Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


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Admiral Raddus

Acrylics on 10 x 8 canvas

Acrylics on 10 x 8 inch canvas

It’s been years since I finished any fanart, even though it’s something I spent most of my teen years creating. But as a giant Star Wars nerd who loves marine creatures who is also British, I couldn’t resist having a go at painting Admiral Raddus, the Churchill-inspired Mon Calamari who led the Rebel Fleet above Scarif in Rogue One. I guess I’ve long had a soft spot for Mon Calamari – we can all agree on the greatness of Admiral Ackbar, but I even liked Nahdar Vebb from The Clone Wars series, and the one time I played the Age of Rebellion tabletop game I opted to be the engineer Tendaar. I just think they’re pretty cool.

I also love to try identifying which real-world animals may have inspired fictional alien races. I wanted to paint Raddus not just because he’s an absolute badass, but because the texture of his skin reminded me of a cephalopod and his eyes of a sea turtle. What a cool dude.

The coolest thing was when I posted progress on Twitter and it caught the attention of Stephen Stanton, the voice of Raddus in Rogue One (as well as many other fantastic Star Wars roles). Fangirl moment. This was a fun little painting to do!Omg.

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Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends…

"Breach" - Acrylics on 18 x 24 inch canvas

“Breach” – Acrylics on 18 x 24 inch canvas

I find that beer does help.

I find that beer does help.

2016 has been… a year, hasn’t it? From a personal standpoint, the last few months have been full of changes. In early November I left my job of almost six years to pursue a new path, one that really begins in earnest next week as I become a full time student for the first time in nearly a decade. The next three months will be very busy and I’ll have to work hard to squeeze personal art in, but I’m excited to begin my career as a UX Designer. Here’s to new things!

It’s kind of funny how the symbolism of this piece didn’t hit me until just now while coming up with a title for this post. It’s been ages since I painted using acrylics, having spent much of the year focusing more on drawings and ink – not that there’s anything wrong with that. I was struck by a photo my friend Tasli Shaw took of the southern resident orca L87 (Onyx) and she kindly gave me permission to use it as my inspiration. I don’t think I’ve painted an orca breaching since… well, I was probably a teenager, and I’ve come a long way since then. Originally I wanted to use this as an opportunity to paint quickly and loosely, but evidently my brain and brush conspired against me and I ended up getting really detailed and taking much longer with it. In any case, it was good to get this one in before my classes start.

Splash detail.

Splash detail.


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When in Doubt, Paint a Shark

White shark, acrylics on 12 x 16 inch canvas

White shark, acrylics on 12 x 16 inch canvas

After a jam-packed two weeks in England, during which I had time to do a few little sketches but no substantial art, I really wanted to just let loose with something really messy last night. I’ll share more about my trip in a later post because I’ve got inspiration to last me years (thanks, Natural History Museum!).

In my efforts to diversify my work and develop my skills, I picked up an old 12 x 16 canvas from under my desk and started slapping on some paint. I’m trying to move out of my comfort zone of super fine details and trying to get things “perfect”, and instead injecting more personality into each piece. This felt like a good time to experiment; I’ve been doing a lot of precise commission work lately (which I do love) so it felt quite freeing. I did the whole thing in one sitting – very unusual for me! – and so worked solely with fresh wet paint and a limited colour palette. I do enjoy watching subjects materialise out of the mess.

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1. Slapping on the paint 2. Adding some definition 3. Brief pause to confer with my assistant 4. Nearly done

I was particularly inspired by two things: one was a gorgeous 2008 photo by the incredible hobbyist photographer George Probst (check out sharkpix.com!), who graciously sent me a larger version to reference. I just loved the scarring on this white shark and the tight framing. The other inspiration came from an artist I’ve been following on instagram for a while now, Aimée Hoover. I really admire her painting style and the scale at which she works – I’m currently too afraid to go quite that big but I can aspire to it! Her gorgeous brush strokes encouraged me to be less obsessed with the tiny details.

All in all, I was proud of myself for getting this done and I’m looking forward to doing more like it.


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Oarfish!

Giant oarfish, acrylic on 6 x 12 canvas

Giant oarfish, acrylic on 6 x 12 canvas

A couple of months ago I received a commission request that I had to jump on. It was a species I’ve long been fascinated by and wanted to draw but hadn’t yet:

A deceased giant oarfish measuring 23 feet (7 m)  in California, 1996.

A deceased giant oarfish measuring 23 feet (7 m) in California, 1996.

the king of herrings, the ribbonfish, the streamer fish… most of us know it as the oarfish. You’ve probably seen them in the news because when they’re sighted (alive or dead) it’s quite a sight to behold; the aptly named giant oarfish (Regalecus glesne) is the longest bony fish in the world, achieving a length of about 36 feet (11 metres). Whale sharks (reaching well over 40 ft/12 m) still have the giant oarfish beat as the longest fish of all though.

My client is a volunteer at a natural history museum and fell in love with their oarfish specimen. She wanted a piece that helped to connect their preserved oarfish with its habitat in the deep, dark ocean, an idea I loved and was excited to work on. There were two specific challenges: one, oarfish are so infrequently encountered that consistent references were difficult to come by; and two, this massive species was to be painted on a very small 6 x 12 inch canvas. Both of these challenges helped to push me to be a bit more creative with this piece, and in the process I learnt a great deal.

This mighty little giant is now safely in his/her forever home in California. Thank you for this fun opportunity, Corinna!


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Squid ink

Acrylics on 8 x 10 inch canvas board.

Acrylics on 8 x 10 inch canvas board.

This month I finished a small painting of a bigfin reef squid commissioned by a longtime friend of mine. She’s been obsessed with cephalopods since I’ve known her, so when she approached me and asked about designing her a squid tattoo I was both super thrilled and touched. Her request was for the piece to be realistic and I thought it’d be an added bonus if she got an original painting out of it too. Once the final sketch was approved, I painted the squid in acrylics on an 8 x 10 inch canvas board and scanned it in high resolution for her tattoo artist to use. She received the original a few days later, made the appointment, and… ta-daaaah!

I’m absolutely amazed at how perfectly Ed Weston at Custom Ink & Steel in Flint, Michigan recreated my painting on her arm, and I’m so happy she loves it so much! What a fun commission this was!


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A Commission for Christmas

Last year I had the pleasure of working on several commissions to be given as gifts for the holidays. One of my favourite things about commissions is hearing feedback from the recipient, and now I know it’s safe to share what I was working on. This particular 16 x 20 inch acrylic painting was for the client’s wife and was to feature her three favourite animals: a manatee, a dolphin, and a sea turtle. Here’s a look at the process from start to finish, including a shot of the framed piece in its happy home!


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Brothers

Acrylics on 6 x 12 inch gessobord

Acrylic on 6 x 12 inch gesso board

Happy new year! I’m not one for resolutions, but I do know it’s been way too long since I made a blog post. With the last couple months of 2015 getting increasingly busy I fell into the habit of updating instagram more than anything else (you can follow me here, by the way. Durp!) and neglected this poor blog, so I’m definitely going to be sharing more here.

After finishing a round of commissions in time for Christmas, I picked up one of a few gesso boards lying about in my studio and started playing with an idea I sketched out about a year ago: two adult male orcas breaking the surface of a choppy sea. These are of course two things I fall back on a lot – I love orcas AND choppy seas! – but I couldn’t help myself. I’ve also never completed something on gesso board before and really wanted to give it a go. It’s a very interesting surface, as it’s much more smooth than the surfaces I usually paint on but with just enough texture for me to feel comfortable with it. Next up: braving the super smooth clay board!


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The Charge

Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 24 inches

Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 24 inches

On April 15th this year I went whale watching for the first time. It was also my first visit to Monterey Bay, somewhere I’d longed to go for years and years. It lived up to my expectations and then some – although there were no orcas to be seen, I got to see several feeding humpback whales, an enormous pod of Risso’s dolphins, and a small but curious pod of long-beaked common dolphins. The latter is a species that can also be seen in my home waters in the southwest of England, but of course throughout my life it was always a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, so I was ecstatic to finally see them. They’re so small and quick and utterly charming; the pod made a beeline for the bow of the boat where I was crouching and were so close my lens was too long to get a good photo! Watching them erupt from the water (which in itself is so difficult to photograph) was so fantastic that I knew I had to paint it.

Detail view.

Detail view.


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Sanctuary

Acrylics on 9 x 12 inch canvas board

Acrylics on 9 x 12 inch canvas board

In an attempt to create more of a sense of depth in my work, I started on this 9 x 12 inch canvas panel a few nights ago to try a few things out. It was relaxing to do a personal piece before diving back into a big round of commissions. This was my first time really focusing on using washes, something I’ve been wanting to do more of, and I definitely want to continue experimenting. I’m very much a trial-and-error learner!


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Makana

Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14

Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14

I'm impressed I could contain my geek out even this much.

I’m impressed I could contain my geek out even this much.

Last month I fulfilled a long term goal of mine: visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I’ve been an admirer of the incredible work that goes on there for years and was beyond excited to finally be setting foot inside the building for real (they’re lucky I didn’t somehow manage to fit those life-sized orca models in my bag upon leaving). It exceeded all my expectations – what an amazing team, collection and facility! I even got to see humpback whales, sea otters and seemingly endless seabirds from the deck.

I gathered so many references for future works of species I’d longed to see, like leopard sharks, flamboyant cuttlefish and bluefin tuna (just to name a few), but was particularly inspired by meeting a very special bird named Makana. She’s a Laysan albatross from Hawaii that suffered a wing injury and cannot be released, so she serves as an ambassador for seabirds at Monterey. This role is particularly important because of the threats seabirds, especially albatrosses like Makana, face in the ocean from plastic pollution. This video does a lovely job of introducing Makana and sharing this critical message. It’s also worth nothing that of the 21 albatross species, 19 are threatened or endangered.

Given my love of seabirds I couldn’t resist painting an 11 x 14 portrait of Makana. I’ve long been fascinated with albatrosses for their size and lifestyle – they can go years without touching land and it’s believed they can even sleep while flying! This painting is now in its forever home in California and I’m thankful to have met such a special bird. Thank you Makana and Monterey!

Isn't she beautiful?

Isn’t she beautiful?

For more about Laysan albatrosses and the problem with plastics, check out the Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal. To become smitten with these birds yourself (and I definitely recommend a visit to see Makana for yourself), take a look at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s live nest cam!


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Something spontaneous

Acrylics on 5 x 7 canvas panel

Acrylics on 5 x 7 canvas panel

As always, orcas take over everything I do...

As always, orcas take over everything I do…

Sometimes you just get the urge to paint something that makes you happy. For me, earlier this week, it was a curious little orca on a tiny 5″ x 7″ canvas panel that took about two hours from start to finish. It’s based on a quick sketch I did the night before while I was actually trying to practice some tigers (I’d spent the day gathering reference at the zoo), and I couldn’t get it out of my mind until I painted it. I need to do more spontaneous pieces like this.


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The Bower Pod – Commission

Acrylic on 9 x 12 wood panel

Acrylic on 9 x 12 wood panel

This was a REALLY fun commission I did recently! My client’s sister, who loves orcas (good taste), and her husband had a baby boy and the idea was to create a kind of “family portrait” featuring orcas in time for Mother’s Day. I decided to paint it directly onto a 9 x 12 inch wood panel (like a previous piece) to allow for some interesting textures and a more stylised look. I did this by doing a couple coats of a light blue-grey wash directly over my pencil lines so that the wood grain would still show through. Then it was just a case of working on the whales! One of the notes that my client gave, and one I wholeheartedly embraced, was to ensure the calf had the yellow hue typical of newborns. (We’re all cetacean nerds here.)

I’m glad to report that this gift was very happily received! I’m always happy to spread the orca love. If you’re interested in a commission like this, please feel welcome to contact me.


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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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Changing up the canvas

When I was picking up some art supplies last night I found some small wooden blocks for sale alongside the smaller canvases.They looked so fun to paint on that I had to get a couple! I experimented a bit tonight with acrylics on an 8 x 5 inch block and was pleased with the results. It was interesting to see how the paint reacted – I’ve never painted on wood like this before so it was a fun challenge. Definitely planning on doing many more like this!


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Day Octopus

Acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8

 

It’s only March but it’s been quite the busy year so far, and I’ve felt guilt that I haven’t been painting much and have found it a bit difficult to put brush to canvas these past few weeks. Yesterday, however, I decided I was going to Start and Finish a Thing in a day. I chose to paint a portrait of a day octopus (Octopus cyanea), a stunning cephalopod that is more active in the daytime than a good chunk of its relatives. This is my third go at an octopus but the last two have been the giant Pacific kind, so I wanted to go with an entirely different and more adventurous colour palette this time. And I did manage to get it done within a day! Huzzah.

Things will be a bit quiet again for the next few weeks as I venture out to the west coast and visit several places I’ve been dying to go for years, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Can’t wait to check out the Tentacles exhibition! No doubt there’ll be plenty of inspiration to keep me drawing and painting non-stop when I get back.