Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


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Adventures with auctions… and penguins

The 7th annual Aqua Vino took place last Thursday at Georgia Aquarium. It’s a very large, very fancy event featuring some of the best food and wine to be found in Atlanta, and proceeds from it go directly into supporting the aquarium’s Correll Center for Aquatic Animal Health. This year, the focus was on African penguins.

In December 2011 I went back to visit my former coworkers! Macaroni penguins at the front, African penguins mostly hanging out in the top right.

African penguins and I go way back. When I began my professional journey in environmental education, I worked at the UK’s only coastal zoo and became quite good chums with several dozen of them. In addition to giving plentiful penguin presentations to the public (try saying that three times fast) I assisted our animal care team with daily cleaning and food preparation duties and even fed the little guys myself. But life hasn’t been all too easy on wild African penguins for the last few decades, largely because of human impacts – commercial overfishing, oil spills, habitat loss, the harvesting of guano – and in 2010, they were downgraded on the IUCN Red List from “Vulnerable” to “Endangered”. In 2009 it was estimated that the global African penguin population was only 25,262 pairs, meaning that their numbers have dropped to less than 10% of their population 100 years ago. It’s this alarmingly rapid decline that makes conservation efforts like the AZA’s Species Survival Plans all the more urgent. Information gained from working with these precious birds directly supports those struggling populations in the field; I personally know several animal care specialists, on both continents, who have traveled to South Africa to help rescue, rehabilitate, and release oiled or injured birds. This January saw the hatching and rearing of Georgia Aquarium’s first two African penguin chicks – wonderful news for the SSP – and Aqua Vino’s support will go a long way in ensuring that this success continues.

My giant Pacific octopus alongside prints by Wyland and Guy Harvey.

That’s why I was so excited to have two framed prints of mine (Murphy the loggerhead sea turtle and the giant Pacific octopus) in the silent auction. To be featured alongside such renowned marine life artists as Wyland and Guy Harvey was an honour, and I was proud to be contributing to such a worthy cause. I’m very pleased to say that both of my pieces received a number of bids and together raised a few hundred dollars for penguin conservation efforts – an amazing thing for an emerging fine artist to be able to say! Painting is such a passion of mine so it’s very fulfilling to know that both of them have gone to good homes.

“Murphy” on display.

If you’re interested in learning more about African penguins and how you can help, I recommend checking out SANCCOB, an organisation dedicated to saving South Africa’s incredible seabirds. For less than $60 you can adopt and name a penguin – ensuring it can be rehabilitated and released! What a bargain!


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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.


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New blog!

I’ve been planning on having a blog for my website for quite some time now, with the intention of sharing more sketches, works in progress, musings on marine life that inspires me, and the occasional announcement, if anything noteworthy were to happen.

It happened today.

I’ve been accepted as a new member into the Ocean Artists Society, an incredible network of artists of all kinds united by their passion for the ocean and their dedication to raising awareness of our need to protect it. To be among such talented people – many of whom have been inspirations of my own since I was a kid – is an unbelievable honour. Their images decorated my bedroom walls and their names filled my bookshelves for so many years. I’m thrilled to be a part of something that means so much to me and am excited to see what’s next!