Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


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Preparing for Art Gone Wild

Wreathed hornbill sketch with some coloured pencil touches.

Wreathed hornbill sketch with some coloured pencil touches.

As announced back in April, I’m one of the selected artists participating in Zoo Atlanta’s brand new Art Gone Wild event in a couple of weeks. In the run-up to Paint Out Week I’ve been thinking a lot about my potential subjects and spent last Friday at the zoo finding my muse. With the sun out and the temperature in the 70s, it was the perfect day to be outside observing and sketching animals for hours on end! Collected here are some of my quick zoo doodles (zoodles?) done from life.

I plan to paint a variety of subjects but definitely found myself gravitating towards a certain few – is anyone actually surprised that I’m focusing on hornbills? I don’t know what it is about these birds, but I’m just captivated by them. I was also thrilled to finally get to see Jabari, the zoo’s ridiculously cute eastern black rhino calf who was born last year. Watching him run around was definitely the day’s highlight for me.

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Beluga sketches

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A few rough belugas drawn while in the kitchen waiting for rice to cook. Exciting! It was also a race against time to fill the page before my 6B pencil devolved into a useless nub. Don’t you hate it when the lead is broken all the way through and it keeps snapping off? It was a new pencil last week. Sadness.


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Devon Wildlife: Great Cormorant

My hometown in 2014.

My hometown in 2014.

A couple of weeks ago I traveled to Devon, England, where I was born and spent my whole life until I moved to the USA at the end of 2009. It’s an area rich with biodiversity and is the only county in the UK to boast two separate (and stunning) coastlines, north and south. I was lucky to grow up on the south Devon coast and to be so accustomed to its native wildlife, the marine-dwelling locals ranging from bottlenose dolphins and basking sharks to spiny seahorses and common cuttlefish. Though I currently live about 4000 miles away, south Devon will always be close to my heart.

I snapped these cormorants just outside Torquay harbour in 2009.

I snapped these cormorants just outside Torquay harbour in 2009.

When I returned home recently I was motivated to get to work on a personal project I’ve wanted to do for years: a series of paintings featuring my favourite Devon marine wildlife. It’s a way for me to celebrate the fantastic animals that live there and share them with the world.

More cormorants in Torbay. I love the wing-drying pose so much!

More cormorants in Torbay. I love the wing-drying pose so much!

Because I’ve been on quite a bird kick lately as I gear up for my participation in Art Gone Wild, I decided to start with a great cormorant. They’re extremely common around south Devon but I’m always excited to see them – there’s just something about birds that spend their time at sea. I’ve actually planned out a larger painting of an individual drying its wings – one of my favourite sights – but completed this little close-up study of one today on an 8 x 10 canvas. They’re such prehistoric-looking birds. When I worked at Living Coasts I had the pleasure of spending my time with two charismatic bank cormorant brothers, a different species that is endemic to South Africa, but also got to watch native cormorants go about their daily business right off our balcony. I would frequently spot them while out on boat trips across Torbay and loved to watch them dive down and pop back up again.

Great cormorant, acrylic on canvas (8 x 10)

Great cormorant, acrylic on canvas (8 x 10)

And a couple of in-progress shots…


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Tenguzame

Goblin sharks have been a frequent topic of conversation lately. What was a species that would only come up in my chats with colleagues and other elasmobranch nerds is suddenly coming up in conversation with regular people – you know, the ones that don’t live and breathe marine life. It’s easy to see why, though. Last month, a shrimp fisherman pulled up an 18 foot goblin shark in the Gulf of Mexico, and the internet went a bit mad.

Not a whole lot is known about goblin sharks, which can be found at depths of more than 4,000 feet and might actually be baby Kaiju*. But they do provoke quite a reaction. This video of this individual’s rapidly extending jaw does quite a good job of showing why: not only are they a little-known deep-sea species, they’re downright weird.

I’m particularly taken by the origin of the name “goblin shark”: it’s literally translated from the old Japanese name tenguzame, after the mythical tengu, a mischievous creature. With that in mind I ended up doodling a goblin shark on my iPad inspired by traditional Japanese art. The kanji on the lower right mean “tenguzame”. This was a lot of fun to do!

*Not scientifically verified.


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A revisit

While trying to wrap my head around a billion other projects, I felt urged to loosen up a bit and painted this on a 12 x 24 inch canvas. It’s a revisit to an old digital piece I did in 2009, but I’d always liked the composition and wanted to explore it using traditional media. There are so many gorgeous photos, paintings and illustrations of orcas breaching, but I always find myself thinking about the view from under the water. I love how water behaves around marine animals at the surface.