Jen Richards

Wildlife artist

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In Johannesburg right now, the 17th CITES Conference of the Parties (#CoP17) is taking place. From September 23rd to October 5th, over 2000 government representatives from all over the world will decide which species will see new international protection. You might remember the 16th CoP, which was a huge success for sharks and rays – the number of elasmobranch species listed under Appendix II increased from three to eight. There’s still a long way to go.

This year there are proposals for several more sharks and rays to be listed: all thresher sharks, all mobula rays, the silky shark and the ocellate river stingray. I couldn’t resist drawing a little show of support. Best wishes to all who are currently in South Africa fighting to conserve sharks, rays, and so many other animals and plants!

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Sharks and Rays for 31 Days: The 31

31 days ago I announced my challenge to draw or paint a different shark or ray species every single day for the entirety of July. Throughout the month, these artworks would go up for auction with the proceeds going to the wonderful non-profit Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation. 31 days, lots of pencil shavings and paint and late nights later… here they all are! Many have already gone off to their new homes with winning bidders, and I can’t thank you all enough for the ongoing encouragement and interest these past few months. I’ve seen my work shared by individuals and organisations whose work I’ve admired for years, had amazing feedback from the scientists who are working to understand and protect these very species, got to represent elasmobranchs from the popular classics to the weird deep sea residents, and challenged myself to explore mediums I’d been afraid to before.

And best of all? So far more than $1000 has been raised for Shark Advocates – and it’s not over yet! Help me raise even more by bidding on the available art  we’ve still got ten days before the last auction ends. Own my original art and do something good for sharks and rays today – and thank you!!

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Sharks and Rays for 31 Days: 14-18

As my current work in progress dries on the easel behind me I thought it would be a good time to share the latest five artworks in my Sharks and Rays for 31 Days challenge. I’m over halfway through now and only have 13 pieces to go! The level of interest and support in this project mean the world to me and I’m so very grateful for every retweet, like and share. As an artist it’s immensely fulfilling to see your art gaining traction but there’s a whole other level to this: these works (and the people that bid on them!) are directly supporting shark and ray conservation. That’s why, when I’m spending every minute of spare time in a day drawing, colouring, or painting an elasmobranch, I know it’s worth it. The first seven auctions have been won and the funds are being raised, and that’s awesome! Thank you, again. (Here’s a link to the current auctions!)

Shark Advocates International (the reason for this challenge) is a project of The Ocean Foundation, who published a lovely interview with me this week about the project, my art, and sharks, so do please give it a read! I’m excited for what’s next.

Now onto the art!

14 - Common skate - Watercolours over sketch.

14 – Common skate – Watercolours over pencil.

The common skate is sadly not living up to its name. There are far more species of skate than people realise, but I chose this one because of its conservation story; hopefully their populations will recover. I love the shape of skates so I wanted to focus on that for this watercolour, doing something a bit more unusual with the composition. I’m learning more every time I use watercolours, so I’m really enjoying using them.

15 - White shark - Biro, white pencil and white gel pen.

15 – White shark – Biro, white pencil and white gel pen.

We ALL knew this guy was coming eventually. White sharks are a classic, and they’re undeniably impressive. I always like using the white pencil on toned paper to highlight their undersides.

16 - Cownose ray - Watercolours over pencil.

16 – Cownose ray – Watercolours over pencil.

My scanner kind of hated this one so I apologise for a poor representation of the colours, but no one can resist a cownose ray face. I wanted to do something fun with this species as well as play with perspective a bit.

17 - Spotted wobbegong - Watercolours over pencil.

17 – Spotted wobbegong – Watercolours over pencil.

Watercolours two days in a row! This one was actually a suggestion from social media. I’d asked for people to name me a species and there were so many fantastic ideas, but the wobbegong came up more than anything else! And you know my weakness for wobbegongs, so I couldn’t help myself. I really wanted to use watercolours for those lovely markings. More follower suggestions coming soon!

18 - Bonnethead shark - Markers.

18 – Bonnethead shark – Markers.

My second go at using markers! I’m so glad I decided to continue exploring this medium, because like watercolours, I’m learning more each time and getting more comfortable with them. These little hammerheads had been on my list since the beginning, but a few people have expressed interest in seeing me draw one and I couldn’t resist any longer. They’re just so cute.


Sharks and Rays for 31 Days: 6-13

I want to give another massive thank you to everyone who’s been following me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and providing so much wonderful support and feedback on this challenge. A particularly huge thank you to Shark Advocates International and The Ocean Foundation for the encouragement! I’m excited to share that most of the artwork created so far is now on eBay and beginning to raise funds for shark and ray conservation.

Here’s a look at the pieces I’ve done since my last update!

06 - Zebra shark - Watercolours over sketch.

06 – Zebra shark – Watercolours over sketch.

I’ve had this idea in my head for a couple of years now so I was glad to have an excuse to give it a go! I really love zebra sharks and wanted to illustrate the three equally adorable “looks” they rock over their lives – pup, juvenile, and adult. I’m getting a bit more comfortable with watercolours now – this was fun to work on.

07 - Prickly dogfish - Pencil drawing.

07 – Prickly dogfish – Pencil drawing.

Before I began this challenge I promised myself I’d highlight some of the more unusual species. There are so many underloved and/or poorly known species but I knew I wanted to include one of the rough sharks, and settled on the prickly dogfish. What an odd little guy! They inhabit the temperate waters of south Australia and New Zealand at a usual depth between 300-600 m (984-1968 ft). They also have a spine on the leading edge of each dorsal fin and very rough skin, something I wanted to bring out using my trusty 6B pencil.

08 - Blacktip reef shark - Acrylics on 4 x 12 inch canvas.

08 – Blacktip reef shark – Acrylics on 4 x 12 inch canvas.

Wanted to have a play with composition here! Blacktip reef sharks are an all-time favourite of mine; in fact, they were one of the very first species of shark I ever saw as a child. They have such striking markings and I decided to focus on that trademark dorsal fin.

09 - Puffadder shyshark - Watercolours over pencil.

09 – Puffadder shyshark – Watercolours over pencil.

After doing the zebra sharks I felt braver about using watercolours and wanted to visit one of the small, underrepresented species. How can anyone NOT be absolutely in love with shysharks? They curl up when threatened and cover their eyes with their tail. I wish they’d get their very own documentary. Puffadder shysharks are endemic to South Africa and have such lovely markings. Really loved working on this one.

10 - Southern fiddler ray - Biro, coloured pencils and whit gel pen.

10 – Southern fiddler ray – Biro, coloured pencils and whit gel pen.

Also known as the banjo shark, fiddler rays have some of the most gorgeous markings among elasmobranchs. I’ve been wanting to draw one for a while!

11 - Greenland shark - Biro, coloured pencils and white gel pen.

11 – Greenland shark – Biro, coloured pencils and white gel pen.

This weekend was a really busy one for me and it was a bit of a struggle to get something done on Saturday. I’d love to revisit this one in the future, but for now this attempt at foreshortening will have to do! Greenland sharks are an utterly fascinating species – one of my favorite facts about them is that there’s a parasitic copepod, Ommatokoita elongata, that only lives in the eyes of the Greenland and Pacific sleeper sharks. What the hell, nature!

12 - Spiny dogfish - Markers.

12 – Spiny dogfish – Markers.

Shark Advocates hit the nail on the head when this drawing was captioned with “king of the under-appreciated sharks”.  The Atlantic spiny dogfish fishery is the largest shark fishery in the U.S.and is currently understood to be sustainable, but previous years of overexploitation targeting females have left stocks skewed. This is a species whose gestation lasts two years! They’re an incredible little species and I was geeking out pretty hard when I finally saw some in person at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in April. I’ve had a few markers lying around since I bought them at HeroesCon 2014 and got the sudden urge to use them for this one; I’m excited to do more with them.

13 - Shortfin Mako - Acrylics on 18 x 24 inch canvas board.

13 – Shortfin mako shark – Acrylics on 18 x 24 inch canvas board.

And here’s today’s offering, the biggest yet! Shortfin makos are simply spectacular fish. I love their flashiness and that incredible blue sheen of their skin, so I wanted to try to represent that through a slightly rougher painting style than what I usually do. Since this painting is so much larger than the others this month, I started working on it on Friday and worked on it in my limited time this weekend. Glad I got it done.

13 down… 18 more to go!


Sharks and Rays for 31 Days: The First Five

On Wednesday I began my fundraising challenge – creating art featuring a different shark or ray species every single day of July in support of Shark Advocates International – and in the last five days I’ve received so much support from you all that I’m really quite floored! It’s just so lovely to see such positive feedback early on in this project that it’s given me even more motivation to step up my game. And of course, knowing you’re all watching helps me keep accountable for reaching my goal!

Today marks the beginning of Discovery’s Shark Week so it’s a rather fitting time to take a look at the first five Sharks and Rays for 31 Days artworks and my reasons for choosing these species. I’ll be launching the first round of auctions later this week, so if you’ve got your eye on one of these pieces, you’re definitely going to want to follow me on social media! And if you can’t wait until the first auction to support Shark Advocates, you can donate directly to them any time you like.

01 - Oceanic whitetip shark

01 – Oceanic whitetip shark – Biro, white gel pen and white pencil on toned grey paper.

Oceanic whitetips are a longtime favourite of mine. I’ve always been in awe of their beauty, and two years ago I painted one in celebration of the big elasmobranch win at CITES CoP 16. Did you know that Jacques Cousteau referred to them as “Lord of the Long Hands”? I have to agree: those pectoral fins are something else.

02 - Lesser devil ray

02 – Lesser devil ray – Watercolour over sketch.

There’s just something mesmerising about a large school of mobulid rays. I created and posted this during the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission meeting that would decide on strengthening protections for several shark and ray species, notably mantas and mobulids. I’m happy to share that there’s good news on that front for the rays, but sadly there is still a lot more work to be done.

03 - Great hammerhead shark - acrylic on canvas

03 – Great hammerhead shark – Acrylic on 11 x 14 canvas.

Day three saw me complete the first full painting of the challenge. Hammerheads are absolutely iconic, and they don’t come bigger than the up-to-20-feet great hammerhead. I wanted to capture a couple of different angles with this one. Like other hammerheads, these guys have long been overexploited and their populations continue to decline, making them an Endangered species.

04 - Spotted eagle ray - Biro, white gel pen and white pencil.

04 – Spotted eagle ray – Biro, white gel pen and white pencil on toned grey paper.

Who doesn’t love a spotted eagle ray? I love this species for their unusual snouts that they use to find their benthic prey and thought the white pencil and pen would be a fun way to highlight those lovely spots. Sadly, though, they are a Near Threatened species.

05 - Atlantic sharpnose shark - Acrylics on 5 x 7 wood panel.

05 – Atlantic sharpnose shark – Acrylics on 5 x 7 wood panel.

If you’ve ever seen an Atlantic sharpnose, even just a photo, you know already how impossibly cute they are. I wanted to have a bit of fun with this one so I painted him on a small wood panel – something I’ve done before but find a challenge because of how differently the paint behaves. It was nice to show some support for one of the little guys!

So that’s 5 down, 26 more to go… and I’m looking forward to every single one. Please feel free to suggest some of your favourite species for me to include!


Sharks and Rays for 31 Days

Do you love sharks and rays? Do you want to help sharks and rays? Do you want to own multiple original artworks from me featuring sharks and rays? Then I’ve got some fun news for you!

I just can’t get enough of these utterly wonderful animals so all throughout July I’ll be making, sharing, and donating art to raise funds for vital conservation work through non-profit Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation. SAI’s mission is “to provide leadership in advancing sound, science-based local, national, and international conservation policies through collaboration with a diverse array of organizations and decision makers.” Sharks and Rays for 31 Days will see me posting artwork featuring a different elasmobranch species every single day, whether it’s a sketch, more detailed drawing, or even a painting. Throughout the month, collections of these pieces will be available for auction with the proceeds going to SAI.

Please follow my progress and help me support sharks and rays! I’ll be posting updates right here on the blog, but daily pictures will be found on my social media accounts: Twitter || Facebook || Instagram #SharksandRaysfor31Days

Shark Advocates International: Website ||  Facebook || Twitter
The Ocean Foundation: Website || Facebook || Twitter

See you on Wednesday, July 1st!

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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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Diving with the Coral Restoration Foundation

Recently I planted Critically Endangered staghorn coral on a reef.

That is the coolest sentence I have ever typed.  A few weeks ago I joined my coworkers and some wonderful volunteers from Georgia Aquarium (a sponsor of this project) on a trip to Key Largo to spend some time with the Coral Restoration Foundation. We’d been planning it for a while and I was beyond excited: not only was this going to be my first ever trip to the Florida Keys, but it was my first time diving in a couple of years and I was excited to be taking part in such an important conservation project. I celebrate the ocean and its wildlife through my artwork, but it’s also vital for me to put this appreciation into action.

The Coral Restoration Foundation is a non-profit organisation that creates offshore coral nurseries and programs to help restore reefs. CRF’s techniques were developed to be accessible and affordable, meaning they can be implemented around the world and can currently be seen in action in Bonaire and Colombia as well as in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. One of these techniques is an innovative “tree” design, which allows fragments of coral to be suspended on a framework that floats in the water column. All coral fragments in the nursery are categorized by genotype; since this project takes advantage of corals’ ability to reproduce asexually it’s important that genetic diversity is maintained. When the fragments on the trees are mature enough, they’re taken to a depleted reef to be outplanted. Hopefully, those outplanted corals will get established and form a healthy new colony.

Ready to learn at CRF. Bonus: Seeing OAS founder Wyland's artwork!

Ready to learn at CRF. Bonus: Seeing OAS founder Wyland’s artwork!

Friday 6th June: Helping in the Nursery

Our morning started with a fun session at CRF’s headquarters where we learned more about the organisation’s origin, mission, and its various farming methods and the pros/cons of each (except the “tree” technique, which is remarkably successful!). As a professional marine educator myself it was awesome to see the CRF interns, who led the session, so pumped up and excited about their work and about corals. It was contagious! We couldn’t wait to get hands-on, using old fragments to practice looping and threading the wire before crimping it in place with pliers. It was also really reinforcing to see a print by Wyland on display – I’ve been an Ocean Artists Society member for two years and am proud to be following in one of our founders’ footsteps in supporting this brilliant cause.

A helper in the trees!

A helper in the trees!

Good view of one of the trees in the nursery.

Good view of one of the trees in the nursery.

After lunch, we met with Keys Diver to head out to the CRF nursery. It felt AMAZING to be back on the water. Before I moved to Atlanta I spent my entire life in Torquay, England, and was spoiled by its close proximity to the sea. Every time I return to the coast now it’s like seeing an old friend again. Unlike the slightly chillier waters of the UK though, the view from the boat zipping out from the Key Largo horizon was like looking down through turquoise glass – I could see all the way to the bottom. When we reached our destination we could see the trees and the live rock beds of the nursery clearly from above the surface. I felt giddy, and it wasn’t just motion sickness; I’d been admiring CRF’s work for years, and to be seeing it with my own eyes was quite moving. Descending 30 feet down and being among the rows and rows of trees is a sight I won’t soon forget. It’s just such an awesome conservation effort.

Getting ready to suspend new coral fragments on a tree. I'm on the left.

Getting ready to suspend new coral fragments on a tree. I’m on the left.

Attaching fragments to the tree. I'm on the right, having already suspended mine.

Attaching fragments to the tree. I’m on the right, having already suspended mine.

Our group was split into smaller ones to be guided by a CRF team leader. Blue Team, clearly the most awesome one (not that I’m biased…) started by using brushes and chisels to scrape algae growth off the framework of the trees. We were very quickly joined by a fanclub of hogfish, angelfish and wrasses that swarmed around us to pick up the tasty morsels we were removing. I felt not unlike a Disney princess, albeit one with a tank of high pressure gas on my back and a rather fetching mask. It was right here that I got my first experience with fire coral. That’s some fun stuff!

After cleaning trees, we took new fragments of staghorn coral and suspended them from the upper branches. It was immensely satisfying to place a brand new piece of coral in the nursery. Grow, little guys, grow!


Staghorn corals collected from the nursery and ready to be outplanted. Photo by Halef G.

Staghorn corals collected from the nursery and ready to be outplanted. Photo by Halef G.

Saturday 7th June

Outplanting day! After helping out in the nursery the day before, Saturday’s dives would see us taking mature staghorn fragments out to Pickles Reef, an area southeast of Key Largo. Before we set out, we had another fun morning at the CRF building as we learned exactly how outplanting worked. Using Play-Doh as our epoxy, we practiced finding appropriate attachment points for coral fragments and how to place them on the reef.

Pickles Reef. Lovely!

Pickles Reef. Lovely!

Our journey to Pickles Reef first took us for a brief stop at the nursery so that the CRF team could collect the fragments from the day before. While we waited on the boat, who should surface alongside us but Ken Nedimyer, Coral Restoration Foundation founder and CNN Hero!

We were all eager to get in the water with our corals once we arrived. I was especially raring to go because this would be my very first reef dive! Pickles Reef isn’t very deep, but it really is beautiful. It was awesome to see it so vibrant with life – parrotfish, grunts, porkfish, and yellow stingrays to name a few. We even saw some staghorn corals that had already become established.

Clearing some space for the coral! I'm on the right.

Clearing some space for the coral! I’m on the right.

Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of coral restoration.

Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of coral restoration.

Our team leader selected an appropriate spot for us to get to work. We used hammers to scrape algae off the reef and create a clear spot to place our coral, ensuring that each of us was keeping our pieces in close proximity to each other so that it would be easier for them to come together to form a new colony. Once we’d cleared three anchor points (three means more stability for the fragments), we used a special non-toxic epoxy to adhere the coral to the reef and then waved our hands over it, creating a little bit of motion, to make sure it was secure. The epoxy would set in about 45 minutes. During this whole process we were joined by a school of juvenile bluehead wrasses, who were adorable! I liked to think of them as little supervisors checking up on our progress. It was really encouraging to watch these little fish immediately begin utilising our newly placed coral as a habitat, darting underneath it and munching on the algae we’d removed.

Bonus video! I’m on the right, and partway through you can see me inspect a new fire coral sting on my hand. Told you that stuff was fun. Video taken by Terri Frazier.

A look at some of the newly outplanted coral fragments from another team.

A look at some of the newly outplanted coral fragments from another team.

Altogether, our team planted dozens of staghorn coral fragments on Pickles Reef. I personally planted six, and it remains the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I really hope to take part in this project again in the future and donate more of my time to CRF, whose efforts in restoring reef habitats are second to none. I’d love to return to Pickles Reef in a few years and see how “my” staghorn fragments are getting along!

A healthy staghorn colony.

A healthy staghorn colony.

If you’d like to support the Coral Restoration Foundation, check out their website to see how you can get involved. You can also adopt a coral or a tree in the nursery, or even help them plant a coral thicket! I can’t wait to create some coral restoration-themed artwork to help support their efforts further.

'til next time!

’til next time!