It’s fall now in the Northern Hemisphere, and with the cold and damp weather come mushrooms! If you’re looking to spice up your botanical paintings, mushrooms are a great subject because they have many unique colours and shapes.

Today, we’re painting a fly agaric mushroom, which is perhaps the most recognizable of all mushrooms. We’ll be following a 90-minute class from the incredible painter Lene Myhre, so we’re learning from the best. Let’s begin!

Step 1: Lines

If you’re looking at a reference photo now and getting overwhelmed by all the differently shaped tiny dots on the mushroom, remember that you don’t have to include 100% of the detail. Just include the essentials, and the viewer’s brain fills in the rest. Include enough spots on the mushroom for it to look like the species it’s supposed to be, then stop. The spots should be different shapes and sizes for a realistic effect.

Step 2: Masking Fluid

To preserve the white of the paper on the mushroom’s spots, apply masking fluid. I like this blue kind that comes in a pen, because the colour lets me see at a glance where I’ve applied it, and the pen applicator means no brushes will be ruined.

Step 3: Painting the Stalk

For this stage, Lene uses a colour called Buff Titanium. If you don’t have this colour (it’s a little obscure), mix some cool brown with some ultramarine until you have the same type of warm grey. Wet the paper on the mushroom stalk area, and drop the paint in to form shadows and indicate shape. Don’t overdo it, because mushroom stalks are off-white and not full-on grey.

Once you’re done there, take that grey mixture along with some of the brown you used to make it. Add dark splotches into the still-wet first layer. This shows some soil on the mushroom’s “root”, as well as some more detailed shading.

Step 4: Painting the Cap

To begin the cap of the mushroom, mix some warm red with some soft orange to create a reddish-orange. Apply this evenly to the mushroom’s cap.

While this layer is still wet, add some red to the shaded portions to give it dimensionality. We’re not quite done with the mushroom cap but it needs to dry for a bit now, so let’s work on the stalk some more.

Step 5: Stalk Details

Mushroom stalks are not perfectly clean. Use some brown, grey, and yellow to add some more dirt and off-white colouration to the stalk. Leave enough white that the stalk has a base colour of white, but do add those little impurities. Your mushroom will look more real after this step.

Step 6: Further Painting on the Cap

Add more red to the mushroom cap, but this time cover the whole thing in a layer of cooler red. The layers from before should still show through, but they’ll be unified by this top layer. Let this layer dry fully.

Step 7: Remove Masking Fluid

Using either a rounded paintbrush handle or a very clean finger, gently rub away the masking fluid. If some bits don’t want to come off, don’t force anything. Instead, place a little more masking fluid on top of that trouble spot, and then rub it away the very second it sets.

Step 8: Refining the Mushroom Cap

With the masking fluid gone, you’ll be able to more accurately assess whether your mushroom cap needs any more work or not. If it needs deeper shading or more uniform edges, fix these things with a coloured pencil instead of watercolour so that you keep the white spots white.

Step 9: Shading the Spots

Since fly agaric spots aren’t spots at all but are leftover pieces of the veil that protects a young mushroom as it develops, they are three-dimensional. You will need to shade them, so take the grey from the beginning and put it roughly in the centre of each spot.

Further, refine the spots with a warm grey coloured pencil. When you add a bit of an edge to the dots with the pencil, you’ll be amazed at how realistic the mushroom is!

Step 10: Tying it Together

Look at the picture and see if anything needs to be different. My favourite finishing touch that Lene added to her mushroom was a highlight on the cap made with yellow ochre coloured pencil, so I did the same. It brings back the orangey undertones from earlier and gives the mushroom more depth and texture.

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Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the south Idaho hill country. She  loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures  having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that  came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long  hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl.

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