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by Wendy Jewell from The MY HERO Project

Jane Kim (inkdwell.com)

Jane Kim is an artist and scientific illustrator who recently completed a 3,000 square foot mural that showcases the evolution of birds. This ambitious work is on the wall of the visitor center at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. "The mural features winged representatives from each of the world's 243 families of modern birds, painted to scale on a massive world map on the 70-foot by 40-foot wall. As well as birds, which evolved 150 million years ago, it also includes 27 dinosaurs and prehistoric beasts that are ancestors of birds. The mural's species range from tiny 5-inch marvellous spatuletail hummingbirds to a 30-foot Yutyrannus."

This Wall of Birds (whose official title is "From So Simple a Beginning: Celebrating the Evolution and Diversity of Birds") is a commission to mark the 100-year anniversary of the Cornell Lab, one of the world's leading ornithological institutes founded in 1915, where Kim worked as an intern in its scientific illustration program in 2011.  Kim and a team of seven helpers needed two and a half years to complete the piece, including 16 months on site. The artist claims the mural is the only one that depicts every bird family on Earth in one space."

MY HERO recently caught up with the very busy artist for this interview.

How would you describe the Mural you created Evolution of Birds?

"I would describe it as LARGE!" She laughs. "Life size. Everything is painted to scale, one of a kind mural that showcases all families of birds along with the evolution of birds.  Size is 40 feet by 70 feet, which is 3,000 sq feet."

Jane Kim and Director John Fitzpatrick

How did it come about?

"Actually it's a dream project of the director, Dr. John Fitzpatrick. Ever since the building was created he had envisioned this mural but had not found the right artist.

When I was an intern doing scientific illustration for the lab, he brought me out to see the wall and said doesn't this scream mural? 3 or 4 years later we had everything in place to get moving on the project."

How did you pick the birds?

"That was a discussion that the lab had to get through. Definitely it was a time full of debate and revision. We had a group of ornithologists who got to choose the poster child for each family. There were many different ways people chose: from the showiest to a bird the lab had researched, to compositionally how it would fit on the wall. We wanted to make sure every part of the world map was represented. We did our best to space it out evenly. And sometimes it went with colors that would work better. Scientific choices, personal choices, artistic choices, a huge challenge."

What have you learned about the evolution of birds in this process?

"Plenty I didn't know before!  It's up for a lot of debate still but we are certain that many dinosaurs had feathers and it's interesting to see there are still a lot of gaps about why some of them did and didn't have feathers and teeth. Shape of the breastbone is certainly something that can be traced back. The hollowness of bones. A lot of interesting ways that birds deviated but they are still so similar.

One of the coolest facts:  Alligators and crocodiles are modern birds' closest living relatives.  They split into two directions: as birds and as crocodiles."

Have birds' adaptations been affected at all by human influence? For example, the entire species of Stephen's Island Wren, a flightless songbird, was hunted to extinction by a lighthouse keeper's cat. Have birds begun to adapt in direct response to the encroachment of humans and domesticated animals?

Jane painting grey owl (inkdwell.com)

"Most certainly but it is hard to measure evolution, to observe it in our own lifetimes. Pigeons and crows have adapted. I do think we can certainly see birds have been able to adapt to living with human conditions.  I'm sure migration patterns have changed due to human existence and its impact on light and the environment. BIRDS are indicator species which is one reason they are so important. There is a layer of plastic that can be found in rocks now. Anthropocene is a new geologic term to describe how impactful humans are on the planet."

(The 'Anthropocene' is a term widely used since its coining by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2000 to denote the present time interval, in which many geologically significant conditions and processes are profoundly altered by human activities.)

Do you have a favorite bird?

"That's so tricky. I have favorite groups of birds. I like shore birds and owls. I also enjoy flightless birds RATITES and enjoy painting them: emus, ostriches, kiwis.

I would say that whatever subject I am painting at the moment becomes my favorite bird or animal. There is so much to discover about each that it's hard to pick my favorite."

Jane painting mural at Cornell Lab (http://www.birds.cornell.edu/ )

What inspired you as a child to be an artist and did your parents encourage you?

"Yes. I was definitely encouraged by my folks to pursue art and anything I was passionate about. I didn't realize I wanted to be an artist. I was obsessed with animals and recreating animals thru art, sculpture, drawing or making stuffed animals. It was always a creative outlet to see my obsession through art.  Always making and creating images of animals and when it was time for me to go to college, I asked myself, what do I want to be?  I did end up choosing art because if there was something I was excited about I would make it in visual art. It was my tool, my voice, my language. My dad asked me, do you think you can make it as an artist? I said I think I can. So he said all right then go to art school."

Why science illustration?

"Fascinating to me because it helps visualize information and makes it understandable to an audience and that aspect of scientific illustration is what I love about it. I love the component that artwork has a focus on beauty. It's not required of art to be informative and educational, not that it isn't and can't be but the purpose of SI is educational. Combining the two helps people learn from this work and from emotional attachments to the science it's representing."

What muralists have inspired you?

"Let's see. Francis Lee Jacques. He was a naturalist and artist of a different era. He was one of the original muralists in the era of dioramas. His work is exquisite. His style is really bold, full of space and light and atmosphere. So it's better than life in some ways and the colors he uses and his sense of composition and brush strokes are not overly detailed but perfectly detailed so it comes alive. 1887 - 1969."

What do you say to kids who want to be artists when they grow up?

"I would say that I would warn them that it's a difficult and challenging profession but incredibly rewarding.  It's important to know why you make art and, if you understand how you want to use art, to have a clear purpose as to why you make art. It starts with the passion and then the pursuit requires a lot of dedication, hard work, persistence and creative ways of making it happen for you.  If the passion is so strong that you have to do it, then go for it. There are so many ways to feel successful as an artist."

Margaret Mee at work in the Amazon

Who is your hero and why?

"You know one of my heroes is a woman Margaret Mee, a British botanical artist, explorer and naturalist who spent a good portion of her life out in the Brazilian Amazon jungles recording plants. She would stay up all night to see the first flower open at the break of dawn. Passionate and observant and dedicated her life to recording these phenomenal plants in the rainforests. That kind of commitment and dedication to a lifestyle is something I'm inspired by and she is definitely a hero of mine. I think field workers and biologists do amazing work and are so dedicated to their work. It's hard to be out there in those conditions but the information they gather is so important."

The Mission of InkDwell, your company, is to inspire people to love and protect the Earth one work of art at a time. On that theme, if you had the attention of the world for 5 minutes what would you do or say?

"I would say that we should be filling our every day with opportunities to experience the natural world. I was driving cross country from New York to California and on the road trip the landscapes continuously change as you are driving west. There were billboards along the highway and I thought it would be so cool to have them say, IN TEN MILES YOU WILL BE SEEING this kind of plant or brush or bird. Finding opportunities to engage people about the world around you and to be observant human beings. Filling our world with science illustration and art that will help connect people to their immediate environment."

Do you think if they are more connected they would treat the environment better?

"It starts with caring and loving something and if we can get people fascinated about the world around them they would not want it to disappear."

Written by Wendy Jewell from The MY HERO Project
Photos courtesy of Jane Kim, Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Last changed on: 3/15/2016

Jane Kim - Artist JANE KIM is an artist, science illustrator and founder of Ink Dwell. Her art career started very early in life by obsessively painting flowers and bears on the walls of her bedroom. She received more formal training at the Rhode Island School of Design and then Cal State Monterey Bay, where she received a Certificate in Science Illustration. Jane loves to be outdoors, on adventures, and brings the joy she gets from nature back to her studio. She still enjoys painting flowers and bears, though nowadays she doesn't get in trouble for painting on the walls. "Our planet is home to incredible and wondrous life," says Kim. "I feel most excited, visually, emotionally and intellectually in nature. Combining that with my passion for art leaves me with pure excitement. Sharing even a fraction of that with the rest of the world is the best gift that I know how to give."

CORNELL LAB - Wall of Birds Project The Wall of Birds Project It takes a big painting to do justice to the phenomenal history and diversity of birds. The Cornell Lab and Ink Dwell studio have combined efforts on a mural more than 3,000 square feet in size, covering one whole wall of the Lab's visitor center.

VIDEO of So Simple a Beginning Celebrating the Evolution and Diversity of Birds - story of the mural told by the artist Jane Kim.

Trailer of the Documentary Film: Margaret Mee and the Moon Flower Margaret Mee and the Moonflower (Portuguese: Margaret Mee e a Flor da Lua) is a 2012 Brazilian documentary film directed by Malu De Martino, about the work and legacy of British botanical artist Margaret Mee, who moved to Brazil in the 1950s, produced over 400 illustrations about Brazilian flora and, used her art as a tool to defend the environmentalism

This Monumental Mural Depicting the Evolution of Birds Took 2 Years to Paint by Kristin Hiohenadel, Slate.com -The Eye - Dec 10, 2015

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