Jen Richards

Wildlife artist

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Adventures with iPad speed paintings

Swellsharks are quite good at staying still for me.

Swellsharks are quite good at staying still for me.

I’m lucky in that I get to be around animals a lot. I try to never take this for granted – being in the presence of so many creatures can be exciting, fascinating, and humbling all at once. I’m constantly inspired by them, and wish there were enough hours in the day to draw and paint as many as I can. One thing I’ve been able to do recently is spend a little bit of time throughout the week doing some digital speed paintings from some of these real life subjects. I’ve sat with these animals and used my Bamboo stylus and my iPad to do a quick rendering of them using my favourite digital art app Procreate (I also recommend SketchbookPro). It’s proving to be a good exercise in working more quickly, and an added bonus is that I get to represent more species in my work. Here are a few I’ve done recently, each taking between about 5 and 15 minutes. Looking forward to doing lots more of these!

Swellshark - About 5 minutes


African penguin - About 10 minutes

African penguin

Beluga whale - About 15 minutes

Beluga whale



It happens to every creative person: sometimes you just get stuck. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life staring at a blank canvas or sketchbook page, pencil in hand, utterly stumped. Sometimes I start a thing and the thing looks nothing like how I wanted and now I hate it and I abandon the thing. Sometimes I get the urge to paint a specific subject, then get distracted by something else, and then never even begin. I’ve had a block like this for a couple of months now. But sometimes I feel like painting something that isn’t usually “my thing.” The ocean and its inhabitants are a huge part of my life, but sometimes? Sometimes I just want to paint a bird. So I did.

Admittedly, I didn’t really develop a real interest in birds until I started working with seabirds (I’ve gushed about  gannets previously). Before I knew it I was spending a lot of time at our partner zoo, and found myself inexplicably drawn to the hornbills. I’m not sure what it was. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been somewhat crazy about dinosaurs, and hornbills just look especially prehistoric – you can tell they’re the ones that survived. Their colourful bills are striking, but it’s not the only thing I love about them: the ones I encountered were so interactive and naturally curious I was smitten. They are just fascinating creatures.

When I first visited Zoo Atlanta a couple of years ago I was thrilled to discover that they had hornbills too (especially the wreathed! I love them!). I took some photos of a beautiful little species that I believe was a Von der Decken’s, and knew I had to paint it… eventually. I’ve made a point to spend more time at the zoo with my sketchbook this year – observing animals of all kinds is so inspiring.

I had a LOT of fun with this piece because I tried to just go with the flow. I was doing something different. I was painting a new environment – I’ve never done leaves before! I’ve never done feathers like this, and nor have I tried to paint a bill in such detail. It was a different colour palette for me, and the unusual textures left me feeling quite refreshed. I need to do this more. Maybe I’ll need a new section on my site: “Suddenly, Hornbills!”