Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


Leave a comment

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!

Advertisements


Leave a comment

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


Leave a comment

Devon Wildlife: Basking Shark

Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14

On the 11th July 2009 I was out on a boat in Tor Bay, the waters of my hometown in lovely Devon, England. I was one of two environmental educators running the trip for the monthly kids’ club at the marine facility where I worked, and it was a gorgeous day to be out there. A pod of common dolphins had been spotted nearby, but we unfortunately missed them by minutes. We did see a pair of peregrine falcons, though, and lots of seabirds (especially gannets, my favourite!). But the thing that left this day firmly embedded in my memory? When we were slowly passing through a particularly beautiful area known as Elberry Cove, I finally – after years of wishing and hoping and wishing some more – caught sight of an unmistakable dark brown shape gliding alongside us, dorsal fin slicing through the surface. It was definitely, absolutely, awesomely, a basking shark!

Basking sharks are the second largest species of fish (after whale sharks) and one of the three plankton-eating species (along with whale sharks and megamouth sharks). They can be found in temperate seas around the world, but the southwest of England becomes a hotspot for them during the summer. 2014 was a particularly good year for sightings, and excellent news for this Vulnerable species. (I’d also like to add that their scientific name is one of my all-time favourites: Cetorhinus maximus. Just awesome.)

I was so excited to see this juvenile basking shark that when I turned to go to the other side of the boat to take photos I slammed into a metal step, stumbling badly and causing an impressive pain (and later a bruise) in my shin, but barely noticed – I was too busy hurdling over the row of seats for a better view. The reward for my stunt were these mostly blurry photos. It’s OK to be jealous.

Basking sharks have long been a subject I’ve wanted to paint, and when I set myself the task of doing a series of Devon wildlife paintings I knew I’d be doing one. I definitely want to paint one again, and hopefully I’ll get to see another in person sometime.

If YOU are ever lucky enough to see a basking shark anywhere in the world, please do report it! These sightings help to provide data that is critical in protecting them. If you spot one around the UK you can submit it to the Shark Trust; if you’re in the US, you can report it to NOAA or the New England Basking Shark Project.

 


1 Comment

Diving with the Coral Restoration Foundation

Recently I planted Critically Endangered staghorn coral on a reef.

That is the coolest sentence I have ever typed.  A few weeks ago I joined my coworkers and some wonderful volunteers from Georgia Aquarium (a sponsor of this project) on a trip to Key Largo to spend some time with the Coral Restoration Foundation. We’d been planning it for a while and I was beyond excited: not only was this going to be my first ever trip to the Florida Keys, but it was my first time diving in a couple of years and I was excited to be taking part in such an important conservation project. I celebrate the ocean and its wildlife through my artwork, but it’s also vital for me to put this appreciation into action.

The Coral Restoration Foundation is a non-profit organisation that creates offshore coral nurseries and programs to help restore reefs. CRF’s techniques were developed to be accessible and affordable, meaning they can be implemented around the world and can currently be seen in action in Bonaire and Colombia as well as in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. One of these techniques is an innovative “tree” design, which allows fragments of coral to be suspended on a framework that floats in the water column. All coral fragments in the nursery are categorized by genotype; since this project takes advantage of corals’ ability to reproduce asexually it’s important that genetic diversity is maintained. When the fragments on the trees are mature enough, they’re taken to a depleted reef to be outplanted. Hopefully, those outplanted corals will get established and form a healthy new colony.

Ready to learn at CRF. Bonus: Seeing OAS founder Wyland's artwork!

Ready to learn at CRF. Bonus: Seeing OAS founder Wyland’s artwork!

Friday 6th June: Helping in the Nursery

Our morning started with a fun session at CRF’s headquarters where we learned more about the organisation’s origin, mission, and its various farming methods and the pros/cons of each (except the “tree” technique, which is remarkably successful!). As a professional marine educator myself it was awesome to see the CRF interns, who led the session, so pumped up and excited about their work and about corals. It was contagious! We couldn’t wait to get hands-on, using old fragments to practice looping and threading the wire before crimping it in place with pliers. It was also really reinforcing to see a print by Wyland on display – I’ve been an Ocean Artists Society member for two years and am proud to be following in one of our founders’ footsteps in supporting this brilliant cause.

A helper in the trees!

A helper in the trees!

Good view of one of the trees in the nursery.

Good view of one of the trees in the nursery.

After lunch, we met with Keys Diver to head out to the CRF nursery. It felt AMAZING to be back on the water. Before I moved to Atlanta I spent my entire life in Torquay, England, and was spoiled by its close proximity to the sea. Every time I return to the coast now it’s like seeing an old friend again. Unlike the slightly chillier waters of the UK though, the view from the boat zipping out from the Key Largo horizon was like looking down through turquoise glass – I could see all the way to the bottom. When we reached our destination we could see the trees and the live rock beds of the nursery clearly from above the surface. I felt giddy, and it wasn’t just motion sickness; I’d been admiring CRF’s work for years, and to be seeing it with my own eyes was quite moving. Descending 30 feet down and being among the rows and rows of trees is a sight I won’t soon forget. It’s just such an awesome conservation effort.

Getting ready to suspend new coral fragments on a tree. I'm on the left.

Getting ready to suspend new coral fragments on a tree. I’m on the left.

Attaching fragments to the tree. I'm on the right, having already suspended mine.

Attaching fragments to the tree. I’m on the right, having already suspended mine.

Our group was split into smaller ones to be guided by a CRF team leader. Blue Team, clearly the most awesome one (not that I’m biased…) started by using brushes and chisels to scrape algae growth off the framework of the trees. We were very quickly joined by a fanclub of hogfish, angelfish and wrasses that swarmed around us to pick up the tasty morsels we were removing. I felt not unlike a Disney princess, albeit one with a tank of high pressure gas on my back and a rather fetching mask. It was right here that I got my first experience with fire coral. That’s some fun stuff!

After cleaning trees, we took new fragments of staghorn coral and suspended them from the upper branches. It was immensely satisfying to place a brand new piece of coral in the nursery. Grow, little guys, grow!

 

Staghorn corals collected from the nursery and ready to be outplanted. Photo by Halef G.

Staghorn corals collected from the nursery and ready to be outplanted. Photo by Halef G.

Saturday 7th June

Outplanting day! After helping out in the nursery the day before, Saturday’s dives would see us taking mature staghorn fragments out to Pickles Reef, an area southeast of Key Largo. Before we set out, we had another fun morning at the CRF building as we learned exactly how outplanting worked. Using Play-Doh as our epoxy, we practiced finding appropriate attachment points for coral fragments and how to place them on the reef.

Pickles Reef. Lovely!

Pickles Reef. Lovely!

Our journey to Pickles Reef first took us for a brief stop at the nursery so that the CRF team could collect the fragments from the day before. While we waited on the boat, who should surface alongside us but Ken Nedimyer, Coral Restoration Foundation founder and CNN Hero!

We were all eager to get in the water with our corals once we arrived. I was especially raring to go because this would be my very first reef dive! Pickles Reef isn’t very deep, but it really is beautiful. It was awesome to see it so vibrant with life – parrotfish, grunts, porkfish, and yellow stingrays to name a few. We even saw some staghorn corals that had already become established.

Clearing some space for the coral! I'm on the right.

Clearing some space for the coral! I’m on the right.

Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of coral restoration.

Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of coral restoration.

Our team leader selected an appropriate spot for us to get to work. We used hammers to scrape algae off the reef and create a clear spot to place our coral, ensuring that each of us was keeping our pieces in close proximity to each other so that it would be easier for them to come together to form a new colony. Once we’d cleared three anchor points (three means more stability for the fragments), we used a special non-toxic epoxy to adhere the coral to the reef and then waved our hands over it, creating a little bit of motion, to make sure it was secure. The epoxy would set in about 45 minutes. During this whole process we were joined by a school of juvenile bluehead wrasses, who were adorable! I liked to think of them as little supervisors checking up on our progress. It was really encouraging to watch these little fish immediately begin utilising our newly placed coral as a habitat, darting underneath it and munching on the algae we’d removed.


Bonus video! I’m on the right, and partway through you can see me inspect a new fire coral sting on my hand. Told you that stuff was fun. Video taken by Terri Frazier.

A look at some of the newly outplanted coral fragments from another team.

A look at some of the newly outplanted coral fragments from another team.

Altogether, our team planted dozens of staghorn coral fragments on Pickles Reef. I personally planted six, and it remains the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I really hope to take part in this project again in the future and donate more of my time to CRF, whose efforts in restoring reef habitats are second to none. I’d love to return to Pickles Reef in a few years and see how “my” staghorn fragments are getting along!

A healthy staghorn colony.

A healthy staghorn colony.

If you’d like to support the Coral Restoration Foundation, check out their website to see how you can get involved. You can also adopt a coral or a tree in the nursery, or even help them plant a coral thicket! I can’t wait to create some coral restoration-themed artwork to help support their efforts further.

'til next time!

’til next time!


Leave a comment

Throwback Thursday: A long time ago in a country far, far away…

You may have seen the hashtag #ThrowbackThursday, #tbt, or however the internet masses like to shorten it floating around recently. It’s quite a fun idea, and I’ve had many a giggle seeing things from my friends’ archives. I’ve got mountains of dreadful art and pictures of embarrassing hair and fashion choices that I could share, but the other day I stumbled across this absolute gem that combines all of those. I had to share it.

Back in 2001 at the tender age of 14 I entered Junior Wildart, a competition held by my “home zoo”, Paignton Zoo Environmental Park. Kids were encouraged to create images of their favourite animals so it’s no surprise what I ended up submitting. There were three different age categories and I won in mine; I was also the one who got to have their photo taken for the local papers. Hooray me!

So here I am, being 14 and awkward, in front of my orcas and holding my certificate and art supply voucher prize:

Hiding behind hair, sleeves covering hands... yep, that's a teenager.

Hiding behind hair, hands in sleeves… yep, that’s a teenager. I have no idea why I did that top painting either – it seemed original when I was 14, guys.

I can (and probably will) poke fun at myself forever, but this was the first time I’d entered an art competition (except for my awesome manatee rescue story – I wish I could find that) so this certificate and little newspaper clipping do hold a special place in my heart. I drifted away from drawing and painting animals for a while when I hit 16 and didn’t return to it seriously until about eight years later, and I’m so glad I did. It’s really nice to see my progress. I wonder if my fellow Junior Wildart winners kept painting?


Leave a comment

Why I paint

Today brought an experience that reminded me why I do what I do. I love marine life (surprise!), love to paint marine life, and hope that my work can inspire people to care about marine life just a bit more. I also hope that through sharing my art more people can experience the joy that can come from painting the things you love.

I was recently told by a family member on my husband’s side that she’d shown my paintings to her animal-loving niece, who has special needs. She said that her niece had loved my work and that it had inspired her to start painting, which is a huge compliment for any artist. I was actually able to meet this girl today, and she presented me with this:

A gorgeous painting of Keiko!

A gorgeous painting of Keiko!

I was beyond touched. To have inspired someone to pick up a paintbrush is one thing, but to actually be given something they did as a thank you is simply wonderful. Not only that, but Keiko was an orca that was close to my heart (as he was for a lot of us), and being able to bond with her over our connection to this particular animal was especially lovely. This will be going up on the wall of my studio for those occasions – us arty types all have them – when I may need reminding of why I paint. Thank you, Elaine!


Leave a comment

Happy New Year!

Ringing in 2013 with a trio of Rhincodon typus.

Ringing in 2013 with a trio of Rhincodon typus.

I’m not usually one for making New Years resolutions, but I am going to fill 2013 with art. Whether it’s just a doodle, a detailed sketch, or an involved painting, I’m going to make sure I spend at least a little bit of every single day doing something art related. I certainly won’t be able to post things online every day, but I’ll be putting pencil to paper or brush to canvas in whatever time I can make – and I’m going to make the time. Though 2012 was a very busy year, I still felt like I wasted too much time that could have been spent being productive and improving my work. I’m hoping that by making this commitment I can emerge at the end of the year with a more robust portfolio and a feeling of accomplishment. And now that I’ve published this on the internet, I can’t go back…!

The tidiest it may ever be.

The tidiest it may ever be.

A big help in this decision came in the form of a Christmas present I received  from my husband: my dream drafting table. I’d been waxing somewhat poetic about it over the last few months, since I craved an actual desk in my studio (when using my table easel, I sat on the floor with it) and endless trawls of craigslist continued to yield nothing. A little bit of rearranging and tidying up later, and my workspace has evolved. Astonishingly, drawing is so much more comfortable on a drafting table than it is hunched over on the sofa with my sketchbook balanced in my lap. How odd…


1 Comment

The Adventures of Shark Stanley

While this isn’t an update about any art I’m currently working on (although I do have new prints available!), I wanted to use this space to highlight a unique project I feel quite strongly about.

Here’s what you need to know. Only ten species of sharks, rays and skates (elasmobranchs), out of many hundreds, are internationally protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) at this time: sawfish (7 species), whale sharks, basking sharks and great white sharks. It was recently proposed that ten more be considered for inclusion on Appendix II: scalloped, smooth, and great hammerheads, porbeagle and oceanic whitetip sharks, both manta ray species, and three species of river stingray. (Right now scalloped hammerheads are only protected under CITES Appendix III in Costa Rica, and porbeagle sharks in the European Union.) Overexploitation of these species has had particularly devastating effects on their populations; sightings of reef mantas in Mozambique alone have declined by about 86% in less than a decade. CITES is set to convene in Bangkok in March 2013 to vote on these proposals.

Shark Stanley

This is where Shark Stanley comes in. In the spirit of Flat Stanley – a character I encountered and posed with quite frequently working in public aquaria education – this very cute little hammerhead is traveling the world to find supporters of shark and manta ray conservation. He’s the brainchild of Shark Defenders, and the idea is to compile a kind of photographic petition to send to the governments voting at CITES in order to get their support. The goal is to find 50 celebrities and organisations to partner with Shark Stanley and collect at least 5000 photos from all 176 CITES member countries. Not only was the adorable Showing our support!illustration (by the incredibly talented Daniel Yagmin Jr.) difficult to resist and the idea inventive, but elasmobranch conservation is near and dear to my heart, especially when it comes to manta rays. I had to get involved, and had a particularly large friend help me express my support. Fingers crossed!

If you’d like to take part in Shark Stanley’s adventures too, check out the Shark Defenders Facebook page. Print the little guy out, take your photo, and share it via social media (or by emailing info@sharkdefenders.com) using the hashtags #SharkStanley and that of your country of origin to spread the message!

 

Edit on 12/24/2012: I’m so very proud to be an official partner of Shark Stanley! Let’s get these precious elasmobranchs better international protection!