Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


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J27 Commission

j27_wmRecently I was commissioned to create a tattoo design of the southern resident orca J27 (Blackberry) as a stippled ink piece. This is a style I absolutely love doing, and have been doing small-scale orca pieces using it throughout the year (these have mostly been shared on my Instagram). Needless to say, I was particularly pumped up about this project and had a great experience working through the design with the client. The original drawing is on its way to her and her tattoo artist will take it from there – I can’t wait to see the final-final version!

Here’s a look at some of the work that went into it, from initial sketches to the ink itself.


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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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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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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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Art Gone Wild 2015: Paint Out Week – Days 1 & 2

My favourite week of the year is in full swing! Yesterday was the first day of Paint Out Week at Zoo Atlanta, and I’m one of several artists creating works en plein air celebrating the zoo’s animals and exhibits for the next few days. It’s brilliant to see so many familiar faces from last year, and just like before, the diversity of styles is astounding! I can’t wait to see everyone’s completed works at the Art Gone Wild show on the 13th.

I definitely got a few curious looks.

I definitely got a few curious looks.

Monday: I started the first day off in the Living Treehouse, one of my favourite spots whenever I visit. It’s home to a stunning collection of birds and I knew already that I wanted to paint a racket-tailed roller, so I set to work. The birds and I seemed just as interested in each other so it proved a distracting painting location for me, but it was still a fun experience. I forgot, however, that even though it wasn’t raining it was still a stupid idea to try to paint under a large tree whose rustling leaves provided the same effect at random. That plus the humidity of the morning prompted me to move inside the treehouse, which was freezing but at least allowed me to get my base colours on (and my paint could finally dry!). I’m going to finish this little guy tomorrow.

Racket-tailed roller in progress.

Racket-tailed roller in progress.

In the afternoon I set up in Scaly, Slimy, Spectacular, the awesome new reptile and amphibian building. I quickly established the base of an emerald tree boa painting, but the light wasn’t ideal for it and I’m not sure if I’ll continue with it. Love this species though.

Very much a messy work in progress.

Tuesday: I’d said last month that because I had painted two rhino pieces for the show last year I’d branch out a bit (despite my love of painting rhinos). And yet… this is where I found myself this morning. Can you really blame me?

Zoo Atlanta's adult male rhino, Utenzi, had his horn removed earlier this year due to concerns about the cracks he'd had in it since his arrival.

Zoo Atlanta’s adult male rhino, Utenzi, had his horn removed earlier this year due to concerns about the cracks he’d had in it since his arrival.

After spending most of the day with the lovely Utenzi and chatting with guests while I worked, I took some time to gather more inspiration for my other paintings this week. While doing so I stumbled onto a snake presentation and got to be just a foot or two away from a green anaconda without barriers – super awesome for this snake nerd! Looking forward to returning tomorrow to tackle some new subjects. (Not literally though.)

pbbbttt

pbbbttt


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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.


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Art Gone Wild: Day Three

Idgie getting comfy.

Idgie getting comfy.

Today was my last day of Paint Out Week, as I’m going out of state tomorrow morning and will be missing the final two days. I’ve had such a fabulous time during Art Gone Wild and I’m excited to get back to finishing each of my pieces so that they’re ready to go for the art show and silent auction next week!

As mentioned yesterday, I wanted to finish my little red panda painting. Did you know that the human brain is physically incapable of processing the cuteness of a red panda? It’s true. It was a lot of fun to spend a few hours with Idgie this morning and I got a lot of positive feedback from guests and zoo team members alike. This was my first time painting fur – and I actually enjoyed it! There are still a few bits I’d like to fix, but she’s near completion. I really liked working with such bright, warm colours.

A lovely friend of mine stopped by and snapped a couple of photos while I worked. Thank you, Linda!

One last thing… Over the last three days I’ve experienced the most wonderful treatment from Zoo Atlanta staff and volunteers. Everyone I’ve met has been incredibly welcoming and encouraging to the artists and it’s helped us feel at home from the get go. It’s a real testament to the team there, and I especially want to thank Julia for all of her hard work. 


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Art Gone Wild: Day Two

Today’s main subjects were much larger and less feathery than yesterday’s. I’ve felt the urge to paint a rhino for ages, so I got right to it when I arrived at the zoo early this morning – and didn’t just start one, but two! Last year Zoo Atlanta celebrated its first rhino birth in its 124-year history, and little (read: big) Jabari is too precious not to feature. Black rhinos are incredibly fun to paint and I’m hoping to do another piece (featuring dad Utenzi) before the art show and silent auction on the 14th. This one is far from being finished, but I did switch to a new subject later in the afternoon as a refresher. More to come tomorrow!

I must also add that one of my favourite things about Art Gone Wild is being able to meet and chat with other artists. The variety of pieces I’ve seen being created so far (across many mediums) is astounding, and I can’t wait to see everything at the art show. Being around so many fellow artists is definitely inspiring.


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Art Gone Wild: Day One

Today was the first day of Zoo Atlanta’s Art Gone Wild event! Since being selected as a participating artist a few months ago I’ve been eagerly anticipating a few days of painting alongside some truly wonderful animals – and of course stepping outside of my comfort zone. Not only am I branching out and tackling feathers and fur instead of fins and flukes, I’m also painting… in public. I’m quite a private person when it comes to the actual creation of my art, as I feel most comfortable losing myself in my work without being disturbed (and usually blasting Florence + The Machine), so the idea of putting my process on display was quite a terrifying thought at first. But after the first day of this simply awesome event, I can honestly say that I had a blast.

Shortly after arriving this morning I was shuttled straight to my most desired spot: a slightly shaded area in front of the wreathed hornbill exhibit. I was well into establishing some flat colours on my canvas when I moved away from my easel to stretch my legs, and realised that one of the Sumatran tigers was lounging at the window right behind me. Pretty much the coolest neighbour to have first thing in the morning before the zoo opens. I spent all day in this area, every now and again shifting my setup as I chased the shade. It was unbelievably cool to spend so much time with my subject as he went about his day, often providing his own soundtrack (hornbills make the cutest barking sounds). It was also fun to chat with guests as they passed through the space and provided feedback on my work. A little girl even told me she wanted “to grow up to do that.” Oh my goodness.

I’m not finished with this hornbill piece yet but wanted to share my progress! I’m going to work on him some more tomorrow, but I’m also looking forward to taking on a new subject. Unfortunately I can’t participate in the event on Thursday or Friday, but there’s a VERY good reason for that – I’ll be sure to share what it is when I return on Sunday!

With my fabulous subject in the background.

With my fabulous subject in the background.

If you’re in Atlanta, you should stop by this week to see us in action! You can also attend the art show and silent auction on Saturday 14th June, when you can bid on our creations to raise funds for Zoo Atlanta.


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On Patrol

On Patrol

I would be lying if I told you that this painting hadn’t haunted me. Not in the sense that gangs of bottlenose dolphins were chasing me in my nightmares (honestly a rather terrifying scenario), but because I actually started this about three years ago. And then I didn’t like it, so I painted over it and tried again. Then I tried again. Then I put it aside for a few months. And then picked it up again, painted over it, and tried again… you get the idea. Eventually it became my nemesis; when I would work on something else it would be there in the corner of the room, staring at me. I had to defeat it.

Attempt number... something.

Attempt number… something.

Bottlenose dolphins don’t seem to have the most interesting physical characteristics at first glance; certainly not as striking as orcas (sorry, I’m biased) or other members of their oceanic dolphin family (Pacific white-sided and hourglass dolphins spring to mind), but I’ve always been fond of those odd little lines on their melon and the subtle countershading. And it’s not like the general public doesn’t go crazy over the bottlenose – the species is synonymous with the very word “dolphin”. (Seriously, take a look… how many non-bottlenose can you see?) Because of the world’s unwavering fascination with them – whether it’s because of their intelligence or magical sparkly moon powers – bottlenose dolphins often get waved off as being overrated. While I’ll be among the first to admit that they’re not my favourite marine species ever ever ever, it’s important to recognise that animals like bottlenose dolphins can be key to effective conservation efforts.

Contaminants like PCBs and DDT are really good at accumulating in animal fats. What are marine mammals like dolphins completely covered in? Oh, yeah – blubber. This means that as these apex predators eat things and be generally good at what they’ve evolved to do, pollutants that originate in everyday things we use like pesticides and fertilisers actually build up in their bodies (a process known as bioaccumulation). And how do these pollutants end up in the dolphins’ food, exactly? Through runoff and industrial waste that gets pumped into marine ecosystems, which begin to  turn up in organisms on the lower levels of the food chain as well as cause cause harmful algae blooms. Florida’s troubled Indian River Lagoon is a prime example of this, and its dolphins are part of an important collaborative research project – Health and Environmental Risk Assessments (HERA) – that looks at their health status. The dolphins are sentinels: their health, or lack of, tells us what’s going on. The results can then be used for action.

So why is it that I said dolphins can be key? Well, people love them. And if people love dolphins and want to help them have a healthy environment to live in, a lot more than just dolphins can reap the benefits (we like a healthy environment too, don’t we?). In the end, it’s good that these animals are popular – we just need a little less of the supernatural and a lot more of the educational.


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Wanderers

'Wanderers'

I decided to take a little break from the acrylics and dedicate myself to some pencil work. It’s been a while since I spent so long on something that wasn’t a painting, but I really enjoyed the process and it definitely brought back my love of working in graphite. Though I delight in the ease of being able to pick it up and put it back down again without having to wash brushes and pots, I actually find pencil work far more challenging. If I make an error with acrylics I can “easily” paint over it (not without excessive grumbling, I’ll admit), but a mistake in the middle of a complicated piece with its layers of tones is a lot more difficult to fix – it can terribly mess up the flow and will stick out like a sore thumb… at least in my experience. So I really took my time with this one, stopping when I got too tired or began to get distracted (my biggest curse). Here’s a look at the progress:

progress


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Break Out

Break Out

This weekend I broke a world record: the least amount of time, for me, between starting and finishing a painting. This is both very new and somewhat of an accident. Usually I start working on a piece, slapping on some base colours and playing with composition and lighting a bit, then go off to do Life Stuff. I’ll go back to the canvas to do a little bit more when I can, but the whole process can take weeks depending on the scale of it. On Friday evening I picked up an old 8 x 10 canvas board I’d abandoned and started fleshing out a new manta ray painting, as I simply love mantas but have never painted them (my piece “Takeoff” was a pencil sketch that I coloured digitally). On Saturday morning I decided I hated everything about the water and painted over it… and over it. And over it. While my fourth attempt was drying, I dug out another 8 x 10 and decided to do something different.

Beginning to plot the composition out...

Beginning to plot the composition out…

I admit it – orcas really aren’t that different for me. They’re my favourite animal ever (ever), and like many people around the world I was very concerned about the pod that was trapped by ice in a remote section of Hudson Bay last week. I was thrilled to hear about their apparent escape, but the footage I saw of them surfacing and spyhopping stuck with me. The colours of that scene were incredible. I’ve been meaning to paint an icy scene involving orcas for a couple of years now (and have quietly tried a few unsuccessful times), and thought this would be a good time to give it another go. That stunning colour palette would be quite different for me, and I wanted to remember those whales and their story. I was quite touched to learn that the people of Inukjuak ...and starting to flesh things out more.had planned to make their own breaks in the ice to help the pod had they still been trapped, and to hear of their joy when they discovered they’d been able to move on. It’s a testament to how deeply we care about these animals no matter where they are – the world watched as a small and remote village prepared to step in where we couldn’t, and we all shared the relief as the whales left.

Starting something on a Saturday and finishing it the following Monday (around work) isn’t a bad start to my year. I hope I can be as productive for the rest of it!


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(Spy)hopping to it

Now that our wedding has happened and life is finally settling down again, it feels amazing to be able to dedicate some time to painting. This is a little peek at something I started about a month ago but haven’t had time to work on until this week, and I’m having some fun with it. The colder weather makes me crave a beautiful stormy sea and there’s never a time when I don’t want to paint orcas, but the finished piece will also feature something I’ve never painted before. It’s a good learning process!


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Seeing stars

If asked to describe what the largest fish on the planet looks like, one of the first things you’d probably say is that it’s covered in white spots. That’s true! But what a lot of people don’t seem to see as clearly are how the spots transition rather beautifully into stripes, which then become alternating vertical bands of spots and stripes all the way down to the caudal fin (take a look at this one!). It’s absolutely gorgeous colouration, and one of my favourite things about whale sharks physically. It’s obvious why Project Domino is so named. In Madagascar the whale shark is known as marokintana, which means “many stars”. In the Kiswahili language, it’s papa shillingi – “shark covered in shillings”. From the East African Whale Shark Trust: “There is a local legend that God was so pleased when he created this beautiful fish, that he gave his angels handfuls of gold and silver coins to throw down from heaven onto its back.  So it goes that whale sharks have their magical markings and swim near the surface, catching the sun on their backs, as a way of saying thank you to their maker.” I’m kind of a sucker for cool creation legends.

The markings responsible for these fantastic names are kind of hellish to paint, though. Every single whale shark has unique markings (which allow researchers to identify individuals), so I know I have a certain amount of freedom when it comes to the placement of these spots and (eventual) stripes, but I want to ensure that what I’m painting is still within the boundaries of typical whale shark patterns. I spend a lot of time observing our whale sharks, and one of our females has these stunning diagonal lines just above her pectoral fins. I’m thinking she just might be the inspiration for this one.