Art up Close: Colten Edelman’s “Mycelium”

📷 all photos by Paul Haygood

It’s no wonder 17-year-old artist Colten Edelman titled his pen and ink drawing “Mycelium.” Themes of care, community and mutual support often show up in his life, work and art.

Mycelium is “a root-like structure of a fungus consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae,” the filaments at the edge of the fungal structure that actualize growth, according to Wikipedia.

Edelman appreciates that, while various mushroom spores above ground may look like individual organisms, the mycelium — the underground network — is actually one organism.

Edelman said service is a key theme of his art, as well as a common concept in his thinking.  As someone who has struggled with the occasionally blurred lines between sacrifice and service, Edelman chose to focus “Mycelium” on service in a way that doesn’t harm the server.

“So the main figure is giving this — I want to call it a soup — to these little, smaller mushrooms. And then you can see that sort of gives them some color in their cheeks,” Edelman said.

His drawing explores different kinds of service. Like actual mycelium, the different characters are interconnected, each achieving their own unique service-oriented role for the larger organism, the larger community.

“So this is about a positive service where it’s not harmful to the person performing the service, but it’s a sort of altruism, into just giving to others,” he said.

Edelman muses about the nature of service. “What kind of service am I giving to other people? What kind of service am I giving to the community?…. In this art piece, I was also thinking about … my personal life, and like, how am I contributing?” he said.

Motion is another concept at play, as Edelman wanted to portray his characters active in the moment of service.

Asked if any of the characters had names, Edelman said “Frank. I think that’s the big one. I think Frank works well, [but] no, they don’t have names.” 

Frank catches the eye at first glance. Standing right in the middle, he’s large relative to other characters, and he’s actively serving other characters. Frank doesn’t have eyes: He doesn’t need them, because he is interconnected with the other characters.

As the viewers’ eyes are drawn to different areas of the work, certain characters appear in motion. Edelman explained while the main line of motion is the soup being served, there are other patterns and characters residing in the background. 

Often in creative moments, Edelman said he paces to determine what wants to come next in a piece. “If I’m really stumped on part of the piece … I’ll just do a couple laps around the house,” and the answer will come.

While there is cohesiveness amidst the motion and characters, also present is another theme greatly important to Edelman: Individuality. A few of the humanoid figures in the background highlight the inherent individuality within a larger community. “I would say individuality helps a large part of my art and independence of thought,” Edelman said.

Frequently enjoying pen and ink drawing, Edelman chose a variety of micron pens, as well as colored pencils for the reds, yellows, oranges and purples. He estimated he clocked six to eight hours to complete the piece. “Mycelium” is one of 15 works comprising his most recent portfolio, all of which are in pen and ink. 

When not immersed in art, Edelman often bakes cupcakes or prepares for debate and extemporaneous speaking competitions. There is an intersectionality in his varied interests. For example, after selling his cupcakes at First Monday in Canton, baking themes worked their way into a few of his art pieces, such as “Mycelium.”

Additionally, Edelman, who just finished his junior year at Tyler Legacy High School, takes whatever he is studying in school and incorporates it into his art. “There’s definitely a math side of it. Getting a geometry, getting a perfect angle or whatever you’re talking about for reading and literature,” he said.

Having begun his evolution in the visual arts in the fourth grade, Edelman realized he was beginning to take art more seriously in high school. He began selling his art and entering competitions. But before that, he utilized many a margin on his junior high and high school notes to practice simple doodling.

As a kid in a family that played cards and board games, Edelman began making up his own games with drawings for each, such as his own version of Monopoly. Once, when stressing out about advanced placement tests, “I made a trading card game. And so while I was thinking about, ‘Oh—I need to study for this and this and that,’ I was just starting to churn out these different cards.”

Perhaps it was the enjoyment of art in games which eventually led Edelman to another artistic passion: Art for video games. Some of his pixel art pieces have already ended up in video games, such as Pokemon.

Pixel images courtesy Colten Edelman.

Although making art is very relaxing for him, other motivations have contributed to his evolution thus far.

When he began selling his artwork on Instagram and Discord, he realized it could be lucrative.  After succeeding at getting his art into video games, Edelman said, “I’ll work on these other game projects sometimes and they’ll commission me [to do] personal work.” Then, he said he noticed the jobs turned into a chore, and what was supposed to be relaxing became cumbersome.

Looking into Edelman’s drawing and seeing layers at each glance, it’s easy to understand how Salvador Dalí influences him. “Every time you look at a Dalí painting, you see something different or you appreciate something different about it,” Edelman explained.

Edelman showcased some of his original works of art at Lamoureaux, the downtown Tyler gallery that hosted a Dalí exhibit last year.

His next portfolio is slated to be solely digital art. 

To follow Colten Edelman on Instagram, find him at @co_sco_mcco

As for “Mycelium,” Edelman said he feels a connection more with the action than with the characters. “The piece is about coming to terms with your own service … understanding what it means for me to give to other people … and to what degree of that is sacrificial (and) to what degree of that is beneficial to me.”

Edelman presents generosity in his art, baking and communicating. In “Mycelium,” he invites the viewer to enjoy whatever form of art we engage in. 

“Art can be relaxing for me …. it makes my brain happy.”

Paul Haygood is a licensed massage therapist, professional juggler and a full time music student. After working as a commercial salmon fisherman in Alaska, a massage therapist on cruise ships and at Grand Teton ski-area spas and as a juggling and yoga teacher in Guatemala, he returned to his East Texas roots to spend time with his father and pursue voice and piano studies at what may be the best two year college anywhere, Tyler Junior College.

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