Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


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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!


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Art Gone Wild 2015: Art Show and Silent Auction

I know I wasn’t the only artist feeling sad as Art Gone Wild 2015 came to a close last night. This event has become a highlight of my year, and last night’s show was a brilliant example of why: seeing everybody’s fantastic works all finished, chatting with fellow artists and guests, eating a lot of those amazing cucumber hors d’oeuvres … and even meeting some special guests! The added bonus was seeing our hard work over the last two weeks paying off as lots of our art went to their new happy homes.

I was personally thrilled to see my rhino painting “Utenzi” with its new owners – the couple that won my wreathed hornbill last year! The racket-tailed roller also went an awesome new home, and my clouded leopard painting “Suhana” will now be living with one of the zoo’s incredible volunteers – it’s so rewarding to me when I know my work can be cherished by those that know and love these animals too. (The lanner falcon painting “Savanna” will be available in the online auction coming soon – stay tuned!)

All in all, I want to say another huge thank you to Zoo Atlanta and the events team for putting this adventure on for a second year running! It was lovely to see so many familiar faces from 2014 – Art Gone Wild feels like a real community. We already can’t wait for next year!

Three of those familiar faces: Natalie Huggins, Ashley Bates, John Trotter, and me!

Three of those familiar faces: Natalie Huggins, Ashley Bates, and John Trotter!


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Art Gone Wild 2015: Paint Out Week – Days 3, 4 & 5

Wednesday: Because I only had a couple of hours to paint on Wednesday morning I decided to focus on my racket-tailed roller piece to get it closer to completion. On the way to my chosen spot, though, I happened to lock eyes with a favourite resident and instead spent a good 30 minutes drinking my coffee while he and his mother stared back at me as they had breakfast. Again… can you blame me?

Good morning, Andazi and Jabari!

Good morning, Andazi and Jabari!

After my rhino detour I focused on my roller and got a lot of detail done. I still have the back and wings to go as well as defining the branch some more, but overall I’m liking how it’s coming along. Never thought I’d enjoy painting lots of tiny feathers.

Detail of my racket-tailed roller.

Detail of my racket-tailed roller.

Thursday: Earlier in the week I’d been able to finally get a good look at Suhana, the zoo’s beautiful young clouded leopard. I’d been planning on painting her this week but hadn’t caught so much of a glimpse of her on previous visits, so with my own long-awaited references I set Thursday as my Suhana Day. I had picked up a new canvas especially for it, as the composition came to me as soon as I saw her! What an utterly captivating species this is. A few years ago I saw Zoo Atlanta’s previous clouded leopard, Moby, who passed away in 2013 at an impressive 16 years of age. It’s wonderful now to see Suhana settling in.

Slow, difficult-to-photograph-properly progress on Suhana.

Slow, difficult-to-photograph-properly progress on Suhana.

I spent all day working on this piece but still have so far to go! It was a lovely, productive day though, much of it spent with fellow artist Natalie Huggins as she worked on her own clouded leopard painting. I also took time to watch the bird show and managed to get over my toucan-related geek out just enough to get photos of Friday’s subject.

Whoops.

Whoops.

Friday: Not everything went to plan today, as illustrated brilliantly by my poor car over there. Luckily it happened while I was right by the zoo, and thanks to the help of event coordinator Julia Knox and Tommy the maintenance guy I was able to get home safely at the end of the day! (… and later ended up having to use up a lot of painting time getting all four tires replaced. Womp womp.)

Savanna!

Savanna!

Anyway, I had a later start and a shorter stay than planned but I made headway on what will probably be my final Art Gone Wild piece. It’s a portrait of Savanna the lanner falcon, an absolutely stunning bird I stumbled upon on Monday while carting my equipment through the zoo. I thought she was one of the most visually striking birds I’d ever seen, so when I saw her in action in the bird show I knew I had to paint her too. I’ve got a huge soft spot for raptors and currently have a broad-winged hawk painting in progress, so I’m excited to be working on my first falcon. Coincidentally, I made a good t-shirt decision today.

Painting a falcon. Wearing the Falcon.

Painting a falcon. Wearing the Falcon.

This weekend will be spent finishing all my pieces before dropping them off in time for the Art Show and Silent Auction event on Saturday June 13th. Please come if you can! The variety of artworks that will be available is fantastic, and you’ll be able to bid on them all and take them home. Proceeds support both the zoo and the artists. If this week’s been any indication it’s going to be an incredible show!


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Art Gone Wild 2015

Remember when I shared my experience with the brilliant Art Gone Wild event at Zoo Atlanta last year? It was absolutely one of the big highlights of 2014… and I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve been selected as a participating artist for Art Gone Wild 2015! This June I’ll be once again joining my fellow artists in creating works “en plein air” inspired by the zoo’s animals – the best part being that we get to hang out with those animals all day too. Last year I painted several rhinos, a wreathed hornbill, and a red panda. There’s no shortage of fascinating subjects to choose from, so my only challenge will be trying to narrow my ideas down. I can’t wait to begin!


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Art Gone Wild: Art Show and Silent Auction

My four acrylic paintings on display at the show.

My four acrylic paintings on display at the show.

Zoo Atlanta’s Art Gone Wild event came to a close last night with a spectacular art show and silent auction. From June 2-6, myself and 36 other artists became a temporarily invasive species at the zoo as we created artwork inspired by the animals, horticulture, and exhibits, and I had an excellent time tackling subjects I’d never done before. If you missed my Paint Out Week posts, you can see them in this tag.

It was wonderful to see the dozens of finished pieces at the art show! There was such a wide variety of subjects, styles, and mediums that it was truly a joy to walk around and see everybody’s work. It was definitely an honour for me to be showing my work among such talented people. I had wanted to create five pieces in total, but because of a long-anticipated and busy dive trip from June 5-8 (which I’ll post about very soon!), I only had time to complete four. I had chosen to focus on Betelgeuse, the stunning male wreathed hornbill; Andazi and Jabari, the black rhino mother and calf; Idgie, the red panda; and Utenzi, the male black rhino. These five animals are some of my favourites to see whenever I visit Zoo Atlanta and they were, naturally, a lot of fun to paint. What made all my efforts worth it was the feedback from event guests and zoo staff and volunteers, particularly those that work closely with these individual animals.

I’m absolutely thrilled to say that all four pieces saw multiple bids and went to good homes at the end of the evening!

So happy this painting went to a good home!

So happy this painting went to a good home!

Knowing that my art touched a lot of people and helped to raise funds for the zoo made all of my hard work worthwhile. My hornbill painting was won by a lovely couple who bid on it for their young son who’s obsessed with birds; I made sure to sign and date the painting for him and I hope he loves it as much as I had fun painting it.

From the very beginning of this event, the zoo team have been nothing short of fabulous – coordinating staff, keepers, volunteers, event staff… This whole experience has been utterly fantastic and that’s largely because of their support, so thank you, Zoo Atlanta! I hope we can do this again!


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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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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!


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Whale Shark Weekend

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

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

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

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

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


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Adventures with auctions… and penguins

The 7th annual Aqua Vino took place last Thursday at Georgia Aquarium. It’s a very large, very fancy event featuring some of the best food and wine to be found in Atlanta, and proceeds from it go directly into supporting the aquarium’s Correll Center for Aquatic Animal Health. This year, the focus was on African penguins.

In December 2011 I went back to visit my former coworkers! Macaroni penguins at the front, African penguins mostly hanging out in the top right.

African penguins and I go way back. When I began my professional journey in environmental education, I worked at the UK’s only coastal zoo and became quite good chums with several dozen of them. In addition to giving plentiful penguin presentations to the public (try saying that three times fast) I assisted our animal care team with daily cleaning and food preparation duties and even fed the little guys myself. But life hasn’t been all too easy on wild African penguins for the last few decades, largely because of human impacts – commercial overfishing, oil spills, habitat loss, the harvesting of guano – and in 2010, they were downgraded on the IUCN Red List from “Vulnerable” to “Endangered”. In 2009 it was estimated that the global African penguin population was only 25,262 pairs, meaning that their numbers have dropped to less than 10% of their population 100 years ago. It’s this alarmingly rapid decline that makes conservation efforts like the AZA’s Species Survival Plans all the more urgent. Information gained from working with these precious birds directly supports those struggling populations in the field; I personally know several animal care specialists, on both continents, who have traveled to South Africa to help rescue, rehabilitate, and release oiled or injured birds. This January saw the hatching and rearing of Georgia Aquarium’s first two African penguin chicks – wonderful news for the SSP – and Aqua Vino’s support will go a long way in ensuring that this success continues.

My giant Pacific octopus alongside prints by Wyland and Guy Harvey.

That’s why I was so excited to have two framed prints of mine (Murphy the loggerhead sea turtle and the giant Pacific octopus) in the silent auction. To be featured alongside such renowned marine life artists as Wyland and Guy Harvey was an honour, and I was proud to be contributing to such a worthy cause. I’m very pleased to say that both of my pieces received a number of bids and together raised a few hundred dollars for penguin conservation efforts – an amazing thing for an emerging fine artist to be able to say! Painting is such a passion of mine so it’s very fulfilling to know that both of them have gone to good homes.

“Murphy” on display.

If you’re interested in learning more about African penguins and how you can help, I recommend checking out SANCCOB, an organisation dedicated to saving South Africa’s incredible seabirds. For less than $60 you can adopt and name a penguin – ensuring it can be rehabilitated and released! What a bargain!