Featured SciArtist, Julie Johnson

This month’s featured SciArtist is Julie Johnson,  a science illustrator with a background in biology. She has a B.A. in Integrative Biology from UC Berkeley and a Masters in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from UCLA. For the past three years, she has been working as a staff illustrator for the Walter Salzburger Lab at the University of Basel, where she is painting all of the cichlid species of Lake Tanganyika. There are more than 250 species! Julie works closely with scientists to create artwork for science communication and publication. She works mainly in watercolor and digitally. Her illustrations have been published in Nature, Science, Evolution, and other top scientific journals. Julie is the founder of Life Science Studios, her freelance business, which works closely with biologists to bring science to life.




This painting depicts plant-pollinator mutualism interactions between a moth and its host plant. The moth, Manduca sexta, depends on the plant, Datura wrightii, for all of its life stages. The moth lays her eggs on the plant’s leaves, the caterpillar eats the leaves, and the adult moth pollinates the plant.




Smith’s blue butterfly, (Euphilotes enoptes smithi) is an endangered species that lives on the California coast and has an obligate relationship with the seacliff buckwheat (Eriogonum parvifolium). This watercolor illustration depicts the male and female butterflies with their host plant.




Hetaerina tita, exhibits wing coloration that changes seasonally in both males (red wings) and females (amber wings). Males compete with each other and with male H. occissa for territories along the riverbank. As wing coloration darkens, H. titia are better able to distinguish conspecifics from heterospecifics. This painting depicts the changing wing patterns and coloration over the course of one mating season. It appeared as the cover of the Journal of Evolutionary Biology in August, 2015.



Mushroom Diversity

Code Cartel and Life Science Studios collaborated to create a mushroom identification guide app for iOS and Android devices. The watercolor illustrations are paired with detailed descriptions and a mapping function to allow users to keep track of where they discovered different species. Check out the app for iPhone and Android.




“Taken as a whole the Tanganyikan cichlids represent the most outstanding example of adaptive radiation of all those to be considered” – G. Fryer & T.D. Iles (1972).

Working with the Salzburger Lab at the University of Basel, I am creating watercolor illustrations of all 250+ species in Lake Tanganyika. These beautifully diverse cichlids will appear in papers and presentations of the lab’s research into the molecular processes underlying adaptation and diversification.




This image depicts the interaction of bacteria in human intestines. Julie worked closely with scientists to come up with this painting of bacteria on a mucus layer coating the microvilli, and placed in the context of a sea of intestinal villi.


You can see Julie’s work at www.lifesciencestudios.com shop her mushroom art at www.lifesciencestudios.etsy.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram

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