Jen Richards

Wildlife artist


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Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends…

"Breach" - Acrylics on 18 x 24 inch canvas

“Breach” – Acrylics on 18 x 24 inch canvas

I find that beer does help.

I find that beer does help.

2016 has been… a year, hasn’t it? From a personal standpoint, the last few months have been full of changes. In early November I left my job of almost six years to pursue a new path, one that really begins in earnest next week as I become a full time student for the first time in nearly a decade. The next three months will be very busy and I’ll have to work hard to squeeze personal art in, but I’m excited to begin my career as a UX Designer. Here’s to new things!

It’s kind of funny how the symbolism of this piece didn’t hit me until just now while coming up with a title for this post. It’s been ages since I painted using acrylics, having spent much of the year focusing more on drawings and ink – not that there’s anything wrong with that. I was struck by a photo my friend Tasli Shaw took of the southern resident orca L87 (Onyx) and she kindly gave me permission to use it as my inspiration. I don’t think I’ve painted an orca breaching since… well, I was probably a teenager, and I’ve come a long way since then. Originally I wanted to use this as an opportunity to paint quickly and loosely, but evidently my brain and brush conspired against me and I ended up getting really detailed and taking much longer with it. In any case, it was good to get this one in before my classes start.

Splash detail.

Splash detail.

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When in Doubt, Paint a Shark

White shark, acrylics on 12 x 16 inch canvas

White shark, acrylics on 12 x 16 inch canvas

After a jam-packed two weeks in England, during which I had time to do a few little sketches but no substantial art, I really wanted to just let loose with something really messy last night. I’ll share more about my trip in a later post because I’ve got inspiration to last me years (thanks, Natural History Museum!).

In my efforts to diversify my work and develop my skills, I picked up an old 12 x 16 canvas from under my desk and started slapping on some paint. I’m trying to move out of my comfort zone of super fine details and trying to get things “perfect”, and instead injecting more personality into each piece. This felt like a good time to experiment; I’ve been doing a lot of precise commission work lately (which I do love) so it felt quite freeing. I did the whole thing in one sitting – very unusual for me! – and so worked solely with fresh wet paint and a limited colour palette. I do enjoy watching subjects materialise out of the mess.

biggsattack

1. Slapping on the paint 2. Adding some definition 3. Brief pause to confer with my assistant 4. Nearly done

I was particularly inspired by two things: one was a gorgeous 2008 photo by the incredible hobbyist photographer George Probst (check out sharkpix.com!), who graciously sent me a larger version to reference. I just loved the scarring on this white shark and the tight framing. The other inspiration came from an artist I’ve been following on instagram for a while now, Aimée Hoover. I really admire her painting style and the scale at which she works – I’m currently too afraid to go quite that big but I can aspire to it! Her gorgeous brush strokes encouraged me to be less obsessed with the tiny details.

All in all, I was proud of myself for getting this done and I’m looking forward to doing more like it.


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Oarfish!

Giant oarfish, acrylic on 6 x 12 canvas

Giant oarfish, acrylic on 6 x 12 canvas

A couple of months ago I received a commission request that I had to jump on. It was a species I’ve long been fascinated by and wanted to draw but hadn’t yet:

A deceased giant oarfish measuring 23 feet (7 m)  in California, 1996.

A deceased giant oarfish measuring 23 feet (7 m) in California, 1996.

the king of herrings, the ribbonfish, the streamer fish… most of us know it as the oarfish. You’ve probably seen them in the news because when they’re sighted (alive or dead) it’s quite a sight to behold; the aptly named giant oarfish (Regalecus glesne) is the longest bony fish in the world, achieving a length of about 36 feet (11 metres). Whale sharks (reaching well over 40 ft/12 m) still have the giant oarfish beat as the longest fish of all though.

My client is a volunteer at a natural history museum and fell in love with their oarfish specimen. She wanted a piece that helped to connect their preserved oarfish with its habitat in the deep, dark ocean, an idea I loved and was excited to work on. There were two specific challenges: one, oarfish are so infrequently encountered that consistent references were difficult to come by; and two, this massive species was to be painted on a very small 6 x 12 inch canvas. Both of these challenges helped to push me to be a bit more creative with this piece, and in the process I learnt a great deal.

This mighty little giant is now safely in his/her forever home in California. Thank you for this fun opportunity, Corinna!


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A Commission for Christmas

Last year I had the pleasure of working on several commissions to be given as gifts for the holidays. One of my favourite things about commissions is hearing feedback from the recipient, and now I know it’s safe to share what I was working on. This particular 16 x 20 inch acrylic painting was for the client’s wife and was to feature her three favourite animals: a manatee, a dolphin, and a sea turtle. Here’s a look at the process from start to finish, including a shot of the framed piece in its happy home!


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Brothers

Acrylics on 6 x 12 inch gessobord

Acrylic on 6 x 12 inch gesso board

Happy new year! I’m not one for resolutions, but I do know it’s been way too long since I made a blog post. With the last couple months of 2015 getting increasingly busy I fell into the habit of updating instagram more than anything else (you can follow me here, by the way. Durp!) and neglected this poor blog, so I’m definitely going to be sharing more here.

After finishing a round of commissions in time for Christmas, I picked up one of a few gesso boards lying about in my studio and started playing with an idea I sketched out about a year ago: two adult male orcas breaking the surface of a choppy sea. These are of course two things I fall back on a lot – I love orcas AND choppy seas! – but I couldn’t help myself. I’ve also never completed something on gesso board before and really wanted to give it a go. It’s a very interesting surface, as it’s much more smooth than the surfaces I usually paint on but with just enough texture for me to feel comfortable with it. Next up: braving the super smooth clay board!


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Sanctuary

Acrylics on 9 x 12 inch canvas board

Acrylics on 9 x 12 inch canvas board

In an attempt to create more of a sense of depth in my work, I started on this 9 x 12 inch canvas panel a few nights ago to try a few things out. It was relaxing to do a personal piece before diving back into a big round of commissions. This was my first time really focusing on using washes, something I’ve been wanting to do more of, and I definitely want to continue experimenting. I’m very much a trial-and-error learner!


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Art Gone Wild 2015: Paint Out Week – Days 3, 4 & 5

Wednesday: Because I only had a couple of hours to paint on Wednesday morning I decided to focus on my racket-tailed roller piece to get it closer to completion. On the way to my chosen spot, though, I happened to lock eyes with a favourite resident and instead spent a good 30 minutes drinking my coffee while he and his mother stared back at me as they had breakfast. Again… can you blame me?

Good morning, Andazi and Jabari!

Good morning, Andazi and Jabari!

After my rhino detour I focused on my roller and got a lot of detail done. I still have the back and wings to go as well as defining the branch some more, but overall I’m liking how it’s coming along. Never thought I’d enjoy painting lots of tiny feathers.

Detail of my racket-tailed roller.

Detail of my racket-tailed roller.

Thursday: Earlier in the week I’d been able to finally get a good look at Suhana, the zoo’s beautiful young clouded leopard. I’d been planning on painting her this week but hadn’t caught so much of a glimpse of her on previous visits, so with my own long-awaited references I set Thursday as my Suhana Day. I had picked up a new canvas especially for it, as the composition came to me as soon as I saw her! What an utterly captivating species this is. A few years ago I saw Zoo Atlanta’s previous clouded leopard, Moby, who passed away in 2013 at an impressive 16 years of age. It’s wonderful now to see Suhana settling in.

Slow, difficult-to-photograph-properly progress on Suhana.

Slow, difficult-to-photograph-properly progress on Suhana.

I spent all day working on this piece but still have so far to go! It was a lovely, productive day though, much of it spent with fellow artist Natalie Huggins as she worked on her own clouded leopard painting. I also took time to watch the bird show and managed to get over my toucan-related geek out just enough to get photos of Friday’s subject.

Whoops.

Whoops.

Friday: Not everything went to plan today, as illustrated brilliantly by my poor car over there. Luckily it happened while I was right by the zoo, and thanks to the help of event coordinator Julia Knox and Tommy the maintenance guy I was able to get home safely at the end of the day! (… and later ended up having to use up a lot of painting time getting all four tires replaced. Womp womp.)

Savanna!

Savanna!

Anyway, I had a later start and a shorter stay than planned but I made headway on what will probably be my final Art Gone Wild piece. It’s a portrait of Savanna the lanner falcon, an absolutely stunning bird I stumbled upon on Monday while carting my equipment through the zoo. I thought she was one of the most visually striking birds I’d ever seen, so when I saw her in action in the bird show I knew I had to paint her too. I’ve got a huge soft spot for raptors and currently have a broad-winged hawk painting in progress, so I’m excited to be working on my first falcon. Coincidentally, I made a good t-shirt decision today.

Painting a falcon. Wearing the Falcon.

Painting a falcon. Wearing the Falcon.

This weekend will be spent finishing all my pieces before dropping them off in time for the Art Show and Silent Auction event on Saturday June 13th. Please come if you can! The variety of artworks that will be available is fantastic, and you’ll be able to bid on them all and take them home. Proceeds support both the zoo and the artists. If this week’s been any indication it’s going to be an incredible show!


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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.)

pbbbttt

pbbbttt


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Makana

Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14

Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14

I'm impressed I could contain my geek out even this much.

I’m impressed I could contain my geek out even this much.

Last month I fulfilled a long term goal of mine: visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I’ve been an admirer of the incredible work that goes on there for years and was beyond excited to finally be setting foot inside the building for real (they’re lucky I didn’t somehow manage to fit those life-sized orca models in my bag upon leaving). It exceeded all my expectations – what an amazing team, collection and facility! I even got to see humpback whales, sea otters and seemingly endless seabirds from the deck.

I gathered so many references for future works of species I’d longed to see, like leopard sharks, flamboyant cuttlefish and bluefin tuna (just to name a few), but was particularly inspired by meeting a very special bird named Makana. She’s a Laysan albatross from Hawaii that suffered a wing injury and cannot be released, so she serves as an ambassador for seabirds at Monterey. This role is particularly important because of the threats seabirds, especially albatrosses like Makana, face in the ocean from plastic pollution. This video does a lovely job of introducing Makana and sharing this critical message. It’s also worth nothing that of the 21 albatross species, 19 are threatened or endangered.

Given my love of seabirds I couldn’t resist painting an 11 x 14 portrait of Makana. I’ve long been fascinated with albatrosses for their size and lifestyle – they can go years without touching land and it’s believed they can even sleep while flying! This painting is now in its forever home in California and I’m thankful to have met such a special bird. Thank you Makana and Monterey!

Isn't she beautiful?

Isn’t she beautiful?

For more about Laysan albatrosses and the problem with plastics, check out the Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal. To become smitten with these birds yourself (and I definitely recommend a visit to see Makana for yourself), take a look at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s live nest cam!


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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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Changing up the canvas

When I was picking up some art supplies last night I found some small wooden blocks for sale alongside the smaller canvases.They looked so fun to paint on that I had to get a couple! I experimented a bit tonight with acrylics on an 8 x 5 inch block and was pleased with the results. It was interesting to see how the paint reacted – I’ve never painted on wood like this before so it was a fun challenge. Definitely planning on doing many more like this!


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Day Octopus

Acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8

 

It’s only March but it’s been quite the busy year so far, and I’ve felt guilt that I haven’t been painting much and have found it a bit difficult to put brush to canvas these past few weeks. Yesterday, however, I decided I was going to Start and Finish a Thing in a day. I chose to paint a portrait of a day octopus (Octopus cyanea), a stunning cephalopod that is more active in the daytime than a good chunk of its relatives. This is my third go at an octopus but the last two have been the giant Pacific kind, so I wanted to go with an entirely different and more adventurous colour palette this time. And I did manage to get it done within a day! Huzzah.

Things will be a bit quiet again for the next few weeks as I venture out to the west coast and visit several places I’ve been dying to go for years, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Can’t wait to check out the Tentacles exhibition! No doubt there’ll be plenty of inspiration to keep me drawing and painting non-stop when I get back.


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Giant Pacific Octopus – Commission

Acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24

Acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of cephalopods, so when a good friend of mine asked if I’d be interested in doing a commission for his octopus-loving fiancée I jumped at the opportunity and spent a good chunk of my December working on this 18 x 24 acrylic painting. I really wanted to focus on the beauty of this species and add in some of my favourite details, like their simply gorgeous eyes and the fascinating double row of suckers on the arms. Did you know they can have up to 250 of those suckers per arm and can control them all independently because each arm has its own control system? Yeah, they’re awesome.

One of my favourite things about being an artist is seeing my work in people’s hands. Knowing that this octopus is now in its happy home with an owner who loves it is immensely rewarding for me, and Cat was certainly happy with her surprise!

Work in progress gallery:


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Art Gone Wild: Day Three

Idgie getting comfy.

Idgie getting comfy.

Today was my last day of Paint Out Week, as I’m going out of state tomorrow morning and will be missing the final two days. I’ve had such a fabulous time during Art Gone Wild and I’m excited to get back to finishing each of my pieces so that they’re ready to go for the art show and silent auction next week!

As mentioned yesterday, I wanted to finish my little red panda painting. Did you know that the human brain is physically incapable of processing the cuteness of a red panda? It’s true. It was a lot of fun to spend a few hours with Idgie this morning and I got a lot of positive feedback from guests and zoo team members alike. This was my first time painting fur – and I actually enjoyed it! There are still a few bits I’d like to fix, but she’s near completion. I really liked working with such bright, warm colours.

A lovely friend of mine stopped by and snapped a couple of photos while I worked. Thank you, Linda!

One last thing… Over the last three days I’ve experienced the most wonderful treatment from Zoo Atlanta staff and volunteers. Everyone I’ve met has been incredibly welcoming and encouraging to the artists and it’s helped us feel at home from the get go. It’s a real testament to the team there, and I especially want to thank Julia for all of her hard work. 


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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.