Muralist Jane Kim at work painting a Saddle Billed Stork for the Wall of Birds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Photo courtesy of Ink Dwell.
"Ornithologists are not an easy audience."
Truer words, etc, from what I've heard.
All you regular readers who kindly and patiently indulge my fancying myself a bird blogger from time to time know how dependent I am on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s terrific online field guide All About Birds. Won’t surprise you then that this story and the accompanying slide show at the New York Times T Magazine thrilled me no end and that now I’m determined that on one of my slogs up to Syracuse in the spring I’m going to make a side trip to Ithaca to see for myself the Lab’s new Wall of Birds:
Last night, Jane Kim revealed a 2,800-square-foot painted mural depicting 375 million years of avian evolution for the 100th anniversary of Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology. It’s quite a departure from the average scientific-illustration commission. “If it were a 8.5-by-11 illustration in a magazine, it would have turned into something very different than when you have a 70-by-40-foot wall and you have the opportunity to show things to scale,” she says. That’s right: 270 species (including representatives from each of the 243 modern bird families, plus 27 dinosaurs and pre-prehistoric beasts) are all depicted at actual size, spanning from the 30-foot Yutyrannus and a nine-foot ostrich to the broadbill and manakin that are mere inches long. “For me, the size is what is really impactful, having a gigantic world map, and being able to put all these birds that you don’t get to see together, life-sized, next to each other — it’s really remarkable,” she says.
“I love murals because they really are the most three-dimensional two-dimensional medium, because they’re on architecture,” Kim says. “Here, you’re passing important markers in avian ancestry.” Mapped out on the world’s plane, with each bird nested in its geographic habitat, the mural is “supposed to be a very precise depiction of each bird, and used as an educational tool, so I had to depict things really accurately,” Kim says.
In the two and a half years the mural has taken to complete — though it was originally conceived in 2011, during Kim’s internship at Cornell’s Ornithology lab as part of the graduation requirements for her scientific illustration certificate program at Cal State Monterey Bay — Kim quickly learned the limits of any artistic license she may have wanted to take. “Ornithologists are not an easy audience — they’re incredibly observant and love their subject, and can identify when something is wrong with the painting, and pinpoint on the inaccuracies,” she says. “Each one of these birds was scrutinized.”
Don’t know when I can get there but I promise that when I do I’ll bring back a complete report. Right now, though, enjoy Julie Baumgardner’s whole story 270 Kinds of Birds, in One Gigantic Life-Sized Mural, and take a look at the slide show.
If that’s not enough, and it won’t be, visit the Wall of Birds page at Ink Dwell’s website.
Kim has also done a mural for the National Aquarium.
Plenty of photos but no slide show. You get to watch a video instead. Here's Kim at work.