The word Mycology was first used in 1836 by M.J Berkeley who later donated his entire fungal collection to Kew; because of the importance of such a collection RBG Kew appointed the first mycologist: M.C. Cooke to take care, study and add to the collection. The collection is now the largest in the world and one of the most comprehensive

Before the development of the microscope (e.g. Linnaean taxonomy) fungi were grouped very roughly according to external shape, concepts of how the fungi are related have changed drammatically through the years.

I found an old engraving of the grotto of Antiparnas in the Wellcome Trust Image Library and it reminded me of the forms I had seen before in some fungi-

I decided to re-draw the grotto landscape replacing its landscape forms with mushroom specimens I found in the Mycology Collection.

Kew’s collection is still being organised mostly by morphological concepts, unless new genera are brought in.

Once I had re-drawn the grotto using mushrooms- I made a diagram of the composition, identifying each specimen in the work- Each specimen is drawn directly from life onto the copper etching plate and is true scale-

List of specimens in this work-

1. Daldina concentrica  – popularly known as King Alfred’s cakes (

2. Sphaeria gunni , the name of this species now is Cordyceps gunnii

3. Amanita muscaria  or fly agaric; for this you have a nice little history you can read in the book by Spooner & Roberts (2005) Fungi: pages 468-469. Collins New Naturalist Series (here in the library), on how the Vikings took it to go ‘berserk’

4. Herb hort

5. Fly  agaric  this is also Amanita muscaria (see above)

6.  Schizophyllon commune ; a widely distributed fungus (see

7.  Tuber aestivum 162512 ; on truffles the best thing would be to check Brian’s book, but I cannot find it in the library now; someone must have borrowed it. The reference is: British truffles : a revision of British hypogeous fungi / D. N. Pegler, B. M. Spooner, T. W. K. Young (1993), published by RBG Kew.

8.  Daldina concentrica  (see above)

9.  Armillaria mellea  or honey fungus, is also known as the gardener’s curse as it is parasitic in all sort of gardens plants and timber trees (see

10.  Stemonitis  ferruginea ; is a slime mould or myxomycete, now in the Kingdom Protozoa instead of Fungi; but traditionally these organisms have been studied by mycologists. As you can see in the old plate by Haeckel of 1904 ( they were once included in the Kingdom Animalia as ‘myzetozoa’.  They eat bacteria and organic matter from the soil.

Mycologist Begone Aguirre Hudson helped me to research each specimen and the use of drawing in Mycology- Here is a conversation with her-

Gemma- I saw some drawings of specimens from microscopes- can you tell me about how drawing is still used in mycology and why it is important?

Begona- Traditional mycologists like Brian or myself used them all the time. †We could not do without them. †We cheat by using drawing tubes attached to the microscope, but sometimes the drawings are free hand on millimetre paper, to make the measurements and shapes comparable from one fungus to the next ( I do the latter).

Gemma-you described the mycology collection as a kind of archaeological collection?

I meant like an archaeological dig. †In these, you are not allowed to removed everything at once (unless it is going to be destroyed by the construction of a road, or building), but you only excavate a little, so that in the future, with new methods and techniques you can learn more about the place, and the culture of the inhabitants. †The fungal collection, is similar, is a reference collection. †You study the material, but always make sure that you keep the drawing, slides, etc, and leave more material for further studies. †As you can see over the years new techniques bring new approaches to the classification, so we keep the voucher to make sure that we all know (refer to) what we are talking about.

Gemma- Are new species of mushrooms found often? If so are they still drawn – and is there shape studied? †

Begona- Yes,

To publish a new name the Botanical Code of Nomenclature you need: a description in Latin, and various other conditions, but most people nowadays include also pictures, either photos or drawings to accompany the description . †Watercolours is more a thing of the past. †If I am asked to review a paper with a new species, etc, I usually request that the drawings and the pictures are good and informative, not just pretty.


I have been drawing from the Rock room in UCL geology department for a long time so this was my first port of call to enquire about drawing activity in the subject.

Scattered around the halls and teaching rooms of the department there are a number of Lewis’ engravings and drawings of volcanoes, geological maps and microscopic imagery of curious minerals. These images has inspired me to research into the history of geological drawings which led to finding the wonderful works of john Emslie, J.Hulley and William Hamilton among others.


I found a drawing of haemoglobin of the brain by R.Hooper which reminded me so much of a particular haematite specimen I had seen at UCL and so I decided to recreate the drawing of the brain(a zoological specimen) with haematite (a mineral specimen) because of their anatomical resemblances to one another.

This piece of work would not have been possible had I not the experience of exploring the rock room collections over the past year. When looking at a landscape I could recall the forms of minerals I had previously drawn or looked at and could vividly imagine how the scene could be re-composed through replacing the large with the small.

I brought the images in to show curator Emma Passmore and together we sourced specimens that bore resemblances to the forms in the landscapes. I began drawing some stalagmites in comparison to “comparative mountains of the world by john Emslie” but as I drew them I realised they looked more like strange calcified trees than mountains and so the work changed. I later found flint arrowheads which resembled Emslies mountain study.


I arrived in Professor Ulrike Sommers office, full of books and boxes on the 4th floor of the UCL archaeology department on the 4th of august. I asked Ulrike to show me some archaeological drawings, she quickly produced a pile of archaeological dig drawings on water proof graph paper and explained what the drawings indicated. My first thought was that some of them looked like drawings of the epidermis of the skin. As we looked at drawings of flint. Ulrike told me how each different mark showed point of impact or where the object had been modified by humans over time. It was fascinating, as I realised that drawing a piece of flint from and archaeological point of view means looking in a completely differently way and mark-making very specifically.

Together we went to see one of the archaeology students who was having difficulty drawing flint, we looked at a piece of flint and discussed how from an archaeological perspective, the drawing should not have any details of the flints natural qualities, only the modifications and impacts made by man.

We had a short crit of the students drawing and looked at some flint in detail, Ulrike told me that flint was the most interesting and important thing to draw in archaeology and that no other medium can convey the  information like drawing.

Aside from arrow heads and axes, I was very interested In problematic flint after reading Robert plots records of curious pieces of flint that resembled an owls head and a human foot.

Later on in the day I went back to see Ulrike In the archaeology department and told her about Robert plots odd shaped flints. She had not seen them but showed me another very oddly shaped flint that is her favourite. It was amazing and I realised that I need to find my own strange flint to draw, both in the way that I would normally draw and from an archaeological study view-and have begun my search.



I contacted the palaeontology department at the natural history museum and got a very quick reply saying “yes- we have problematic flint”.

The next week I arrived with a copper plate to work. The palaeontology department has all kinds of treasures, forged fossils and huge corals, but it was one specific draw of limb and animal shaped flint that I was after. And after a few journeys I had managed to assemble some of the characterful flints into a strange figure, much to the amusement of the palaeontology staff.

Above- Robert Plot- plates that illustrated his findings found in the rare materials room of the wellcome library and an etching I made of problematic flint at the Natural History Museum.

Below is an interview with Ulrike Sommer about Archaeology and Drawing-

G.A- Can you tell me how you use drawing in archaeology?

U.S- We use drawing to document during excavation, we draw plans and sections people have to dig, and we draw artefacts.

G.A- Is drawing still used in archaeological education here in arc at UCL?

U.S- Well not as much as it should be- when drawing an artefact you have to pay very close attention, observing its shape, drawing is the best way to learn about an artefact.

G.A- Why is it especially important to draw flint?

U.S- You cant document flint through a photograph as you cant see the technical details- which give you information about how it was made.

G.A- What is it that you are looking for when drawing a flint

U.S- First, the orientation- to find the front and the back, you need to work out if it has  been modified, if so which side and find out if it is complete or incomplete and then  draw the outline. We normally only draw flint that has been modified, only drawing the modification and cortex, outer crust.

G.A- The French are known for being very good at drawing flint, can you tell me why this is?

U.S- In france there is a long tradition of excellent flint mappers and drawers. I come from the German tradition, where if you study archaeology, and you cant draw an artefact, you wouldn’t be considered to be any good as an archaeologist.

G.A- Thinking about drawing and observation and drawing as a knowledge building tool, are students losing an important way of looking and observing by not drawing

U.S- Yes definitely, you can use photography, but a photograph will only show you what things look like, whereas drawing can tell you about the soil and the environment- things the camera cannot see.

G.A-Does drawing act like a language in archaeology that archaeologists can understand?

U.S- Definitely, we don’t draw after nature- a field drawing or a drawing of a pot or flint follows certain conventions, in order to draw flint you have to know how it was made-

G.A- So all of the shapes and marks covey in an arch drawing have meaning to you?

U.S- Yes


Hercules Seghers (Netherlands 16th)  is one of my favourite artists. Only about ten of his works on paper still exist and some can be viewed in the British museum prints and drawings room by appointment.

His etchings are beautiful and incredibly experimental for their time. The landscapes are strangely unplacable, although supposed to be set in the Netherlands they appear more like alien landscapes.

I began to wonder how Seghers may have made the works. Having previously studied the paintings of Joachim Patiner who was rumored to draw the mountain forms in the landscapes from rocks.

When looking closely at Seghers landscapes I began to wonder if he may have also drawn the forms in his landscapes from a rock or other organic form. I looked at the marks, the shapes and the lines and realized they reminded me of the forms in bark. This seemed an interesting idea to investigate and I decided to re-work some of his landscape compositions through drawing bark forms from life in the place of the cliffs and jagged landscape he had drawn. I cut some copper plates to the exact size of his works and began researching where I could find relevant pieces of bark to draw from.

Kew gardens have the best bark collection in London and I became full of curiosity as to what a bark collection would be like. I emailed the herbarium at Kew and arranged an appointment for the following week.

At 10am on the 14th July I was escorted by a Botanist to the bark anatomists lab in The Joseph Banks building at Kew. Although we found the tree anatomist was not in his lab, we looked at a few slides of bark, that stained red looked a lot like human anatomy slides and this planted other seeds in my imagination. Brian told me where I probably really wanted to go was to the bark collection in the Joseph banks building and meet the curator mark Nesbit, we walked over and although he was not there we met Chris Who is in charge of the Chinese medicinal plants and collections at Kew.

Chris had a few boxes of interesting bark sitting in her office. I almost immediately found a few pieces of bark that I felt would work and set them out at the desk. Up until this point I was still really unsure as to whether I was just on a bit of a whimsical fancy thinking this might work, as much as I believed it would. So I was really happy when I started drawing and found that the bark was mimicking the landscapes forms enough for me to assure myself (if no-one else) that Seghers could have drawn his landscapes from bark.

I left with the email of mark Nesbit the curator of bark and looked forward to accessing the bark store to continue drawing Seghers landscapes in this way. mark was on holiday at the time and it took a few weeks to get a response, in the meantime I had become curious about the forms in Seghers landscapes and the forms in lava after my recent trip to the Galapagos islands where I had drawn numerous broken bits of lava as rocky landscapes.

I contacted the curator of the rock room at UCL and asked her if I could draw some lava, while I waited to get into the bark collection n at Kew. I was offered me the opportunity to loan some specimens of lava that I could take to my studio. I went to pick up the specimens form the rock room and carted them in numerous boxes on a trolley through the tubes on the underground, delighted with the knowledge that I was couriering lava through underground tunnels which somehow felt really appropriate!

I found a mixture of lava and bark worked really nicely and kept the drawing process really interesting so I got on with this. By now the curator of the bark collection at Kew had emailed me and given permission for me to draw form their bark collection.

The bark store was very cold and full of high metal cabinets full of bark and artefacts made from bark. After perusing a few isles I had my eye on some seeds that looked like space aliens and was overwhelmed by the variety of barks of all shapes and sizes. I was left alone to choose some specimens to draw which I did with great pleasure marking the catalogue numbers on sheets of paper and carefully handling each specimen into archive boxes.

Before I left to draw what I had collected mark took some time to show me some of the unusual artefacts in the store, some Japanese decorative sheets of bark that looked just like leather, used instead of leather in most instances tying in with Buddhist philosophy and some paintings of seeds and flowers painted on the wood of the tree they grew from, both a scientific specimen and a work of art, which really resonated with me.

The curator of bark at Kew introduced me to an archaeology research student which lead to arranging  a meeting with Ulrike Sommer at UCL to talk about drawing and archaeology in current educational practise.


I found this map by G.M Wheeler and immediately thought of Lichen. I have always been interested in the anatomical relationships between the ramifying forms of the landscape- when observed from above and those of plant and animal forms.

I asked Mark Nesbitt where I could find Lichen in london, and unsurprisingly got a reply “Lichen is difficult to find in London, because the air quality is very poor”. He advised me to try Epping forest (east london).

I went to epping forest and entered the wood land, searching trees for the kind of lichen specimen I was after-

The etching above is drawn from pieces of lichen I found in Epping forest, drawn in the same composition as Wheelers map. The etching is hand painted with japanese inks.

Here is a short interview with a botanist at Kew Gardens

G.A- Do students still draw plants as part of their education?

Kew- Yes, drawing diagrams is definitely often the best way to understand structures that are characteristic†of particular plant families or species.† Experts also†use drawings to help them record details in their notes.

G.A- How has taxonomy changed in relation to plants? Are plants still classified according to shape or are they now classified according to their DNA/Phylogenetics?

Kew- Most of the major changes to our†understanding of the way in which plants†are related†are based on molecular evidence†i.e. DNA characters, but,†the day-to-day practical†job of identification and working out what is what is based on morphology (shape, appearance).

G.A- Considering new species of plants are still being discovered, do you think new species should still be observed and drawn, as previous new species have been, in order to keep a consistent history of taxonomy based on shape?

Kew- Yes, new species†should definitely be illustrated when they are described.† Not for consistency with the past, but because a botanical†illustration is the best way to†make accessible a written description and a plant specimen.†

G.A- Do students spend more time looking through microscopes and at digital images or observing and drawing the plant specimen?

Kew- Not sure about this one, I would argue that herbarium taxonomy hasn’t really changed in its†methods and looking at the actual specimens using hand lenses and dissecting microscopes is still key.† Digital images are easier to get hold of but you can’t really see features in enough detail – they are better than nothing if access to the actual specimen is not possible. The specimen still rules!

G.A-    The last Botany B.A course recently closed at Reading- Can you tell me how the subject has evolved into Ethno-Botany?

Kew- Although there is no longer a botany degree,†in many biology courses you can still specialize on plants. Ethno Botany has always been part of†botany, as well as being a stand alone subject.† If anything it was plant uses that drove the study of botany in the first place, when medicine was based on plants.†



After drawing the sun through the Telescope in the daytime at ULO in the summer, I waited patiently for winter when I would have the opportunity to draw the moon.

In October, when the clocks had gone back, I went to ULO at 6pm on a tuesday evening. The weather forecast was clear skies, but when I arrived it was clouding over. I waited, hoping the sky would clear, but it remained cloudy, so I joined the Astronomy 3rd Year BA course. The students where tracking stars, nebulae and planets using a computer programe.

I asked some of the students about their experience of drawing through the telescope when they where in the first year. Most agreed that drawing helped them to remember and locate their subject, and said they enjoyed the experience.

I visited ULO a second evening in November, again it was cloudy, but the sky cleared for an hour and a half which gave me the opportunity to observe the moon using the 1852 telescope. The astronomy technician opened the dome and positioned the telescope to observe the moon. I climbed a ladder, covered one eye and began drawing.

I couldn’t really see what I was doing because it was dark, so I just concentrated on observing the moon and hoped that the marks I was making on the copper where holding together. The longer I was observing, the more I could see and as I was drawing I began drawing comparisons between the forms of the moon and forms I have drawn previously in minerals.

Here is the first drawing I made of the moon-

After an hour and a bit the clouds covered again and it was impossible to observe.

11.30am- arrive at ULO, situated on a main road near Mill Hill Broadway train station, it is a charming series of domed white buildings.

I have a meeting arranged with the observatory manager. We have a talk about the observatory, the work and research that goes on there and I explain that I would like to draw sunspots first and then the moon, which led to a good talk about observing, scale and form.

Peter showed me around the observatory and asked me to guess what era each telescope was from. This was interesting as each was very different, one from the 60s and Kubrick-esque, and one from 1862, great exhibition-esque, both very beautiful. Another more modern American model that did not have the investment in the design and quality of the object that the others had, and was more for producing  digital imagery.

Finally we went into the biggest dome, to the biggest telescope- a giant! With a moving floor and couch to observe from, and panels of glowing buttons to press, I loved it.

After this I sat with Peter and Steve(Astronomer) and we discussed the shift from the analogue image/document in astronomy to the digital, – the shift from the individuality of the analogue record with its human experience and imperfection to the standardization and homogeneity of the digital record.- How this removes the need to concentrate and spend time observing from telescopes as images can be accessed quickly and easily on the web/digital format.

Steve said he asks some of the students to draw sometimes to get them to really look and I agreed that in order to draw something you really need to observe and concentrate on it, spend time looking and it helps to remember what you are seeing, therefore becoming a mnemonic aid. We talked about how by removing students from the direct experience of drawing from the telescope, learning from direct experience you are reducing the potential for the unexpected surprises that happen when learning from experience and the first hand engagement that really helps sustain interest in any subject. A removal from first hand experience is sure to lead to a disengagement with the world around us and be detrimental to our learning because of this.We concluded our chat talking about the virtual and the danger of engaging with the world on a virtual level.

After our chat Steve set up a telescope for me to observe the sun- which I found to be a glowing red ball, with a lot of sunspot activity around its edges.

I observed and drew a sunspot as it changed for an hour and a half. It was interesting to do this and talk to Steve as he was interested in the changes I had noticed and could identify the changes clearly from my drawing.

Here is an interview with ULO observatory manager Peter Thomas-

G.A- Do you think digital tech is preventing the students from the benefits of more direct observational methods like drawing?

P.T- Drawing teaches the students to look and look again- it is surprising how many get good accurate results from drawing- they get so much information from digital images without much observational effort.

Now students have to learn to subtract noise- when looking at current CCD images it is a very different technique and way of looking, to drawing.

G.A-Is drawing on the BA Hona Astronomy syllabus at UCL?

P.T-Yes- It is for the first years- we ask them to Look through the telescope,  move the telescope to find an object and then to draw it

G.A-What do you see as the purpose of the drawing exercise?

To orientate and memorize position of stars and show relative distances within the field of view.

P.T-They all do this practical and it is very important that the student has the choice to draw and if they wanted to work on a drawing project, this would be valued-

G.A- I Asked students about their experience of drawing through the telescope,

Most students said it was beneficial and helped them observe more actively and remember what they where observing.

G.A- I believe there is a value in the slower process of creating the analogue document compared to the quickness of the digital.

The slowness helps the memory and develops interest in the subject. Nowadays we tend to form a different kind of knowledge, we can now “know” about anything very quickly using the internet. Compared to the olden days when forming knowledge about anything was a very slow process, an endeavour, Drawing is a slow process and a slow way of getting to know something, requiring concentration, patience , imagination and  acute observation.

P.T- Yes- Look at monastic life- there is a lot missing but a tranquillity that is aimed for- you have time to study and time to think and decide what is important morally and worthwhile, modern life doesn’t give you much opportunity to do that…

Last year, I went to the Royal Astronomical Society (London) to research in their library. I had previously spoken to librarian Peter Hingley on the phone who was extremely helpful. When I arrived Peter showed me around the library and showed me an archive he had compiled himself of imagery, folders of meteorites and sunspots amongst others. In this archive I found  drawings by William Hershel, john Russell and Sir Roche. After spending the day searching through the image and library archives I chose a few images that I thought I could re-interpret, for example Herschel’s studies of the moon and Roches drawings of nebulae.

I spoke with peter on an off during the day and he mentioned that some astronomers still believe that drawing planets through the telescope is still the best form of observation.

Peter recommended a few societies that I could contact to ask if I could draw from their telescopes and I began contacting them to see if this would be possible. I received a number of helpful and enthusiastic replies and was invited to a number of astronomical society meetings, including an astronomers picnic on Hampstead heath to observe Mercury/Venus and Jupiter’s activity on the 1st of august.

I also contacted ULO(University of London Observatory) through UCL and emailed a few members of staff to see if it would be possible to draw from their equipment. Again I received a helpful reply and after some email exchanges, I received an invite to draw using one of the telescopes at ULO later in august. (As it was summer, I was advised I would be better off drawing sun-spots)