Quilted Forest Project

The Quilted Forest: Living Patchwork of Moss, Lichen, and Fungi

This idea for this project emerged late in 2019 after a trip to Algonquin Park. Rather than focusing on the big picture — the park's breathtaking landscapes — I found my focus zoomed into the smaller sights along the trails. Months of research, sketches, and art making lead me to pursue an arts grant for the project.

Although my proposal was unsuccessful, I felt compelled to push ahead with the project on a smaller scale. The pandemic has limited the time I can invest in the project and the locations I am able to visit. Despite this, I am picking away at the project as time allows. I plan to exhibit small collections from the project where feasible. Currently, I am exhibiting a collection of work (with a focus on linocut prints) at Bubba & Bugs Coffee Bar in Kemptville, Ontario. The work may be viewed during business hours while patrons order and pick-up takeout during the lock down. The exhibit will be on display from January 10th through mid-March 2021. Thank you to Scott and Luc for the opportunity to share my work!

Below is a gallery of work from the series and a portion of my grant proposal which describes the Quilted Forest Project in more detail.

Quilted Forest Project Virtual Gallery

Hover over an image in the gallery to view the caption. Click on an image to enlarge.



With a cultural push towards greater individual mindfulness and with biodiversity decreasing rapidly due to our warming climate, I feel it is a critical time to elevate the overlooked elements of my regional environment through art. By capturing the character and beauty of the small landscapes of forest undergrowth, I may enhance appreciation for and understanding of these subjects with the goal of cultivating empathy among a wide audience. Greater empathy for the environment will encourage more people to revere and become stewards of their neighbourhood forests.

The importance of understanding and preserving biodiversity is painfully timely as people around the world from every class and culture are reeling from a human health crisis. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Biodiversity loss can have significant direct human health impacts […].”1 There may be healing in mindful observation of the rich life in our forests and beyond.

Diversity of microorganisms […] provides extensive knowledge […] for biological, health, and pharmacological sciences. Significant medical and pharmacological discoveries are made through greater understanding of the earth's biodiversity. Loss in biodiversity may limit discovery of potential treatments for many diseases and health problems.1

Canada is home to breathtaking forested landscapes. Although distinguished by large trees and iconic wildlife, forests are home to mysterious and beautiful organisms that are often unnoticed by visitors. Whether underfoot on rocks or overhead on the scaffold of a dead tree, micro landscapes of mosses, lichens, and fungi create a living patchwork that covers earth, trees, and even human-made structures in and around forests. Attention is more willingly given to large and charismatic species — such as bears — whose relatable physical and behavioural characteristics make it easier for humans to feel deep empathy for them. “Empathy begins with the capacity to take another perspective, to walk in another’s shoes.”2

What if empathy is required for organisms or landscapes lacking in human qualitites? “Empathy is a skill that can be cultivated […]. Through the right practices […] we can grow our empathy on purpose.”3 Being so small and, often, living in the shadow of beautiful trees and rocky vistas, it is understandable that the papery whorls of lichens or the delicate braided threads of mosses are overlooked by people out for recreational activities in the woods. By enlarging my subjects, I will be able to give them greater prominence. By capturing them in a range of media, I will be able to precisely capture their unique character as well as the mood of their environment and the emotion of my initial discovery. In doing so, I may welcome others to walk in my shoes, have new experiences, and therefor nurture empathy for the environment and their regional biodiversity.

Working in a range of media will enable me to represent subjects in a range of stylistic voices. The objective of this is to reach a broad audience. By welcoming the public into my research and creative process — through sharing photographs, sketches, and artworks in progress on social media — I may pass along knowledge and inspiration visually, without language or literacy barriers. Creating sketches and studies of the same subject in different media will provide a greater chance that a viewer will connect with each subject, even if they don’t connect with a particular medium. It is my hope that time spent viewing my field sketches, microscope photographs, and studio work will cultivate empathy in my audience, investing them more deeply in conservation of our shared world.

Mosses, lichens, and fungi come in an astonishing range of textures and colours. The contrast of these features with one another and with their host environment creates a mottled patchwork. It is their differences that highlight their individual beauty and interest. Working in a range of media will allow me to mirror this patchwork of contrasting features in my artistic representation of these miniature subjects. Although each organism is worthy of admiration on its own, the interwoven quality of mosses, lichens, and fungi as they spread through the forest creates magical landscapes rich with contrasting shapes, colours, sizes, and depth. As I fill pages with rich pigments, dry textured graphite, thick line work of block printing, and delicate washes of watercolour, I will mirror the patchwork of the forest floor. These patchworks in turn mirror biodiversity — the variety and contrast of so many species which are interwoven in our environment and our health. 

I therefore see no better time than the present to capture micro landscapes to cultivate empathy for our forests and our world.

1 “Climate Change and Human Health.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 2020, www.who.int/globalchange/ecosystems/biodiversity/en/. Accessed 19 Apr. 2020.

2 “For Families: 5 Tips for Cultivating Empathy.” Making Caring Common Project. The President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2018, mcc.gse.harvard.edu/resources-for-families/5-tips-cultivating-empathy. Accessed 19 Apr. 2020.

3 De Witte, Melissa. “Stanford scholar examines how to build empathy in an unjust world.  Stanford News. Stanford University Communications, June 5, 2019, news.stanford.edu/2019/06/05/cultivating-empathy-unjust-world/. Accessed 19 Apr. 2020.