Jen Richards

Wildlife artist

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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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Giant oarfish, acrylic on 6 x 12 canvas

Giant oarfish, acrylic on 6 x 12 canvas

A couple of months ago I received a commission request that I had to jump on. It was a species I’ve long been fascinated by and wanted to draw but hadn’t yet:

A deceased giant oarfish measuring 23 feet (7 m)  in California, 1996.

A deceased giant oarfish measuring 23 feet (7 m) in California, 1996.

the king of herrings, the ribbonfish, the streamer fish… most of us know it as the oarfish. You’ve probably seen them in the news because when they’re sighted (alive or dead) it’s quite a sight to behold; the aptly named giant oarfish (Regalecus glesne) is the longest bony fish in the world, achieving a length of about 36 feet (11 metres). Whale sharks (reaching well over 40 ft/12 m) still have the giant oarfish beat as the longest fish of all though.

My client is a volunteer at a natural history museum and fell in love with their oarfish specimen. She wanted a piece that helped to connect their preserved oarfish with its habitat in the deep, dark ocean, an idea I loved and was excited to work on. There were two specific challenges: one, oarfish are so infrequently encountered that consistent references were difficult to come by; and two, this massive species was to be painted on a very small 6 x 12 inch canvas. Both of these challenges helped to push me to be a bit more creative with this piece, and in the process I learnt a great deal.

This mighty little giant is now safely in his/her forever home in California. Thank you for this fun opportunity, Corinna!

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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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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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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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re·sur·gent  (r-sûrjnt)


1. Experiencing or tending to bring about renewal or revival.
2. Sweeping or surging back again.
In progress.

In progress.

I had mentioned before that I wanted to paint an oceanic whitetip shark, and this month couldn’t have been a more appropriate time to do it. At the beginning of March, the 16th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species discussed proposals to add oceanic whitetips and several other overexploited elasmobranchs to CITES Appendix II. This would significantly change the game for these species by regulating their trade and helping to bring relief to devastated populations (oceanic whitetips in the Gulf of Mexico had seen a 99% decrease in population). This is what so many scientists, conservation organisations and individuals had been tirelessly working to achieve. The proposals for manta rays, porbeagle sharks, oceanic whitetips and scalloped, great and smooth hammerheads all initially passed, with delegates highlighting these species’ low reproduction rates and importance to ecotourism despite much pressure from Japan and China, but it wasn’t until the conference was almost over that each of those proposals were upheld. It was a massive win for these animals, and worth all the sleep I lost watching a grainy, slow video feed from Bangkok.

Oceanic whitetips have caught my attention for a long time, not just because of their striking colouration but because their pelagic lifestyle leads to such stunning imagery: greys and bronzes and white tips flanked by black and white escorts, all surrounded by a seemingly endless deep blue. I used a 10 x 20 100% cotton duck canvas for this one, which created a slightly different texture than what I’ve become used to. It was very enjoyable to paint on! And despite any grumblings I may have uttered as I worked on them, I actually did like adding a lot of small detailing to the pilot fish.

Size comparison of my finger with one of the pilot fish: ow, my eyes.

Size comparison of my finger with one of the pilot fish: ow, my eyes.

My thanks and congrats go out again to everyone who worked so hard to afford this victory for our sharks, especially the dedicated folks at Shark Defenders, the CITES4sharks coalition, and PEW Environment Group. Sharks are far from being out of danger, but this was a big bright spot in a complicated struggle.

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While documenting the progress of this painting I’ve mentioned quite a bit about how cool whale sharks are. They’re so cool, in fact, that August 30th was officially declared International Whale Shark Day back in 2008, but of course I wasn’t able to get this (12 x 30) painting finished in time to coincide with it. You can have a belated celebration over the internet by reading these two blog posts though, both written by renowned whale shark BFF Dr. Al Dove, who was also kind enough to offer me some pointers in this piece right after getting back from doing fieldwork with the real thing out in the Gulf of Mexico.

The fish swimming alongside the whale shark here are juvenile golden trevallies. These little yellow companions are frequently observed congregating around and following much larger animals like whale sharks, manta rays, groupers, and even dugongs, using them as a kind of mobile shelter. As both an artist and ocean enthusiast I love the visual impact of two very different species associating with one another (though it’s a bit one-sided in this case), especially when the colours offer such contrast. And of course, after painting a very large fish covered in spots, what I really needed was to then paint fourteen smaller ones covered in stripes…!

I always struggle to take good photos of my larger pieces that represent the correct colours and satisfactory details, so I welcome any recommendations for businesses that could help me out in the Atlanta area. For now, here are a few close ups of the trevallies that at least show some of the work that went into them.

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Humphead wrasse

I would be asked the same question about our larger humphead wrasse almost daily while working in our open ocean exhibit. It was always phrased in one of two ways: “What is that big ugly fish with the bump on its head?” or “What is that beautiful fish with the bump on its head?” 

Personally, I’m in the latter camp. It’s a remarkable animal. The humphead, or Napoleon, or Maori wrasse is the largest of the family, with adult males reaching about six feet in length and weighing more than 400 lbs – and if its size wasn’t enough, its bright greens and blues and even purples make it impossible to ignore. I love to lean in close when ours is by the acrylic window to get a good look at those intricate markings along the sides that look like an inaccessible maze. On the forehead is – surprise! – a big hump that grows along with it, and it has big, attention-grabbing lips. This fish seems to demand attention, but it’s actually quite shy.

It’s also an endangered species; habitat loss and years of exploitation are just two man-made factors that, combined with its slow reproduction rate, have led to a decline of at least 50% in the last thirty years.  More data is urgently needed in order to understand the scale of these threats and to form effective conservation measures ensuring its survival.

I feel like a grey sketch of the humphead wrasse does it little justice. I’ll find time to paint one in full colour at some point, and hopefully get more people to appreciate its rather unconventional beauty.