By Shauna Potocky
She is huddled, paintbrush in hand; bundled against the wind and periodic spring storms that sweep across the basin. Mono Lake to her back and the great eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada before her, she remains focused—painting the delicate details of a Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep on the side of the Mono Lake Visitor Center, one figure in a large mural project whose reach is increasingly profound.
Jane Kim is a remarkable artist and scientific illustrator; her work captures the essence of species few individuals get to observe so closely—Jane’s work brings nature to life, revealing intimate details and providing striking insights for those fortunate enough to see it. Today, you get to see it.
A budding artist from a young age, Jane pursued her passion and today her work blends remarkable talent and a naturalist’s eye with education and conservation. She is the founder of Ink-Dwell, which “makes art that is “inked well,” and specializes in creating environmental campaigns, exhibitions, science illustrations, and fine art.” The project merges “classical techniques of science illustration with modern simplicity, we collaborate with businesses, non-profits, scientists, designers and branding experts to deliver iconic images that carry a powerful message of education and conservation.”
The mural that Jane is completing is part of a large project entitled the Migrating Mural, and features artwork of endangered species along their migratory pathway. This project brings to life the natural history of species on the brink and displays them in areas adjacent to their natural habitat as well as where people can learn and become connected to these critical and timely stories. The first series in the Migrating Mural project is focused on the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep.
The Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis sierrae) once resided in abundant numbers along the crest of the Sierra Nevada. Like many species, hunting took a toll, yet hunting impacts coupled with diseases contracted from domestically grazed sheep, resulted in a population decline with staggering effects. In 1995 the population was estimated at approximately 100 individuals. An effort to list the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep on the endangered species list was successful in 2000, and subsequently led to the work that is now making a positive difference for the species.
Today, the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep is making a recovery. Nine herds are being studied and estimates put the population at just less than 400 individuals.
A remarkable species, they are adapted for residing in the rugged and rocky areas of the mountain range. Bighorn sheep are not easy to observe—known for being elusive, difficult to discern in their natural environment, they often require a skilled eye to see—all of which, points to the power of Jane Kim’s work—bringing the Sierra bighorn sheep to life for people who might otherwise never have an opportunity to see or learn about them and their story. Jane captures their story and conveys it in ways that are engaging and empowering.
When asked about the inspiration that led to the Migrating Mural, Jane recounts a road trip and reflects on the fact that, “driving is such a significant mode of transportation for so many Americans, instead of seeing all the marketing and billboards I thought about the idea of storytelling while driving. That sparked the idea of doing the Migrating Mural.”
The project did just that, in fact the Migrating Mural features six original art pieces along a 120-mile stretch of California’s Highway 395, with sites in four locations including Lee Vining, Bishop, Independence and Lone Pine, California. Each mural tells an important part of the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep’s story.
Jane found her love for the bighorn sheep after working in Yosemite and discovering the species had a connection to the area. She sought information and even went on a two-day trek with a leading researcher. It was then that Jane knew, “I fell in love and wanted to share the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep story with a broader audience.”
Once the idea had been formulated, she employed a Kickstarter Campaign to launch the project. The first two murals in Independence were funded by that campaign; then a fundraiser was held at the Mountain Light Gallery in Bishop, which resulted in an inspiring response. She received funds from a foundation and support through the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association. In total the campaign received $50,000, and funded the six murals along the eastern slope of the Sierra and adjacent to the Sierra bighorn sheep’s range.
When asked about one of the most surprising things that came out of the campaign, Jane shared, “I was thrilled to see how much support there was for art, these animals and the environment. Once there was a project that people could use to show their support—the support was there; for example, the fundraisers—at one event we had almost 200 people at the fundraiser, and it raised $14,000. I was hopeful that maybe 50 people would show up and maybe we would raise $5000!”
After a pause, she shares, “It was the care for the animals and the art.”
With all of the Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep murals completed, Jane’s next focus is a commission at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, celebrating the diversity and evolution of birds. Jane will paint 260 species of birds (all 231 in the modern family of birds, 20 evolutionary species and 9 extinct modern birds). The commission is titled From So Simple A Beginning: Celebrating The Evolution And Diversity Of Birds.
Stay tuned because this won’t be the last feature on Jane Kim’s work and I can guarantee, you won’t want to miss her next inspiring endeavor.
Resource links for more information:
To see a full selection of Jane Kim’s work, please visit Ink-Dwell.com
To see the Migrating Mural