“I’ve been sketching mushrooms for 40 years now,” Peter Thwaites admits.

“I suppose it was triggered by the father of a friend in Cornwall where I lived. He was self-taught and was a founder of the Society of Wildlife Artists and used to do bird sketches for reference for later inclusion in oil paintings.

“I liked the idea, got a small watercolour set, found a fungi and started from there.”

At first he knew little of his subject; “I work as a land agent with Savills at Wimborne,” but he has slowly built up a huge knowledge – so much so that the British Mycological Society asked him to produce the images for their handout brochure and also a splendid wall-chart.

“You gradually build up knowledge and you soon realise that while they may look a bit brown and dull, without fungi in nature the whole system would just about close down,” he says.

He does not paint in the field, preferring to remove a specimen and some of the vegetation around it to be painted in his Bournemouth studio.

“With fungi, when you see the mushrooms emerged that’s almost the last stage in its growth because the spores are coming out of the gills underneath in vast quantities,” he says.

“I will take one, but not if there is only a single specimen, and whenever possible I do try and put them back.”

Not everyone treats these fascinating organisms so well.

“Down in Stoborough one year I noticed some fellow had gone around and picked the caps off all the fungi growing there,” says Peter.

“Presumably he was collecting for a restaurant but it’s a pity people feel they have to strip things bare.”

Another cruelty perpetrated on fungi is their deliberate trashing by the ignorant. He believes people do this because of ‘all the old wives tales’ about fungi and their associations with death and poisoning.

Not to say that some fungi isn’t very poisonous indeed.

“Some will make you vomit and feel really unwell but there are others for which there is no known antidote,” he warns.

He’s not a great eater of mushrooms, preferring to observe and paint them; his favourite is the Parasol. He has an exhibition coming up at Exbury Gardens in the New Forest in October and sells paintings, prints and greeting cards from his website fungiforfun.co.uk

And, when he explains a little more about them, you can see why these mysterious organisms exert such a fascination.

“Scientists are studying them to look into their medical properties,” he says.

“And while they can look samey, when you look more closely they are actually very beautiful.”

From the black blobs of King Alfred’s Cakes, to the vast, ribby Artist’s Bracket, to the red and white danger of the Fly Agaric and the sour green of the Deathcap, who could disagree?

  • mushroomart.co.uk