barens to see how they perform on normal and medium-weight washi and with  bigger passages of printed color.
Another fun test would be to print a small batch of prints, using different barens for each copy but on the same paper.  This would allow me to see the tonal variations of the various barens in multiblock prints. 
I'd also like to print a big section of color using them to see how the tack baren performs when really worked hard. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015


"I look a little like this"
My etagami penpal, Yasuko Izumiya, will be coming to Florence for the 17th LAILAC Japanese Festival next month and although we have been exchanging these sumi ink and watercolor drawings for over two years, we've never met in person. The Japanese Etagami Society has many members and last year's group and the publicity they received in their monthly journal (with photos of the fair, the etagami tables, the paintings they did of Florence) has stirred up much interest and I'm told that this year there is a waiting list of those who wanted to come......Most are in their 70's and 80's, so it's quite a stretch to imagine flying from Japan to Italy, touring the country a bit, spending two full days at the Fair, hosting the Etagami tables and helping young and old alike learn how to make etagami, jet-lag and all.

I will be demonstrating moku hanga prints again this year and I've also volunteered to help out with the etagami section if there's need.
I'm thrilled I get to meet my Etagami-pal after sharing  drawings of flowers, bugs and everyday objects with her for almost 2 years.

As we've never met, and there will be a big crowd, I'm sending her these cards to help her pick me out from the others.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Baren Play--home-made barens revisited. Italianism schedule?

In preparation for tomorrow's ITALIANISM art fair and creative conference in Rome, I've been busy making barens. While technically, I think I'll be demonstrating moku hanga printing and's a group of artists and designers, and in my experience, the baren is what really makes people curious.

I make these twisted-cord barens for my moku hanga workshops--they work better than the plastic ones--but I'm still looking for how to improve them.  Since I'm working more often with Western papers (as it's still hard and expensive to get Japanese washi way out here in Florence), I continue to look for ways to strengthen the barens to allow them to work well on thicker papers.

I made a thumb tack baren (after seeing examples on the web) which has steel 9mm tacks. They're quite hard, but far apart so I'm curious to see how it prints. It should be a hard baren, suitable for color passages on thick paper.

Tomorrow I'm demonstrating moku hanga.
It's a long day 10am through probably 8-10pm (when the music starts).

So here's the tentative schedule I'm planning on following.
10am-noon:  Organize my table and work on a small carving for later printing (baren tests).
12:00-4:30pm--I'm printing copies of my Boteh print from white paper to as far as I get.
4:30-5:30  alternative barens: How to make a home-made twisted cord baren.
5:30-6:30  printing tests with a Murasaki/Twisted Cord/Thumbtack and Ball-bearing baren.
7:00 until I'm too tired: More Boteh Braid printing.

I'll be answering questions, and discussing some of the prints I'll have on display for who stops to look or ask.
It should be fun!