Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


Sea Otter Awareness Week 2012

Colouring page for Georgia Aquarium’s SOAW!

This week many of us have been participating in Sea Otter Awareness Week, a seven-day celebration of one of the world’s most charismatic marine mammals, and certainly the hairiest (up to 1,000,000 hairs per square inch!). Sea otters play an important role in maintaining a healthy, productive ecosystem. As a keystone species in the kelp forests of the west coast, their taste for sea urchins helps to support the entire kelp forest itself: with the urchin population maintained, the kelp holdfasts that the spiky little echinoderms like to munch on are much safer, and the dense underwater forest can continue to both be a home for thousands of other animals and remove CO2 from our atmosphere.

As part of SOAW, zoos and aquariums (and many, many other facilities and individuals) across the country come together to raise public awareness of this vital species through educational presentations, activities, crafts, screenings, demonstrations… if it’s sea otter related and you can think of it, it’s probably happening somewhere. There’s a great list of organisations taking part in this year’s events right here – there’s still one day left to go, so you can still make it to a celebration near you!

I created a sea otter colouring page for Georgia Aquarium this year. I wanted to include several aspects of a sea otter’s life – resting at the surface with a pup, foraging for delicious invertebrates, being generally hairy – and it was a lot of fun to shake up my style a bit and do something much more simplified. I hope any little ones who’ve had the chance to colour it have enjoyed it too! You can download it as a .PDF from the website under the “Activities” link and share the sea otter love. And remember that sea otters, like all animals, are important every week of the year, not just the last one in September!

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Humpback whale featured on deviantART!

As I was idly checking my messages on deviantART on my phone this morning from the comfort of bed (aren’t seasonal colds just the best?), I noticed I had a lot of them. Like, five hundred times more than usual.

It turns out that my humpback whale piece from over two years ago had been selected as a Daily Deviation – suggested by a user, chosen by an admin and displayed on the site’s opening page. You can see the day’s selections here. In August of last year, my manta rays were featured in the same way. To have my work chosen like this not just once but twice is a real honour; the increased exposure is amazing, and that so many more people have been taking the time today to view my art and leave comments is very much appreciated. I just wish that I had more time to work on some new art at the moment, but finding the time outside of work and wedding planning is proving just a bit difficult!

As for the image itself, it was both drawn and coloured entirely digitally, using my tablet, in a program called OpenCanvas 4. I had a look in my art folder on the computer and found some in-progress screenshots I’d taken while working on this one, which you can see just a bit further down on this post. It was a way of challenging myself to draw a mysticete, or baleen whale, as it’s quite apparent when looking at my portfolio that I tend to focus on the smaller, smooth-skinned odontocetes (toothed whales). I distinctly remember wanting to get across a real sense of depth, as footage of humpback whales rising from deep, dark blue waters had always captured my imagination. Creating the knobbly texture on the head and the pectoral flippers was fun and certainly different for me at that point. Colouring art digitally is something I relied quite heavily on for a couple of years, as my rather unexpected move to the United States meant not having any of my traditional supplies, but I’ve really found myself moving away from it in a big way.

In progress: working out the lines and fleshing out the whale.

I look at this image now and see dozens of ways I want to revisit it using acrylics, but it remains a landmark in my development as an artist, and again, I really appreciate the feedback on it. In my studio there’s definitely a baleen whale work in progress that I started last week, by the way… only(!) two years after this first attempt.


Orcas past and present

Orca sketches in 2012…

In little snippets of spare time lately I’ve been picking up my sketchbook to draw orcas. They’ve always been my favourite subjects; beyond their endlessly fascinating behaviour, there’s something about them I find so compelling and beautiful. If I’m doodling, whatever the canvas, you can guarantee there’ll be one in there somewhere. After so many years they’ve kind of become my trademark. I can’t help it.

When I went home to England over Christmas last year I rediscovered my very first orca drawings. Literally. I had just turned eight years old when I first encountered them at SeaWorld and could draw little else. I’m impressed with Little Past Me’s

… orca sketches from 1994.

ability to remember all the correct markings, moreorless (with a small exception – white on the upper jaw? What was I thinking!), and determination to draw as many different actions as possible. I should take notes.

I have a few more from the years between then and now – including some rather dramatic scenes of predation(!) drawn when I was ten – that I’ll put here in future posts. It’s a lot of fun to be able to track your artistic development.

This 1994 orca was on the back of the others. I like his attitude.

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While documenting the progress of this painting I’ve mentioned quite a bit about how cool whale sharks are. They’re so cool, in fact, that August 30th was officially declared International Whale Shark Day back in 2008, but of course I wasn’t able to get this (12 x 30) painting finished in time to coincide with it. You can have a belated celebration over the internet by reading these two blog posts though, both written by renowned whale shark BFF Dr. Al Dove, who was also kind enough to offer me some pointers in this piece right after getting back from doing fieldwork with the real thing out in the Gulf of Mexico.

The fish swimming alongside the whale shark here are juvenile golden trevallies. These little yellow companions are frequently observed congregating around and following much larger animals like whale sharks, manta rays, groupers, and even dugongs, using them as a kind of mobile shelter. As both an artist and ocean enthusiast I love the visual impact of two very different species associating with one another (though it’s a bit one-sided in this case), especially when the colours offer such contrast. And of course, after painting a very large fish covered in spots, what I really needed was to then paint fourteen smaller ones covered in stripes…!

I always struggle to take good photos of my larger pieces that represent the correct colours and satisfactory details, so I welcome any recommendations for businesses that could help me out in the Atlanta area. For now, here are a few close ups of the trevallies that at least show some of the work that went into them.