Featured Artist of the 2019 Spring Exhibition of Natural History Art, Karen Johnson
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been passionate about insects and art, but I didn’t think to put the two together until college. After graduating with degrees in biological illustration and entomology, the study of insects, I did freelance illustrating and teaching while raising a family with my husband. Now that my children are grown, I have more time to explore where I want to go in my work. Acrylics and watercolor have been two of my favorite media to use when showing off the beauty of nature which can be found everywhere from my backyard to nearby forest preserves. Once I discovered polymer clay, it was inevitable that I would start sculpting the many insects and flowers that fascinate me. Sculpting nature in polymer clay started out as a fund side path to go down, but now is becoming one of the main ways that I express myself. Being able to make lifelike flowers, leaves and insects and turn them into jewelry is a way that I can preserve a moment in time that is more tangible than just taking a photograph.
Colors, textures and patterns of nature intrigue me, especially those of the plant and insect world. In both my paintings and jewelry, I like to capture moments in time like flower buds swaying in the breeze or the illusion of ginkgo leaves dropping in the fall. Cicadas buzzing in the summer and monarchs migrating in the fall bring memories of time spent outdoors when these insects were plentiful. I spend a lot of time in the garden and outside in general watching, sketching and photographing the small pieces of nature that are mostly overlooked. I like to help people slow down and see things they they normally wouldn’t and inform them of interesting information as well, if I can.
This past year, I’ve been spending time sketching and photographing in the Schulenberg prairie at the Morton Arboretum, learning about its plants insects, rhythms and life cycles. I hope to encourage people to view the prairie as more than just a bunch of weeds and grasses, and as a habitat that needs to be preserved. These sketches will form the basis for work in the future that I’m excited about.