JULIE BEELER IS an artist, a teacher, a farmer and a florist who cultivates color in myriad ways. After a career in digital interactive media, Beeler and her husband, Brad Johnson, moved from Portland to an organic 18-acre farm in Trout Lake, just over the Cascade Range in Southern Washington. Today, Bloom and Dye offers CSA flower subscriptions to the small community and is a hub for natural dye workshops, where participants are encouraged to explore “fresh-cut color” from plants and flowers raised on the farm or foraged from neighboring fields and forests.
A native Oregonian who grew up surrounded by nature, Beeler always has been fascinated with mushrooms. Her interest deepened further after experimenting with a small study group of fiber artists in Portland investigating colors derived from forest fungi. Last fall, Beeler published the Mushroom Color Atlas (mushroomcoloratlas.com), a dazzling online resource celebrating color and nature’s abundance. The site launched with a rainbow of 600 hues derived from 28 mushrooms.
Beeler conceived the Mushroom Color Atlas (MCA) as a means of documenting the range of available colors. In freely sharing the project and her process, she hopes to entice people to look more closely at mushrooms and connect with the natural world. Think of it as a portal to wonder.
“I want to show people how easy it is to work with natural color,” Beeler says. “I’m hoping the Mushroom Color Atlas sparks people’s imagination and piques their curiosity, so that the next time they’re taking a walk in the woods, they have a greater understanding of the mycological world from a creative entry point.”
The ambitious project is a collaborative effort. Beeler created all the color swatches and documentation, while Johnson came up with the visual and experience design for the website. Yuli Gates, a U.K.-based illustrator whom Beeler met through Instagram, rendered the beautifully detailed black-and-white mushroom illustrations. Meanwhile, friend and colleague Danny Rosenberg provided database-driven programming that brought everything to life.
From the website’s home page, click on any color swatch to go to a page that profiles the source mushroom and offers granular detail on how extracted colors shift depending on what type of fiber is being dyed and what mordant, or fixative, is employed. A second round of swatches depicts a range of colors derived from the initial dye bath in a chemical process, called laking, that transforms the tealike solution into an insoluble pigment.
Beeler’s entire process, from foraging and preparing dye baths to swatching handmade watercolors created with mushroom pigment, is generously detailed, along with notes from other artists (she calls them her “mycopeeps”) exploring mushroom color. The MCA is a growing resource. “I have five dye mushrooms on my desk right now,” Beeler tells me. “I’ve dyed the swatches but still need to make the pigments, then Yuli will do the illustrations, and we’ll add them to the database.”
Plans are underway to introduce a mapping component to the already-rich MCA website. “Mushrooms are the flowers of the forest floor,” Beeler observes. And like plants, they are a signature of the location in which they are growing. Not only do environment and habitat factor in mushroom distribution, but growing conditions also affect the colors expressed. “Each color is a story of place and time,” she adds.
Ready to learn more? An extensive list of additional resources, both in print and online, appears on the MCA’s “about” page. Visit Bloomanddye.com/workshops to explore upcoming color workshops in Portland and other locations around the Puget Sound region.