Jen Richards

Wildlife artist

Leave a comment


In Johannesburg right now, the 17th CITES Conference of the Parties (#CoP17) is taking place. From September 23rd to October 5th, over 2000 government representatives from all over the world will decide which species will see new international protection. You might remember the 16th CoP, which was a huge success for sharks and rays – the number of elasmobranch species listed under Appendix II increased from three to eight. There’s still a long way to go.

This year there are proposals for several more sharks and rays to be listed: all thresher sharks, all mobula rays, the silky shark and the ocellate river stingray. I couldn’t resist drawing a little show of support. Best wishes to all who are currently in South Africa fighting to conserve sharks, rays, and so many other animals and plants!

Leave a comment

Sweep the Hooch 2016

Each year, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper organises Sweep the Hooch, a huge cleanup effort spanning more than 70 miles of the Chattahoochee river in Georgia. On Saturday April 9th I joined over 500 volunteers for this year’s event and had a fantastic time! I really enjoy doing river cleanups. I was lucky to grow up alongside the sea in southwest England, and even though I currently live almost 300 miles away from the nearest ocean beach I know I can help make a real difference for the ocean I love so much. Rivers lead there, of course, but that’s not the only reason I place such importance on local cleanups – they’re also important ecosystems for so many species AND provide resources, enjoyment and beauty for the community. Who doesn’t love a clean river?

The largest vodka bottle I found. Yes, they were all empty.

The largest vodka bottle I found. Yes, they were all empty.

Saturday morning was chilly, but we were excited to get going. There were about 20 of us at Island Ford Park, and the group was split in half to cover different parts of the area. My group took the route along Roberts Drive, so we got to wear some sweet National Park Service safety vests. Although we weren’t right on the river, it was still really fulfilling to clean there – roadside trash is still dangerous, unsightly, and can end up in our waterways. Plus, I reserve a special kind of hatred for people who throw rubbish out of their cars so it felt awesome to undo their grossness.

Wasn't kidding about the box spring.

Wasn’t kidding about the box spring.

My friends and I filled three bags each and found everything from vodka bottles to the remains of a car accident to an entire box spring mattress. Seeing that pile of trash we’d removed at the end of three hours’ hard work was really satisfying – I maintain that a river cleanup is one of the best things you can do for the environment and a great way to serve your community. Thanks to CRK and the entire Sweep the Hooch team! See you next time!

Leave a comment

Sharks and Rays for 31 Days: The 31

31 days ago I announced my challenge to draw or paint a different shark or ray species every single day for the entirety of July. Throughout the month, these artworks would go up for auction with the proceeds going to the wonderful non-profit Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation. 31 days, lots of pencil shavings and paint and late nights later… here they all are! Many have already gone off to their new homes with winning bidders, and I can’t thank you all enough for the ongoing encouragement and interest these past few months. I’ve seen my work shared by individuals and organisations whose work I’ve admired for years, had amazing feedback from the scientists who are working to understand and protect these very species, got to represent elasmobranchs from the popular classics to the weird deep sea residents, and challenged myself to explore mediums I’d been afraid to before.

And best of all? So far more than $1000 has been raised for Shark Advocates – and it’s not over yet! Help me raise even more by bidding on the available art  we’ve still got ten days before the last auction ends. Own my original art and do something good for sharks and rays today – and thank you!!

Leave a comment

Sharks and Rays for 31 Days: 14-18

As my current work in progress dries on the easel behind me I thought it would be a good time to share the latest five artworks in my Sharks and Rays for 31 Days challenge. I’m over halfway through now and only have 13 pieces to go! The level of interest and support in this project mean the world to me and I’m so very grateful for every retweet, like and share. As an artist it’s immensely fulfilling to see your art gaining traction but there’s a whole other level to this: these works (and the people that bid on them!) are directly supporting shark and ray conservation. That’s why, when I’m spending every minute of spare time in a day drawing, colouring, or painting an elasmobranch, I know it’s worth it. The first seven auctions have been won and the funds are being raised, and that’s awesome! Thank you, again. (Here’s a link to the current auctions!)

Shark Advocates International (the reason for this challenge) is a project of The Ocean Foundation, who published a lovely interview with me this week about the project, my art, and sharks, so do please give it a read! I’m excited for what’s next.

Now onto the art!

14 - Common skate - Watercolours over sketch.

14 – Common skate – Watercolours over pencil.

The common skate is sadly not living up to its name. There are far more species of skate than people realise, but I chose this one because of its conservation story; hopefully their populations will recover. I love the shape of skates so I wanted to focus on that for this watercolour, doing something a bit more unusual with the composition. I’m learning more every time I use watercolours, so I’m really enjoying using them.

15 - White shark - Biro, white pencil and white gel pen.

15 – White shark – Biro, white pencil and white gel pen.

We ALL knew this guy was coming eventually. White sharks are a classic, and they’re undeniably impressive. I always like using the white pencil on toned paper to highlight their undersides.

16 - Cownose ray - Watercolours over pencil.

16 – Cownose ray – Watercolours over pencil.

My scanner kind of hated this one so I apologise for a poor representation of the colours, but no one can resist a cownose ray face. I wanted to do something fun with this species as well as play with perspective a bit.

17 - Spotted wobbegong - Watercolours over pencil.

17 – Spotted wobbegong – Watercolours over pencil.

Watercolours two days in a row! This one was actually a suggestion from social media. I’d asked for people to name me a species and there were so many fantastic ideas, but the wobbegong came up more than anything else! And you know my weakness for wobbegongs, so I couldn’t help myself. I really wanted to use watercolours for those lovely markings. More follower suggestions coming soon!

18 - Bonnethead shark - Markers.

18 – Bonnethead shark – Markers.

My second go at using markers! I’m so glad I decided to continue exploring this medium, because like watercolours, I’m learning more each time and getting more comfortable with them. These little hammerheads had been on my list since the beginning, but a few people have expressed interest in seeing me draw one and I couldn’t resist any longer. They’re just so cute.


Sharks and Rays for 31 Days: 6-13

I want to give another massive thank you to everyone who’s been following me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and providing so much wonderful support and feedback on this challenge. A particularly huge thank you to Shark Advocates International and The Ocean Foundation for the encouragement! I’m excited to share that most of the artwork created so far is now on eBay and beginning to raise funds for shark and ray conservation.

Here’s a look at the pieces I’ve done since my last update!

06 - Zebra shark - Watercolours over sketch.

06 – Zebra shark – Watercolours over sketch.

I’ve had this idea in my head for a couple of years now so I was glad to have an excuse to give it a go! I really love zebra sharks and wanted to illustrate the three equally adorable “looks” they rock over their lives – pup, juvenile, and adult. I’m getting a bit more comfortable with watercolours now – this was fun to work on.

07 - Prickly dogfish - Pencil drawing.

07 – Prickly dogfish – Pencil drawing.

Before I began this challenge I promised myself I’d highlight some of the more unusual species. There are so many underloved and/or poorly known species but I knew I wanted to include one of the rough sharks, and settled on the prickly dogfish. What an odd little guy! They inhabit the temperate waters of south Australia and New Zealand at a usual depth between 300-600 m (984-1968 ft). They also have a spine on the leading edge of each dorsal fin and very rough skin, something I wanted to bring out using my trusty 6B pencil.

08 - Blacktip reef shark - Acrylics on 4 x 12 inch canvas.

08 – Blacktip reef shark – Acrylics on 4 x 12 inch canvas.

Wanted to have a play with composition here! Blacktip reef sharks are an all-time favourite of mine; in fact, they were one of the very first species of shark I ever saw as a child. They have such striking markings and I decided to focus on that trademark dorsal fin.

09 - Puffadder shyshark - Watercolours over pencil.

09 – Puffadder shyshark – Watercolours over pencil.

After doing the zebra sharks I felt braver about using watercolours and wanted to visit one of the small, underrepresented species. How can anyone NOT be absolutely in love with shysharks? They curl up when threatened and cover their eyes with their tail. I wish they’d get their very own documentary. Puffadder shysharks are endemic to South Africa and have such lovely markings. Really loved working on this one.

10 - Southern fiddler ray - Biro, coloured pencils and whit gel pen.

10 – Southern fiddler ray – Biro, coloured pencils and whit gel pen.

Also known as the banjo shark, fiddler rays have some of the most gorgeous markings among elasmobranchs. I’ve been wanting to draw one for a while!

11 - Greenland shark - Biro, coloured pencils and white gel pen.

11 – Greenland shark – Biro, coloured pencils and white gel pen.

This weekend was a really busy one for me and it was a bit of a struggle to get something done on Saturday. I’d love to revisit this one in the future, but for now this attempt at foreshortening will have to do! Greenland sharks are an utterly fascinating species – one of my favorite facts about them is that there’s a parasitic copepod, Ommatokoita elongata, that only lives in the eyes of the Greenland and Pacific sleeper sharks. What the hell, nature!

12 - Spiny dogfish - Markers.

12 – Spiny dogfish – Markers.

Shark Advocates hit the nail on the head when this drawing was captioned with “king of the under-appreciated sharks”.  The Atlantic spiny dogfish fishery is the largest shark fishery in the U.S.and is currently understood to be sustainable, but previous years of overexploitation targeting females have left stocks skewed. This is a species whose gestation lasts two years! They’re an incredible little species and I was geeking out pretty hard when I finally saw some in person at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in April. I’ve had a few markers lying around since I bought them at HeroesCon 2014 and got the sudden urge to use them for this one; I’m excited to do more with them.

13 - Shortfin Mako - Acrylics on 18 x 24 inch canvas board.

13 – Shortfin mako shark – Acrylics on 18 x 24 inch canvas board.

And here’s today’s offering, the biggest yet! Shortfin makos are simply spectacular fish. I love their flashiness and that incredible blue sheen of their skin, so I wanted to try to represent that through a slightly rougher painting style than what I usually do. Since this painting is so much larger than the others this month, I started working on it on Friday and worked on it in my limited time this weekend. Glad I got it done.

13 down… 18 more to go!


Sharks and Rays for 31 Days: The First Five

On Wednesday I began my fundraising challenge – creating art featuring a different shark or ray species every single day of July in support of Shark Advocates International – and in the last five days I’ve received so much support from you all that I’m really quite floored! It’s just so lovely to see such positive feedback early on in this project that it’s given me even more motivation to step up my game. And of course, knowing you’re all watching helps me keep accountable for reaching my goal!

Today marks the beginning of Discovery’s Shark Week so it’s a rather fitting time to take a look at the first five Sharks and Rays for 31 Days artworks and my reasons for choosing these species. I’ll be launching the first round of auctions later this week, so if you’ve got your eye on one of these pieces, you’re definitely going to want to follow me on social media! And if you can’t wait until the first auction to support Shark Advocates, you can donate directly to them any time you like.

01 - Oceanic whitetip shark

01 – Oceanic whitetip shark – Biro, white gel pen and white pencil on toned grey paper.

Oceanic whitetips are a longtime favourite of mine. I’ve always been in awe of their beauty, and two years ago I painted one in celebration of the big elasmobranch win at CITES CoP 16. Did you know that Jacques Cousteau referred to them as “Lord of the Long Hands”? I have to agree: those pectoral fins are something else.

02 - Lesser devil ray

02 – Lesser devil ray – Watercolour over sketch.

There’s just something mesmerising about a large school of mobulid rays. I created and posted this during the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission meeting that would decide on strengthening protections for several shark and ray species, notably mantas and mobulids. I’m happy to share that there’s good news on that front for the rays, but sadly there is still a lot more work to be done.

03 - Great hammerhead shark - acrylic on canvas

03 – Great hammerhead shark – Acrylic on 11 x 14 canvas.

Day three saw me complete the first full painting of the challenge. Hammerheads are absolutely iconic, and they don’t come bigger than the up-to-20-feet great hammerhead. I wanted to capture a couple of different angles with this one. Like other hammerheads, these guys have long been overexploited and their populations continue to decline, making them an Endangered species.

04 - Spotted eagle ray - Biro, white gel pen and white pencil.

04 – Spotted eagle ray – Biro, white gel pen and white pencil on toned grey paper.

Who doesn’t love a spotted eagle ray? I love this species for their unusual snouts that they use to find their benthic prey and thought the white pencil and pen would be a fun way to highlight those lovely spots. Sadly, though, they are a Near Threatened species.

05 - Atlantic sharpnose shark - Acrylics on 5 x 7 wood panel.

05 – Atlantic sharpnose shark – Acrylics on 5 x 7 wood panel.

If you’ve ever seen an Atlantic sharpnose, even just a photo, you know already how impossibly cute they are. I wanted to have a bit of fun with this one so I painted him on a small wood panel – something I’ve done before but find a challenge because of how differently the paint behaves. It was nice to show some support for one of the little guys!

So that’s 5 down, 26 more to go… and I’m looking forward to every single one. Please feel free to suggest some of your favourite species for me to include!


Sharks and Rays for 31 Days

Do you love sharks and rays? Do you want to help sharks and rays? Do you want to own multiple original artworks from me featuring sharks and rays? Then I’ve got some fun news for you!

I just can’t get enough of these utterly wonderful animals so all throughout July I’ll be making, sharing, and donating art to raise funds for vital conservation work through non-profit Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation. SAI’s mission is “to provide leadership in advancing sound, science-based local, national, and international conservation policies through collaboration with a diverse array of organizations and decision makers.” Sharks and Rays for 31 Days will see me posting artwork featuring a different elasmobranch species every single day, whether it’s a sketch, more detailed drawing, or even a painting. Throughout the month, collections of these pieces will be available for auction with the proceeds going to SAI.

Please follow my progress and help me support sharks and rays! I’ll be posting updates right here on the blog, but daily pictures will be found on my social media accounts: Twitter || Facebook || Instagram #SharksandRaysfor31Days

Shark Advocates International: Website ||  Facebook || Twitter
The Ocean Foundation: Website || Facebook || Twitter

See you on Wednesday, July 1st!

Leave a comment

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.

1 Comment

Diving with the Coral Restoration Foundation

Recently I planted Critically Endangered staghorn coral on a reef.

That is the coolest sentence I have ever typed.  A few weeks ago I joined my coworkers and some wonderful volunteers from Georgia Aquarium (a sponsor of this project) on a trip to Key Largo to spend some time with the Coral Restoration Foundation. We’d been planning it for a while and I was beyond excited: not only was this going to be my first ever trip to the Florida Keys, but it was my first time diving in a couple of years and I was excited to be taking part in such an important conservation project. I celebrate the ocean and its wildlife through my artwork, but it’s also vital for me to put this appreciation into action.

The Coral Restoration Foundation is a non-profit organisation that creates offshore coral nurseries and programs to help restore reefs. CRF’s techniques were developed to be accessible and affordable, meaning they can be implemented around the world and can currently be seen in action in Bonaire and Colombia as well as in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. One of these techniques is an innovative “tree” design, which allows fragments of coral to be suspended on a framework that floats in the water column. All coral fragments in the nursery are categorized by genotype; since this project takes advantage of corals’ ability to reproduce asexually it’s important that genetic diversity is maintained. When the fragments on the trees are mature enough, they’re taken to a depleted reef to be outplanted. Hopefully, those outplanted corals will get established and form a healthy new colony.

Ready to learn at CRF. Bonus: Seeing OAS founder Wyland's artwork!

Ready to learn at CRF. Bonus: Seeing OAS founder Wyland’s artwork!

Friday 6th June: Helping in the Nursery

Our morning started with a fun session at CRF’s headquarters where we learned more about the organisation’s origin, mission, and its various farming methods and the pros/cons of each (except the “tree” technique, which is remarkably successful!). As a professional marine educator myself it was awesome to see the CRF interns, who led the session, so pumped up and excited about their work and about corals. It was contagious! We couldn’t wait to get hands-on, using old fragments to practice looping and threading the wire before crimping it in place with pliers. It was also really reinforcing to see a print by Wyland on display – I’ve been an Ocean Artists Society member for two years and am proud to be following in one of our founders’ footsteps in supporting this brilliant cause.

A helper in the trees!

A helper in the trees!

Good view of one of the trees in the nursery.

Good view of one of the trees in the nursery.

After lunch, we met with Keys Diver to head out to the CRF nursery. It felt AMAZING to be back on the water. Before I moved to Atlanta I spent my entire life in Torquay, England, and was spoiled by its close proximity to the sea. Every time I return to the coast now it’s like seeing an old friend again. Unlike the slightly chillier waters of the UK though, the view from the boat zipping out from the Key Largo horizon was like looking down through turquoise glass – I could see all the way to the bottom. When we reached our destination we could see the trees and the live rock beds of the nursery clearly from above the surface. I felt giddy, and it wasn’t just motion sickness; I’d been admiring CRF’s work for years, and to be seeing it with my own eyes was quite moving. Descending 30 feet down and being among the rows and rows of trees is a sight I won’t soon forget. It’s just such an awesome conservation effort.

Getting ready to suspend new coral fragments on a tree. I'm on the left.

Getting ready to suspend new coral fragments on a tree. I’m on the left.

Attaching fragments to the tree. I'm on the right, having already suspended mine.

Attaching fragments to the tree. I’m on the right, having already suspended mine.

Our group was split into smaller ones to be guided by a CRF team leader. Blue Team, clearly the most awesome one (not that I’m biased…) started by using brushes and chisels to scrape algae growth off the framework of the trees. We were very quickly joined by a fanclub of hogfish, angelfish and wrasses that swarmed around us to pick up the tasty morsels we were removing. I felt not unlike a Disney princess, albeit one with a tank of high pressure gas on my back and a rather fetching mask. It was right here that I got my first experience with fire coral. That’s some fun stuff!

After cleaning trees, we took new fragments of staghorn coral and suspended them from the upper branches. It was immensely satisfying to place a brand new piece of coral in the nursery. Grow, little guys, grow!


Staghorn corals collected from the nursery and ready to be outplanted. Photo by Halef G.

Staghorn corals collected from the nursery and ready to be outplanted. Photo by Halef G.

Saturday 7th June

Outplanting day! After helping out in the nursery the day before, Saturday’s dives would see us taking mature staghorn fragments out to Pickles Reef, an area southeast of Key Largo. Before we set out, we had another fun morning at the CRF building as we learned exactly how outplanting worked. Using Play-Doh as our epoxy, we practiced finding appropriate attachment points for coral fragments and how to place them on the reef.

Pickles Reef. Lovely!

Pickles Reef. Lovely!

Our journey to Pickles Reef first took us for a brief stop at the nursery so that the CRF team could collect the fragments from the day before. While we waited on the boat, who should surface alongside us but Ken Nedimyer, Coral Restoration Foundation founder and CNN Hero!

We were all eager to get in the water with our corals once we arrived. I was especially raring to go because this would be my very first reef dive! Pickles Reef isn’t very deep, but it really is beautiful. It was awesome to see it so vibrant with life – parrotfish, grunts, porkfish, and yellow stingrays to name a few. We even saw some staghorn corals that had already become established.

Clearing some space for the coral! I'm on the right.

Clearing some space for the coral! I’m on the right.

Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of coral restoration.

Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of coral restoration.

Our team leader selected an appropriate spot for us to get to work. We used hammers to scrape algae off the reef and create a clear spot to place our coral, ensuring that each of us was keeping our pieces in close proximity to each other so that it would be easier for them to come together to form a new colony. Once we’d cleared three anchor points (three means more stability for the fragments), we used a special non-toxic epoxy to adhere the coral to the reef and then waved our hands over it, creating a little bit of motion, to make sure it was secure. The epoxy would set in about 45 minutes. During this whole process we were joined by a school of juvenile bluehead wrasses, who were adorable! I liked to think of them as little supervisors checking up on our progress. It was really encouraging to watch these little fish immediately begin utilising our newly placed coral as a habitat, darting underneath it and munching on the algae we’d removed.

Bonus video! I’m on the right, and partway through you can see me inspect a new fire coral sting on my hand. Told you that stuff was fun. Video taken by Terri Frazier.

A look at some of the newly outplanted coral fragments from another team.

A look at some of the newly outplanted coral fragments from another team.

Altogether, our team planted dozens of staghorn coral fragments on Pickles Reef. I personally planted six, and it remains the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I really hope to take part in this project again in the future and donate more of my time to CRF, whose efforts in restoring reef habitats are second to none. I’d love to return to Pickles Reef in a few years and see how “my” staghorn fragments are getting along!

A healthy staghorn colony.

A healthy staghorn colony.

If you’d like to support the Coral Restoration Foundation, check out their website to see how you can get involved. You can also adopt a coral or a tree in the nursery, or even help them plant a coral thicket! I can’t wait to create some coral restoration-themed artwork to help support their efforts further.

'til next time!

’til next time!


Art Gone Wild

I’m so happy to announce that I’ve been selected as one of the participating artists in Zoo Atlanta’s Art Gone Wild event! I’m beyond thrilled at this unique opportunity and can’t wait to get started. In the first week of June (2 – 6) my fellow artists and I will be creating works “en plein air” on the zoo grounds, with no shortage of inspiration from the animals that call Zoo Atlanta home. Following the Paint Out Week, on June 14th an art show and silent auction featuring our works will be held to raise funds for the zoo, whose conservation efforts include gorilla field conservation and ecological restoration in the Galapagos.

I’ve mentioned my interest in non-marine species before (it’s shocking, I know!), and am very excited to be able to expand my horizons with Art Gone Wild in such a stimulating environment. I’ll keep you posted as I prepare for this adventure!

Leave a comment

The Western Australia shark cull

In January of this year, the government of Western Australia began to roll out the world’s largest shark cull. Baited drumlines have been set about 1 km (0.62 miles) from several beaches with the intention of catching great white, tiger, and bull sharks – the suspected “maneaters” – greater than 3 metres (9.8 feet) in length, which are then shot and killed. The policy is a response to an increase in fatal incidents involving sharks in the region over the last ten years, but it’s proven to be an extremely controversial one: before it even went into effect, more than 100 shark scientists vocally opposed it. Previous efforts to control shark populations have been largely unsuccessful. Though large sharks of three species are the targets, the drumlines are catching smaller sharks and putting other marine animals at risk (not to mention the possibility of drawing large sharks closer to beaches because of the bait). There is great concern that the killing of long lived, slow maturing great white sharks, a federally protected species in Australia, will affect the breeding stock. A large great white was spotted this week and is now on the government’s hit list, a particularly uncomfortable notion.

What’s even more disturbing is that this week the WA government applied to extend the cull for an additional three years. This means that the drumlines would continue to be set, and sharks caught and killed, from January to April until 2017. It’s a decision that has further outraged the thousands of scientists, conservationists, and citizens that oppose the policy. Shark expert and lecturer at the University of Sydney Christopher Neff recently conducted a poll that found 87% of those surveyed said that sharks should not be killed, and that 69% believe education is key in avoiding shark-related incidents. Protests against the cull have drawn thousands of concerned people to Australia’s beaches.

I find the numbers in this whole debacle to be unsettling, and wanted to create something to help visualise some of these. One of the most significant figures I found is that 104 sharks have been caught since the cull began in January and that 40 had been found dead or destroyed. 101 sharks out of those 104 caught were tiger sharks (the drumlines have yet to hook a single great white). I wanted to represent that number of confirmed animals that have been affected by this policy and wanted a tiger shark to represent them, and drew this on my iPad using Procreate and my stylus. It’s nothing special but I was moved to draw after learning of the WA government’s intention to extend the policy. I hate thinking about the dozens more sharks that will be affected by this misguided, unscientific effort.

If you’d like to join the voices against the cull and stay up to date on the latest news, here are some highly recommended links:
@NoWASharkCull on Twitter
• Christopher Neff on Twitter @christopherneff
• David Shiffman on @WhySharksMatter
• Australian Marine Conservation Society


Leave a comment

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.

1 Comment

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!


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.

Leave a comment

Making mantas make sense


You’ll need to click on this to see a bigger version. Fuzzy WordPress resizing ahoy!

It’s been a long time since I did manta rays. My first and so far only finished manta piece “Takeoff” was done almost two and a half years ago and remains my most popular image, even though I’ve since moved away from digital pieces and have fully embraced traditional media again (it doesn’t always embrace me back, as I’ve made several manta painting attempts and given up each time). You can see a dreadful rough sketch here and a screenshot of it in progress here. I’ve been wanting to return to mantas ever since I completed “Takeoff”, but nothing ever worked for me. My recent focus on whale sharks, however, has motivated me into trying again – you have to love the giant filter feeders.

Manta rays are utterly captivating. Their appearance is just so alien; I can look closely at sharks and other fish and their anatomy makes sense to me, but mantas are somehow beyond my comprehension sometimes. They’re just so big that it’s a lot to take in when that gigantic shadow is looming above you, the bubbles from your regulator tickling their bellies as they effortlessly glide on by like a spacecraft looking for a good spot to land. When those cephalic fins unroll to form a funnel for that cavernous mouth it’s hard not to imagine them coming from another planet. Which is one of the infinite reasons the ocean is so awesome: Manta rays make perfect sense in this environment.

They are, of course, another success story that came out of this year’s CITES CoP 16 (you can read my previous posts on this in my conservation tag). The manta proposal was actually the first elasmobranch one to pass on its first try, an indicator of our fascination with them (and, sadly, the precariousness of their conservation status). Manta rays are divers’ favourites; our desire to see and experience them makes them far more valuable alive than dead. Unfortunately their gill rakers are falsely believed to hold health benefits, and the demand for their parts has caused populations to plummet (PEW identifies decreases of more than 85% in several regions). As with many marine species bycatch is also a huge problem, and when you consider that your average manta will birth only one pup every two to three years, you can understand why these incredibly unsustainable practices are removing mantas much faster than their biology can cope with. With a listing on CITES Appendix II now official, manta rays have a much greater chance of recovering.

I wanted to practice drawing them from several different angles to try to wrap my head around them just a bit better. Looking forward to translating a few onto a nice big canvas!