Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


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The Wonders of the Internet

While browsing Pinterest this morning, looking for tattoo inspiration for myself, I found my art on someone else’s skin.

Whoa.

A screenshot of the work in progress from 2009.

A screenshot of the work in progress from 2009.

In 2009 I created this digital painting using openCanvas over a pencil sketch. I enjoyed the process given that the composition was quite different for me, as I’ve long been interested in the role of orcas in Native American culture. It’s an idea I’ve thought about revisiting and developing but haven’t made the time for.

I do take commissions for custom tattoo designs. I’m flattered by the use of my work and have been trying to find out whose arm this is – so far I’ve only been able to find it on Pinterest, pointing to a now-defunct site (even using Google’s reverse image lookup). The description mentions a tattoo shop in Massachusetts although it doesn’t appear in their site portfolio. I’d love to know who enjoyed this piece so much they wanted it on their body!

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Giant Pacific Octopus – Commission

Acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24

Acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of cephalopods, so when a good friend of mine asked if I’d be interested in doing a commission for his octopus-loving fiancée I jumped at the opportunity and spent a good chunk of my December working on this 18 x 24 acrylic painting. I really wanted to focus on the beauty of this species and add in some of my favourite details, like their simply gorgeous eyes and the fascinating double row of suckers on the arms. Did you know they can have up to 250 of those suckers per arm and can control them all independently because each arm has its own control system? Yeah, they’re awesome.

One of my favourite things about being an artist is seeing my work in people’s hands. Knowing that this octopus is now in its happy home with an owner who loves it is immensely rewarding for me, and Cat was certainly happy with her surprise!

Work in progress gallery:


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International Whale Shark Day: A gift for YOU!

If you weren’t already aware, the largest fish in the world is SO awesome that it gets its very own day of recognition! International Whale Shark Day was declared in 2008 after the 2nd International Whale Shark Conference and is celebrated on August 30th each year. You know by now that whale sharks hold a special place in my heart. Last year I helped create some educational activities for Georgia Aquarium (check out this year’s event taking place on Saturday), and this year I wanted to share the whale shark love with all of you!

I noticed that the most popular post on my blog, and the most frequent search result that lands people here, is my colouring page that I created for Sea Otter Awareness Week in 2012. I’m so thrilled that people enjoy it so much, and excited to move forward with my plan of creating a full marine life colouring book in the coming months. Anything I can do to help kids get interested in marine life (and art)!

With that said, I created this colouring sheet for you to download, print and share with the children in your life (there is also no shame in colouring it yourself) in celebration of Whale Shark Day 2014! I’m offering this for free, and all I ask is that you do not use my artwork for any other purposes, remove my website link or claim it as your own. If you would like to host this on your website, please just let me know (jenrichardsart [at] gmail)! Thank you!PDF link for easy download

The image features a feeding whale shark (feel free to add your own plankton/krill/fish eggs) as well as a school of juvenile golden trevally and a yellowfin tuna.


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Logo design: Diving With Heroes

Recently I completed a logo commission for a new non-profit organisation called Diving With Heroes, which seeks to introduce veterans to the world of diving. My client shares my love of whale sharks and wanted one to feature in the logo, so I produced a number of concepts before we settled on the final design (who has been affectionately nicknamed Reggie). This was a lot of fun to work on and I’m proud to have been able to have been involved with this group. Be sure to check them out!


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Sepia bandensis: A Love Story

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t think cephalopods are fascinating creatures. Who doesn’t enjoy watching an octopus change colour, figure out a puzzle, or even just crawl across its habitat with its eight sinuous arms? I’d always been interested in this unusual group of animals, but something changed a couple of months ago when I was introduced to a species I hadn’t met before. At first I was excited to see them, and eagerly watched them feed and adjust to their new surroundings. Days later, I found myself wandering back to them and watching them a bit more. I took a few photos. And then I found myself making a point of going to see them. I started to film them going about their little lives. And then before I knew it, I was going to see them every chance I could, and waxing poetic about them to anyone who was interested.

And then I realised… I love dwarf cuttlefish.

I am truly enchanted by them. They aren’t the first cuttlefish species I’ve seen, but getting to spend time with these little guys and observing them interact with each other and grow has me absolutely smitten. Their mantle tends to measure only about 2.8 inches (7 cm) in length, but there’s a lot packed into this tiny package. They’ve got eight arms, two tentacles, three hearts, a beak, and absolutely fascinating eyes. And, like other cephalopods, they can rapidly change the colour and texture of their skin using chromatophores. So. Awesome.


Please excuse the bumpy start, but enjoy 46 seconds of cuteness.

charcoalcuttle02_wmI knew I had to paint one, but that presented a challenge. They’d shown me so many different behaviours and appearances I couldn’t settle on just one, so… I did three! I’ve had quite the busy year so far so I didn’t have much time to dedicate to painting, but I did begin to explore cuttlefish by doing some pencil sketches. I even ventured into using charcoal for the first time since secondary school! The variety of textures they can present on their bodies is amazing, so I wanted to have some fun with different mediums. When I finally found some time to start painting them, I kept the same mindset: I wanted to retain the joy I feel when I watch them in person, so I let loose with a bunch of different things. I used sponges, laid paint on thickly, and even flicked watered-down paint on them. It was a lot of fun! Each canvas measures only 5 x 7 inches. Here’s a closer look at each one:

 

If cephalopods are your thing, I hope you enjoyed this lengthy post! If this is your first time hearing about dwarf cuttlefish, I hope you’ve fallen for them too.


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Meeting Wyland

Sometimes the opportunity arises to get involved with something utterly brilliant that really motivates you as an artist, and that happened to me today: I got to meet Wyland!

The art lesson begins!

The art lesson begins!

Wyland at work, showing the kids some cool tips and tricks.

Wyland at work, showing the kids some cool tips and tricks.

When you’re into marine life, Wyland’s art is difficult to miss. His influence is remarkable and the scale at which he often works is astounding – I got to see one of his Whaling Walls (#33) in Long Beach, California in 2007. His dedication to conservation and outreach through the Wyland Foundation is truly remarkable and extremely inspiring; I felt honoured to be able to witness it in action today. He was in Atlanta to unveil a massive canvas – his largest to date at 8 x 24 feet! – at Georgia Aquarium and kick off the National “Water Is Life” Mural and Art Challenge. Local schoolkids and art teachers were there to help emphasise the importance of art in schools and Wyland even held an art lesson for the students. It was a joy to watch him share his passion for his marine subjects with the kids and encourage them to express themselves through painting. I particularly enjoyed hearing him suggest they draw their ocean, their image of how the ocean should be – “Hopefully clean!”

Wyland and I!

Wyland and I!

As an Ocean Artists Society member I was especially eager to meet and thank one of our founders, and no sooner were the words “Ocean Artists Society” out of my mouth when he exclaimed “You’re one of us!” There was a lot of high fiving. I was blown away by his friendliness and encouragement. I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing when he asked me if I’d come and paint with him and the kids on a large collaborative mural; it’s kind of something you can’t refuse. And so I did! I added a little blacktip reef shark that was soon joined by lots of fish, jellies, dolphins and many other animals, which were topped off by Wyland’s signature tail flukes. These collaborative murals are such a wonderful concept for community events like this and I loved how many little AND big kids had a go! It was a real treat to see, throughout the whole day, how easily art, conservation and fun could be brought together and inspire so many to get involved. Myself included!

A little shout out goes to Fredrix Artist Canvas, who co-sponsored the event and were amazingly lovely.


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Sea Otter Awareness Week 2013

It’s that time of year again! Sea Otter Awareness Week 2013 is almost over, but it’s never too late to celebrate the hairiest of all mammals. Last year I shared the colouring sheet I created for Georgia Aquarium’s SOAW, but this year’s event saw me collaborating with a good friend who just happens to be crazy about sea otters. She created a very cute little narrative for me to illustrate that would cover some of the milestones in the first year of sea otter’s life – a “Watch Me Grow” pup journal to be given out for free. It was a lot of fun to work on! The journals double as colouring books and allow kids to name “their” sea otter and learn what it’s like to grow up in the chilly waters of the west coast. These were handed out on the first day of SOAW on Sunday 22nd and will also be available tomorrow (Saturday 28th), so if you’re in the area and want to pick one up – as well as have a LOT of sea otter-related fun with activities and storytelling – you should stop by! If you’re nowhere near Atlanta, check out the list of participating organisations and see if you can pop in to your local aquarium or zoo. You won’t find my artwork, but you WILL find a lot of enthusiastic, dedicated people who would love to talk to you about sea otters and other wonderful animals!

I believe that after this week, the journal will be available to download from Georgia Aquarium’s SOAW page. I’ll let you know!


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Whale Shark Weekend

Did you know that the 30th of August was International Whale Shark Day? Declared in 2008 during the 2nd International Whale Shark Conference (hey, I’ve heard of that!), it’s a good date for all things Rhincodon typus. This year, Georgia Aquarium hosted Whale Shark Weekend on August 30th and 31st to bring some special attention to the world’s largest fish through activities, presentations, lectures and even the premiere of Guy Harvey’s new film Whale Sharks of the Yucatan. It was exactly the kind of event I would have loved to have been present for… but I was unfortunately busy elsewhere in Atlanta and not appropriately dressed. But I got involved another way: I helped create the activities!

Additionally, the original logo design for IWSC3 (affectionately nicknamed "Bubba") served a new purpose as the mascot for the aquarium event.

Additionally, the original logo design for IWSC3 (affectionately nicknamed “Bubba”) served a new purpose as the mascot for the aquarium event.

One of my favourite things about whale sharks is the uniqueness of their markings: each individual has a spot pattern that is unlike that of any other, making photo identification an effective way to study them. As this research is something the aquarium is extensively involved in, I thought it would be fun to get kids to create their very own whale shark with a unique pattern of spots. I made a complete version with markings and one without, and was chuffed to see that both were put to some fun use! The “naked” version was blown up onto a big board so that guests could actually use their thumbs to apply dots of white paint, making it a nice collaborative effort. The complete version was given a background and made into a cute little jigsaw puzzle for them to colour and fit together. Though I wasn’t able to be at the event, I was so happy to see the photos and know that I did my own little part to get kids engaged with one of the coolest animals on the planet!

Photos from Georgia Aquarium’s Whale Shark Weekend gallery on Facebook


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Why I paint

Today brought an experience that reminded me why I do what I do. I love marine life (surprise!), love to paint marine life, and hope that my work can inspire people to care about marine life just a bit more. I also hope that through sharing my art more people can experience the joy that can come from painting the things you love.

I was recently told by a family member on my husband’s side that she’d shown my paintings to her animal-loving niece, who has special needs. She said that her niece had loved my work and that it had inspired her to start painting, which is a huge compliment for any artist. I was actually able to meet this girl today, and she presented me with this:

A gorgeous painting of Keiko!

A gorgeous painting of Keiko!

I was beyond touched. To have inspired someone to pick up a paintbrush is one thing, but to actually be given something they did as a thank you is simply wonderful. Not only that, but Keiko was an orca that was close to my heart (as he was for a lot of us), and being able to bond with her over our connection to this particular animal was especially lovely. This will be going up on the wall of my studio for those occasions – us arty types all have them – when I may need reminding of why I paint. Thank you, Elaine!


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The Adventures of Shark Stanley

While this isn’t an update about any art I’m currently working on (although I do have new prints available!), I wanted to use this space to highlight a unique project I feel quite strongly about.

Here’s what you need to know. Only ten species of sharks, rays and skates (elasmobranchs), out of many hundreds, are internationally protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) at this time: sawfish (7 species), whale sharks, basking sharks and great white sharks. It was recently proposed that ten more be considered for inclusion on Appendix II: scalloped, smooth, and great hammerheads, porbeagle and oceanic whitetip sharks, both manta ray species, and three species of river stingray. (Right now scalloped hammerheads are only protected under CITES Appendix III in Costa Rica, and porbeagle sharks in the European Union.) Overexploitation of these species has had particularly devastating effects on their populations; sightings of reef mantas in Mozambique alone have declined by about 86% in less than a decade. CITES is set to convene in Bangkok in March 2013 to vote on these proposals.

Shark Stanley

This is where Shark Stanley comes in. In the spirit of Flat Stanley – a character I encountered and posed with quite frequently working in public aquaria education – this very cute little hammerhead is traveling the world to find supporters of shark and manta ray conservation. He’s the brainchild of Shark Defenders, and the idea is to compile a kind of photographic petition to send to the governments voting at CITES in order to get their support. The goal is to find 50 celebrities and organisations to partner with Shark Stanley and collect at least 5000 photos from all 176 CITES member countries. Not only was the adorable Showing our support!illustration (by the incredibly talented Daniel Yagmin Jr.) difficult to resist and the idea inventive, but elasmobranch conservation is near and dear to my heart, especially when it comes to manta rays. I had to get involved, and had a particularly large friend help me express my support. Fingers crossed!

If you’d like to take part in Shark Stanley’s adventures too, check out the Shark Defenders Facebook page. Print the little guy out, take your photo, and share it via social media (or by emailing info@sharkdefenders.com) using the hashtags #SharkStanley and that of your country of origin to spread the message!

 

Edit on 12/24/2012: I’m so very proud to be an official partner of Shark Stanley! Let’s get these precious elasmobranchs better international protection!