We’ve seen art that incorporates food as its canvas or medium in plenty of forms before, but Corey Corcoran has definitely carved out a niche of his own with his intricately etched mushroom drawings. Ranging from six to 24 inches in width, the Boston-based artist’s detailed images of human faces surrounded by elements of nature look like highly refined works of primitive art with the mushroom acting as canvas, as well as part of the composition.  

Check out his recent work in the slideshow below, but first Corcoran tells us about his choice of fungi and his tools and method. 

Why mushrooms?
I’ve always been fascinated by nature and science, as well as life and death cycles. Mushrooms are the perfect symbol for this, and they’ve popped up in my paintings and drawings for some time. A good friend of mine is a forager, and he collects edible mushrooms. He encouraged me to try drawing on Artist’s Conks [mushrooms], which has sort of a folk tradition, especially in New England. I was a little reluctant at first, but it turned out to be a great match for my drawings.

What particular type of mushroom do you use?
The species is called Ganoderma applanatum. It’s a wood-decay fungus that grows as shelves on dead and dying trees. It’s not edible, and aside from the soft layer on its underside, it’s hard like wood. The species is perennial. It adds a new layer of pores each year, similar to how a tree adds a new ring — and it’s this layer that I draw into. The surface is only “drawable” during certain seasons, and it’s very time-sensitive once you cut it from the tree. The shelves are the reproductive part of the fungus, so cutting them doesn’t majorly impact the organism. The specimens have to be cut from the tree very carefully. The underside will bruise with even the slightest pressure.

And tools?
At first, I made the drawings just using a nail, but I discovered an etching needle works better.

How long does a drawing take?
Again, the process is really time sensitive. The layer of flesh that is the drawing surface is only soft enough to draw into for 24-48 hours after being cut. It’s nice because a lot of my other artwork is very slow to form. The mushrooms are like nature’s Etch-a-Sketch. There’s no going backward, and your really have to commit. Each of the drawings have been done in one long sitting, and usually the shape of the specimen helps dictate the image. After drawing on them, I leave the mushrooms to dry out, which can take several weeks. They typically shrink and warp a bit, but this can have an interesting effect on the images. When they’re dried out, they feel similar to driftwood.