Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


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Sharks, sharks, sharks

Oceanic whitetips (and pilot fish)

Oceanic whitetips (and pilot fish)

When asked what my favourite species of shark is, I struggle to answer. They’re all so interesting in their own ways (even you, goblin shark!), so I tend to go with whichever one I happen to be looking at at the time. Recently I’ve become particularly enamoured with oceanic whitetips. I’ve always found them visually striking – I like the rounded edges to their fins, their colouration, and their elegance. And I really love the imagery of their own personal pilot fish fan club that sometimes almost completely engulfs them. I plan to paint an oceanic whitetip soon so I figured I’d practice with some sketches.

Oceanic whitetip sharks are one of the species whose addition to CITES will be voted on in March (see my post about Shark Defenders’ awesome petition here!). The United States actually co-sponsored the proposal to list them, and this week said it would support all of the shark and ray proposals at the upcoming Conference of the Parties – fantastic news for these threatened animals. Oceanic whitetips are at particular risk due to fishing pressure: Their fins are especially valued but their meat is not (the case for many sharks, sadly), meaning that when they do fall victim to bycatch (or are targeted) their fins are removed but the body is dumped at sea, meaning exact numbers of catches are extremely difficult to obtain and regulate. Studies that have been done indicate a 99% decline of populations in the Gulf of Mexico – similar trends have been seen in the northwest Atlantic and the Pacific. More information on this species, as well as the others up for vote in a matter of weeks and the latest developments, can be found on PEW Environment Group’s utterly brilliant coverage of CITES CoP 16. And if you’d like to join Shark Defenders’ efforts to show support for listing them, one of Shark Stanley’s friends is the lovely Waqi Whitetip!

In other shark conservation news, a couple of weeks ago the Ocean Artists Society released its first video project, Artists United for Sharks: Saving Sharks. My whale shark painting “Entourage” is featured (I apologise for my rather dreadful narration), and it’s truly an honour to be alongside such an astounding collection of artists. Very much looking forward to our future endeavours!


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Break Out

Break Out

This weekend I broke a world record: the least amount of time, for me, between starting and finishing a painting. This is both very new and somewhat of an accident. Usually I start working on a piece, slapping on some base colours and playing with composition and lighting a bit, then go off to do Life Stuff. I’ll go back to the canvas to do a little bit more when I can, but the whole process can take weeks depending on the scale of it. On Friday evening I picked up an old 8 x 10 canvas board I’d abandoned and started fleshing out a new manta ray painting, as I simply love mantas but have never painted them (my piece “Takeoff” was a pencil sketch that I coloured digitally). On Saturday morning I decided I hated everything about the water and painted over it… and over it. And over it. While my fourth attempt was drying, I dug out another 8 x 10 and decided to do something different.

Beginning to plot the composition out...

Beginning to plot the composition out…

I admit it – orcas really aren’t that different for me. They’re my favourite animal ever (ever), and like many people around the world I was very concerned about the pod that was trapped by ice in a remote section of Hudson Bay last week. I was thrilled to hear about their apparent escape, but the footage I saw of them surfacing and spyhopping stuck with me. The colours of that scene were incredible. I’ve been meaning to paint an icy scene involving orcas for a couple of years now (and have quietly tried a few unsuccessful times), and thought this would be a good time to give it another go. That stunning colour palette would be quite different for me, and I wanted to remember those whales and their story. I was quite touched to learn that the people of Inukjuak ...and starting to flesh things out more.had planned to make their own breaks in the ice to help the pod had they still been trapped, and to hear of their joy when they discovered they’d been able to move on. It’s a testament to how deeply we care about these animals no matter where they are – the world watched as a small and remote village prepared to step in where we couldn’t, and we all shared the relief as the whales left.

Starting something on a Saturday and finishing it the following Monday (around work) isn’t a bad start to my year. I hope I can be as productive for the rest of it!


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Happy New Year!

Ringing in 2013 with a trio of Rhincodon typus.

Ringing in 2013 with a trio of Rhincodon typus.

I’m not usually one for making New Years resolutions, but I am going to fill 2013 with art. Whether it’s just a doodle, a detailed sketch, or an involved painting, I’m going to make sure I spend at least a little bit of every single day doing something art related. I certainly won’t be able to post things online every day, but I’ll be putting pencil to paper or brush to canvas in whatever time I can make – and I’m going to make the time. Though 2012 was a very busy year, I still felt like I wasted too much time that could have been spent being productive and improving my work. I’m hoping that by making this commitment I can emerge at the end of the year with a more robust portfolio and a feeling of accomplishment. And now that I’ve published this on the internet, I can’t go back…!

The tidiest it may ever be.

The tidiest it may ever be.

A big help in this decision came in the form of a Christmas present I received  from my husband: my dream drafting table. I’d been waxing somewhat poetic about it over the last few months, since I craved an actual desk in my studio (when using my table easel, I sat on the floor with it) and endless trawls of craigslist continued to yield nothing. A little bit of rearranging and tidying up later, and my workspace has evolved. Astonishingly, drawing is so much more comfortable on a drafting table than it is hunched over on the sofa with my sketchbook balanced in my lap. How odd…