City of Vienna (Paintings by Karen Vaughan)

The Art of Soil: How One Scientist Uses Earth’s Pigments to make Art

As scientists around the world comb through the soil in search of the origins of the Anthropocene, our anniversary issue takes inspiration from people like Karen Vaughan, who finds truth in a peculiar marriage of art and geology.

Vaughan is a scientist, paint maker, educator, mom, and artist. The soils she studies and learns from and with during her day job as an associate professor of pedology (the study of soil formation) have woven their way into her journey as an artist. Vaughan creates nature-inspired, soil-based watercolor paints that she uses to create art that communicates environmental challenges, conditions, and hopes of today. Using pigments gathered from nature and the laboratory, she creates work that interprets geologic time as expressed in the soil, sediment, coral, ice and other stratigraphic records. 

Her art also celebrates soils, connecting people with a material that’s always underfoot but too often unnoticed. By making and creating with soil-based watercolor paint, soils are lifted into our shared consciousness by creating meaningful, tangible art for all.

Crawford Lake (Paintings by Karen Vaughan)


Ernesto Cave (Paintings by Karen Vaughan)


Eastern Gotland Basin (Paintings by Karen Vaughan)


Na Rowni Peat Core (Paintings by Karen Vaughan)


Flinders Reef (Paintings by Karen Vaughan)


San Francisco Bay (Paintings by Karen Vaughan)


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