It’s The Little Forest Details That Inspire This Sonoma Artist


Artist Lucy Martin in her studio

Artist Lucy Martin works in her Sonoma County studio.

When Lucy Martin goes foraging for mushrooms, it’s for artistic rather than culinary purposes. Martin’s luminescent forest paintings capture the kinds of details many of us stroll right past: a cluster of red-cap mushrooms encircling the base of a redwood tree, fallen acorns nestled in a thicket of decomposing leaves, a twisted oak branch traced with a lacework of lichen.

A bowl of small forest elements.

Martin’s studio is filled with foraged objects that inspire her work.

A painting by Lucy Martin shows the details of a tree trunk

Martin’s art focuses on nature’s details, as seen in Valley Oak with Oak Galls and Lichen.

A painting depicts mushrooms.

A detail of a painting shows mushrooms growing at the base of a tree.

A painting shows mottled leaves.

Another painting, Five Leaves, examines mottled specimens.

Foraged forest items

Martin sometimes gathers small forest objects and brings them to her studio.

“There is nowhere I’d rather be than surrounded by trees,” says Martin, who grew up in Boulder and currently lives in Sonoma County. “Since childhood, this has been my refuge and the place where I’m happiest, calmest and most content.” Although some of Martin’s paintings have a fanciful air—as if illustrating a Grimm’s fairy tale set in the Black Forest—she is quick to clarify that all are drawn from real life; they are both evocative and botanically accurate. When Martin spies an intriguing vignette, she takes photos and brings specimens back to her studio to recreate the scene. “With mushrooms, for example, I’ll also gather the surrounding leaves, twigs, redwood needles, fir cones, acorns and moss to set up a little composition,” she says. Mixing watercolors with more heavily pigmented gouache, the artist applies paint to paper in multiple layers. “When I’m painting bark, I’ll start with the darkest shade, apply a texture over that with a very dry brush and then carefully add washes on top to add color,” Martin explains.

The artist’s travels have taken her to forests from Mallorca to Pennsylvania to Point Reyes, and her “small landscapes,” as she calls them, act as portals to these serene settings. One can almost sense the cool, moist air and smell that distinctive forest mélange of fresh green growth and decay—like the olfactory equivalent of umami.

“My collectors tell me my work makes them feel as if they’re in the forest, even when they’re miles away,” Martin says. “I believe it’s healing for people to be immersed in nature. And if we are going to save this beautiful planet, it’s important we not just do so for practical reasons but because we love it—the trees, the fungi, the animals and birds—all of it. I think—I hope—this can motivate us to act not only for ourselves but for our children and beyond.”

Photography: Lauren Segal