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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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.

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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.

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Adventures with iPad speed paintings

Swellsharks are quite good at staying still for me.

Swellsharks are quite good at staying still for me.

I’m lucky in that I get to be around animals a lot. I try to never take this for granted – being in the presence of so many creatures can be exciting, fascinating, and humbling all at once. I’m constantly inspired by them, and wish there were enough hours in the day to draw and paint as many as I can. One thing I’ve been able to do recently is spend a little bit of time throughout the week doing some digital speed paintings from some of these real life subjects. I’ve sat with these animals and used my Bamboo stylus and my iPad to do a quick rendering of them using my favourite digital art app Procreate (I also recommend SketchbookPro). It’s proving to be a good exercise in working more quickly, and an added bonus is that I get to represent more species in my work. Here are a few I’ve done recently, each taking between about 5 and 15 minutes. Looking forward to doing lots more of these!

Swellshark - About 5 minutes


African penguin - About 10 minutes

African penguin

Beluga whale - About 15 minutes

Beluga whale