Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


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CITES CoP17

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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Sharks and Rays for 31 Days: The 31

31 days ago I announced my challenge to draw or paint a different shark or ray species every single day for the entirety of July. Throughout the month, these artworks would go up for auction with the proceeds going to the wonderful non-profit Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation. 31 days, lots of pencil shavings and paint and late nights later… here they all are! Many have already gone off to their new homes with winning bidders, and I can’t thank you all enough for the ongoing encouragement and interest these past few months. I’ve seen my work shared by individuals and organisations whose work I’ve admired for years, had amazing feedback from the scientists who are working to understand and protect these very species, got to represent elasmobranchs from the popular classics to the weird deep sea residents, and challenged myself to explore mediums I’d been afraid to before.

And best of all? So far more than $1000 has been raised for Shark Advocates – and it’s not over yet! Help me raise even more by bidding on the available art  we’ve still got ten days before the last auction ends. Own my original art and do something good for sharks and rays today – and thank you!!


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Sharks and Rays for 31 Days: 14-18

As my current work in progress dries on the easel behind me I thought it would be a good time to share the latest five artworks in my Sharks and Rays for 31 Days challenge. I’m over halfway through now and only have 13 pieces to go! The level of interest and support in this project mean the world to me and I’m so very grateful for every retweet, like and share. As an artist it’s immensely fulfilling to see your art gaining traction but there’s a whole other level to this: these works (and the people that bid on them!) are directly supporting shark and ray conservation. That’s why, when I’m spending every minute of spare time in a day drawing, colouring, or painting an elasmobranch, I know it’s worth it. The first seven auctions have been won and the funds are being raised, and that’s awesome! Thank you, again. (Here’s a link to the current auctions!)

Shark Advocates International (the reason for this challenge) is a project of The Ocean Foundation, who published a lovely interview with me this week about the project, my art, and sharks, so do please give it a read! I’m excited for what’s next.

Now onto the art!

14 - Common skate - Watercolours over sketch.

14 – Common skate – Watercolours over pencil.

The common skate is sadly not living up to its name. There are far more species of skate than people realise, but I chose this one because of its conservation story; hopefully their populations will recover. I love the shape of skates so I wanted to focus on that for this watercolour, doing something a bit more unusual with the composition. I’m learning more every time I use watercolours, so I’m really enjoying using them.

15 - White shark - Biro, white pencil and white gel pen.

15 – White shark – Biro, white pencil and white gel pen.

We ALL knew this guy was coming eventually. White sharks are a classic, and they’re undeniably impressive. I always like using the white pencil on toned paper to highlight their undersides.

16 - Cownose ray - Watercolours over pencil.

16 – Cownose ray – Watercolours over pencil.

My scanner kind of hated this one so I apologise for a poor representation of the colours, but no one can resist a cownose ray face. I wanted to do something fun with this species as well as play with perspective a bit.

17 - Spotted wobbegong - Watercolours over pencil.

17 – Spotted wobbegong – Watercolours over pencil.

Watercolours two days in a row! This one was actually a suggestion from social media. I’d asked for people to name me a species and there were so many fantastic ideas, but the wobbegong came up more than anything else! And you know my weakness for wobbegongs, so I couldn’t help myself. I really wanted to use watercolours for those lovely markings. More follower suggestions coming soon!

18 - Bonnethead shark - Markers.

18 – Bonnethead shark – Markers.

My second go at using markers! I’m so glad I decided to continue exploring this medium, because like watercolours, I’m learning more each time and getting more comfortable with them. These little hammerheads had been on my list since the beginning, but a few people have expressed interest in seeing me draw one and I couldn’t resist any longer. They’re just so cute.


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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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Sharks and Rays for 31 Days: The First Five

On Wednesday I began my fundraising challenge – creating art featuring a different shark or ray species every single day of July in support of Shark Advocates International – and in the last five days I’ve received so much support from you all that I’m really quite floored! It’s just so lovely to see such positive feedback early on in this project that it’s given me even more motivation to step up my game. And of course, knowing you’re all watching helps me keep accountable for reaching my goal!

Today marks the beginning of Discovery’s Shark Week so it’s a rather fitting time to take a look at the first five Sharks and Rays for 31 Days artworks and my reasons for choosing these species. I’ll be launching the first round of auctions later this week, so if you’ve got your eye on one of these pieces, you’re definitely going to want to follow me on social media! And if you can’t wait until the first auction to support Shark Advocates, you can donate directly to them any time you like.

01 - Oceanic whitetip shark

01 – Oceanic whitetip shark – Biro, white gel pen and white pencil on toned grey paper.

Oceanic whitetips are a longtime favourite of mine. I’ve always been in awe of their beauty, and two years ago I painted one in celebration of the big elasmobranch win at CITES CoP 16. Did you know that Jacques Cousteau referred to them as “Lord of the Long Hands”? I have to agree: those pectoral fins are something else.

02 - Lesser devil ray

02 – Lesser devil ray – Watercolour over sketch.

There’s just something mesmerising about a large school of mobulid rays. I created and posted this during the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission meeting that would decide on strengthening protections for several shark and ray species, notably mantas and mobulids. I’m happy to share that there’s good news on that front for the rays, but sadly there is still a lot more work to be done.

03 - Great hammerhead shark - acrylic on canvas

03 – Great hammerhead shark – Acrylic on 11 x 14 canvas.

Day three saw me complete the first full painting of the challenge. Hammerheads are absolutely iconic, and they don’t come bigger than the up-to-20-feet great hammerhead. I wanted to capture a couple of different angles with this one. Like other hammerheads, these guys have long been overexploited and their populations continue to decline, making them an Endangered species.

04 - Spotted eagle ray - Biro, white gel pen and white pencil.

04 – Spotted eagle ray – Biro, white gel pen and white pencil on toned grey paper.

Who doesn’t love a spotted eagle ray? I love this species for their unusual snouts that they use to find their benthic prey and thought the white pencil and pen would be a fun way to highlight those lovely spots. Sadly, though, they are a Near Threatened species.

05 - Atlantic sharpnose shark - Acrylics on 5 x 7 wood panel.

05 – Atlantic sharpnose shark – Acrylics on 5 x 7 wood panel.

If you’ve ever seen an Atlantic sharpnose, even just a photo, you know already how impossibly cute they are. I wanted to have a bit of fun with this one so I painted him on a small wood panel – something I’ve done before but find a challenge because of how differently the paint behaves. It was nice to show some support for one of the little guys!

So that’s 5 down, 26 more to go… and I’m looking forward to every single one. Please feel free to suggest some of your favourite species for me to include!


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Sharks and Rays for 31 Days

Do you love sharks and rays? Do you want to help sharks and rays? Do you want to own multiple original artworks from me featuring sharks and rays? Then I’ve got some fun news for you!

I just can’t get enough of these utterly wonderful animals so all throughout July I’ll be making, sharing, and donating art to raise funds for vital conservation work through non-profit Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation. SAI’s mission is “to provide leadership in advancing sound, science-based local, national, and international conservation policies through collaboration with a diverse array of organizations and decision makers.” Sharks and Rays for 31 Days will see me posting artwork featuring a different elasmobranch species every single day, whether it’s a sketch, more detailed drawing, or even a painting. Throughout the month, collections of these pieces will be available for auction with the proceeds going to SAI.

Please follow my progress and help me support sharks and rays! I’ll be posting updates right here on the blog, but daily pictures will be found on my social media accounts: Twitter || Facebook || Instagram #SharksandRaysfor31Days

Shark Advocates International: Website ||  Facebook || Twitter
The Ocean Foundation: Website || Facebook || Twitter

See you on Wednesday, July 1st!


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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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Sawfish sketches

Sawfishes are amazing creatures, but did you know that the five species comprise the most threatened family of fishes on the planet? All five are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, a sad result of many decades of bycatch and targeted fishing for their distinctive rostrums combined with their low reproductive rate. Thankfully, there’s recent good news for these guys. Earlier in November, every species of sawfish was selected for inclusion on the Convention on Migratory Species (also known as the Bonn Convention). This means that under correct enforcement, sawfishes will be protected throughout their ranges. They already see some international protection through CITES, so hopefully we’ll be able to see their populations increasing. In the meantime, I felt like doing a few rough celebratory sketches. Gotta love those giant spiracles!

Highly recommended sawfish links:

• IUCN Shark Specialist Group
• Shark Advocates
• Global Sawfish Conservation Strategy


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Februaray: Cownose ray


If you’ve ever been to an aquarium that has a ray touch pool, you’ve probably encountered these guys up close already. Cownose ray faces seem to be particularly appealing to a lot of people – they’ve definitely got a distinctive look! Named after their unique head shape, which is a lot like the nose of a cow, cownose rays are actually a Near Threatened species that ranges from the western Atlantic all the way down to the far end of Brazil. There are two unusual subrostral lobes on its underside that help it forage in the substrate for tasty invertebrates.

See more of my Februaray sketches using this handy tag!


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Februaray: Ocellate river stingray


I’ve never seen an ocellate river stingray in person, but their colouration fascinates me. So does their lifestyle – it’s a freshwater species! Though these guys in particular are currently classified as Data Deficient on the IUCN Red List, the threats to freshwater elasmobranchs become all the more apparent when you consider just how much we impact our rivers and streams. Not being able to know how well or poorly a species is doing can make managing their conservation quite difficult.

I added a bit of digital colour to this sketch to show their awesome markings. I saved up for an iPad in December and have been having a blast getting back into digital art using a stylus; it’s a great feeling to be able to create artwork – even “paint” – on the go.


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Februaray: Black blotched fantail ray

When most people think of stingrays they’re probably envisioning something about the size of the lid of your average trash can. The black blotched fantail ray is a big stingray though, and quite a sight to behold as it sweeps along the bottom like a forgotten 330 lb blanket.

I’m looking forward to having some time this weekend to produce some more Februaray contributions that are a lot more finished than the sketchbook pages I’ve shared so far!


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FebruaRAY: Spotted eagle rays

Getting ready to feed a tasty clam to this eager fellow.

Getting ready to feed a tasty clam to this eager fellow. I’m trying hard not to grin like an utter moron.

For tonight’s FebruaRAY post I’m sharing another page from my sketchbook. Spotted eagle rays are the champions of being completely bizarre-looking but ridiculously endearing at the same time. They have one of the strangest faces of all elasmobranchs – the fleshy snout forms a “bill” that they use to dig around in the sediment for delicious mollusks, but it also gives them an oddly human face. I was recently feeding a group of these guys, and yes, it was awesome. It’s actually a bit startling to remember just how big they can get: an adult can measure almost 11 feet across and more than 16 feet long including the tail.

What’s FebruaRAY? I’m dedicating all of my art time this month to the vastly underappreciated Batoidea! Keep checking back for lots more as I work my way through just a few of the ~560 species of rays and skates.


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It’s FebruaRAY!

You may have heard some big elasmobranch news a couple of weeks ago: the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Shark Specialist Group published the first-ever global analysis of sharks, rays and chimeras, and the results were not good. It found that a quarter of shark and ray species are threatened with extinction, putting them at a substantially higher risk than other groups of animals. That’s pretty huge. Especially disturbing is the fact that rays are actually more at risk than sharks are.

Rays are essentially flat sharks, but they don’t garner nearly the attention that their more well-known relatives do. Of course, you get the rockstar manta rays and aquarium touch pool favourites, but on the whole, rays are really underloved. I’d like to help change that.

So, for the entire month, I’m celebrating FebruaRAY. (I’m not sorry for the name.) As often as I can over the coming weeks, I’m going to draw and share art I’ve created that showcases some of my favourite ray species. I love rays dearly, but even I’m guilty of picking more traditionally “paintable” marine wildlife over them. Here’s to changing that!

My first Februaray offering is a double – two messy pages from my sketchbook. I was thrilled to hear that Sweet Pea, a bowmouth guitarfish (or shark ray – just to be confusing) at the Newport Aquarium gave birth very recently, which is particularly fantastic because this marks the first time this species has reproduced in human care. Guitarfishes are actually one of the most threatened families of rays. Go Sweet Pea! (Please do click on that link and to see photos of her pups. There’s little on the planet cuter than elasmobranch babies!)

Last Monday I had the undeniably awesome experience of being in the water with a small school of lesser devil rays (Mobula hypostoma) during feeding time. I was already kind of in love with these guys, who you’d not be too wrong to think of as tiny, hyperactive manta rays, but experiencing them so close and feeling the water move as they zig-zagged so effortlessly around me has me head over heels for them.

Please do feel free to suggest more ray species for me to draw! What is YOUR favourite?


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Making mantas make sense

Mantas

You’ll need to click on this to see a bigger version. Fuzzy WordPress resizing ahoy!

It’s been a long time since I did manta rays. My first and so far only finished manta piece “Takeoff” was done almost two and a half years ago and remains my most popular image, even though I’ve since moved away from digital pieces and have fully embraced traditional media again (it doesn’t always embrace me back, as I’ve made several manta painting attempts and given up each time). You can see a dreadful rough sketch here and a screenshot of it in progress here. I’ve been wanting to return to mantas ever since I completed “Takeoff”, but nothing ever worked for me. My recent focus on whale sharks, however, has motivated me into trying again – you have to love the giant filter feeders.

Manta rays are utterly captivating. Their appearance is just so alien; I can look closely at sharks and other fish and their anatomy makes sense to me, but mantas are somehow beyond my comprehension sometimes. They’re just so big that it’s a lot to take in when that gigantic shadow is looming above you, the bubbles from your regulator tickling their bellies as they effortlessly glide on by like a spacecraft looking for a good spot to land. When those cephalic fins unroll to form a funnel for that cavernous mouth it’s hard not to imagine them coming from another planet. Which is one of the infinite reasons the ocean is so awesome: Manta rays make perfect sense in this environment.

They are, of course, another success story that came out of this year’s CITES CoP 16 (you can read my previous posts on this in my conservation tag). The manta proposal was actually the first elasmobranch one to pass on its first try, an indicator of our fascination with them (and, sadly, the precariousness of their conservation status). Manta rays are divers’ favourites; our desire to see and experience them makes them far more valuable alive than dead. Unfortunately their gill rakers are falsely believed to hold health benefits, and the demand for their parts has caused populations to plummet (PEW identifies decreases of more than 85% in several regions). As with many marine species bycatch is also a huge problem, and when you consider that your average manta will birth only one pup every two to three years, you can understand why these incredibly unsustainable practices are removing mantas much faster than their biology can cope with. With a listing on CITES Appendix II now official, manta rays have a much greater chance of recovering.

I wanted to practice drawing them from several different angles to try to wrap my head around them just a bit better. Looking forward to translating a few onto a nice big canvas!