Update: December 2018: Jane Kim has released a book about her Wall of BIrds Project for Cornell Lab of Ornithology. You can behold her artwork in close up through its pages. I encourage you to find her book via your closest independent bookstore.
Jane Kim of Ink Dwell Studio is the featured Birds in Art artist number two. I became acquainted with her in the same way as with Alex and Shae Warnick (Birds in Art featured artists number one)--via email and other social media. Isn't that how we all find each other these days? Kim is a professional artist of over 13 years in the fields of fine art, scientific illustration, exhibitions and public installations.
Kim founded Ink Dwell in 2012 with business partner Thayer Walker, as a way to channel and promote her passion for large scale art and display projects in the natural history realm. This targeted vocation takes her all over the United States on commissions and residencies, and has generated her a healthy, near 50K Instagram followers, closely watching the development of her work.
Her intent for creating a legacy on the large scale is not unlike earlier diorama artists Fred Scherer and Perry Wilson, and Francis Lee Jacques, all gifted, fine artists who made their careers as diorama painters for natural history museums around the country. Kim is the modern-day diorama artist, responding to a changing exhibition culture with sensitivity to the old masters and to accurate representation of her natural subjects.
Kim, 35, lives in San Francisco, CA, when she isn't on the road for work. She and I emailed back and forth, and in the writing of this intro, I regret not calling her instead. There's a playfulness and spontaneity in her replies, plus, she describes herself as an aspiring comedian for how cool she thinks it would be to make people laugh. The gal has a sense of humor as well as a mission to educate and inspire through her impressive art output. She would have been a treat to chat with over the phone. I'll look forward to intercepting her someday on one of her projects instead.
Your company Ink Dwell's mission statement is "inspiring people to love and protect the Earth one work of art at a time." How have you seen your work have this impact?
Jane Kim: Recently, I was an artist-in-residence at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. I chose to make work inspired by the ecology of Golden Gate Park, the location of the museum. One of the paintings included an Amazon Prime box full of Eastern grey tree squirrels and a woman who worked at the de Young came in one afternoon and commented on how she now notices an abundance of tree squirrels in the park that she hadn't paid any attention to before. These are the types of impact that are most meaningful to me. Art may not change the amount of carbon we put into the atmosphere, but it can help spark awareness of our surrounding and inspire us to change the way we think and behave--which is the only way we can begin to solve massive issues such as climate change.
Your life looks to be relatively itinerant from your Instagram feed and website! Are you on the road a lot because of your work, and how does that impact your creative life?
JK: Yes. I go where the work is. Moving around a lot has taught me how to adapt to a wide range of parameters from limited tools, weather conditions and hard deadlines. Sometimes the best creative decisions are made under pressure when you can't overthink the outcome and you just go for it. When painting the Wall of Birds, hard deadlines was a driving force and striking a balance of creativity while meeting those deadlines ended up becoming an art form in its own right.
What brought you to fine art? What brought you to focus on animals and conservation-motivated artwork?
JK: As a little girl, I was obsessed with plants and animals. These obsessions would play out in the same way--recreating the subject visually by painting, sculpting, or drawing. I decided to apply to art school for college and I graduated with a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. While I continued to use the natural world as visual inspiration, I hadn't quite realized that understanding ecology was what really lit me up and in turn inspired me to make art. After many years as a freelance artist, I applied to a Science Illustration Program at California State University Monterey Bay. This program was life changing and through it, I discovered my purpose as an artist--using art as a tool to communicate and inspire interest in our planet.
How long have you been an artist? How old is Ink Dwell? What are your long term career goals?
JK: I guess professionally, I've been an artist since 2003, but I have made art my whole life. Ink Dwell was officially created in 2012 and I set a series of short-term goals based on next projects. Currently, Ink Dwell is working on organizing another Migrating Mural, a series of murals that follows the migration path of endangered migratory animals where they intersect with human corridors. The Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep was the highlighted species for the first Migrating Mural. This next will highlight the monarch butterfly. If I were to summarize what long term career goals look like, I would say that I hope my work will bring us closer to a future in which we choose to surround ourselves with beautiful, engaging and informative imagery about humanity's deep ties to the Earth.
Are you a birder? If so, what are your favorite birding or outdoor areas in the US, world?
JK: I absolutely love spending as much time outdoors as I can and of course, birds are some of the most accessible species both visually and audibly. I feel lucky to live in the Bay Area and live so close to the coast of California where millions of birds pass through annually. Some of my favorite ecosystems in California are the coast redwoods, high Sierra and wetlands.
Tell readers about your most current project and what is distinct about it.
JK: I just finished an artist residency at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The title of the exhibit was "non(NATIVE)" and it focused on the ecology of Golden Gate Park. By examining relationships between native and non-native species in the park, I created allegorical works about San Francisco and the city's changing demographics. This was the first time I had approached a topic like this.
What do you learn from each project? They all seem so different, in spite of the mural approach.
JK: This is a great question and observation. Because each project is so different, I am continually learning not only about the subject, but about techniques, materials, collaborating, team building, organizational skills, etc. After the Wall of Birds, I learned that I have a deep appreciation of the diversification of birds. No other warm-blooded animal rivals the immense number of families birds have. I've painted on a variety of surfaces and after painting on corrugated aluminum siding, I learned that the surface area is actually double so I should double the time I think it will take to paint a mural on it.
What other artists do you admire and why?
JK: Oh I have so many artists that I admire! Francis Lee Jacques, Margaret Mee, Isabella Kirkland, Tiffany Bozic, Josh Keyes, John Perry Baumlin, David Tomb, Jada Fitch, Maya Lin, James Prosek, Brendan Monroe, Barbara Holmes, Katie Scott and many others. I admire their works for a variety of reasons but one thing all of their work has in common is that it is hard for me to stop staring at it!
To learn more about Jane Kim, visit her social media, and take a look at her amazing book about the Cornell Lab Wall of Birds project.
Interview conducted over email, July 2016. This post updated on December 6, 2018 to include additional information about Kim’s new book. This post contains an Indie Bound affiliate link to Kim’s book.