Feathered Friends

Ringling College Student Uses Art to Raise Awareness for Sarasota's Birds

Bird trainer turned art student Morgan Johnson creates educational posters to help preserve the area's diverse bird population.

By Allison Forsyth June 12, 2020

Southern Cassowary bird poster designed by Morgan Johnson. 

The world's most endangered bird species tend to fly under the radar of artists' musings. But they're very much on the mind of Ringling College student Morgan Johnson. She is showcasing diverse bird populations through her vibrant poster art, hoping to inspire the community to help conserve our local birds.  

A Florida native and former bird trainer at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in St. Petersburg, Morgan Johnson has a love for birds. She spends time watching black skimmers and pelicans fly by the windows of her new home near the Ringling College of Art and Design, where she is a freshman. Her husband, Joe, is a Sarasota native, graduate of Riverview High and former student at Ringling College of Art and Design, where he studied digital painting. The pair have collaborated on three sets of bird posters, which are for sale, inspired from a Maker Space class Johnson took in a previous semester.

"I was partnered with an artist from Tacoma, Washington to design pieces that highlight the plume trade in the 1800s," says Johnson. (The plume trade devastated whole populations of snowy egrets, flamingos and other birds in Florida, as hunters gathered their feathers for use in the hat-making trade.)  "Being a former bird trainer and bird lover myself, this was the perfect project for me." While Johnson received guidance from her teacher on using the printing press and graphic design software, she relied on her aviary expertise working at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve. There, she learned how to train owls and falcons for educational purposes, and formed a deep bond with her feathered friends. She is also well aware of the impact insecticides and pollution have on bird populations in Florida.

"This passion inspired me to share my art in a way that educates people and highlights birds in need," she says.

Johnson's first set of posters feature Florida's burrowing owl, the peregrine falcon and the California condor. The second set, in collaboration with her digital painter husband, feature Florida birds like the brown pelican, stellar sea eagle and great horned owl. 

Burrowing Owl bird poster by Morgan Johnson. 

"It's fun to see our different styles come together," says Johnson. "Joe is more of a painter with soft strokes, and I focus on geometric patterns and shapes." 

The third set of posters showcases international species like the Southern cassowary from Indonesia, the New Zealand kea and the Atlantic puffin from North America. Johnson also hopes to create a set of posters featuring other local birds, the bald ibis, black skimmer and the white pelican. 

"I want to provide resources that can help make a difference in our own community and in the world," she says. Five percent of each poster sale will go toward the Sarasota Audubon Society, keeping local bird habitats clean.

Beyond a standard infographic, Johnson's goal is to design something beautiful that also educates. Her posters are featured three times a week on the birding page of the website Reddit, and her work can be bought at her online shop. 

"It has been great seeing fellow bird lovers come together over my work online," says Johnson.

To view Morgan Johnson's collection for sale, click here. To view Joe Johnson's work, click here.   

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