Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


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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.)

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Into the Light

'Into the Light' - Acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11

‘Into the Light’ – Acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11

Rhinos are brilliant. I discovered my love of painting them last year while taking part in Zoo Atlanta’s first Art Gone Wild event, which saw me paint not one but three of them. Seeing my completed works in the silent auction and knowing that the funds raised from them helped to support the zoo gave me warm fuzzies. I knew I’d want to continue using my art to actively help animals as best I could.

Last year, while chatting with the lovely Corinna Bechko, I became interested in Bowling for Rhinos. It’s a fundraiser that takes form as multiple events held across the US by the American Association of Zoo Keepers. From what I’ve seen online it looks like everyone has a lot of fun – and even better, 100% of the profits raised go directly to helping rhinos! So far BFR events have raised almost $5.5 million for rhino conservation projects. Corinna put me in touch with the right people, and now I’m very proud to be sending this original 14 x 11 acrylic painting to the LA Bowling for Rhinos silent auction.

My idea was to produce a closeup portrait of a black rhino and bring in lots of colour (similar to my 2014 painting of Zoo Atlanta’s Utenzi). I wanted to really focus on the face and have it appear as if he’s stepping out of the darkness and into the light. For me this symbolises the hope I have for the future of this Critically Endangered species through dedicated conservation efforts.


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Art Gone Wild: Art Show and Silent Auction

My four acrylic paintings on display at the show.

My four acrylic paintings on display at the show.

Zoo Atlanta’s Art Gone Wild event came to a close last night with a spectacular art show and silent auction. From June 2-6, myself and 36 other artists became a temporarily invasive species at the zoo as we created artwork inspired by the animals, horticulture, and exhibits, and I had an excellent time tackling subjects I’d never done before. If you missed my Paint Out Week posts, you can see them in this tag.

It was wonderful to see the dozens of finished pieces at the art show! There was such a wide variety of subjects, styles, and mediums that it was truly a joy to walk around and see everybody’s work. It was definitely an honour for me to be showing my work among such talented people. I had wanted to create five pieces in total, but because of a long-anticipated and busy dive trip from June 5-8 (which I’ll post about very soon!), I only had time to complete four. I had chosen to focus on Betelgeuse, the stunning male wreathed hornbill; Andazi and Jabari, the black rhino mother and calf; Idgie, the red panda; and Utenzi, the male black rhino. These five animals are some of my favourites to see whenever I visit Zoo Atlanta and they were, naturally, a lot of fun to paint. What made all my efforts worth it was the feedback from event guests and zoo staff and volunteers, particularly those that work closely with these individual animals.

I’m absolutely thrilled to say that all four pieces saw multiple bids and went to good homes at the end of the evening!

So happy this painting went to a good home!

So happy this painting went to a good home!

Knowing that my art touched a lot of people and helped to raise funds for the zoo made all of my hard work worthwhile. My hornbill painting was won by a lovely couple who bid on it for their young son who’s obsessed with birds; I made sure to sign and date the painting for him and I hope he loves it as much as I had fun painting it.

From the very beginning of this event, the zoo team have been nothing short of fabulous – coordinating staff, keepers, volunteers, event staff… This whole experience has been utterly fantastic and that’s largely because of their support, so thank you, Zoo Atlanta! I hope we can do this again!


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Art Gone Wild: Day Two

Today’s main subjects were much larger and less feathery than yesterday’s. I’ve felt the urge to paint a rhino for ages, so I got right to it when I arrived at the zoo early this morning – and didn’t just start one, but two! Last year Zoo Atlanta celebrated its first rhino birth in its 124-year history, and little (read: big) Jabari is too precious not to feature. Black rhinos are incredibly fun to paint and I’m hoping to do another piece (featuring dad Utenzi) before the art show and silent auction on the 14th. This one is far from being finished, but I did switch to a new subject later in the afternoon as a refresher. More to come tomorrow!

I must also add that one of my favourite things about Art Gone Wild is being able to meet and chat with other artists. The variety of pieces I’ve seen being created so far (across many mediums) is astounding, and I can’t wait to see everything at the art show. Being around so many fellow artists is definitely inspiring.


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Preparing for Art Gone Wild

Wreathed hornbill sketch with some coloured pencil touches.

Wreathed hornbill sketch with some coloured pencil touches.

As announced back in April, I’m one of the selected artists participating in Zoo Atlanta’s brand new Art Gone Wild event in a couple of weeks. In the run-up to Paint Out Week I’ve been thinking a lot about my potential subjects and spent last Friday at the zoo finding my muse. With the sun out and the temperature in the 70s, it was the perfect day to be outside observing and sketching animals for hours on end! Collected here are some of my quick zoo doodles (zoodles?) done from life.

I plan to paint a variety of subjects but definitely found myself gravitating towards a certain few – is anyone actually surprised that I’m focusing on hornbills? I don’t know what it is about these birds, but I’m just captivated by them. I was also thrilled to finally get to see Jabari, the zoo’s ridiculously cute eastern black rhino calf who was born last year. Watching him run around was definitely the day’s highlight for me.