>> LISA KOPP: Welcome, everybody to today’s webinar with Jane Kim. Thanks for joining us. Today is special, we are celebrating the 5th anniversary of the landmark Wall of Birds mural at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. My name is Lisa Kopp, I’m on the Visitor Center team at the Lab, and I’ll be talking with Jane today.
Before that, I want to make a couple announcements. Before we get started, I wanted to make sure everyone knew that we had closed captioning available. If you would like to see subtitles, click on the captions button at the bottom of your screen.
We have a couple of questions that we teed up for Jane. But we really also want to hear questions from you all. If you click on the Q&A button at the bottom of your screen on Zoom and type questions in the window, we’ll be monitoring that. The best way to get your questions answered is to up vote other people’s questions that are similar to yours. And that way, we’ll prioritize those questions. Some questions we’ll be answering in conversation with Jane. Others will be answered with staff assisting with the Q&A and look in the “answered” column to see if there’s been a question answered in that area.
Please only use the Zoom chat for tech support or to share information. We won’t be monitoring it for questions. But please change the “To:” field from “all panelists” to “all panelists and attendees.” And we have colleagues behind the scenes responding to the Zoom Q&A and chat. If you have, again, tech questions on the chat. Or questions for Jane in the Q&A.
And last thing is, we are also streaming to Facebook. If you are watching on the Cornell Lab’s Facebook page, hello, and you can add comments to Facebook. And our team is monitoring those and we’ll do our best to get those answered. And be aware there’s some spam attempts on Facebook. Do not click on any links that might pop up unless they are posted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Facebook page owner.
I think that’s everything I need to run through. And now we can get into the good stuff. Jane, welcome, we are so excited to have you here.
>> JANE KIM: Hi, yes, thank you so much for inviting me back. I’m excited to speak with everybody. Hi, world!
>> LISA KOPP: Just to get started, can you give us background on who you are, both as an artist, and as a person for our people who might not be as familiar?
>> JANE KIM: Sure. Happy to. I’ll go ahead and start my screen share so that we can follow along with some slides that I have prepared. Here we go. My name is Jane Kim. And I am an artist and scientific illustrator. I started Ink Dwell which is a art studio that highlights the wonders of the natural world.
I went to the Rhode Island School of Design, and years later decided to get a degree in scientific illustration. And now spent the last, oh, 8 years now to do what I do today. And the Wall of Birds was really sort of the beginning of that journey. So I’m really looking forward to sharing that with you today.
A little bit more about me. This is me. I was maybe about 3 years old in this picture. But I’m sharing this because it really does sort of say everything about maybe who I am today, or at least the foundational parts of who I am. At that time, I had this 5 probably plus year long love affair with bears. And if you know me, you know about this aspect of my personality. I was truly obsessed. I had over 300 teddy bears in my collection. At the point when I had the dexterity and skills to make my own, I’d had a subscription to Teddy Review and they had patterns to make your own teddy bear. And the picture on the right is my first attempt to make a teddy bear. And it’s all hand sewn.
And that’s funny, but take note of what I’m wearing and the facial expression. I’m still in my overalls and I’m still making work about animals. And this is truly been an inspiration of mine since I can remember. That’s me in a nutshell. And today I get to do this professionally, which I can’t believe is still my life.
>> LISA KOPP: That’s great. That’s such a fun story. I hadn’t heard that story. And identify gotten to have a conversation with you before. We had you at the Lab a few years ago. And we got to work together when you were working on the mural. And that’s going to be what the focus of our conversation will be for this next chunk of time.
So before we launch into some more questions, I wanted to give everyone on the Zoom a little bit of background on the Wall of Birds, which is your massive, massive mural located at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Visitor Center here in Ithaca, New York. It’s formally titled From So Simple A Beginning, which is a quote from Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, but we affectionately refer to it as the Wall of Birds. And that’s the title of your book. And I think that’s how most people refer to it.
And for people at home who haven’t been to the Lab here in Ithaca, it’s truly massive. It was originally — well, it still is — a 2500 square foot wall. At the time you started it was blank. And then you took years to add 270 life-sized animals in exacting detail. 243 of those are representatives of the families of birds, which was the number circa 2015.
>> JANE KIM: Exactly.
>> LISA KOPP: That continues to change.
>> JANE KIM: The ornithologists keep adding more.
>> LISA KOPP: It’s a snapshot of where we were in 2015. And an additional 27 extinct species which represent the evolutionary history of birds. And that’s really stunning. And we are really fortunate to be able to show people on this Zoom the mural using the Bird Academy Wall of Birds interactive. So we’ll share the link to that in the chat. And Jane will also be showing us that as she talks through things a bit. So be sure to take some time after Jane’s talk to explore that incredible interactive further, because it really does allow you to get a special view of Jane’s work. So…
>> JANE KIM: I might add, I still think that’s one of the most special features of this mural, that’s not been duplicated in any other one of my works. And I value that so much. And I’m so thrilled that it exists.
>> LISA KOPP: That’s wonderful. So just to backtrack a little bit, the story of how the Wall of Birds came to be is really fun. I love hearing how it went. Both the inspiration and the process that you went through to make it happen. So could you share a little bit about how this came to be?
>> JANE KIM: I would love to. For those who actually do have my book, I’m not going to read this particular passage. But Fitz, the director of the Lab, was kind enough to write a forward to the book. And he does describe his account, which is accurate to my own, of how this project really came to be. So if you do have the book, you can read about that on page 13. But I’ll go ahead and just give you a nutshell version of that.
So I’ll go ahead and share my screen again. In 2011, I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of the Bartell’s Science Illustrator. And I was able to spend about 5 months at the Lab.
And during that time, I sort of had this dream project in my mind when I was in school studying scientific illustration. It was called the Migrating Mural. And basically in a nutshell, it’s a series of public art installations, painted along migration corridors of wildlife that they share with people. And I was still in the process of trying to figure out how I was going to make that project a reality. And there was a National Geographic Ocean Conservation Reader’s Choice competition I decided to enter my Migrating Mural project idea to. And it hadn’t even been a thing. I had barely just begun to create mock ups and sketches to try and push this out into the world.
But Diane, who at the time was the director of the science illustration program, sent it around the Lab. And honestly I think I had a lot of support there. And a lot of people in my life who really supported what I did and my vision. My project ended up winning, which was unexpected and very cool. And one of the I guess outcomes of that was a blog that was written about the project. And she sent that around the Lab. And I think that’s how Fitz was able to learn I was interested in murals.
So he brought me to the landing platform, on the second floor hallway that connects the Visitor Center to the upstairs offices. And he presented a bare wall to me. At the time it was a different color. It was an olive green color, if you can imagine that. For those at the Lab now, to have a olive green Visitor Center? But that was the color. And he said, “Since this building was created I’ve wanted a mural that depicts the evolution of birds. And would you like to do this?”
And honestly, I couldn’t believe my ears. I basically leapt up and just wanted to leap off that balcony and shout for joy. And I think that enthusiasm is what captured Fitz and I thought this is the person who is going to do this for us. And I’m not going to take on anything that massive. And I haven’t started the Migrating Murals.
So really the next thing was to get some more experience under my belt. So in doing that, and here you can even look at this National Geographic blog. A year later, finally, I was able to launch the Migrating Mural off kick starter. And it became a reality. And this is a little update article about this project, and where I was going to start. And the very first mural for the Migrating Mural was about the Sierra Nevada big horn sheep in independence, California.
And this is a rough mock up of what I intended to do. And that October slash November, the first Migrating Mural was born. So it was — I kind of see these two projects tied hand in hand. Because on the one hand, this idea of even doing these sort of public conservation murals was how I was connected to the Wall of Birds. And vice versa. And this gave me practice and maybe a little bit of confidence to do the Wall of Birds from that point.
>> LISA KOPP: Great. So if you are ready to, Jane, we can look a little bit at the mural.
>> JANE KIM: Absolutely.
>> LISA KOPP: And we are going to head over to the Bird Academy website to look at the interactive. Which is really fantastic because, as we were saying, it allows for so many people who can’t make it to Ithaca to experience Jane’s work. Right now with the Visitor Center closed, it allows us all to appreciate it virtually. And it’s really an incredible interactive because it shows the scale, as Jane is demonstrating right now. And it allows you to zoom up so close you can see individual brush strokes in some birds.
>> JANE KIM: I didn’t realize it would be that close.
>> LISA KOPP: And this is a better view than you can get in the building, because this is such a huge scale and some are so high up you have to use binoculars to get a good view.
And if you click on an individual species, there’s information you can explore. There’s description about that bird, and why that was chosen as a representation for that family.
And you can hear a sound from the Macaulay Library, which is the Lab’s collection of natural history sounds, images and videos. And then you can look at a map to see where this bird is located, using eBird data. And there’s a fun voting feature, you can pick which your favorite bird is. I can’t remember which one right now is the top one. And this information is available for every species that’s there on the wall.
So Jane is going to talk to us about a couple of species that she feels particularly connected to, as she drives us around the mural a little bit.
>> JANE KIM: So I did think about this long and hard, because it is hard to just narrow in on just a couple. And oh, for those who are wondering why it is so blank right here. There are two giant support architectural support beams that cross this wall here so there isn’t a lot of space for birds. But it tells the interesting story of the diversity of birds and where a lot of them can be found. But that question is often asked.
I’ll move to where I began, which is down in Australasia. And I was thinking, trying to recall the memory of painting each birds, which ones gave me anxiety. And which one, I think, it was like 90% of them. And which ones felt enjoyable and memorable as that. And I have to say the Magpie Goose was one I really loved painting. And I don’t know what it was. It is got this ancient look to it. And I think they are pretty common and maybe they are like the equivalent of the Canada Goose in Australia. And they didn’t get too much attention. Oh, see, no votes. I’ll vote for it and is a say I love it.
I loved the painting and the stark contrast with the black and white markings. And it created volume in a simply marked bird. And I just loved painting this one. So I just wanted to give a little shout out to the Magpie Goose. And also, this was when I was trying to figure out my technique and do this efficiently and effectively, I thought I had a break through with that Magpie Goose. That’s one I wanted to call out.
I do have a fun story about the Shoebill. I think all of us love the Shoebill, in that it’s such a weird bird. It’s the only representative of that family, it’s that unique of a bird. But there were some birds that, most of the time, I would paint it and move on and that would be that. I had to complete it and then done be done. And every now and again — and of course if I had another year to do this to all the birds, I would probably make some small edit here and there as I my eye becomes more keen, and I feel more confident. And there’s always room for improvement. But I did end up editing the Shoebill. It was after a very fun memory, a personal memory of the Shoebill.
I’m going to just switch over back to my slide here. And this is my husband and me, on New Year’s Eve. And he was so sweet. His name is Thayer Walker, he’s the co-founder of Ink Dwell and co-author of the Wall of Birds book. And he’s a brilliant writer.
He was too sweet. I was under such a deadline to get this done by December of 2015, I was working like pretty much 7 days a week for 12-15 hours a day. So for New Year’s Eve, I thought, I can’t take a break, I have to keep pushing through. He sat with me in the lift in that entire evening. And I think I can admit this now. I couldn’t admit this before because I didn’t want to get in trouble with New York’s equivalent of OSHA, but we had a little whiskey cheer at the mark of the new year of 2015.
And you can see — back to the original story, I digress. The shoebill in this particular version, there’s a much steeper swoop in the bill. And when I saw this picture, I looked at that and went, oh, that doesn’t feel right. And sometimes it takes a picture of the painting to see some of your errors.
And so I went back. And if — let’s switch back. So take a note of that arc. I did go back to the Shoebill and make it much more straight. And I was so much happier about that. And sometimes when you just make the small adjustments, you were like, ah, that’s what was wrong with it. And you don’t always know. And that was a fun story.
And then I am going to end at the Common Loon because we have something special for this bird. Later, that I’ll mention later. It is definitely one of my favorite birds. And my favorite paintings on the wall. And its call is probably in my top five bird calls.
>> LISA KOPP: Mine too, I have fond memories hearing loons while camping as a kid.
>> JANE KIM: The first time I heard a loon in the wild was while I was working on the mural. I visited some of my husband’s family in Maine. And we stay stayed on a little pond called panther pond. And I was greeted with loon calls at night and in the morning.
>> LISA KOPP: It’s special. Related to some of your favorite birds on the wall, we have a question from someone asking whether you are a bird watcher or a bird-lover yourself, and whether you had seen birds on the mural in the wild?
>> JANE KIM: This is a great question. Yes, I love watching birds. I have a hard time saying I’m a birder. Knowing birders, I don’t have the same level of daily practice as I think birders do. But when I was at Bartell’s intern, I would go out as much as I can. And when we go on vacations, that’s certainly one of our main eco-tourism highlights, is to go birding with experts. I definitely love going with people who are far more knowledgeable and better at it than I am.
And I have seen, oh, I would say a good majority of the ones in North America. There have been some special ones in our travels. We went to New Zealand, and I saw the Saddleback. I saw — not the Great Kiwi, but I did see a Brown Kiwi. I did not see a Kakapo, but I did get to see New Zealand birds which is pretty phenomenal. So yeah, I look forward to — my own checklist is definitely ones that I have painted, and I look forward to doing more of that when we can travel again.
>> LISA KOPP: Right. I mentioned a little bit ago that we had you back at the Lab in 2018, to celebrate the release of your book, Wall of Birds, which is beautiful. And another way for people to connect to the mural at home. And we can share in the chat where people can find the book.
You talked how that was a whole undertaking in and of itself. So I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about the book? And how that was a continuation of the process, in finishing the mural and working through what it meant to finish the mural?
>> JANE KIM: Yeah. I think I was in such tunnel vision work mode when I was creating the work, that I didn’t have much time to process. I had a spreadsheet of birds I had to complete. And when I got back home, I think I needed to be in this state of hibernation for a few months. I didn’t do anything. I needed to rest my brain and my mind and my body.
So getting back into the book forced me to try to pull in deep and find those memories. And think about what this project meant to me. So it was quite cathartic to be able to really understand that the work I was doing there was so much deeper to me personally than just fulfilling a mural on a wall. The stories that I learned about the birds, and bringing that into social commentary, into understanding why I make what I make, and what I want to continue to output in the world. And how that guided projects that are meaningful to me. It set the tone. So I think that exploring that was really fabulous.
I have a passage I would love to read to you guys. And I do have it. I can pull it up on this screen so that… So you can read along if you choose to. I think you can see it.
There are some stories where we made social allegory and commentary. There are some purely about the painting process. There were some stories that were just fun memories of the wall. So this book is really such a mix. And there was one review of the book in the LA Times I think, and they didn’t know how to position the book. It wasn’t necessary art book. It wasn’t necessarily a natural history book. So they didn’t know what it was. And I think this particular passage is a good example of the spirit of some of the stories that were shared about the characters.
And of course the Blue-footed Booby is a favorite. And I’m calling this one out in particular, because there’s something special in the celebration of our 5 year anniversary that I’ll be sharing at the end of this as well. So here is a Blue-footed Booby.
[Reading slide] The Blue-footed Booby’s choreography is not meant to make the birds work hard, but to flaunt their success at hard work. Boobies produce a pastel-blue pigment in their feet with the help of carotenoids absorbed from their piscivorous diet. The brighter the feet, the better fed — and healthier — the booby. Their amorous dance is a means to show off the vibrant paddles, the color of a tropical Carribean seascape or a 7-Eleven Slurpee.
The 270 creatures on the wall cover a Myers-Briggs workshop of personality types, from the curious seriema to the cautious potoo. The booby provided an irresistable opportunity to celebrate the state of silliness. In the air and at sea they are magnificent shapeshifters, broad-winged bombers that start their aerial dives from one hundred feet high, then fold into a spear to plunge eighty feet deep after baitfish. Such grace escapes the bird on land, where it’s easy to see why the booby derives its name from the Spanish word for “foolish.”
While many bird species use dance to display strength of agility, the booby’s jig is a slow and awkward two-step.
So this sequence to the right is not in the mural. But I wanted to share what their dance steps are.
[Reading slide] After all, by the time they reach the courtship phase, the hard work is presumably over — the feet are already blue. I relished the opportunity to capture such a majestic hunter in its goofy routine. Its left foot is lifted, as if presenting its bright blue webbing like a prize. The booby is shifting from side to side, and appears as if it might even tip over. I wanted to maintain a hint of the bird’s inherent grace, so I captured its upper body in a streamlined position, its head thrown back and beak pointed toward the sky like an arrow. Its right wing, just barely poking out behind its left foot, adds depth to the painting, prompting the viewer to consider the booby’s unseen anatomy.
The booby represents an important lesson. Sometimes we humans can take ourselves too seriously. We forget to have fun. The booby reminds us that every so often, it’s okay to look silly on the dance floor.
So yeah, I just love watching these videos. And I am happy to report that this is a bird that I have seen in the wild. It was in a place I did not expect to see it. I thought they were solely found in the Galapagos, but we were in Baja, Mexico. And there was a little rock that had Blue-footed Boobies. I was stunned.
>> LISA KOPP: Wow. One of the things that comes to be so clear hearing you write about these species, is that you did get to know them so intimately. So one of the questions that someone submitted is, what’s your inspiration for your artwork? So I’m curious if it’s — is it from learning about the birds and understanding their personality? Or is it attempting to portray them as accurate and scientifically as possible? Or a balance of the two? Where do you start for that inspiration?
>> JANE KIM: That’s a great question. For me, I think the story and the narrative is something that really drives me, first and foremost. But beyond that, I love to capture and depict the animals as they truly are, and would be seen.
And that was a fun evolution in the mural as well, and there was a passage in the book that reflecting on that. Jessie Berry was the scientific adviser that I worked with primarily on this project, as well as with Fitz. But when I first started sketching out the birds, I had them on the ground, standing. Because I knew I wasn’t going to be including an environment or any other background. And I was think offing a field guide sort of approach to the book. But as she was reviewing the sketches, a lot of her feedback was like, “Well, the bird wouldn’t do this. It would never stand flat on the ground like that. We would never observe it like that.” And I remember thinking oh, that’s not do that.
And we both realized it’s important to show the birds in a natural position, regardless of whether there was an environment painted or not. So I think for me, that element of accuracy and — I think nature is amazing on its own. And someone like myself isn’t going to make it any better. I mean, I can only hope to do it justice in my work. And that’s really important to me.
But the part I can be interpretive on, are the stories. And our perception of it as humanity is something I can add value to. So I think that’s a important cross section. I love depicting nature as is. But then understanding how its relevance influences our own understanding of the world as people.
>> LISA KOPP: That’s great. One of our other questions that has gotten a couple votes on it, too, is: What did you learn personally as you worked on this project? So you’re talking how we view the birds. But what do the birds do to you, as you were doing this?
>> JANE KIM: Yes, I think that’s just it. Often times when watching videos — and not to say I was anthropomorphizing them at all, but I was certainly — You know, there were a lot of stories in this book about, for example I have a passage on feminism. And what we can learn from the relationship of gender — or I guess sex, really, gender is a human term. But sex in the avian world. The amazing plumage we see on male birds is because the females selected the most showy and best birds to mate with. And so that fed into what we see today, and that beauty was determined by females. So there was a passage on how to connect that idea of female self-determination in this book too. There were a lot of biological and scientific lessons that I applied to my own understanding of the world.
>> LISA KOPP: That’s great. You mentioned in your talk a few years back, that one distinct memory you had while working, was being at the Lab late at night when no one was there. You didn’t have visitors and staff coming in to watch you work. But we have at the Lab a microphone out in your feeder garden that pipes sound into the building. And you talked about listening to the night sounds of the woods and the pond. Which I never got to do, sounds like it would be wonderful. But are there other memories or moment that is stand out now that you are 5 years out from having completed it?
>> JANE KIM: Yes! Well, I want to share — Let’s see, I’ll go back to — a sequence. I had so many people involved in the mural, including photographers who would come and document, and friends who would come and visit. And Thayer who was in the lift with me.
And I was a special memory of a friend. And at the time I felt that was the only way I could engage with people, is if they were willing to come to me. During that period of time, because it was just so insane. I have a dear friend, her name is Jennifer Campbell Smith. And she’s a wonderful photographer, birder, hawker, a brilliant human.
And she said, “Jane I want to watch you paint a bird from start to finish.” I said okay, if you want to do that. I work really late and I work really long, but please by all means let’s do this.
And so she did. She sat with me in the lift the entire time I painted this Andean Flamingo. Here it is, in its under-painting stage.
And in going back through — you know, that’s another thing that the book did, is I had to review the photos and timestamps and recall how long things took. So we were probably at the Lab around noon, which is typical of me to show up at that time, to get some daylight hours in. And I would work through the night until sometimes 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. And those sounds were so helpful, in that I didn’t feel alone while I was working in the Lab. I had my outdoor wildlife friends.
But this night I had company. And it was really fun. She’s also a gifted artist herself. And she brought her paints and painted a hummingbird in the lift as she documented. So the flamingo is probably the best documented of all the birds I have on the wall.
Here I am. It was from about 1:00 p.m. until about 4:00 a.m. that she stayed with me, capturing.
And every couple hours I would come out back onto that platform balcony, and stare at the progress and determine what else needed to be done.
And I recall this moment, looking at this and thinking, man, I have to change something. What I ended up changing is the position of that back leg. I completely painted that out. And now this is like 3:30 in the morning and we both called it quits. I said, we got as far as we could, but this is nearly 15 hours straight of painting. And I changed that back leg from just barely lifted to being completely tucked and in a standing, resting position.
So that was a fun memory, but it was also great to have this documentation of start to finish.
>> LISA KOPP: And actually, that picture you just showed up on the balcony looking from a distance, relates to a question someone asked. How did you address having to have a subject look perfect — because you had a building full of ornithologists watching what you were doing — up close, but then also have it look detailed from a distance as well? So someone asked, how did you tweak the way you painted to make things easily and correctly viewed from afar?
>> JANE KIM: That’s a great question. Thank you. I do actually have a chapter in the book that addresses just that.
And it was — when I was painting the Cassowary, I spent 6 hours lovingly painting the face of the Cassowary. And when I came up here to look at it, it didn’t look like I had done anything on the wall. And I thought, oh shoot. I am going to have to figure out how to exaggerate and paint boldly and graphically to make these birds stand out.
At the time, the interactive was not part of the picture yet. So I didn’t realize that people would be able to zoom in on these birds. So I was just painting it based on how one would be able to view it. When you look at these birds up close, they are kind of like — if you have basic Photoshop or photo editing skills, it’s like I kicked up the brightness and contrast on each of these birds, just enough so they held up from a distance.
But that’s how I did it. I would stand at the balcony, look at the wall from afar, and come back up in the lift and make adjustments from there.
>> LISA KOPP: Great. We have a couple sort of logistics questions, related to how you managed to do this at the scale. And one is, you mentioned the lift a couple times. Do you want to talk about your set up? The sort of extreme — I remember hearing the beeping from my office as you were going up and down.
>> JANE KIM: Okay. Yes, I am so grateful to everybody at the Lab. And honestly part of the reason I didn’t start until later in the day is because I didn’t want the lift to be super disruptive. I didn’t move a lot, but whenever I moved up and down —
There were three different set ups we had. We had an articulating boom lift, also called a cherry picker. And that was for me to reach above the stairwell in that very top left corner. I also used primarily a scissor lift. And that got me through 3/4 of the wall, I was able to reach from the scissor lift. And on the stair itself we had to set up scaffolding. Those were my three major logistical set ups.
>> LISA KOPP: That probably isn’t foreign to you, working in large scales and doing murals.
>> JANE KIM: Yes. So the one thing you will learn about me, and Fitz does mention — Okay, I’m going to read just this one little line. Fitz says, “If Jane ever gulped at all on grasping the magnitude of this endeavor, she never let on. Rather, she approached the project with enthusiasm, conviction, and copious hard work.”
And I remember reading that line and starting to cry, because it was that. Because everything I do is a experiment and a first time thing. And I’m like I’m going to figure it out and do it. So the very first training a I ever had on this kind of equipment was at the Lab. So I had never used any of it before this project. And of course now I use it a lot in my work. But it was the first time. And I felt very cool getting this card that had like a certification, completing training on this equipment. It was neat.
>> LISA KOPP: Another question someone asked is, you talked about the Migrating Mural series that was coming to be in tandem with the start of the work of the Wall of Birds. Did you — and this is related to another question I had written, about sort of your career trajectory since the mural — but did you always envision yourself working on this scale, when you went down the path of scientific illustration?
>> JANE KIM: No, definitely not. For a couple years — I moved to San Francisco after graduating. And a couple years before I went back to school for scientific illustration, I was working at an interior decorative finishing company. And we were working on interior murals and decorative works in that company. And I remember really loving that scale. And the impact and the importance that embellishing the room or wall or architecture has, in terms of messaging and importance that that individual has shared.
So I think that certainly influenced that concept of the Migrating Mural. But it was really more that I wanted to figure out a way to engage easily with the general public. That wasn’t in a gallery setting, or a museum setting, or even a textbook setting. It’s like, how can I have just this be a fabric of our environment?
And so, as I would do these long drives from Monteray to San Francisco, which is where the scientific illustration program was, I would look across at the billboards and think, gosh it would be so much cooler if these billboards had information about the natural environment that I’m currently driving through. How much more informative and beautiful would that be?
And so then this idea started to formulate. And it was really more, again, based on the story. The story drives not only the medium but how my approach is for any particular project.
>> LISA KOPP: That’s fascinating. Do you want to talk a little bit about how you feel like this project ended up changing your path afterwards? I mean, I remember that the response to this project being completed was overwhelming. And we still — well, back when the Visitor Center was open — we would get people who would come in specifically to see the Wall of Birds. They had heard about it or had seen pictures, and they wanted to see it in person for themselves.
>> JANE KIM: That means the world to me. Because that’s one of the reasons I do it, is the accessibility and just the access, the public access. I would love to share a little bit about what I’m doing now and what I did immediately after. The Wall of Birds is by far going to stand out as one the most important projects of my life. And there are a lot of reasons for that.
I would love of the another opportunity to do something like I did for the Lab of Ornithology. But I don’t think of that opportunity necessarily exists. Representing one member of every family of a group of animals, birds are really perfect for that, it’s not too many and it’s not too few. So it’s this sweet spot where it can be done in a doable time frame.
But it really set the tone in terms of the monumental quality, which is something I drive for now. It set the tone for scientific accuracy and storytelling. And then beauty and monument. So I think that I carried that through in the rest of my work. And I would love to share that with you all.
So the Migrating Mural started with a Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep. And it was 6 murals and it was regional. It was a specific location in the eastern Sierra of California on Highway 395 from Lone Pine to Lee Vining, which is only about a 125 mile stretch.
When we created the Migrating Mural, there was always vision of it to represent a variety of species.
And we started with land. And I wanted to do sky and sea, as the first three species. And we are currently on the second species, the sky migrator. And it was very difficult to land on what animal to do, there’s so many birds and bats even that could fall into this category. But ultimately we landed on the Monarch Butterfly, because it had such a large geographic range. It connects pretty much all the lower 48 including Canada and Mexico. So that is a spectacular way of thinking about unity of this country, is through this one animal.
So we started the project on an airport control tower, which I thought was great. This piece is called Kaleidoscope, and it is in Springdale, Arkansas, so this is their airport. And a kaleidoscope is what a group of butterflies is called.
That was 2017, so that’s when the Monarch Butterfly began. This is 2018 at Full Sail University in Winter Park. This was a collaboration with the Nature Conservancy. And this piece is called Milkweed Galaxy.
In the neighboring town of Orlando, Florida, we created this piece in their downtown, right across from the civic center. This is called Midnight Dream. Also 2018.
>> LISA KOPP: So beautiful.
>> JANE KIM: Thank you. This is a close-up of one called Monarch In Moda, and this is in Ogden, Utah. And here is the rest of the mural. That wall, it’s a parking lot to an arts building, and that’s like maybe 200 feet long.
And I had a lot of fun with this. In Ogden, we had three unique installations. And it was all centered around this cool collaboration of Weber State University’s art department, and this Nine Rails Creative District in downtown Ogden, and the Ogden Nature Center. So I just wanted to tell this cross section story of natural history and art history. And I choose three different movements of art that the we could apply this story to. And of course in the 60s there’s the op art movement and, man, how perfect are those spots on a adult monarch to tell that story?
This is at Weber state in their art department lobby. And being a illustrator, I wanted to highlight the beauty of scientific illustration. And these are Wasatch, which is the mountain range in Ogden, and the wild flowers there. And of course when we think of monarchs, we think of milkweed but the adults really need a variety of nectar flowers, so I wanted to make sure to include that element of the story. This is called Generations.
This piece is in San Francisco. It was quite a special honor to be able to produce two Migrating Murals in San Francisco where I live. This is called Five Families. And because I was home it was of course logistically a lot easier to produce these pieces, and I decided to expand the story from just the monarch to also include other butterfly species. This is called Five Families.
And then our latest monarch Migrating Mural is downtown in the tenderloin. And this, I feel like captures the same spirit of the Wall of Birds, in that it was not just this one wall but it was really a 360 inclusive experience. It was like realtime. This face we also had it wrapped to the front of the building. And then had another image on the third side of the building. Which includes, again, the five families of butterflies that you can find in San Francisco.
In addition to that, we actually created a hand painting wall covering, that then lined the interior of the entry way of that building. It’s a residential apartment building, so this was especially just for the residents because you can’t really see this from the street too well.
This includes all butterflies that can currently be observed today in San Francisco. And much like the spirit of using eBird with the Wall of Birds, I used the tool iNaturalist to help me understand what was being seen currently, as far as butterflies go in San Francisco.
And then we adapted this image to be used as vinyl to cover the garage door of this building. So the whole building is called a papillon, but each mural has its own title. So One Monarch is the one on the wall, and the families — sorry, Butterflies and Poppies, which is named after a Van Gogh painting called Butterflies and Poppies.
And here are a couple details of the hand painted wall covering. This is a Tortoise-shell Butterfly. And this is a California Sister. And here’s a little Fiery Skipper.
And other ways the Wall of Birds influenced by work moving forward. I think that the magnitude of the project has of course bled out to other bird-related institutions or works. And the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin, has for the last 40 years — they just celebrated their 40th anniversary of an annual art exhibit called Birds and Art. It’s just phenomenal. The quality of work in these shows and the painters and the artists.
And they invited me to be an artist in residence for a week. Knowing my work because of the Wall of Birds. So that was a direct influence there.
But I decided to create this piece. It’s 9 by 12 feet? No, 7 by 9 feet? Oh, gosh, I don’t even remember the dimensions. It’s fairly big. It’s Indigo Buntings. And this is the tag that accompanies the work, that I’ll read because I think they did a fabulous job of describing this piece.
[Reading slide] Indigo Buntings aren’t really blue; our eyes just tell us they are. Blue pigment doesn’t exist in the avian world, yet most of us can name several bold blue birds, like jays or macaws, whose feathers are actually shades of brown, black and gray. The blue we see in birds is the result of “structural color” created by light waves interacting with the protein structures of feathers.
Artist and scientific illustrator Jane Kim’s painting RGB(ird) illustrates how light intensity changes the blue hue of an Indigo Bunting. This bird can appear turquoise in bright sunlight, yet reads dark, midnight blue in low light.
How the artist convey the intesity of light in the painting? Shadows, cast by the birds as they fly across the white background, indicate light intensity. The artist uses shadows to represent brighter and lower light, affecting the hue of the bird.
Why RGB? RGB (red, green, blue) is the color model representing how the human eye responds to light and perceives color. RGB is also the color model used for digital screens and in graphic design.
The color wheel in the painting represents the full spectrum of colors created by mixing different levels of red, green or blue light. The artist chose a white background because when all colors of light mix together they create white.
Another thing the Wall of Birds taught me was to work quickly. And be inventive with how we can make this work. So the residence was only a week long and obviously I wasn’t able to produce that painting in a week. So it was painted on a veneer roll that I just checked on my flight and I brought with me. And we mounted it onto the panel. And this is the back of house of the museum. And these pictures are curtesy of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum.
And then there I was painting on the entry way on site. And got to interface with the public. And again, that availability to for the public to access the work has always been greatly important to me.
I’m always going to point out it was November in the middle of Wisconsin. So it was quite cold. And by the end of my residency, I was outfitted in that. It was freezing in the museum. So that’s a couple pictures from that experience.
And one of our most projects was at the Moore Lab of Zoology in Los Angeles at Occidental College. And I got to tell a very cool story. In this entire building they were renovating their department.
It’s another 360 complete story of various ecosystems of southern California, and how land and sea connect.
Here are a few shots from there. And going down to the second level.
So the building is divided between the Moore Lab of Zoology upstairs and the Vantuna Research Group downstairs, which is ocean related. So when you come downstairs you are in this kelp scene. And each wall represents a different ecosystem. So we’ve got the kelp. We’ve got the deep ocean, represented by the bathymetry map. And we’ve got the estuary scene. And upstairs is chapparal and urban.
And here are just a few close-ups of the work. And I love maps, as you know, that carried through from the Wall of Birds. But this one was my favorite wall. This is the chapparal wall.
And another I guess aspect of this project that was reminiscent of Cornell’s was the availability of — here’s a California Gnatcatcher — of using specimens. I hadn’t that since the Wall of Birds, to directly have these references right here and experts to advise me. So I loved being back in that environment and setting.
Here’s a few other close ups of the birds.
I did get faster. I think I painted nearly 40 species in this particular series of murals within a 7 week period. But I don’t think I’m ever going to get any faster than where I am now. It makes me wish I could almost repaint the Wall of Birds now. Like every decade or something, do it and see if I’ve improved.
>> LISA KOPP: Well, we got just a couple minutes left. So I want to see what’s next and how people can connect with your work.
>> JANE KIM: Absolutely.
>> LISA KOPP: Actually, I should say we can share in the chat a list of all the locations where Jane’s work can be seen in case you are nearby. So we can have someone put that in the chat.
>> JANE KIM: Awesome. So excited. We have a lot of really great projects on the horizon. And of course in the spirit of celebrating the 5 year anniversary, we have a few very special things.
So if you recall the Monarch In Moda mural. We partnered with a fabulous company called Le Mondeur, and they make artisanal hand made sneakers. We decided to create a monarch shoe, which I think was a big success. And we were able to highlight the Xerces Society as our conservation organization.
But this spring we are so excited to do a Wall of Birds shoe. And of course, what better bird to highlight on the shoe than a Blue-footed Booby? So we are so excited to share this four-step dance sequence of the Blue-footed Booby mating on this shoe. I didn’t want to reveal this design yet, but that’s coming up in the spring. So keep that bookmarked.
In February, we are very much looking forward to creating a project in Houston for their bayou greenways. There’s a network of bayous in the heart of downtown Houston. And on one of the long retaining walls of this pathway, we’re going to be highlighting migratory birds of Houston.
And one of the things I really wanted to highlight was the different plumages the birds can have between the spring and fall. And so that center sequence of birds is a mirror image of the same species, just in their different plumages. And we have migratory breeders on the left and winter species on the right.
And we are starting this one, but we are still figuring it out. When you stand on that pathway looking out into the city, you see this building. Behind you will be the long wall of the migratory birds. What I would love to do is another 360 storytelling, of resident birds of Houston. So we’ve selected about 6 species that really are representative of the city and we are hoping that we can figure out a way to fund that particular part of the project as well.
So that’s coming up, and then we got a show coming up in February at a gallery in San Francisco called Palette. And this is one of the paintings included. It’s called Seafood Medley, but it’s an exploration of our relationship to food and nature and food as nature.
And finally in January, I am going to release 5 unique, special edition prints that are inspired by the Wall of Birds. So I’m actually using some of the birds that are on the wall to create prints. Here’s the Common Loon, the Wood Duck. And of course in the spirit of the Wall of Birds, they are going to be life size. Here is an artist proof of the Ostrich being printed at life size.
So you can follow along, you can go to our website and sign up for our newsletter. And we don’t send many. It’s honestly only when we have important news to share. I think our last newsletter was a year ago. You won’t get inundated. But you will get an update with everything I’ve just described here.
And you can email us at Info@InkDwell.com if you would like to bring a Migrating Mural to your town, or want to figure out how to help create that county law library in Houston. And we are on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, at Ink Dwell.
>> LISA KOPP: Thank you, Jane. That was incredible.
And thank you everybody for all the great questions. We had so many to get to, we didn’t — Maybe we’ll bring Jane back and do a round 2. But we also have Jane’s contact information there. And then if you have questions about anything else that we can answer at the Lab, you can feel free to email us at CornellBirds@Cornell.edu.
Thank you again Jane. This was so wonderful to see you and to talk to you again, and to get to sort of vicariously live in the Lab right now. And get to hear more about that incredible mural I miss seeing every day.
>> JANE KIM: Same, I miss seeing all you guys too. Thank you so much for inviting me back.
>> LISA KOPP: Yeah. Like I said, I don’t think this is the last of our conversations about the mural. Just because it seems to be so important to all of us. So thank you again to you, Jane, and thank you to everybody for joining us.
>> JANE KIM: Thank you.
>> LISA KOPP: Yeah. We’ll talk again soon.
>> JANE KIM: Look forward to it.
>> LISA KOPP: Thank you.
>> JANE KIM: Bye.
>> LISA KOPP: Bye.End of transcript
This December marks the five-year anniversary of the completion of the jaw-dropping Wall of Bird’s mural at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. In this discussion, artist and Ink Dwell studio founder Jane Kim will share behind-the-scenes stories from her 17 months “on the wall.” Come hear Jane’s reflections on how the project changed the trajectory of her career and continues to influence her work, and learn about exciting new Wall of Birds-inspired projects to come.