Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


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Admiral Raddus

Acrylics on 10 x 8 canvas

Acrylics on 10 x 8 inch canvas

It’s been years since I finished any fanart, even though it’s something I spent most of my teen years creating. But as a giant Star Wars nerd who loves marine creatures who is also British, I couldn’t resist having a go at painting Admiral Raddus, the Churchill-inspired Mon Calamari who led the Rebel Fleet above Scarif in Rogue One. I guess I’ve long had a soft spot for Mon Calamari – we can all agree on the greatness of Admiral Ackbar, but I even liked Nahdar Vebb from The Clone Wars series, and the one time I played the Age of Rebellion tabletop game I opted to be the engineer Tendaar. I just think they’re pretty cool.

I also love to try identifying which real-world animals may have inspired fictional alien races. I wanted to paint Raddus not just because he’s an absolute badass, but because the texture of his skin reminded me of a cephalopod and his eyes of a sea turtle. What a cool dude.

The coolest thing was when I posted progress on Twitter and it caught the attention of Stephen Stanton, the voice of Raddus in Rogue One (as well as many other fantastic Star Wars roles). Fangirl moment. This was a fun little painting to do!Omg.


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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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When in Doubt, Paint a Shark

White shark, acrylics on 12 x 16 inch canvas

White shark, acrylics on 12 x 16 inch canvas

After a jam-packed two weeks in England, during which I had time to do a few little sketches but no substantial art, I really wanted to just let loose with something really messy last night. I’ll share more about my trip in a later post because I’ve got inspiration to last me years (thanks, Natural History Museum!).

In my efforts to diversify my work and develop my skills, I picked up an old 12 x 16 canvas from under my desk and started slapping on some paint. I’m trying to move out of my comfort zone of super fine details and trying to get things “perfect”, and instead injecting more personality into each piece. This felt like a good time to experiment; I’ve been doing a lot of precise commission work lately (which I do love) so it felt quite freeing. I did the whole thing in one sitting – very unusual for me! – and so worked solely with fresh wet paint and a limited colour palette. I do enjoy watching subjects materialise out of the mess.

biggsattack

1. Slapping on the paint 2. Adding some definition 3. Brief pause to confer with my assistant 4. Nearly done

I was particularly inspired by two things: one was a gorgeous 2008 photo by the incredible hobbyist photographer George Probst (check out sharkpix.com!), who graciously sent me a larger version to reference. I just loved the scarring on this white shark and the tight framing. The other inspiration came from an artist I’ve been following on instagram for a while now, Aimée Hoover. I really admire her painting style and the scale at which she works – I’m currently too afraid to go quite that big but I can aspire to it! Her gorgeous brush strokes encouraged me to be less obsessed with the tiny details.

All in all, I was proud of myself for getting this done and I’m looking forward to doing more like it.


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Squid ink

Acrylics on 8 x 10 inch canvas board.

Acrylics on 8 x 10 inch canvas board.

This month I finished a small painting of a bigfin reef squid commissioned by a longtime friend of mine. She’s been obsessed with cephalopods since I’ve known her, so when she approached me and asked about designing her a squid tattoo I was both super thrilled and touched. Her request was for the piece to be realistic and I thought it’d be an added bonus if she got an original painting out of it too. Once the final sketch was approved, I painted the squid in acrylics on an 8 x 10 inch canvas board and scanned it in high resolution for her tattoo artist to use. She received the original a few days later, made the appointment, and… ta-daaaah!

I’m absolutely amazed at how perfectly Ed Weston at Custom Ink & Steel in Flint, Michigan recreated my painting on her arm, and I’m so happy she loves it so much! What a fun commission this was!


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A Commission for Christmas

Last year I had the pleasure of working on several commissions to be given as gifts for the holidays. One of my favourite things about commissions is hearing feedback from the recipient, and now I know it’s safe to share what I was working on. This particular 16 x 20 inch acrylic painting was for the client’s wife and was to feature her three favourite animals: a manatee, a dolphin, and a sea turtle. Here’s a look at the process from start to finish, including a shot of the framed piece in its happy home!


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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 Charge

Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 24 inches

Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 24 inches

On April 15th this year I went whale watching for the first time. It was also my first visit to Monterey Bay, somewhere I’d longed to go for years and years. It lived up to my expectations and then some – although there were no orcas to be seen, I got to see several feeding humpback whales, an enormous pod of Risso’s dolphins, and a small but curious pod of long-beaked common dolphins. The latter is a species that can also be seen in my home waters in the southwest of England, but of course throughout my life it was always a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, so I was ecstatic to finally see them. They’re so small and quick and utterly charming; the pod made a beeline for the bow of the boat where I was crouching and were so close my lens was too long to get a good photo! Watching them erupt from the water (which in itself is so difficult to photograph) was so fantastic that I knew I had to paint it.

Detail view.

Detail view.


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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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Sharks and Rays for 31 Days: 6-13

I want to give another massive thank you to everyone who’s been following me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and providing so much wonderful support and feedback on this challenge. A particularly huge thank you to Shark Advocates International and The Ocean Foundation for the encouragement! I’m excited to share that most of the artwork created so far is now on eBay and beginning to raise funds for shark and ray conservation.

Here’s a look at the pieces I’ve done since my last update!

06 - Zebra shark - Watercolours over sketch.

06 – Zebra shark – Watercolours over sketch.

I’ve had this idea in my head for a couple of years now so I was glad to have an excuse to give it a go! I really love zebra sharks and wanted to illustrate the three equally adorable “looks” they rock over their lives – pup, juvenile, and adult. I’m getting a bit more comfortable with watercolours now – this was fun to work on.

07 - Prickly dogfish - Pencil drawing.

07 – Prickly dogfish – Pencil drawing.

Before I began this challenge I promised myself I’d highlight some of the more unusual species. There are so many underloved and/or poorly known species but I knew I wanted to include one of the rough sharks, and settled on the prickly dogfish. What an odd little guy! They inhabit the temperate waters of south Australia and New Zealand at a usual depth between 300-600 m (984-1968 ft). They also have a spine on the leading edge of each dorsal fin and very rough skin, something I wanted to bring out using my trusty 6B pencil.

08 - Blacktip reef shark - Acrylics on 4 x 12 inch canvas.

08 – Blacktip reef shark – Acrylics on 4 x 12 inch canvas.

Wanted to have a play with composition here! Blacktip reef sharks are an all-time favourite of mine; in fact, they were one of the very first species of shark I ever saw as a child. They have such striking markings and I decided to focus on that trademark dorsal fin.

09 - Puffadder shyshark - Watercolours over pencil.

09 – Puffadder shyshark – Watercolours over pencil.

After doing the zebra sharks I felt braver about using watercolours and wanted to visit one of the small, underrepresented species. How can anyone NOT be absolutely in love with shysharks? They curl up when threatened and cover their eyes with their tail. I wish they’d get their very own documentary. Puffadder shysharks are endemic to South Africa and have such lovely markings. Really loved working on this one.

10 - Southern fiddler ray - Biro, coloured pencils and whit gel pen.

10 – Southern fiddler ray – Biro, coloured pencils and whit gel pen.

Also known as the banjo shark, fiddler rays have some of the most gorgeous markings among elasmobranchs. I’ve been wanting to draw one for a while!

11 - Greenland shark - Biro, coloured pencils and white gel pen.

11 – Greenland shark – Biro, coloured pencils and white gel pen.

This weekend was a really busy one for me and it was a bit of a struggle to get something done on Saturday. I’d love to revisit this one in the future, but for now this attempt at foreshortening will have to do! Greenland sharks are an utterly fascinating species – one of my favorite facts about them is that there’s a parasitic copepod, Ommatokoita elongata, that only lives in the eyes of the Greenland and Pacific sleeper sharks. What the hell, nature!

12 - Spiny dogfish - Markers.

12 – Spiny dogfish – Markers.

Shark Advocates hit the nail on the head when this drawing was captioned with “king of the under-appreciated sharks”.  The Atlantic spiny dogfish fishery is the largest shark fishery in the U.S.and is currently understood to be sustainable, but previous years of overexploitation targeting females have left stocks skewed. This is a species whose gestation lasts two years! They’re an incredible little species and I was geeking out pretty hard when I finally saw some in person at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in April. I’ve had a few markers lying around since I bought them at HeroesCon 2014 and got the sudden urge to use them for this one; I’m excited to do more with them.

13 - Shortfin Mako - Acrylics on 18 x 24 inch canvas board.

13 – Shortfin mako shark – Acrylics on 18 x 24 inch canvas board.

And here’s today’s offering, the biggest yet! Shortfin makos are simply spectacular fish. I love their flashiness and that incredible blue sheen of their skin, so I wanted to try to represent that through a slightly rougher painting style than what I usually do. Since this painting is so much larger than the others this month, I started working on it on Friday and worked on it in my limited time this weekend. Glad I got it done.

13 down… 18 more to go!


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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: Paint Out Week – Days 1 & 2

My favourite week of the year is in full swing! Yesterday was the first day of Paint Out Week at Zoo Atlanta, and I’m one of several artists creating works en plein air celebrating the zoo’s animals and exhibits for the next few days. It’s brilliant to see so many familiar faces from last year, and just like before, the diversity of styles is astounding! I can’t wait to see everyone’s completed works at the Art Gone Wild show on the 13th.

I definitely got a few curious looks.

I definitely got a few curious looks.

Monday: I started the first day off in the Living Treehouse, one of my favourite spots whenever I visit. It’s home to a stunning collection of birds and I knew already that I wanted to paint a racket-tailed roller, so I set to work. The birds and I seemed just as interested in each other so it proved a distracting painting location for me, but it was still a fun experience. I forgot, however, that even though it wasn’t raining it was still a stupid idea to try to paint under a large tree whose rustling leaves provided the same effect at random. That plus the humidity of the morning prompted me to move inside the treehouse, which was freezing but at least allowed me to get my base colours on (and my paint could finally dry!). I’m going to finish this little guy tomorrow.

Racket-tailed roller in progress.

Racket-tailed roller in progress.

In the afternoon I set up in Scaly, Slimy, Spectacular, the awesome new reptile and amphibian building. I quickly established the base of an emerald tree boa painting, but the light wasn’t ideal for it and I’m not sure if I’ll continue with it. Love this species though.

Very much a messy work in progress.

Tuesday: I’d said last month that because I had painted two rhino pieces for the show last year I’d branch out a bit (despite my love of painting rhinos). And yet… this is where I found myself this morning. Can you really blame me?

Zoo Atlanta's adult male rhino, Utenzi, had his horn removed earlier this year due to concerns about the cracks he'd had in it since his arrival.

Zoo Atlanta’s adult male rhino, Utenzi, had his horn removed earlier this year due to concerns about the cracks he’d had in it since his arrival.

After spending most of the day with the lovely Utenzi and chatting with guests while I worked, I took some time to gather more inspiration for my other paintings this week. While doing so I stumbled onto a snake presentation and got to be just a foot or two away from a green anaconda without barriers – super awesome for this snake nerd! Looking forward to returning tomorrow to tackle some new subjects. (Not literally though.)

pbbbttt

pbbbttt


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Makana

Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14

Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14

I'm impressed I could contain my geek out even this much.

I’m impressed I could contain my geek out even this much.

Last month I fulfilled a long term goal of mine: visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I’ve been an admirer of the incredible work that goes on there for years and was beyond excited to finally be setting foot inside the building for real (they’re lucky I didn’t somehow manage to fit those life-sized orca models in my bag upon leaving). It exceeded all my expectations – what an amazing team, collection and facility! I even got to see humpback whales, sea otters and seemingly endless seabirds from the deck.

I gathered so many references for future works of species I’d longed to see, like leopard sharks, flamboyant cuttlefish and bluefin tuna (just to name a few), but was particularly inspired by meeting a very special bird named Makana. She’s a Laysan albatross from Hawaii that suffered a wing injury and cannot be released, so she serves as an ambassador for seabirds at Monterey. This role is particularly important because of the threats seabirds, especially albatrosses like Makana, face in the ocean from plastic pollution. This video does a lovely job of introducing Makana and sharing this critical message. It’s also worth nothing that of the 21 albatross species, 19 are threatened or endangered.

Given my love of seabirds I couldn’t resist painting an 11 x 14 portrait of Makana. I’ve long been fascinated with albatrosses for their size and lifestyle – they can go years without touching land and it’s believed they can even sleep while flying! This painting is now in its forever home in California and I’m thankful to have met such a special bird. Thank you Makana and Monterey!

Isn't she beautiful?

Isn’t she beautiful?

For more about Laysan albatrosses and the problem with plastics, check out the Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal. To become smitten with these birds yourself (and I definitely recommend a visit to see Makana for yourself), take a look at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s live nest cam!


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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.