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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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!

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I regret nothing

I make no secret of the fact that I love both sharks and puns. Whenever I can mix the two, it’s a good day… and leads me to do things like this:

Where ya from, you cartilaginous thing?

Where ya from, you cartilaginous thing?

Because zebra sharks (and others) breathe using their spiracles… which is funny because it rhymes with… anyway. It got stuck in my head and now it’s probably in yours too. Sorry!

For those of you who also like to have a giggle at nerdy ocean puns, this is available on shirts, mugs and stickers over in my design shop!


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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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Rays! Also… a new shop!

In line with my previous “Sharks!” and “Odontocetes!” designs, I had to create a “Rays!” version. These flat sharks are so underappreciated next to their rather flashier relatives, but they’re just as fascinating – and some are even more threatened. The five sawfish species comprise the most endangered group of marine fishes in the world, which is tragic considering how unusual and beautiful they are.

I decided not to add the text overlay on this design… what do you think?

The featured species:

• Spotted eagle ray Aetobatus narinari
• Longcomb sawfish Pristis zijsron
• Reef manta ray Manta alfredi
• Motoro ray Potamotrygon motoro
• Bowmouth guitarfish Rhina ancylostoma
• Cownose ray Rhinoptera bonasus
• Atlantic stingray Dasyatis sabina
• Lesser devil ray Mobula hypostoma

Speaking of designs, I’m excited to be launching my new online store today! There are lots of new products available featuring my designs, including… SCARVES! I’m a scarf nut, so I had to order one for myself to check it out. I’m really pleased with the quality of the print and the fabric; it’s lovely and lightweight. There are also new phone cases, notebooks, tote bags and even stickers, so give it a look!Shark scarf? SHARK SCARF!

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A Doodle Gets Special Treatment

Orcinus orca: Sketch coloured on my iPad using Procreate.

Sketch coloured on my iPad using Procreate.

The original doodle in biro with my pencil for size reference. So tiny!

The original doodle in biro with my pencil for size reference. So tiny!

Tools of the trade: iPad, stylus, beer, Stephen Fry.

Tools of the trade: iPad, stylus, beer, Stephen Fry.

While my work computer was taking its sweet time opening a program earlier this week I found my pen inching dangerously close to a tiny notepad, so a quick doodle happened. Shocking no one, it was orcas. I thought about using it as the basis for a watercolour experiment, as I got a set a few months ago and haven’t had the time to really play with it. I used my iPad to create a rough colour reference before redrawing it onto watercolour paper, getting my paints out, getting to work… and making a jolly good mess of it. Watercolours and I still have a long way to go, but I found that I really liked my digital colour reference so I continued working on it. I don’t do digital work very often, but it is fun now and then (especially as I could sit and watch Qi on Hulu while I coloured), especially for creating things that are a bit more stylised than my usual work.


Girls Love Sharks Too!

I have always had a fascination with large, toothy animals. Dinosaurs were my first love, like so many other kids, and I never thought there was anything weird about it. I have a very clear memory of six-year-old-me exchanging toy dinosaurs with my best friend Glen on the playground. I had dinosaur figures, dinosaur books, drew dinosaurs on everything… I’m sure you can relate. But it wasn’t until I got older that I realised that my dinosaurs seemed to all be in a blue aisle in the toy section, flanked by Action Man and monster trucks. Dinosaurs, obviously, were For Boys. It didn’t stop me from loving them (and still hasn’t – for other dino-obsessed grown ups, I highly recommend My Beloved Brontosaurus). I’ve always preferred “boys’ stuff”, and it had never bothered me until recently. Growing up I’ve shrugged off the notion that girls’ stuff is pink, boys’ stuff is blue, girls like princesses and boys like spaceships, blah blah blah. I like dinosaurs, I like Star Wars, I like comics, and I’m an adult who can make her own decisions.

But it’s 2014, and last week I took my reusable Star Wars bag to the grocery store, and the male cashier took one look at it and said “Did you steal this from your son?” What. The. Hell. I blurted out a loud “No, it’s mine!” (Note: Dude, I don’t even have kids. Rude!) It was not the first (or even thirtieth) time I’ve had a comment like that, but it’s no less hurtful: I was angry that I was challenged by another adult for liking a thing that I like, because my gender dictated that I Wasn’t Supposed To Like It. I hate that it happens to me as a grown woman, but I can handle it. I’m used to it. But how do those kinds of comments affect little girls? It’s 2014, and the toy aisles are still split into Pink Stuff and Blue Stuff.

This brings me to sharks. You’d think animals would be gender-neutral interests, right? Do me a favour: Next time you’re in the children’s section of a store, go and find the shark stuff. T-shirts, toys, whatever. Was it in the girls’ section? Or was it nestled in between the Avengers and R2-D2?* (Case in point: How many of these [frankly awesome] shark products look directed at young girls?)

The simple response to this would be “Well, nothing stops girls from buying this stuff.” That’s very true, but it’s not my point. My point is that the placement and promotion of these kinds of things, and the resulting absence of sharks and dinosaurs where girls can comfortably find them, perpetuates this idea that these things are Not For Them. And what does that do? Every little girl disappointed that the shark t-shirt doesn’t come in her size is a potential future shark biologist discouraged. Science is a Boy Thing, right?

Instead of sitting and complaining about  it on the internet, I decided to use my art to do what little I can to encourage young girls to be proud of their love for sharks. Whether or not she becomes a marine biologist, no girl should be made to feel like she shouldn’t like the things she likes. I was also inspired by my recent viewing of Mission Blue, an excellent Netflix documentary about the wonderful Dr. Sylvia Earle, and by Dr. Eugenie Clark and other prominent women in marine science (Women Exploring the Oceans is brilliant!). These women have gone on to do amazing things for the ocean, and every little girl deserves the chance to follow in their footsteps.

I drew three popular species to feature on a design that could go on t-shirts or prints: the blue shark (a personal favourite of mine since I can remember), a smooth hammerhead, and of course a great white (hey, kids love great whites!). My hope is that even the existence of this shirt lets at least one little girl out there to feel justified in her passion for these awesome animals.

Available now in my shop!

If you know a little girl who loves sharks, you can also encourage her to join the Gills Club and learn how to become a shark scientist!


*Please don’t get me wrong: I’m a proud nerd and I feel the same about the marketing of superheroes and science fiction almost exclusively to boys. But there’s hope in places like Her Universe!

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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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I really enjoyed working on my recent “Sharks!” piece, which allowed me to highlight a bunch of lesser-known species. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I want to keep doing these! As a cetacean nerd they were my obvious next choice, although I reduced the number of featured species and eventually decided to focus on just odontocetes, or toothed whales, for now. (I originally started this one with some mysticetes as well, but because I wanted to illustrate relative size differences, the proportions just wouldn’t work. Mysticetes shall get their own one!) My idea with these is to showcase the diversity of shape. When it comes to toothed whales, especially as you get into the families, there are a lot of very similar shapes that didn’t provide a silhouette distinct enough among the other species I chose – hence the smaller number on here. I also made a conscious decision to leave off the members of Physeteroidea, whose common names may not be appropriate to spread across a t-shirt. Know that they are wonderful animals, though!

The species featured here:

Bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus
Beluga whale Delphinapterus leucas
Commerson’s dolphin Cephalorhynchus commersonii
Harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena
Long-snouted spinner dolphin Stenella longirostris
Amazon river dolphin  Inia geoffrensis
Orca Orcinus orca
Dall’s porpoise Phocoenoides dalli
Narwhal Monodon monoceros
Southern right whale dolphin (most confusing name ever?) Lissodelphis peronii
Long-finned pilot whale Globicephala melas
Cuvier’s beaked whale Ziphius cavirostris

Like the shark version, this is available as a print as well as on t-shirts, mugs, and phone cases!

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A Weakness for Wobbegongs

Anyone that’s heard me go on about sharks (which I actually do for a living, so… quite a few people) will know that despite my love for everything from the largest (that’ll be the lovely Rhincodon typus) to the cutest (I’ll argue for that role going to zebra sharks), I have a very severe weakness for wobbegongs.

Yes, hello. I make this face for all of them.

Yes, hello. I make this face for all of them.

I. Love. Wobbegongs.

I don’t even know what it is about them. I often joke that they’re my kindred spirits, or myself in shark form, or that I must have been one in a past life. Who wouldn’t want to spend most of the day lying around on the sea floor until food swims close enough to your mouth, am I right? Thing is, I’m not even an inactive person. I think I just like the idea of being a wobbegong. They’re such an underestimated family of sharks, and physically one of the least “sharky”-looking, so I love pointing them out to people as an example of elasmobranch diversity. There are twelve species and they’re all equally Muppetesque (for those wondering, I’ve always thought Uncle Deadly was the most wobbegongesque.) They’re mostly found around Australia and Indonesia, although there’s also the Japanese wobbegong. Mostly nocturnal, you’re more likely to see a wobbegong draped over something rather than actively swimming, which they do like an area rug come to life. You shouldn’t underestimate those jaws, though. Whoa.

My original intention was to celebrate wobbegongs all week as a sort of anti-Discovery’s Shark Week. I’m really not a fan of the “event” and I especially dislike the focus on the few super popular species, but I also wanted to do something other than complain about the programming all week. I wanted to be positive about spreading the love of the lesser knowns, like wobbegongs! But of course August is always an insane month for me so I’ve only managed to do a couple of things. Here is one of those things though! Just a small cartoony expression of my love:One of my absolute favourite things about wobbegongs is their habit of throwing themselves down anywhere like a slightly toothier cat. I like this so much, in fact, that I rewrote Eleanor Farjeon’s famous poem “Cats Sleep Anywhere”:

Wobbegongs lie anywhere, any reef, any lair.
Top of staghorn, rocky ledge, in the middle, on the edge.
Table coral, sandy floor – all good places to lie some more.
Flopped down on the seagrass bed, any place to rest their head.
Anywhere! They don’t care! Wobbegongs lie anywhere.


Next year I’ll be sure to time things right in order to have a proper Wobbegong Week, but remember: sharks are amazing all year round, not just for this one time in the summer. And let’s not forget the flat sharks – how about we arrange for a Ray Week sometime?

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I really wanted to post new shark art all week, but I haven’t had much time to produce any! I did manage to get this piece done, though – it’s a stylised celebration of shark diversity. While I couldn’t even begin to represent all 400-odd species, I did want to highlight a few personal favourites as well as those with particularly unusual or striking morphology. Not all sharks are white sharks (even though I did include one – their silhouette is just lovely)!

The featured species are…

• Oceanic whitetip shark Carcharhinus longimanus
• Dwarf lanternshark Etmopterus perryi
• White shark Carcharodon carcharias
• Whale shark Rhincodon typus
• Spotted wobbegong Orectolobus maculatus
• Sand tiger shark Carcharias taurus
• Sandbar shark Carcharhinus plumbeus
• Atlantic sharpnose shark Rhizoprionodon terraenovae
• Scalloped hammerhead shark Sphyrna lewini
• Bigeye thresher shark Alopias superciliosus
• Longnose sawshark Pristiophorus cirratus
• Epaulette shark Hemiscyllium ocellatum
• Basking shark Cetorhinus maximus
• Zebra shark Stegostoma fasciatum
• Blue shark Prionace glauca

This is available as a print, mug, and phone case/skin! Hope you like it as much as I had fun drawing it. Look for more shark art from me in the coming days!

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Goblin sharks have been a frequent topic of conversation lately. What was a species that would only come up in my chats with colleagues and other elasmobranch nerds is suddenly coming up in conversation with regular people – you know, the ones that don’t live and breathe marine life. It’s easy to see why, though. Last month, a shrimp fisherman pulled up an 18 foot goblin shark in the Gulf of Mexico, and the internet went a bit mad.

Not a whole lot is known about goblin sharks, which can be found at depths of more than 4,000 feet and might actually be baby Kaiju*. But they do provoke quite a reaction. This video of this individual’s rapidly extending jaw does quite a good job of showing why: not only are they a little-known deep-sea species, they’re downright weird.

I’m particularly taken by the origin of the name “goblin shark”: it’s literally translated from the old Japanese name tenguzame, after the mythical tengu, a mischievous creature. With that in mind I ended up doodling a goblin shark on my iPad inspired by traditional Japanese art. The kanji on the lower right mean “tenguzame”. This was a lot of fun to do!

*Not scientifically verified.

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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


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Saddle patch heart

Have you ever noticed that an orca’s saddlepatch is heart-shaped when viewed from above? I’ve wanted to explore that idea for a while and finally got it out of my head with this quick little iPad painting done during breaks at work over the last couple of days. Hooray for being productive! I used my Bamboo stylus with Procreate as my app of choice.