Artist Profile: Karen A. Johnson

Enjoy the delightful nature portfolio of artist Karen A. Johnson. Learn more about her and see more work by visiting her website.


Cicada and sketch


How has your business evolved?

My background is in scientific illustration. I have a B.S. in Entomology, the study of insects and a B.A. in Biological Illustration from Iowa State University. Twenty-five years ago, my business consisted of illustration work for various clients including garden magazines. I raised a family while continuing to make fine art featuring nature, supplemented with teaching botanical illustration courses. Now that my children are grown, I have more time to explore different media in my work.


Cottonwood Tree Borer pin


Sculpting nature in polymer clay started out as a fun side path to go down, but as interest has increased and technology has progressed, I’ve had to learn new ways to market and present both my art and jewelry. I write both a blog and a newsletter and recently put up a website/store to sell my one-of-a-kind pieces. My goal is to eventually gain gallery or museum representation.

Brought to Life Perennial Peavine

What inspires you?

Colors, textures and patterns of nature intrigue me, especially those of the plant and insect world. I like to capture moments in time like flower buds swaying in the breeze or the illusion of ginkgo leaves dropping in the fall. 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.


Ginkgo Rain necklace


How has adding a 3D medium changed your approach?

I’ve always preferred sketching and painting from life, but as an illustrator that’s not always possible. I’d gotten used to looking at a plant or an insect from one side and not worrying about the rest of it, especially if I had to use photographs for reference. When I started sculpting insects, I was fortunate to have an insect collection to use so I was able to turn the insect over and hold it at all different angles.

Bee study

I learned so much more about each one. It was exciting and actually led me to a new series of paintings. I dissected flowers, sketched them and put that in the background with a lifelike painting in the foreground. So my jewelry is influencing my painting and the reverse is true as well.


Cecropia Courtship


Could you explain your process?

For my insect sculptures, I start with sketching a specimen from the top, bottom, side and front views so that I can get to know it as well as possible before trying to sculpt it. I generally sketch it at the size that I’m going to sculpt it so I can use the sketch as a reference for size.


Serviceberry necklace


I then make an armature out of wire and tin foil, cover it in polymer clay and bake it. I use several layers of clay, carefully observing and following the specimen and the sketch. Each piece of jewelry is designed to bring out what most inspired me to sculpt it in the first place.



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