Jen Richards

marine life artist


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Atlantic sea nettle

White pencil, gel pen and biro on toned grey paper.

White pencil, gel pen and biro on toned grey paper.

I’ve admired the work of artist Aaron Blaise for a while now, both for his incredibly diverse style as well as how beautiful even the most simple sketch can be. Inspired by his utterly gorgeous sketches on toned paper I thought I’d have a go myself, and used a white pencil, gel pen and a biro to draw an Atlantic sea nettle. It was really enjoyable, and definitely something I’m going to do more of!


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Makana

Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14

Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14

I'm impressed I could contain my geek out even this much.

I’m impressed I could contain my geek out even this much.

Last month I fulfilled a long term goal of mine: visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I’ve been an admirer of the incredible work that goes on there for years and was beyond excited to finally be setting foot inside the building for real (they’re lucky I didn’t somehow manage to fit those life-sized orca models in my bag upon leaving). It exceeded all my expectations – what an amazing team, collection and facility! I even got to see humpback whales, sea otters and seemingly endless seabirds from the deck.

I gathered so many references for future works of species I’d longed to see, like leopard sharks, flamboyant cuttlefish and bluefin tuna (just to name a few), but was particularly inspired by meeting a very special bird named Makana. She’s a Laysan albatross from Hawaii that suffered a wing injury and cannot be released, so she serves as an ambassador for seabirds at Monterey. This role is particularly important because of the threats seabirds, especially albatrosses like Makana, face in the ocean from plastic pollution. This video does a lovely job of introducing Makana and sharing this critical message. It’s also worth nothing that of the 21 albatross species, 19 are threatened or endangered.

Given my love of seabirds I couldn’t resist painting an 11 x 14 portrait of Makana. I’ve long been fascinated with albatrosses for their size and lifestyle – they can go years without touching land and it’s believed they can even sleep while flying! This painting is now in its forever home in California and I’m thankful to have met such a special bird. Thank you Makana and Monterey!

Isn't she beautiful?

Isn’t she beautiful?

For more about Laysan albatrosses and the problem with plastics, check out the Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal. To become smitten with these birds yourself (and I definitely recommend a visit to see Makana for yourself), take a look at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s live nest cam!


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Something spontaneous

Acrylics on 5 x 7 canvas panel

Acrylics on 5 x 7 canvas panel

As always, orcas take over everything I do...

As always, orcas take over everything I do…

Sometimes you just get the urge to paint something that makes you happy. For me, earlier this week, it was a curious little orca on a tiny 5″ x 7″ canvas panel that took about two hours from start to finish. It’s based on a quick sketch I did the night before while I was actually trying to practice some tigers (I’d spent the day gathering reference at the zoo), and I couldn’t get it out of my mind until I painted it. I need to do more spontaneous pieces like this.


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The Bower Pod – Commission

Acrylic on 9 x 12 wood panel

Acrylic on 9 x 12 wood panel

This was a REALLY fun commission I did recently! My client’s sister, who loves orcas (good taste), and her husband had a baby boy and the idea was to create a kind of “family portrait” featuring orcas in time for Mother’s Day. I decided to paint it directly onto a 9 x 12 inch wood panel (like a previous piece) to allow for some interesting textures and a more stylised look. I did this by doing a couple coats of a light blue-grey wash directly over my pencil lines so that the wood grain would still show through. Then it was just a case of working on the whales! One of the notes that my client gave, and one I wholeheartedly embraced, was to ensure the calf had the yellow hue typical of newborns. (We’re all cetacean nerds here.)

I’m glad to report that this gift was very happily received! I’m always happy to spread the orca love. If you’re interested in a commission like this, please feel welcome to contact me.


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Art Gone Wild 2015

Remember when I shared my experience with the brilliant Art Gone Wild event at Zoo Atlanta last year? It was absolutely one of the big highlights of 2014… and I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve been selected as a participating artist for Art Gone Wild 2015! This June I’ll be once again joining my fellow artists in creating works “en plein air” inspired by the zoo’s animals – the best part being that we get to hang out with those animals all day too. Last year I painted several rhinos, a wreathed hornbill, and a red panda. There’s no shortage of fascinating subjects to choose from, so my only challenge will be trying to narrow my ideas down. I can’t wait to begin!


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On meeting Orca O319

I was excited. Can you tell?

I was excited. Can you tell?

One of the places I was determined to visit during our (utterly fantastic) trip west this month was the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. I’m so glad we did – it’s an incredible place and it was wonderful to see so many people engaged with a variety of science-based topics. Naturally I was drawn to the Steinhart Aquarium, but it was also a very pleasant surprise for me to see my first real orca skeleton up close. O319 was a young male offshore orca that stranded at Point Reyes National Seashore in November 2011 and, after a lengthy collection process (that you can read about in detail here), went on display at the Academy in 2013. Seeing this specimen up close was a real treat for me; being able to see his worn teeth (which are casts in the skeleton itself – the originals were made available for research) from a primary diet of sharks was fascinating. It’s also easy to see the broken rib that possibly led to his death.

Geeking out over Orca O139.

Geeking out over Orca O319.

The Academy’s Naturalist Center is unlike anything I’ve seen at any other museum. Here, visitors of all ages can actually get their hands on real and replica specimens for closer examination. What an awesome way to get people involved! My built-in “orcadar” immediately led me towards the orca skull, a life-size recreation from Bone Clones. It’s this that I used as a reference for some quick sketches, something I’d love to do more of.

As a lovely bonus, I picked up a book from one of my most admired wildlife artists, Robert Bateman, in the gift shop. Yay!


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Into the Light

'Into the Light' - Acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11

‘Into the Light’ – Acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11

Rhinos are brilliant. I discovered my love of painting them last year while taking part in Zoo Atlanta’s first Art Gone Wild event, which saw me paint not one but three of them. Seeing my completed works in the silent auction and knowing that the funds raised from them helped to support the zoo gave me warm fuzzies. I knew I’d want to continue using my art to actively help animals as best I could.

Last year, while chatting with the lovely Corinna Bechko, I became interested in Bowling for Rhinos. It’s a fundraiser that takes form as multiple events held across the US by the American Association of Zoo Keepers. From what I’ve seen online it looks like everyone has a lot of fun – and even better, 100% of the profits raised go directly to helping rhinos! So far BFR events have raised almost $5.5 million for rhino conservation projects. Corinna put me in touch with the right people, and now I’m very proud to be sending this original 14 x 11 acrylic painting to the LA Bowling for Rhinos silent auction.

My idea was to produce a closeup portrait of a black rhino and bring in lots of colour (similar to my 2014 painting of Zoo Atlanta’s Utenzi). I wanted to really focus on the face and have it appear as if he’s stepping out of the darkness and into the light. For me this symbolises the hope I have for the future of this Critically Endangered species through dedicated conservation efforts.


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Changing up the canvas

When I was picking up some art supplies last night I found some small wooden blocks for sale alongside the smaller canvases.They looked so fun to paint on that I had to get a couple! I experimented a bit tonight with acrylics on an 8 x 5 inch block and was pleased with the results. It was interesting to see how the paint reacted – I’ve never painted on wood like this before so it was a fun challenge. Definitely planning on doing many more like this!


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Day Octopus

Acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8

 

It’s only March but it’s been quite the busy year so far, and I’ve felt guilt that I haven’t been painting much and have found it a bit difficult to put brush to canvas these past few weeks. Yesterday, however, I decided I was going to Start and Finish a Thing in a day. I chose to paint a portrait of a day octopus (Octopus cyanea), a stunning cephalopod that is more active in the daytime than a good chunk of its relatives. This is my third go at an octopus but the last two have been the giant Pacific kind, so I wanted to go with an entirely different and more adventurous colour palette this time. And I did manage to get it done within a day! Huzzah.

Things will be a bit quiet again for the next few weeks as I venture out to the west coast and visit several places I’ve been dying to go for years, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Can’t wait to check out the Tentacles exhibition! No doubt there’ll be plenty of inspiration to keep me drawing and painting non-stop when I get back.


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A Doodle Gets Special Treatment

Orcinus orca: Sketch coloured on my iPad using Procreate.

Sketch coloured on my iPad using Procreate.

The original doodle in biro with my pencil for size reference. So tiny!

The original doodle in biro with my pencil for size reference. So tiny!

Tools of the trade: iPad, stylus, beer, Stephen Fry.

Tools of the trade: iPad, stylus, beer, Stephen Fry.

While my work computer was taking its sweet time opening a program earlier this week I found my pen inching dangerously close to a tiny notepad, so a quick doodle happened. Shocking no one, it was orcas. I thought about using it as the basis for a watercolour experiment, as I got a set a few months ago and haven’t had the time to really play with it. I used my iPad to create a rough colour reference before redrawing it onto watercolour paper, getting my paints out, getting to work… and making a jolly good mess of it. Watercolours and I still have a long way to go, but I found that I really liked my digital colour reference so I continued working on it. I don’t do digital work very often, but it is fun now and then (especially as I could sit and watch Qi on Hulu while I coloured), especially for creating things that are a bit more stylised than my usual work.


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Devon Wildlife: Basking Shark

Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14

On the 11th July 2009 I was out on a boat in Tor Bay, the waters of my hometown in lovely Devon, England. I was one of two environmental educators running the trip for the monthly kids’ club at the marine facility where I worked, and it was a gorgeous day to be out there. A pod of common dolphins had been spotted nearby, but we unfortunately missed them by minutes. We did see a pair of peregrine falcons, though, and lots of seabirds (especially gannets, my favourite!). But the thing that left this day firmly embedded in my memory? When we were slowly passing through a particularly beautiful area known as Elberry Cove, I finally – after years of wishing and hoping and wishing some more – caught sight of an unmistakable dark brown shape gliding alongside us, dorsal fin slicing through the surface. It was definitely, absolutely, awesomely, a basking shark!

Basking sharks are the second largest species of fish (after whale sharks) and one of the three plankton-eating species (along with whale sharks and megamouth sharks). They can be found in temperate seas around the world, but the southwest of England becomes a hotspot for them during the summer. 2014 was a particularly good year for sightings, and excellent news for this Vulnerable species. (I’d also like to add that their scientific name is one of my all-time favourites: Cetorhinus maximus. Just awesome.)

I was so excited to see this juvenile basking shark that when I turned to go to the other side of the boat to take photos I slammed into a metal step, stumbling badly and causing an impressive pain (and later a bruise) in my shin, but barely noticed – I was too busy hurdling over the row of seats for a better view. The reward for my stunt were these mostly blurry photos. It’s OK to be jealous.

Basking sharks have long been a subject I’ve wanted to paint, and when I set myself the task of doing a series of Devon wildlife paintings I knew I’d be doing one. I definitely want to paint one again, and hopefully I’ll get to see another in person sometime.

If YOU are ever lucky enough to see a basking shark anywhere in the world, please do report it! These sightings help to provide data that is critical in protecting them. If you spot one around the UK you can submit it to the Shark Trust; if you’re in the US, you can report it to NOAA or the New England Basking Shark Project.

 

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