Jen Richards

marine life artist


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Girls Love Sharks Too!

I have always had a fascination with large, toothy animals. Dinosaurs were my first love, like so many other kids, and I never thought there was anything weird about it. I have a very clear memory of six-year-old-me exchanging toy dinosaurs with my best friend Glen on the playground. I had dinosaur figures, dinosaur books, drew dinosaurs on everything… I’m sure you can relate. But it wasn’t until I got older that I realised that my dinosaurs seemed to all be in a blue aisle in the toy section, flanked by Action Man and monster trucks. Dinosaurs, obviously, were For Boys. It didn’t stop me from loving them (and still hasn’t – for other dino-obsessed grown ups, I highly recommend My Beloved Brontosaurus). I’ve always preferred “boys’ stuff”, and it had never bothered me until recently. Growing up I’ve shrugged off the notion that girls’ stuff is pink, boys’ stuff is blue, girls like princesses and boys like spaceships, blah blah blah. I like dinosaurs, I like Star Wars, I like comics, and I’m an adult who can make her own decisions.

But it’s 2014, and last week I took my reusable Star Wars bag to the grocery store, and the male cashier took one look at it and said “Did you steal this from your son?” What. The. Hell. I blurted out a loud “No, it’s mine!” (Note: Dude, I don’t even have kids. Rude!) It was not the first (or even thirtieth) time I’ve had a comment like that, but it’s no less hurtful: I was angry that I was challenged by another adult for liking a thing that I like, because my gender dictated that I Wasn’t Supposed To Like It. I hate that it happens to me as a grown woman, but I can handle it. I’m used to it. But how do those kinds of comments affect little girls? It’s 2014, and the toy aisles are still split into Pink Stuff and Blue Stuff.

This brings me to sharks. You’d think animals would be gender-neutral interests, right? Do me a favour: Next time you’re in the children’s section of a store, go and find the shark stuff. T-shirts, toys, whatever. Was it in the girls’ section? Or was it nestled in between the Avengers and R2-D2?* (Case in point: How many of these [frankly awesome] shark products look directed at young girls?)

The simple response to this would be “Well, nothing stops girls from buying this stuff.” That’s very true, but it’s not my point. My point is that the placement and promotion of these kinds of things, and the resulting absence of sharks and dinosaurs where girls can comfortably find them, perpetuates this idea that these things are Not For Them. And what does that do? Every little girl disappointed that the shark t-shirt doesn’t come in her size is a potential future shark biologist discouraged. Science is a Boy Thing, right?

Instead of sitting and complaining about  it on the internet, I decided to use my art to do what little I can to encourage young girls to be proud of their love for sharks. Whether or not she becomes a marine biologist, no girl should be made to feel like she shouldn’t like the things she likes. I was also inspired by my recent viewing of Mission Blue, an excellent Netflix documentary about the wonderful Dr. Sylvia Earle, and by Dr. Eugenie Clark and other prominent women in marine science (Women Exploring the Oceans is brilliant!). These women have gone on to do amazing things for the ocean, and every little girl deserves the chance to follow in their footsteps.

I drew three popular species to feature on a design that could go on t-shirts or prints: the blue shark (a personal favourite of mine since I can remember), a smooth hammerhead, and of course a great white (hey, kids love great whites!). My hope is that even the existence of this shirt lets at least one little girl out there to feel justified in her passion for these awesome animals.

Available now in my shop!

If you know a little girl who loves sharks, you can also encourage her to join the Gills Club and learn how to become a shark scientist!

 

*Please don’t get me wrong: I’m a proud nerd and I feel the same about the marketing of superheroes and science fiction almost exclusively to boys. But there’s hope in places like Her Universe!


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Dive Team

A terrible photo of a very rough sketch that I think I did in 2009.

A terrible photo of a very rough sketch that I think I did in 2009.

This 11 x 14 acrylic painting was the result of two sessions. TWO! I’m astonished at myself. Usually my work gets dragged out for weeks because of work and other commitments that prevent me from holing myself up and painting from dawn to dusk. I had an advantage with this one though – one, it’s not as detailed as some of my more recent pieces, and two, I’ve had it planned for ages. When I went home to England earlier this year I found a lot of old sketchbooks, and within one of them was this pencil sketch. I’d wanted to paint it years ago but ended up crossing the Atlantic instead, and it was long forgotten until my recent trip. As soon as I saw it I decided I wanted to paint it for real, so I snapped a quick photo of the sketch for me to work on when I returned to my studio.

A screenshot from Procreate showing the rough colour ideas. I ended up going a lot less green.

A screenshot from Procreate showing the rough colour ideas. I ended up going a lot less green.

… and promptly forgot about it. Again. At some point I had even planned out my colours (which ended up differing a bit in the final version) and tones using Procreate on my iPad – something I often do when planning a painting. While browsing my files in Procreate last week I rediscovered it again, so I just went for it and tried not to sweat the small stuff. So here it is! A fun little painting that allowed me to prove to myself that I can finish things more quickly if I really try… or remember to do it in the first place.


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Type B

Orcas have been my favourite animal on the planet since 1994. There are so many things I find utterly captivating about them, but one of my very favourite things is the uniqueness of each population of orcas around the world. To name just a few… in the Pacific Northwest you’ll find residents, who only eat fish, and transients, who only eat other marine mammals. In New Zealand you’ll find the expert stingray hunters. In Argentina you’ll see the ones that beach themselves to catch seals. And in Antarctica you’ll find the wave washers – orcas that have learnt how to use teamwork to create waves that wash seals off ice floes. Not only are each of these behaviours specific to these geographically distinct groups of whales, but their genes are too. The differences in social structures, feeding, and habitat preferences between the world’s orcas are so distinct, having not interbred for hundreds of thousands of years, that many believe they should be separated into different species. They don’t just act different – they look different, too.

NOAA and natural history illustrator Uko Gorter released a brilliant poster showcasing these different ecotypes and the variations in their shape, size and markings. The wave-washing orcas of the Antarctic (whose incredible behaviour you can see here, though sadly not narrated by David Attenborough) are known as type B, and they’ve fascinated me for a long time. The diatoms in their chilly native waters cause the normally white areas of their body to appear yellow, and their dark skin looks grey or even brown and are often dotted with rake marks and other scars. There’s even a pale line that sweeps from the tops of their eye patches (which are huge, by the way) to the edge of their saddle patches. They’re just weirdly beautiful creatures and I’ve been dying to paint one for ages, so while warming up the other day on a 14 x 11 inch canvas I ended up with a composition that’s been on my mind for a while: a type B orca sinking back into the strikingly blue Antarctic water post-spyhop. Maybe he found a seal.

Some in-progress peeks:


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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.


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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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