Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


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J27 Commission

j27_wmRecently I was commissioned to create a tattoo design of the southern resident orca J27 (Blackberry) as a stippled ink piece. This is a style I absolutely love doing, and have been doing small-scale orca pieces using it throughout the year (these have mostly been shared on my Instagram). Needless to say, I was particularly pumped up about this project and had a great experience working through the design with the client. The original drawing is on its way to her and her tattoo artist will take it from there – I can’t wait to see the final-final version!

Here’s a look at some of the work that went into it, from initial sketches to the ink itself.


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Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends…

"Breach" - Acrylics on 18 x 24 inch canvas

“Breach” – Acrylics on 18 x 24 inch canvas

I find that beer does help.

I find that beer does help.

2016 has been… a year, hasn’t it? From a personal standpoint, the last few months have been full of changes. In early November I left my job of almost six years to pursue a new path, one that really begins in earnest next week as I become a full time student for the first time in nearly a decade. The next three months will be very busy and I’ll have to work hard to squeeze personal art in, but I’m excited to begin my career as a UX Designer. Here’s to new things!

It’s kind of funny how the symbolism of this piece didn’t hit me until just now while coming up with a title for this post. It’s been ages since I painted using acrylics, having spent much of the year focusing more on drawings and ink – not that there’s anything wrong with that. I was struck by a photo my friend Tasli Shaw took of the southern resident orca L87 (Onyx) and she kindly gave me permission to use it as my inspiration. I don’t think I’ve painted an orca breaching since… well, I was probably a teenager, and I’ve come a long way since then. Originally I wanted to use this as an opportunity to paint quickly and loosely, but evidently my brain and brush conspired against me and I ended up getting really detailed and taking much longer with it. In any case, it was good to get this one in before my classes start.

Splash detail.

Splash detail.


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A6

striderIn the late 90s my school held a tabletop sale in the local town hall. 12-year-old-me ran a table to raise funds for whales and dolphins and to cover the cost of my first orca adoption. I already knew exactly which one it would be.

A6, also known as Strider, was an adult male in the northern resident community of orcas and the eldest offspring of A30 (Tsitika). Her matriline continues today. Born in 1964, he was often seen with his two brothers A38 (Blackney) and A39 (Pointer — I later adopted him too), and I still find photos of their three huge dorsal fins as they traveled together in books today.  (Here’s a good link from 2007 with ID photos of the A30 matriline).

A38 (Blackney), A30 (Tsitika), A50 (Clio), A6 (Strider), A39 (Pointer)

A38 (Blackney), A30 (Tsitika), A50 (Clio), A6 (Strider), A39 (Pointer)

I remember the morning the newsletter arrived a few years later that told of his absence and presumed death. I was devastated. It was Strider that helped me connect with wild orcas from almost 5,000 miles away and it’s his fin that’s still etched in my memory; that notch in the upper third was so distinctive he became the first individual orca I ever learnt to recognise. In a lot of ways he’s still somewhat of an inspiration to me. I have his dorsal ID photo above my desk in the office and the postcard I was sent with the adoption certificate is on the wall of my studio almost 20 years later.

It’s odd, then, that I never really drew him until now. I’ve been planning out a large painting featuring a particular group of orcas with even more distinctive dorsal fins (I’m sharing the progress from thumbnail stage on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook) and it got me thinking about Strider. I just wanted to do a simple ink drawing with stippling to highlight his silhouette. I’d love to do a proper piece featuring him and his brothers soon.strider_wm


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Brothers

Acrylics on 6 x 12 inch gessobord

Acrylic on 6 x 12 inch gesso board

Happy new year! I’m not one for resolutions, but I do know it’s been way too long since I made a blog post. With the last couple months of 2015 getting increasingly busy I fell into the habit of updating instagram more than anything else (you can follow me here, by the way. Durp!) and neglected this poor blog, so I’m definitely going to be sharing more here.

After finishing a round of commissions in time for Christmas, I picked up one of a few gesso boards lying about in my studio and started playing with an idea I sketched out about a year ago: two adult male orcas breaking the surface of a choppy sea. These are of course two things I fall back on a lot – I love orcas AND choppy seas! – but I couldn’t help myself. I’ve also never completed something on gesso board before and really wanted to give it a go. It’s a very interesting surface, as it’s much more smooth than the surfaces I usually paint on but with just enough texture for me to feel comfortable with it. Next up: braving the super smooth clay board!


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The Wonders of the Internet

While browsing Pinterest this morning, looking for tattoo inspiration for myself, I found my art on someone else’s skin.

Whoa.

A screenshot of the work in progress from 2009.

A screenshot of the work in progress from 2009.

In 2009 I created this digital painting using openCanvas over a pencil sketch. I enjoyed the process given that the composition was quite different for me, as I’ve long been interested in the role of orcas in Native American culture. It’s an idea I’ve thought about revisiting and developing but haven’t made the time for.

I do take commissions for custom tattoo designs. I’m flattered by the use of my work and have been trying to find out whose arm this is – so far I’ve only been able to find it on Pinterest, pointing to a now-defunct site (even using Google’s reverse image lookup). The description mentions a tattoo shop in Massachusetts although it doesn’t appear in their site portfolio. I’d love to know who enjoyed this piece so much they wanted it on their body!


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Sanctuary

Acrylics on 9 x 12 inch canvas board

Acrylics on 9 x 12 inch canvas board

In an attempt to create more of a sense of depth in my work, I started on this 9 x 12 inch canvas panel a few nights ago to try a few things out. It was relaxing to do a personal piece before diving back into a big round of commissions. This was my first time really focusing on using washes, something I’ve been wanting to do more of, and I definitely want to continue experimenting. I’m very much a trial-and-error learner!


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Something spontaneous

Acrylics on 5 x 7 canvas panel

Acrylics on 5 x 7 canvas panel

As always, orcas take over everything I do...

As always, orcas take over everything I do…

Sometimes you just get the urge to paint something that makes you happy. For me, earlier this week, it was a curious little orca on a tiny 5″ x 7″ canvas panel that took about two hours from start to finish. It’s based on a quick sketch I did the night before while I was actually trying to practice some tigers (I’d spent the day gathering reference at the zoo), and I couldn’t get it out of my mind until I painted it. I need to do more spontaneous pieces like this.


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The Bower Pod – Commission

Acrylic on 9 x 12 wood panel

Acrylic on 9 x 12 wood panel

This was a REALLY fun commission I did recently! My client’s sister, who loves orcas (good taste), and her husband had a baby boy and the idea was to create a kind of “family portrait” featuring orcas in time for Mother’s Day. I decided to paint it directly onto a 9 x 12 inch wood panel (like a previous piece) to allow for some interesting textures and a more stylised look. I did this by doing a couple coats of a light blue-grey wash directly over my pencil lines so that the wood grain would still show through. Then it was just a case of working on the whales! One of the notes that my client gave, and one I wholeheartedly embraced, was to ensure the calf had the yellow hue typical of newborns. (We’re all cetacean nerds here.)

I’m glad to report that this gift was very happily received! I’m always happy to spread the orca love. If you’re interested in a commission like this, please feel welcome to contact me.


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On meeting Orca O319

I was excited. Can you tell?

I was excited. Can you tell?

One of the places I was determined to visit during our (utterly fantastic) trip west this month was the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. I’m so glad we did – it’s an incredible place and it was wonderful to see so many people engaged with a variety of science-based topics. Naturally I was drawn to the Steinhart Aquarium, but it was also a very pleasant surprise for me to see my first real orca skeleton up close. O319 was a young male offshore orca that stranded at Point Reyes National Seashore in November 2011 and, after a lengthy collection process (that you can read about in detail here), went on display at the Academy in 2013. Seeing this specimen up close was a real treat for me; being able to see his worn teeth (which are casts in the skeleton itself – the originals were made available for research) from a primary diet of sharks was fascinating. It’s also easy to see the broken rib that possibly led to his death.

Geeking out over Orca O139.

Geeking out over Orca O319.

The Academy’s Naturalist Center is unlike anything I’ve seen at any other museum. Here, visitors of all ages can actually get their hands on real and replica specimens for closer examination. What an awesome way to get people involved! My built-in “orcadar” immediately led me towards the orca skull, a life-size recreation from Bone Clones. It’s this that I used as a reference for some quick sketches, something I’d love to do more of.

As a lovely bonus, I picked up a book from one of my most admired wildlife artists, Robert Bateman, in the gift shop. Yay!


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Changing up the canvas

When I was picking up some art supplies last night I found some small wooden blocks for sale alongside the smaller canvases.They looked so fun to paint on that I had to get a couple! I experimented a bit tonight with acrylics on an 8 x 5 inch block and was pleased with the results. It was interesting to see how the paint reacted – I’ve never painted on wood like this before so it was a fun challenge. Definitely planning on doing many more like this!


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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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Dive Team

A terrible photo of a very rough sketch that I think I did in 2009.

A terrible photo of a very rough sketch that I think I did in 2009.

This 11 x 14 acrylic painting was the result of two sessions. TWO! I’m astonished at myself. Usually my work gets dragged out for weeks because of work and other commitments that prevent me from holing myself up and painting from dawn to dusk. I had an advantage with this one though – one, it’s not as detailed as some of my more recent pieces, and two, I’ve had it planned for ages. When I went home to England earlier this year I found a lot of old sketchbooks, and within one of them was this pencil sketch. I’d wanted to paint it years ago but ended up crossing the Atlantic instead, and it was long forgotten until my recent trip. As soon as I saw it I decided I wanted to paint it for real, so I snapped a quick photo of the sketch for me to work on when I returned to my studio.

A screenshot from Procreate showing the rough colour ideas. I ended up going a lot less green.

A screenshot from Procreate showing the rough colour ideas. I ended up going a lot less green.

… and promptly forgot about it. Again. At some point I had even planned out my colours (which ended up differing a bit in the final version) and tones using Procreate on my iPad – something I often do when planning a painting. While browsing my files in Procreate last week I rediscovered it again, so I just went for it and tried not to sweat the small stuff. So here it is! A fun little painting that allowed me to prove to myself that I can finish things more quickly if I really try… or remember to do it in the first place.


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Type B

Orcas have been my favourite animal on the planet since 1994. There are so many things I find utterly captivating about them, but one of my very favourite things is the uniqueness of each population of orcas around the world. To name just a few… in the Pacific Northwest you’ll find residents, who only eat fish, and transients, who only eat other marine mammals. In New Zealand you’ll find the expert stingray hunters. In Argentina you’ll see the ones that beach themselves to catch seals. And in Antarctica you’ll find the wave washers – orcas that have learnt how to use teamwork to create waves that wash seals off ice floes. Not only are each of these behaviours specific to these geographically distinct groups of whales, but their genes are too. The differences in social structures, feeding, and habitat preferences between the world’s orcas are so distinct, having not interbred for hundreds of thousands of years, that many believe they should be separated into different species. They don’t just act different – they look different, too.

NOAA and natural history illustrator Uko Gorter released a brilliant poster showcasing these different ecotypes and the variations in their shape, size and markings. The wave-washing orcas of the Antarctic (whose incredible behaviour you can see here, though sadly not narrated by David Attenborough) are known as type B, and they’ve fascinated me for a long time. The diatoms in their chilly native waters cause the normally white areas of their body to appear yellow, and their dark skin looks grey or even brown and are often dotted with rake marks and other scars. There’s even a pale line that sweeps from the tops of their eye patches (which are huge, by the way) to the edge of their saddle patches. They’re just weirdly beautiful creatures and I’ve been dying to paint one for ages, so while warming up the other day on a 14 x 11 inch canvas I ended up with a composition that’s been on my mind for a while: a type B orca sinking back into the strikingly blue Antarctic water post-spyhop. Maybe he found a seal.

Some in-progress peeks:


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Odontocetes!

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!