Inside Miles Johnston’s Process for Creating His ‘Art of the Mushroom’ Drawing

by Andy SmithPosted on

Miles Johnston‘s surreal drawings bring elegance and distortion to our natural forms. The artist is contributing to the upcoming “Hi-Fructose Presents: The Art of The Mushroom” group show at the Compound Gallery in October, and in this post, takes us through the process of creating his work in the show. (He was also featured in Hi-Fructose Vol. 45)

STEP 1: Thumbnailing. The theme of the show was “art of the mushroom.” When I have a brief or theme decided by someone else, I like to leave enough time until the deadline to spend the first few weeks just sitting with the idea in the back of my head whilst I work on other more urgent projects. I will daydream about it when I am walking around, travelling, at the gym. Then, I set aside a full day just to sit and doodle and sketch very roughly. No pressure to try and draw good, just exploring possible ideas. Eventually I settled on this sketch of a meditating figure, since the mushrooms had to look very organic I didn’t want to plan anymore than a few major shapes and improvise the rest. With an image like this, with lots and lots of detail, having a large underlying shape will stop it from devolving into pure chaos (though that sounds pretty cool).

STEP 2: I lightly redraw the figure, carefully placing it on the final piece of paper. I like to use Stonehenge from Legion papers. It is extremely durable and comes in a variety of gorgeous off white colours (they aren’t a sponsor, but if you see this hit me up!), perfect for pencil rendering. I have open on my laptop a variety of different fungus shapes, both my own and from Google (by the way try Googling fungus, who knew they could grown on so many place on the human body). I am letting it become pretty messy here, drawing multiple shapes on top of each other sometimes, I want to leave room for happy accidents and organic looking flow.

STEP 3: I take a break and almost stare at what I have like a Rorschach blob of different mushrooms. I start to think about the direction of the light source and gently begin to define some large areas of shadow, and the silhouette of the figure. For the really tiny negative spaces, such as the tiny little mushrooms growing off of the figure, which need to be small light shapes on a dark background, I like to get those things defined now before the graphite gets too dark and difficult to erase. I use something called a tombow Mono Zero Eraser, and a kneadable eraser to really carefully cut out small mushroom shapes and tiny dots of spores floating in the air. The drawing is only like 14x17cm ish, so I use a 0.2mm pencil and cut the end of my eraser to a sharp tip with a knife to help.

STEP 4: Now begins the slow slow process of rendering. I keep building up midtones and darkening the shadows to preserve the sense of light. When you really develop the values in the lights, it is super important to make sure you darken your shadows as well, or the whole thing becomes one gray goop with no clear sense of light. Even with all of the detail, it should be possible to split your drawing into clear light and shadow shapes.

STEP 5: Finish. This is the real time consuming and for me, super fun part. Hours and hours, days and days of getting lost into tiny details, turning edges and sculpting forms, pushing myself to reach new levels of subtlety. No detail is too fine. It took me probably 2 full work days to capture the mycelial rug to the level I wanted. I am never in a rush to finish, I know what comes after I finish a drawing, just more drawing. I am personally the kind of artist who would rather spend 100 hours on one idea than spend the same idea thinking of 100 different ideas. Just personal preference I suppose. I like to throw on audio books, music, go for long walks and just generally remain open to interesting coincidences and synchronicities which help nudge me in the right direction and finish a piece of work as best as possible. My concerns are not how difficult something will be to do, but purely what the drawing needs from me to be the best it can be.

Final pic is how it looks packaged and ready to go off to its new home. Always an emotional time!

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