Mushroom No. 1 (
Mushroom No. 1 by Heather Miller

Year: 2012
Size: 8″ x 10″ (excluding frame dimensions)

Mushroom No. 1 was made using polymer clay, aluminum foil, painter’s caulk, acrylic paint, and dimensional paint on canvas board.

The Story:

I’m not sure what inspired me to do create Mushroom No. 1 exactly.  This is probably due, in large part, to the fact that there are several things that went into this.  Which one came first, I no longer remember.

When I started in art school, I bought some styrofoam shapes for a project.  I had half a ball and this odd oval shape left over.  I was playing in my studio at home & cut off the base of the oval.  I attached the half sphere to the top and, voila!  A mushroom.  I painted the cap red & used some left over dimensional paint to draw in beige spots.  I still have it in my studio in 2016.  I’m pretty sure that was the source of the inspiration for the mushroom featured in this piece.

Mushroom No. 1 - detail image (
Mushroom No. 1 – detail image

Another source of inspiration was a tutorial I read about making armatures.  I had hoped that the subject would be covered, extensively, in one of my sculpture classes.  It wasn’t.  I remember seeing these large polymer clay sculptures & wondering how they managed to get all that clay to bake properly.  I tried that once & it took forever to bake – and I ended up burning the outer edges in the process.  One of the artists detailed her process.  Her sculptures all had a core of balled up aluminum foil.  It was lightweight, relatively inexpensive, and you can bake it in the over without any issues.

Combining the visual inspiration of my styrofoam mushroom with a desire to try my hand at aluminum foil armatures, Mushroom No. 1 was born.  The stem and the cap of the mushroom are separate pieces.  Both have aluminum foil cores.  Polymer clay was then wrapped around the foil.  You can see in the detail image to the right, that I carved in a lot of detail on the underside of the cap.  You can also see that the red part of the cap looks like a different piece from the rest of the underside.  That’s an illusion, but one I tried really hard to get correct.

The mushroom cap I tried to smooth out whereas the stem I left rough and pitted.  After the pieces were baked, I applied base coats of acrylic paint.  I then used two techniques for painting:  the dry brush technique & another one whose name I don’t know.  Basically the dry brush technique involves lightly dipping your brush in paint & then wiping it off the brush.  You then paint your object but only a light amount of paint is left on the high points of ridges (like in the stem).  My unnamed technique (I know it has a name) involves brushing a lot of paint on to a textured surface.  I apply in small areas at a time and then immediately wipe the paint back off.  This leaves paint only in the ‘valleys’ of a textured piece. This is how I painted the underside of the mushroom’s cap.

The mushroom’s cap was painted with several dark red paints.  I purposely tried to leave some horizontal brush marks in the paint.  When that was dry, I painted the beige spots.  The first few layers were done with beige acrylic paint, to cover the red.  The last layer was done with a dimensional paint.

The mushroom was glued onto a canvas board.  The finish on the canvas board is made using painter’s caulk that I had mixed with an acrylic paint.  I over-mixed the paint which makes the caulk take on a paint-like consistency.  Years ago I purchased a bunch of foam cutout coasters that featured floral designs.  I painted a thin layer of the caulk on the canvas board and then dipped one of the coasters into it repeatedly.  That’s why there’s a vague pattern to the background.

I named this one Mushroom No. 1 because I had / have plans to do more mushrooms.  I just haven’t gotten around to creating anymore of them yet.