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Lichen line art

Lichens are all around us, covering about 7% of the world’s surface. They grow very slowly on buildings, rocks, tree trunks, dead wood and on the ground.

They appear in a great variety of colours and textures: let's get inspired by their impressive display and create some lichen line art!

Look at these lichens  

Some are flat crusty blotches, some are leafy; some hang in strands and some look like little teacups on stalks.

The different colours and textures have inspired some very descriptive names including Chewing Gum lichen, Old Man’s Beard, Reindeer Moss and Golden-edged Specklebelly.

Image by Ashleigh Joy Photography

Lichens don’t have roots like other plants. Instead they absorb water and nutrients from the air.

In places where the air is clean you’ll find lots of lichens growing, but in polluted areas they struggle. This means that looking at lichens can help us learn about air quality!

Image by Matt Palmer

Scientists have discovered that lichens are actually made up of TWO

tiny living things: A FUNGUS and an ALGA.

The fungus gives the lichen SHAPE.

The alga helps it make FOOD from the sun.

The two need each other to survive and work closely together-

this is known as SYMBIOSIS.

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In Stuart’s lichen music the two instruments work closely together- like a fungus and alga! When one changes direction the other follows, copying each other’s patterns as the music loops this way and that through different textures and sounds.

Composer Stuart MacRae used this idea of symbiosis to create a violin and cello piece about a rather weird-looking lichen called Cladonia Bellidiflora. 

Let's get creative!

Have a go at making your own 2-colour patterns inspired by Stuart MacRae’s music.

You will need:

A piece of paper

A selection of different coloured pens or pencils (or crayons)

Some sticky tape

Step 1

Step 1

Fold the paper in half and then half again

Step 2

Step 2

Open the paper out and draw along the creases to divide it into 4 boxes. (If you have a ruler use it to get nice straight lines!)

Step 3

Step 3

Choose two different coloured pens or pencils- one to represent fungus and one to represent alga. Wrap tape around them to stick them firmly together. Make sure the tips are level with each other so they’ll both draw when you press them on the paper.

Step 4

Step 4

Press play on the audio to listen Stuart’s lichen music. As you listen, make patterns in one of the boxes that copy the shape of the musical line. The first section is slow, smooth and creeping , so try to make pen/pencil strokes that reflect this.

Step 5

Step 5

The music will stop and you will be guided to move on to a new box and make patterns while listening to section 2. This music is very different, so your pen/pencil marks should be too! You can choose a new pair of colours for each section, or stick to the same if you prefer. Feel free to pause the audio whenever you like if you need time to change pens or finish your drawing.

Step 6

Step 6

Complete sections 3 and 4 in the same way until your paper is completely filled with lichen-inspired patterns!

Lichen guided audioStuart MacRae music & Sonia Cromarty narrator
00:00 / 04:36

Share your image with us

We'd love to see your lichen patterns! 

Take a photo of your work and send it to us to feature in our

One plant, one piece of paper film.