Jen Richards

Wildlife artist

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International Whale Shark Day: A gift for YOU!

If you weren’t already aware, the largest fish in the world is SO awesome that it gets its very own day of recognition! International Whale Shark Day was declared in 2008 after the 2nd International Whale Shark Conference and is celebrated on August 30th each year. You know by now that whale sharks hold a special place in my heart. Last year I helped create some educational activities for Georgia Aquarium (check out this year’s event taking place on Saturday), and this year I wanted to share the whale shark love with all of you!

I noticed that the most popular post on my blog, and the most frequent search result that lands people here, is my colouring page that I created for Sea Otter Awareness Week in 2012. I’m so thrilled that people enjoy it so much, and excited to move forward with my plan of creating a full marine life colouring book in the coming months. Anything I can do to help kids get interested in marine life (and art)!

With that said, I created this colouring sheet for you to download, print and share with the children in your life (there is also no shame in colouring it yourself) in celebration of Whale Shark Day 2014! I’m offering this for free, and all I ask is that you do not use my artwork for any other purposes, remove my website link or claim it as your own. If you would like to host this on your website, please just let me know (jenrichardsart [at] gmail)! Thank you!PDF link for easy download

The image features a feeding whale shark (feel free to add your own plankton/krill/fish eggs) as well as a school of juvenile golden trevally and a yellowfin tuna.

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Whale Shark Weekend

Did you know that the 30th of August was International Whale Shark Day? Declared in 2008 during the 2nd International Whale Shark Conference (hey, I’ve heard of that!), it’s a good date for all things Rhincodon typus. This year, Georgia Aquarium hosted Whale Shark Weekend on August 30th and 31st to bring some special attention to the world’s largest fish through activities, presentations, lectures and even the premiere of Guy Harvey’s new film Whale Sharks of the Yucatan. It was exactly the kind of event I would have loved to have been present for… but I was unfortunately busy elsewhere in Atlanta and not appropriately dressed. But I got involved another way: I helped create the activities!

Additionally, the original logo design for IWSC3 (affectionately nicknamed "Bubba") served a new purpose as the mascot for the aquarium event.

Additionally, the original logo design for IWSC3 (affectionately nicknamed “Bubba”) served a new purpose as the mascot for the aquarium event.

One of my favourite things about whale sharks is the uniqueness of their markings: each individual has a spot pattern that is unlike that of any other, making photo identification an effective way to study them. As this research is something the aquarium is extensively involved in, I thought it would be fun to get kids to create their very own whale shark with a unique pattern of spots. I made a complete version with markings and one without, and was chuffed to see that both were put to some fun use! The “naked” version was blown up onto a big board so that guests could actually use their thumbs to apply dots of white paint, making it a nice collaborative effort. The complete version was given a background and made into a cute little jigsaw puzzle for them to colour and fit together. Though I wasn’t able to be at the event, I was so happy to see the photos and know that I did my own little part to get kids engaged with one of the coolest animals on the planet!

Photos from Georgia Aquarium’s Whale Shark Weekend gallery on Facebook


3rd International Whale Shark Conference

Sketches A couple of weeks ago, the lovely Dr. Al Dove appeared and asked me to do something awesome. The 3rd International Whale Shark Conference was to be held in Atlanta this coming October, and it needed a logo.

I did a very good job at not falling out of my chair. To have the opportunity to use my art for something so important to me – the Sketchesconservation and research of whale sharks, a species that has become a big part of my life – is quite literally a dream come true. After some chatting and discussing of ideas, I was sent off to sketch and came up with eight or nine scribbles. One of the ideas we’d mentioned was the trademark “swoopyness” of whale sharks, that huge sweeping caudal fin that creates a beautiful silhouette as they swim (and is one of my favourite things about them). As such, I doodled a few swoopies. The intention was to create a simple outline from one of these sketches, something that had a visual impact and was undeniably whale sharky.


The four on the sides here were my attempts at different angles of this swoopiness. The one above was an idea I’d had early on that was a bit different – something that showed a whale shark doing what they like to do best – eating things – while the reflection of the animal on the surface would form a world map, incorporating the whole “international” Bubbapart of the conference. But we ended up going with something quite different entirely: the one I had affectionately called “blimp.jpg”. Al and I agreed that this one was more interesting because it shows the face, and whale shark faces are the best. (Really, though.) It also offered a different angle, something a bit more abstract but still undeniably whale sharky, and did a better job of alluding to the size of a BIG animal than any of the others did. Success!3rd International Whale Shark Conference

So here we are now. With a bit of editing of the angle, some inking and colouring and letters and a map, he’s live on the website and will hopefully do a good job of welcoming some of the world’s top whale shark researchers to the United States this autumn.

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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…

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While documenting the progress of this painting I’ve mentioned quite a bit about how cool whale sharks are. They’re so cool, in fact, that August 30th was officially declared International Whale Shark Day back in 2008, but of course I wasn’t able to get this (12 x 30) painting finished in time to coincide with it. You can have a belated celebration over the internet by reading these two blog posts though, both written by renowned whale shark BFF Dr. Al Dove, who was also kind enough to offer me some pointers in this piece right after getting back from doing fieldwork with the real thing out in the Gulf of Mexico.

The fish swimming alongside the whale shark here are juvenile golden trevallies. These little yellow companions are frequently observed congregating around and following much larger animals like whale sharks, manta rays, groupers, and even dugongs, using them as a kind of mobile shelter. As both an artist and ocean enthusiast I love the visual impact of two very different species associating with one another (though it’s a bit one-sided in this case), especially when the colours offer such contrast. And of course, after painting a very large fish covered in spots, what I really needed was to then paint fourteen smaller ones covered in stripes…!

I always struggle to take good photos of my larger pieces that represent the correct colours and satisfactory details, so I welcome any recommendations for businesses that could help me out in the Atlanta area. For now, here are a few close ups of the trevallies that at least show some of the work that went into them.


Seeing stars

If asked to describe what the largest fish on the planet looks like, one of the first things you’d probably say is that it’s covered in white spots. That’s true! But what a lot of people don’t seem to see as clearly are how the spots transition rather beautifully into stripes, which then become alternating vertical bands of spots and stripes all the way down to the caudal fin (take a look at this one!). It’s absolutely gorgeous colouration, and one of my favourite things about whale sharks physically. It’s obvious why Project Domino is so named. In Madagascar the whale shark is known as marokintana, which means “many stars”. In the Kiswahili language, it’s papa shillingi – “shark covered in shillings”. From the East African Whale Shark Trust: “There is a local legend that God was so pleased when he created this beautiful fish, that he gave his angels handfuls of gold and silver coins to throw down from heaven onto its back.  So it goes that whale sharks have their magical markings and swim near the surface, catching the sun on their backs, as a way of saying thank you to their maker.” I’m kind of a sucker for cool creation legends.

The markings responsible for these fantastic names are kind of hellish to paint, though. Every single whale shark has unique markings (which allow researchers to identify individuals), so I know I have a certain amount of freedom when it comes to the placement of these spots and (eventual) stripes, but I want to ensure that what I’m painting is still within the boundaries of typical whale shark patterns. I spend a lot of time observing our whale sharks, and one of our females has these stunning diagonal lines just above her pectoral fins. I’m thinking she just might be the inspiration for this one.

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Sir Fish

Spotless. Still rough, but working on it; this one will keep me busy for a while.

I’ve always found it very difficult to narrow down my favourite kind of shark. With approximately 400 species to choose from, I can’t blame anyone for not being able to single out just one. For many years I’ve had a soft spot for blacktip reef sharks, which I’ve always considered particularly beautiful, and blue sharks, whose elegance is impossible to deny. But since moving to the United States whale sharks have become quite literally a big part of my life. They’ve always been fascinating to me, but little prepared me for actually seeing them in person: a wall of white spots gliding by, punctuated by a caudal fin taller than I am (not a huge feat considering my lack of height, but still). It’s especially remarkable to consider how little is actually known about the largest fish on the planet. I’m personally very proud to be playing a role in educating people about this fantastic animal.

In the Gulf of Mexico, hundreds of whale sharks gather in the same place at the same time. My friend @para_sight (follow!) is the lucky bugger who gets to study them, and he’s been out there this past week. You can see some gorgeous pictures and footage from the trip right here, and follow the fabulous Deep Sea News blog (which is a wonderful marine science blog all round) for more posts. And if you’re developing a particular affection for whale sharks – it’s OK, it’s hard to resist those faces – you should definitely be following @wheres_domino, a whale shark with the impressive ability to type, who documents his adventures. He’s lovely.

It’s this ability to be able to digitally come along on the journey that prompted me to paint. I’d only completed one whale shark piece up until now, and it was coloured using my computer tablet, so painting one with acrylics was long overdue. I’ve got big plans for this one: lots of spots, of course, but also an entourage of juvenile golden trevally to add a pop of vibrant colour. Doing a close-up like this allows me to further appreciate just how awesome they are.