The Wall of Birds–Artist creates giant, full-scale mural of the 243 families of birds

Review by C.J. Bunce

You can approach a new chronicle of an artist and her design and creation of a 2,500 square foot mural encompassing all the known bird families in many ways.  For one, science illustrator and museum artist Jane Kim thoroughly researched each of the 243 families of birds before adding a drop of paint to a hallway over the visitor center at the highly regarded Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York, and so her new book The Wall of Birds is an educational tool for anyone who has the bug to learn more about the diversity of these remarkable creatures.  Kim, tapped to design and complete a mural of all the families of the world’s birds in full 1:1 scale, decided to include an evolutionary thread through her design, and so five extinct bird families appear to haunt her wall in ghostly muted tones, along with a stairway that recounts the evolutionary steps toward modern birds over 375 million years, complete with a surprise crocodile (crocs share a common ancestor with birds 240 million years ago).  If you’ve visited any natural history museum you’ve probably encountered beautiful painted murals to support the displays that stand as centerpieces, but with Kim’s Wall of Birds a common space was transformed with maximum effect into a centerpiece itself.

Completed in January 2016 after 12 months of research and 17 months of on site painting, Kim now takes her art a step further by presenting her process, development of ideas, and execution of the final work in a full-color 232-page volume.  Co-written with Kim’s husband Thayer Walker, The Wall of Birds: One Planet, 240 Families, 375 Million Years, available in hardcover for pre-order now here at Amazon and available next week, is the kind of view into the mind of an artist that readers, fans, and enthusiasts of any subject long for.  How often have you wondered why a costume designer used these colors and fabrics to represent an alien being?  How often have you wondered why you can recognize your favorite comic book artist in an instant through some stylistic choice?  Kim details her process from idea to layout, stencils, color layering, detail work, scientific review by ornithologists, revision, and final presentation.  She even created her own “aviary Pantone” color palette with 51 created latex interior house paints finished with 13 acrylic paint colors.

Kim recounts the most difficult birds she worked on for several days to simpler projects, like the “little brown jobs” that dot our bird-covered planet, which were completed in less than a day.  Since all the birds were life-sized and her mural included each bird featured adjacent to one of its geographical habitats, she used a movable lift to be able to paint high and low on her giant wall canvas.  Some of the difficult projects were the larger birds, but not always, as the smallest birds had to incorporate their colors, plumage, wings, beaks, and legs in a much smaller space to work with.  The artist also recounts the planning required to make the work not only scientifically accurate, but also reflect a work of fine art and be aesthetically pleasing.  Some larger birds, like the Great Gray Owl, required Kim to paint feather-by-feather the bird’s enormous wings, often working overnight in the lab alone.  Take a look at some preview pages from the book courtesy of publisher Harper Design:

Like the book we reviewed yesterday, The Family of Hummingbirds, Kim’s book makes for a vibrant coffee table book and birdwatchers’ guide.  It includes a three-page pull-out that gives an idea of the scope of the entire wall that now contains Kim’s work.

A foreword by John W. Fitzpatrick recounts his idea for the mural as director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a science center open to the public for tours.  Handy indices make it easy for the average reader or biology student to locate specific images inside the book, including a list of species by continent, resources for bird identification online, and a bibliography.

A great gift for any bird lover, Jane Kim’s The Wall of Birds is published by Harper Design and will be released on October 23, 2018.

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