Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


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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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Atlantic sea nettle

White pencil, gel pen and biro on toned grey paper.

White pencil, gel pen and biro on toned grey paper.

I’ve admired the work of artist Aaron Blaise for a while now, both for his incredibly diverse style as well as how beautiful even the most simple sketch can be. Inspired by his utterly gorgeous sketches on toned paper I thought I’d have a go myself, and used a white pencil, gel pen and a biro to draw an Atlantic sea nettle. It was really enjoyable, and definitely something I’m going to do more of!


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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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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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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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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.


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Beluga sketches

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A few rough belugas drawn while in the kitchen waiting for rice to cook. Exciting! It was also a race against time to fill the page before my 6B pencil devolved into a useless nub. Don’t you hate it when the lead is broken all the way through and it keeps snapping off? It was a new pencil last week. Sadness.


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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.