Jen Richards

marine life artist


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T.J.

Over the last three years I’ve had the opportunity to watch a young loggerhead sea turtle grow. I was there the morning he (or possibly she!) was added to the exhibit, the smallest sea turtle I’ve seen in person. Back in 2012 I finished a painting of Murphy, another loggerhead sea turtle I knew who spent some of his life in human care before being reintroduced to the ocean, and I wanted to do the same for T.J. This little guy, also rescued as a hatchling on Jekyll Island, has become quite special to those of us that have met him and watched him develop over these last few years.

This 11 x 14 acrylic painting will be donated to the silent auction at Georgia Aquarium’s 9th annual Aqua Vino, taking place on October 9th! Prints will be made available after the event, but if you’d like to get your hands on an original painting of mine for a wonderful cause, be sure to attend!


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International Whale Shark Day: A gift for YOU!

If you weren’t already aware, the largest fish in the world is SO awesome that it gets its very own day of recognition! International Whale Shark Day was declared in 2008 after the 2nd International Whale Shark Conference and is celebrated on August 30th each year. You know by now that whale sharks hold a special place in my heart. Last year I helped create some educational activities for Georgia Aquarium (check out this year’s event taking place on Saturday), and this year I wanted to share the whale shark love with all of you!

I noticed that the most popular post on my blog, and the most frequent search result that lands people here, is my colouring page that I created for Sea Otter Awareness Week in 2012. I’m so thrilled that people enjoy it so much, and excited to move forward with my plan of creating a full marine life colouring book in the coming months. Anything I can do to help kids get interested in marine life (and art)!

With that said, I created this colouring sheet for you to download, print and share with the children in your life (there is also no shame in colouring it yourself) in celebration of Whale Shark Day 2014! I’m offering this for free, and all I ask is that you do not use my artwork for any other purposes, remove my website link or claim it as your own. If you would like to host this on your website, please just let me know (jenrichardsart [at] gmail)! Thank you!PDF link for easy download

The image features a feeding whale shark (feel free to add your own plankton/krill/fish eggs) as well as a school of juvenile golden trevally and a yellowfin tuna.


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Odontocetes!

I really enjoyed working on my recent “Sharks!” piece, which allowed me to highlight a bunch of lesser-known species. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I want to keep doing these! As a cetacean nerd they were my obvious next choice, although I reduced the number of featured species and eventually decided to focus on just odontocetes, or toothed whales, for now. (I originally started this one with some mysticetes as well, but because I wanted to illustrate relative size differences, the proportions just wouldn’t work. Mysticetes shall get their own one!) My idea with these is to showcase the diversity of shape. When it comes to toothed whales, especially as you get into the families, there are a lot of very similar shapes that didn’t provide a silhouette distinct enough among the other species I chose – hence the smaller number on here. I also made a conscious decision to leave off the members of Physeteroidea, whose common names may not be appropriate to spread across a t-shirt. Know that they are wonderful animals, though!

The species featured here:

Bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus
Beluga whale Delphinapterus leucas
Commerson’s dolphin Cephalorhynchus commersonii
Harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena
Long-snouted spinner dolphin Stenella longirostris
Amazon river dolphin  Inia geoffrensis
Orca Orcinus orca
Dall’s porpoise Phocoenoides dalli
Narwhal Monodon monoceros
Southern right whale dolphin (most confusing name ever?) Lissodelphis peronii
Long-finned pilot whale Globicephala melas
Cuvier’s beaked whale Ziphius cavirostris

Like the shark version, this is available as a print as well as on t-shirts, mugs, and phone cases!


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A Weakness for Wobbegongs

Anyone that’s heard me go on about sharks (which I actually do for a living, so… quite a few people) will know that despite my love for everything from the largest (that’ll be the lovely Rhincodon typus) to the cutest (I’ll argue for that role going to zebra sharks), I have a very severe weakness for wobbegongs.

Yes, hello. I make this face for all of them.

Yes, hello. I make this face for all of them.

I. Love. Wobbegongs.

I don’t even know what it is about them. I often joke that they’re my kindred spirits, or myself in shark form, or that I must have been one in a past life. Who wouldn’t want to spend most of the day lying around on the sea floor until food swims close enough to your mouth, am I right? Thing is, I’m not even an inactive person. I think I just like the idea of being a wobbegong. They’re such an underestimated family of sharks, and physically one of the least “sharky”-looking, so I love pointing them out to people as an example of elasmobranch diversity. There are twelve species and they’re all equally Muppetesque (for those wondering, I’ve always thought Uncle Deadly was the most wobbegongesque.) They’re mostly found around Australia and Indonesia, although there’s also the Japanese wobbegong. Mostly nocturnal, you’re more likely to see a wobbegong draped over something rather than actively swimming, which they do like an area rug come to life. You shouldn’t underestimate those jaws, though. Whoa.

My original intention was to celebrate wobbegongs all week as a sort of anti-Discovery’s Shark Week. I’m really not a fan of the “event” and I especially dislike the focus on the few super popular species, but I also wanted to do something other than complain about the programming all week. I wanted to be positive about spreading the love of the lesser knowns, like wobbegongs! But of course August is always an insane month for me so I’ve only managed to do a couple of things. Here is one of those things though! Just a small cartoony expression of my love:One of my absolute favourite things about wobbegongs is their habit of throwing themselves down anywhere like a slightly toothier cat. I like this so much, in fact, that I rewrote Eleanor Farjeon’s famous poem “Cats Sleep Anywhere”:

Wobbegongs lie anywhere, any reef, any lair.
Top of staghorn, rocky ledge, in the middle, on the edge.
Table coral, sandy floor – all good places to lie some more.
Flopped down on the seagrass bed, any place to rest their head.
Anywhere! They don’t care! Wobbegongs lie anywhere.

 

Next year I’ll be sure to time things right in order to have a proper Wobbegong Week, but remember: sharks are amazing all year round, not just for this one time in the summer. And let’s not forget the flat sharks – how about we arrange for a Ray Week sometime?


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SHARKS!

I really wanted to post new shark art all week, but I haven’t had much time to produce any! I did manage to get this piece done, though – it’s a stylised celebration of shark diversity. While I couldn’t even begin to represent all 400-odd species, I did want to highlight a few personal favourites as well as those with particularly unusual or striking morphology. Not all sharks are white sharks (even though I did include one – their silhouette is just lovely)!

The featured species are…

• Oceanic whitetip shark Carcharhinus longimanus
• Dwarf lanternshark Etmopterus perryi
• White shark Carcharodon carcharias
• Whale shark Rhincodon typus
• Spotted wobbegong Orectolobus maculatus
• Sand tiger shark Carcharias taurus
• Sandbar shark Carcharhinus plumbeus
• Atlantic sharpnose shark Rhizoprionodon terraenovae
• Scalloped hammerhead shark Sphyrna lewini
• Bigeye thresher shark Alopias superciliosus
• Longnose sawshark Pristiophorus cirratus
• Epaulette shark Hemiscyllium ocellatum
• Basking shark Cetorhinus maximus
• Zebra shark Stegostoma fasciatum
• Blue shark Prionace glauca

This is available as a print, mug, and phone case/skin! Hope you like it as much as I had fun drawing it. Look for more shark art from me in the coming days!


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Diving with the Coral Restoration Foundation

Recently I planted Critically Endangered staghorn coral on a reef.

That is the coolest sentence I have ever typed.  A few weeks ago I joined my coworkers and some wonderful volunteers from Georgia Aquarium (a sponsor of this project) on a trip to Key Largo to spend some time with the Coral Restoration Foundation. We’d been planning it for a while and I was beyond excited: not only was this going to be my first ever trip to the Florida Keys, but it was my first time diving in a couple of years and I was excited to be taking part in such an important conservation project. I celebrate the ocean and its wildlife through my artwork, but it’s also vital for me to put this appreciation into action.

The Coral Restoration Foundation is a non-profit organisation that creates offshore coral nurseries and programs to help restore reefs. CRF’s techniques were developed to be accessible and affordable, meaning they can be implemented around the world and can currently be seen in action in Bonaire and Colombia as well as in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. One of these techniques is an innovative “tree” design, which allows fragments of coral to be suspended on a framework that floats in the water column. All coral fragments in the nursery are categorized by genotype; since this project takes advantage of corals’ ability to reproduce asexually it’s important that genetic diversity is maintained. When the fragments on the trees are mature enough, they’re taken to a depleted reef to be outplanted. Hopefully, those outplanted corals will get established and form a healthy new colony.

Ready to learn at CRF. Bonus: Seeing OAS founder Wyland's artwork!

Ready to learn at CRF. Bonus: Seeing OAS founder Wyland’s artwork!

Friday 6th June: Helping in the Nursery

Our morning started with a fun session at CRF’s headquarters where we learned more about the organisation’s origin, mission, and its various farming methods and the pros/cons of each (except the “tree” technique, which is remarkably successful!). As a professional marine educator myself it was awesome to see the CRF interns, who led the session, so pumped up and excited about their work and about corals. It was contagious! We couldn’t wait to get hands-on, using old fragments to practice looping and threading the wire before crimping it in place with pliers. It was also really reinforcing to see a print by Wyland on display – I’ve been an Ocean Artists Society member for two years and am proud to be following in one of our founders’ footsteps in supporting this brilliant cause.

A helper in the trees!

A helper in the trees!

Good view of one of the trees in the nursery.

Good view of one of the trees in the nursery.

After lunch, we met with Keys Diver to head out to the CRF nursery. It felt AMAZING to be back on the water. Before I moved to Atlanta I spent my entire life in Torquay, England, and was spoiled by its close proximity to the sea. Every time I return to the coast now it’s like seeing an old friend again. Unlike the slightly chillier waters of the UK though, the view from the boat zipping out from the Key Largo horizon was like looking down through turquoise glass – I could see all the way to the bottom. When we reached our destination we could see the trees and the live rock beds of the nursery clearly from above the surface. I felt giddy, and it wasn’t just motion sickness; I’d been admiring CRF’s work for years, and to be seeing it with my own eyes was quite moving. Descending 30 feet down and being among the rows and rows of trees is a sight I won’t soon forget. It’s just such an awesome conservation effort.

Getting ready to suspend new coral fragments on a tree. I'm on the left.

Getting ready to suspend new coral fragments on a tree. I’m on the left.

Attaching fragments to the tree. I'm on the right, having already suspended mine.

Attaching fragments to the tree. I’m on the right, having already suspended mine.

Our group was split into smaller ones to be guided by a CRF team leader. Blue Team, clearly the most awesome one (not that I’m biased…) started by using brushes and chisels to scrape algae growth off the framework of the trees. We were very quickly joined by a fanclub of hogfish, angelfish and wrasses that swarmed around us to pick up the tasty morsels we were removing. I felt not unlike a Disney princess, albeit one with a tank of high pressure gas on my back and a rather fetching mask. It was right here that I got my first experience with fire coral. That’s some fun stuff!

After cleaning trees, we took new fragments of staghorn coral and suspended them from the upper branches. It was immensely satisfying to place a brand new piece of coral in the nursery. Grow, little guys, grow!

 

Staghorn corals collected from the nursery and ready to be outplanted. Photo by Halef G.

Staghorn corals collected from the nursery and ready to be outplanted. Photo by Halef G.

Saturday 7th June

Outplanting day! After helping out in the nursery the day before, Saturday’s dives would see us taking mature staghorn fragments out to Pickles Reef, an area southeast of Key Largo. Before we set out, we had another fun morning at the CRF building as we learned exactly how outplanting worked. Using Play-Doh as our epoxy, we practiced finding appropriate attachment points for coral fragments and how to place them on the reef.

Pickles Reef. Lovely!

Pickles Reef. Lovely!

Our journey to Pickles Reef first took us for a brief stop at the nursery so that the CRF team could collect the fragments from the day before. While we waited on the boat, who should surface alongside us but Ken Nedimyer, Coral Restoration Foundation founder and CNN Hero!

We were all eager to get in the water with our corals once we arrived. I was especially raring to go because this would be my very first reef dive! Pickles Reef isn’t very deep, but it really is beautiful. It was awesome to see it so vibrant with life – parrotfish, grunts, porkfish, and yellow stingrays to name a few. We even saw some staghorn corals that had already become established.

Clearing some space for the coral! I'm on the right.

Clearing some space for the coral! I’m on the right.

Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of coral restoration.

Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of coral restoration.

Our team leader selected an appropriate spot for us to get to work. We used hammers to scrape algae off the reef and create a clear spot to place our coral, ensuring that each of us was keeping our pieces in close proximity to each other so that it would be easier for them to come together to form a new colony. Once we’d cleared three anchor points (three means more stability for the fragments), we used a special non-toxic epoxy to adhere the coral to the reef and then waved our hands over it, creating a little bit of motion, to make sure it was secure. The epoxy would set in about 45 minutes. During this whole process we were joined by a school of juvenile bluehead wrasses, who were adorable! I liked to think of them as little supervisors checking up on our progress. It was really encouraging to watch these little fish immediately begin utilising our newly placed coral as a habitat, darting underneath it and munching on the algae we’d removed.


Bonus video! I’m on the right, and partway through you can see me inspect a new fire coral sting on my hand. Told you that stuff was fun. Video taken by Terri Frazier.

A look at some of the newly outplanted coral fragments from another team.

A look at some of the newly outplanted coral fragments from another team.

Altogether, our team planted dozens of staghorn coral fragments on Pickles Reef. I personally planted six, and it remains the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I really hope to take part in this project again in the future and donate more of my time to CRF, whose efforts in restoring reef habitats are second to none. I’d love to return to Pickles Reef in a few years and see how “my” staghorn fragments are getting along!

A healthy staghorn colony.

A healthy staghorn colony.

If you’d like to support the Coral Restoration Foundation, check out their website to see how you can get involved. You can also adopt a coral or a tree in the nursery, or even help them plant a coral thicket! I can’t wait to create some coral restoration-themed artwork to help support their efforts further.

'til next time!

’til next time!


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Logo design: Diving With Heroes

Recently I completed a logo commission for a new non-profit organisation called Diving With Heroes, which seeks to introduce veterans to the world of diving. My client shares my love of whale sharks and wanted one to feature in the logo, so I produced a number of concepts before we settled on the final design (who has been affectionately nicknamed Reggie). This was a lot of fun to work on and I’m proud to have been able to have been involved with this group. Be sure to check them out!


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Art Gone Wild: Art Show and Silent Auction

My four acrylic paintings on display at the show.

My four acrylic paintings on display at the show.

Zoo Atlanta’s Art Gone Wild event came to a close last night with a spectacular art show and silent auction. From June 2-6, myself and 36 other artists became a temporarily invasive species at the zoo as we created artwork inspired by the animals, horticulture, and exhibits, and I had an excellent time tackling subjects I’d never done before. If you missed my Paint Out Week posts, you can see them in this tag.

It was wonderful to see the dozens of finished pieces at the art show! There was such a wide variety of subjects, styles, and mediums that it was truly a joy to walk around and see everybody’s work. It was definitely an honour for me to be showing my work among such talented people. I had wanted to create five pieces in total, but because of a long-anticipated and busy dive trip from June 5-8 (which I’ll post about very soon!), I only had time to complete four. I had chosen to focus on Betelgeuse, the stunning male wreathed hornbill; Andazi and Jabari, the black rhino mother and calf; Idgie, the red panda; and Utenzi, the male black rhino. These five animals are some of my favourites to see whenever I visit Zoo Atlanta and they were, naturally, a lot of fun to paint. What made all my efforts worth it was the feedback from event guests and zoo staff and volunteers, particularly those that work closely with these individual animals.

I’m absolutely thrilled to say that all four pieces saw multiple bids and went to good homes at the end of the evening!

So happy this painting went to a good home!

So happy this painting went to a good home!

Knowing that my art touched a lot of people and helped to raise funds for the zoo made all of my hard work worthwhile. My hornbill painting was won by a lovely couple who bid on it for their young son who’s obsessed with birds; I made sure to sign and date the painting for him and I hope he loves it as much as I had fun painting it.

From the very beginning of this event, the zoo team have been nothing short of fabulous – coordinating staff, keepers, volunteers, event staff… This whole experience has been utterly fantastic and that’s largely because of their support, so thank you, Zoo Atlanta! I hope we can do this again!


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Art Gone Wild: Day Three

Idgie getting comfy.

Idgie getting comfy.

Today was my last day of Paint Out Week, as I’m going out of state tomorrow morning and will be missing the final two days. I’ve had such a fabulous time during Art Gone Wild and I’m excited to get back to finishing each of my pieces so that they’re ready to go for the art show and silent auction next week!

As mentioned yesterday, I wanted to finish my little red panda painting. Did you know that the human brain is physically incapable of processing the cuteness of a red panda? It’s true. It was a lot of fun to spend a few hours with Idgie this morning and I got a lot of positive feedback from guests and zoo team members alike. This was my first time painting fur – and I actually enjoyed it! There are still a few bits I’d like to fix, but she’s near completion. I really liked working with such bright, warm colours.

A lovely friend of mine stopped by and snapped a couple of photos while I worked. Thank you, Linda!

One last thing… Over the last three days I’ve experienced the most wonderful treatment from Zoo Atlanta staff and volunteers. Everyone I’ve met has been incredibly welcoming and encouraging to the artists and it’s helped us feel at home from the get go. It’s a real testament to the team there, and I especially want to thank Julia for all of her hard work. 


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Art Gone Wild: Day Two

Today’s main subjects were much larger and less feathery than yesterday’s. I’ve felt the urge to paint a rhino for ages, so I got right to it when I arrived at the zoo early this morning – and didn’t just start one, but two! Last year Zoo Atlanta celebrated its first rhino birth in its 124-year history, and little (read: big) Jabari is too precious not to feature. Black rhinos are incredibly fun to paint and I’m hoping to do another piece (featuring dad Utenzi) before the art show and silent auction on the 14th. This one is far from being finished, but I did switch to a new subject later in the afternoon as a refresher. More to come tomorrow!

I must also add that one of my favourite things about Art Gone Wild is being able to meet and chat with other artists. The variety of pieces I’ve seen being created so far (across many mediums) is astounding, and I can’t wait to see everything at the art show. Being around so many fellow artists is definitely inspiring.


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Art Gone Wild: Day One

Today was the first day of Zoo Atlanta’s Art Gone Wild event! Since being selected as a participating artist a few months ago I’ve been eagerly anticipating a few days of painting alongside some truly wonderful animals – and of course stepping outside of my comfort zone. Not only am I branching out and tackling feathers and fur instead of fins and flukes, I’m also painting… in public. I’m quite a private person when it comes to the actual creation of my art, as I feel most comfortable losing myself in my work without being disturbed (and usually blasting Florence + The Machine), so the idea of putting my process on display was quite a terrifying thought at first. But after the first day of this simply awesome event, I can honestly say that I had a blast.

Shortly after arriving this morning I was shuttled straight to my most desired spot: a slightly shaded area in front of the wreathed hornbill exhibit. I was well into establishing some flat colours on my canvas when I moved away from my easel to stretch my legs, and realised that one of the Sumatran tigers was lounging at the window right behind me. Pretty much the coolest neighbour to have first thing in the morning before the zoo opens. I spent all day in this area, every now and again shifting my setup as I chased the shade. It was unbelievably cool to spend so much time with my subject as he went about his day, often providing his own soundtrack (hornbills make the cutest barking sounds). It was also fun to chat with guests as they passed through the space and provided feedback on my work. A little girl even told me she wanted “to grow up to do that.” Oh my goodness.

I’m not finished with this hornbill piece yet but wanted to share my progress! I’m going to work on him some more tomorrow, but I’m also looking forward to taking on a new subject. Unfortunately I can’t participate in the event on Thursday or Friday, but there’s a VERY good reason for that – I’ll be sure to share what it is when I return on Sunday!

With my fabulous subject in the background.

With my fabulous subject in the background.

If you’re in Atlanta, you should stop by this week to see us in action! You can also attend the art show and silent auction on Saturday 14th June, when you can bid on our creations to raise funds for Zoo Atlanta.


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Preparing for Art Gone Wild

Wreathed hornbill sketch with some coloured pencil touches.

Wreathed hornbill sketch with some coloured pencil touches.

As announced back in April, I’m one of the selected artists participating in Zoo Atlanta’s brand new Art Gone Wild event in a couple of weeks. In the run-up to Paint Out Week I’ve been thinking a lot about my potential subjects and spent last Friday at the zoo finding my muse. With the sun out and the temperature in the 70s, it was the perfect day to be outside observing and sketching animals for hours on end! Collected here are some of my quick zoo doodles (zoodles?) done from life.

I plan to paint a variety of subjects but definitely found myself gravitating towards a certain few – is anyone actually surprised that I’m focusing on hornbills? I don’t know what it is about these birds, but I’m just captivated by them. I was also thrilled to finally get to see Jabari, the zoo’s ridiculously cute eastern black rhino calf who was born last year. Watching him run around was definitely the day’s highlight for me.

 


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Beluga sketches

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A few rough belugas drawn while in the kitchen waiting for rice to cook. Exciting! It was also a race against time to fill the page before my 6B pencil devolved into a useless nub. Don’t you hate it when the lead is broken all the way through and it keeps snapping off? It was a new pencil last week. Sadness.

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