Last updated on February 2, 2022
As an environmental educator, who likes to use art to convey science, all my themes for my prints involve the natural environment. After discovering Susan Simard’s work and showing her TED talk to my environmental science and policy majors in my university class, I wanted to create a relief print representing the hidden underground network of tree roots and connecting fungi, How trees talk to each other | Suzanne Simard – YouTube. I teach students about the importance of the invisible mycelium network that connects and sustains trees underground. My students are always captivated when I introduce the notion that trees communicate with one another via a web of fungi, connected to tree roots, which provide fine conduits to transmit nutrients and minerals back and forth between the leaves and soil. Trees communicate by touch in this way, so to speak.
I have seen drawings of the concept and wanted to create my own representation. I ask students to illustrate concepts as a way for them to better remember complex processes. I remember the interesting perspective of one group of students who showed only a portion of tree trunks and instead emphasized the connections underground. Their reference point for the surface of the earth was far up on the page. Most of their image depicted the area below ground. Their unique perspective stayed with me, and I copied this notion in my print.
Reliefs of trees by other artists inspired my design. I knew I needed to include more than one tree to show the web of communication among trees. I decided to carve the deepest into the linoleum, where the trunk is thick, and as the roots fan out in the soil, my carvings became shallower and finer. I decided to carve the sky around the trunks of the trees in the lino-material so the trunks would show up dark. Then below ground I carved the roots fanning out in the soil; the rots are white and the mycelium connecting the soil and the roots I painted red with watercolors after the printing process.
Vija Celmins has appealing prints; and yet my conceptions are in stark contrast to hers which are said to “lack a point of reference, or horizon, or discernable depth of field.” I aim for the opposite, although I am inspired by the same themes. There is a simplicity in her work I like, although I gravitate toward complexity. She said her images have no symbolic meaning; I want mine to be laden with meaning. She discussed two reactions scientific and emotional. My goal is to achieve both with my relief of the wood-wide-web. I want viewers to be curious and intrigued and I want to communicate something about the way the natural world works.
As I set about carving my tree, I examined a student example where the trees were white and the sky dark. Kimberly helped me think about leaving the sky bright and the soil dark for contrast. Mycelium fingi are whitish in color, so this worked out perfectly.
I made five prints. For two I used black ink, one on drawing paper, and one on an earthy colored printing paper. For two I added some red, to make the ink more brown- like bark and soil and printed these on the earthy colored printing paper. My last print was a dry print on drawing paper.
1. Simard, Suzanne, Feb. 2, 2017, Nature’s internet: how trees talk to each other in a healthy forest, TED talk, Nature’s internet: how trees talk to each other in a healthy forest | Suzanne Simard | TEDxSeattle – YouTube
2. Exploring the Underground Network of Trees- The Nervous System of the Forest, May 6, 2019, by Valentina Lagomarsino, figures by Hannah Zucker, https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2019/exploring-the-underground-network-of-trees-the-nervous-system-of-the-forest/.