Jen Richards

Wildlife artist

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Cephalopod Awareness Days 2016

It’s the most wunderful time of the year: Cephalopod Awareness Days! October 8th-12th is the time to celebrate the world’s most intelligent invertebrates. Established in 2007 by The Octopus News Magazine Online (TONMO), Cephalopod Awareness Days are a way to bring awareness to the diversity, conservation and biology of octopuses (October 8th), nautilids (October 9th), cuttlefishes and squid (October 10th), cephalopods in legends and popular culture (October 11th) and their ancient relatives (October 12th).

If you’ve been following me for a while you already know I have a weakness for cephalopods (especially cuttlefish!), so I drew a colouring page featuring the four extant types to celebrate. Please feel free to download it, print it, share it, enjoy it, and use it to spread the love of some of the coolest creatures on the planet – all I ask is that you do not remove my website link from the image. Click on the link below the image preview to get your free PDF, and colour away to your three hearts’* content!

Download colouring page here!

*Did you know cephalopods have three hearts? All the more to love.

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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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Chambered nautilus sketch I did after finally seeing some in person in Monterey.

Chambered nautilus sketch I did after finally seeing some in person in Monterey.

It’s no secret that I love cephalopods. I’m particularly smitten with cuttlefish, but I find all species fascinating. How could you not? These invertebrates are mollusks – yes, like snails and clams – but their remarkable intelligence and diversity sets them apart. On one end of the scale size-wise you have the fingernail-sized pygmy squid (Idiosepius notoides) and on the other you’ve got the enormous colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni). In the middle of all that you’ll find the absolutely spectacular flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi), who pack a lot of flashiness into their three-inch stature; the mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) who can imitate other sea creatures from a lionfish to a sea snake; the chambered nautilus (Nautilus pompilius) who boasts 90 tentacles… the list goes on. And on. They’re that awesome.

A lot of people have expressed their interest in a cephalopod-related design from me, which was lovely to hear because I’ve been planning on doing one for a while! I’m happy to finally share this fun little piece I created for my new shop. I’m a big fan of wanting better representation for the more unusual marine species on things like scarves and phone cases… and I’ve even put these little guys on skirts and leggings too! Hope you enjoy.

Now you can wear them! Be as cool as a flamboyant cuttlefish. Yeah, I said it.

Now you can wear them! Be as cool as a flamboyant cuttlefish. Yeah, I said it.

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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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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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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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Return of the Giant Pacific Octopus


I’ve painted one of these beauties before and had quite a lot of fun with it even if suckers are possibly the most tedious thing in the world to draw, let alone paint. Apparently, when I’m sick I like to torture myself by reliving that tediousness by drawing even more of them. Fun octopus fact: the only hard part of their body is their beak… so if the beak fits, the whole octopus fits. It’s kind of awesome.


On Cephalopods and Science Fiction

Enter: Octopus!“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same.”

Lines from my favourite book tend to pop into my head whenever I’m watching our giant Pacific octopus working on whatever enrichment item she has her tentacles on. Sometimes the main theme from Jeff Wayne’s musical version starts playing in there too. Cephalopods really are remarkable animals and I’ve been meaning to paint one for a long time; their intelligence and quite alien appearance has me weirdly enthralled. Recently I watched ours open a network of opaque jars to get to the crab claws inside, and as she did so her skin colour and texture changed before my eyes – something I’d never been in the right place at the right time to see before. It was really something.

I’d started on this small 8 x 10 canvas several months ago, every now and again drifting back to it to slap on some base colours and “doodle” between larger pieces. I wanted to explore texture and colour a bit more, and a cephalopod seemed like the perfect subject, as the possibilities are nigh endless there. It was only in the last couple of weeks that I actually started to focus on it a bit more and decided to finish it. I wish the textures were more apparent in the scan, but it was fun to loosen up a bit in an attempt to paint something that wasn’t a smooth-skinned cetacean. Looking forward to improving further!

In progress. Evidently I preferred sitting on the floor for the entirety of this one.