Fungi, plants, lichen, and anything else Jill Bliss finds in nature feature in her dazzling displays.

By Andrea Beck
October 23, 2019

Jill Bliss's art will stop you in your tracks, whether you encounter it online or out in the wild. She assembles these masterpieces from interesting mushrooms she comes across in nature, then embellishes them with whatever colorful leaves, berries, and flowers she can forage. When she's done, she'll usually snap a quick photo to share with her 37,100 Instagram followers, but she always leaves her creations behind for anyone who happens to be traveling the same path to enjoy. Eventually, these arrangements fade back into the forest, possibly even giving rise to a new patch of mushrooms for Bliss to discover in the future. We recently came across her gorgeous images and had to learn more about what inspires her to create them.

Courtesy of Jill Bliss

Bliss is an artist exploring and living in a vast chain of islands in the northern-most corner of Washington. In 2012, she decided to leave behind city life in Portland, Oregon, to surround herself with nature. “I always joke that I came out for a six-month job, and it’s been eight years now,” Bliss says.

Along with picking up a few odd jobs in the winter, Bliss works in her island-based studio and sells her paintings and photography at local art fairs and farmers markets. Her work includes collections of paintings and drawings of landscapes, sea creatures, plants, and insects. Her mushroom medleys, as she calls them, especially seem to draw attention with their unusual perspective on how beautiful everyday items in the natural world can be.

Bliss has been evolving her unique style of art for her entire life, even as a child growing up in northern California. “Everywhere I explored as a kid, I’ve always collected things that caught my eye and made arrangements. It’s just now as an adult, I have a phone in my pocket to photograph the things that I do,” Bliss says. “And it’s always been something that I make in the moment, in the place, and I just leave it."

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She doesn’t plan to create one every time she heads out on a walk with her dogs, or on a break from her studio while she waits for paint to dry, but when inspiration strikes, Bliss will set aside her destination to create an arrangement. “During my walk, I’ll spot something interesting and I’ll pick it up, and maybe I’ll spot another thing, and before I know it I have all these things that I’ve collected,” Bliss says. “So then I look for a spot that I want to put all these things down on, and create one of these medleys.” Depending on her foraging luck, creating an arrangement could take just minutes, though sometimes she'll linger over it longer as she searches around for just the right pieces to add in. But since mushrooms in particular start losing their color as soon as they've been picked, Bliss often has to work fast.

Brightly colored mushrooms, like those with purple undersides, make for especially eye-catching arrangements, but Bliss also appreciates the more muted tones of brown or tan mushrooms. She’s quick to point out that while she knows all of the visual details of the mushrooms common to the islands, she’s not an overall expert in these fungi. “I have a weird skill now—I can’t necessarily tell you the name of the mushroom or if it’s edible, but I know what color the underside is just by looking at the top of it,” Bliss says.

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Besides giving her this unexpected knowledge of fungi, making these arrangements helps Bliss to learn more about the natural environment. “I’m really interested in how the ecosystem works, and in how all the parts and pieces work together, so that’s a big component of my artwork,” she says. When collecting items, she is always careful not to damage or disturb the ecosystem. She only uses items that are plentiful in an area or have already fallen to the ground. She then leaves these arrangements behind once she’s done, for others to enjoy and for nature to reclaim.

Bliss offers prints, stickers, magnets, posters, and even puzzles of her mushroom medleys and other art online. Buying from her shop supports a number of good causes, too—throughout the year, Bliss donates at least 10% of her earnings to environmental organizations both local and international like the Center for Whale Research, the Nature Conservancy, and Cascadia Now.

In addition to being incredible to look at, we think Bliss's mushroom arrangements are an apt reminder to focus a little more on the nature around us (but make sure you wear gloves before handling unfamiliar mushrooms or plants if you want to try making an arrangement inspired by Bliss's work).  So the next time you’re out on a walk, take a few moments to appreciate the sights around you, whether it’s something in your garden, a park, or a container next to a busy street. You might even spot something as interesting as a purple mushroom!

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