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Art & Life with Karen A. Johnson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karen A. Johnson.

Karen, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
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 up, 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 fun 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 taking a photograph.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
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 back 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 that they normally wouldn’t and inform them of interesting information as well if I can.

This past season, I’ve been spending time sketching and photographing in the 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.

In your view, what is the biggest issue artists have to deal with?
One of the biggest challenges facing artists today is the lack of value given to the arts in general. It’s one of the first things to go when schools face a lack of money and that attitude is prevalent throughout society. Yet, art speaks to the heart and can move people to action. It helps people express themselves when words may not. It stimulates the mind and can revive memories.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
My work will be on exhibit at the Burning Bush Gallery in Wheaton from May 12 until June 2, 2019. Twice a year, in April and November, my newest pieces are exhibited with the Nature Artists’ Guild exhibits at the Morton Arboretum, in Lisle, IL. In April of 2019, I will be their featured artist. I have a website,, where I sell my one-of-a-kind pieces as well as a blog where I post my photos and sketches. Writing a studio newsletter helps keep subscribers up to date on classes, exhibits, open studios and new work that has been completed.

I also teach a variety of classes at the Morton Arboretum and at the Fine Line Creative Center in St. Charles. It’s fun to introduce students to the insect world through art and I enjoy passing what I’ve learned on to others.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Karen A Johnson, Brett W Johnson

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  1. Janet Bayfield

    January 11, 2019 at 2:25 am

    Wonderful article, inspiring a closer look at nature. Beautiful colors.

    • Morris Burkwall

      January 11, 2019 at 5:05 am

      Beautiful work. I hope the magazine will feature a second article on how you do your polymer art; how you make the yellow leaves, the flowers, the beautiful moth, the bees and how they are so life like, etc. Maybe they can show some of the equipment you use to make the objects. Keep up the good work and continue to show some of your unique creations to the public.
      Morris Burkwall

  2. Kathi Henderson

    January 12, 2019 at 3:47 am

    I love the way you integrate the polymer clay pieces into your paintings. Your artwork is beautiful, lifelike, and so unique! Thank you for helping us to appreciate the intricate world God created for us.

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