Toucans, Owls and Sloths!

I have been traveling to Costa Rica for over 30 years. In my travels I search out places that are off the beaten path. I am not much for conventional tourism. It would be unusual for me to be drinking a pina colada on a white sandy beach. I prefer to find places where everyday people are doing extraordinary things. The Toucan Rescue Ranch is one of those places. It has been a place I have returned to every year. This colored pencil drawing was done to help promote The Toucan Rescue Ranch in the rehabilitation of injured and abandoned animals of Costa Rica. I am leading an Artistic Adventure Tour to Costa Rica for artists and photographers in 2018. We will be visiting the Toucan Rescue Ranch to support their efforts. You will be able to see owls, toucans, sloths and more up close and personal. Want to join us? Click here for more information about the tour. 50% of the sale of this painting will go to The Toucan Rescue Ranch…… You can OWN IT TODAY!

Costa Rica is full of FROGS!

Hi Everyone!

WE just got back from an amazing trip to Costa Rica this year. I am still in awe of the diversity of this tiny country. We visited so many beautiful places and saw an amazing array of birds, plants, animals and yes FROGS! We are already planing the trip for 2017.  Here is a little colored pencil painting I did as a demo while I was on the trip. I used baby oil……. Yes!!!! baby oil to get the smooth blending of the tonal values as well as the dark background.

"Froggie" in colored pencil 4.5" x 4.5" ©2016 Mlighthipe

“Froggie” in colored pencil 4.5″ x 4.5″ ©2016 Mlighthipe

If you are inserted in having this little guy in your home He is for sale…. $90 unframed with FREE Shipping!


A Reindeer in Miami

Reindeer in Miami- © 2015 MLighthipe

“Reindeer in Miami”- ©2015 MLighthipe Gouache, Colored Pencil and Ink on Fabriano Softpress 300lb watercolor paper.

Last year while I was teaching at UFL I found this reindeer skull high up on one of the shelves in Mammalogy. The spread of the rack is almost 5 feet. I asked the curator if I could draw it and she said, “yes!” I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do with it but I put it into the hatch of my car and brought it home.

All scientific specimens are labelled with catalogue numbers and any information that may be important about how the specimen was collected. The tag usually includes the collection site, the donor, the sex and anything else that might fit on the very small tag. Upon inspection of the tag I found that this specimen came from a the Crandon Zoo in Miami, Florida. I was really surprised as I don’t remember ever seeing a reindeer in a zoo before…let alone in sunny semi-tropical Florida!

Here are some facts I learned along the way about Reindeers:

Reindeer and caribou are classified as the same genus and species, Rangifer tarandus. In Europe, they are called reindeer. In North America, the name reindeer is used when referring to Eurasian populations and the name caribou to refer to wild populations in North America.

Antlers are the reindeer’s most memorable characteristic. A male’s antlers can measure up to 51 inches long, and a female’s antlers can reach 20 inches. Just as a tree has a trunk, so all antlers have a main beam and several branches or tines that grow from the frontal bones of the skull. Sometimes little branchlets or snags are also present. The tip of each antler is called a point. Unlike horns, antlers fall off and grow back larger every year. As new antlers grow, the reindeer is said to be in velvet, because skin, blood vessels, and soft fur cover the developing antlers. When the velvet dries up, the reindeer rubs it off against rocks or trees, revealing the hardened, bony core.

Males begin to grow antlers in February and females in May. They both finish growing their antlers at the same time but shed their antlers at different times of the year. A male drops his in November, leaving him without antlers until the following spring, while female reindeer keep their antlers through the winter until their calves are born in May. This fact has led many to believe that, based on the presence of antlers, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer must have been a female to have those antlers on Christmas Eve!

For months I have been wanting to draw it and I kept putting it off. Finally I decided to do the painting. I wanted to do the whole rack on the paper, but ran into difficulty trying to prop the skull up to draw! Instead I opted to do a composition with the partial skull showing. The bottom jaw is separate and I decided not to include it. For the actual fleshed out reindeer I went to an online stock photography sight and did a composite of the 2 reindeer from photos I purchased. Purchasing the photos gave me the ability to work from the photos without worrying about copyright issues.

I would have liked to have done some live sketching but as I stated………. I live here in sunny Florida and the only reindeer I could find was last seen in Miami in 1977!

Splash 15- A Must for Watercolor Artists

IguanaSplashSplash 15: Creative Solutions is about capturing the novel approaches, beautiful accidents, and fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants moments that these artists have creatively expressed in their unique visions and anecdotal captions. With 125 color images illustrating watercolor landscapes, urban life, people in motion and a plethora of animals and creatures; discover fresh solutions and ideas for telling your own watercolor stories.

In this book my “Senior Iguana” painting is highlighted in the animal section. Here I tell the “secret” that kept me from loosing all the details of his scales! This is a great addition for your watercolor library. To see more about this great book and to buy your very own copy click the link below.

Splash 15: Creative Solutions

Here is what one artist had to say about the Splash 15:

I just received my copy of Splash 15. What a terrific group of paintings and comments. This is about the best book I’ve seen covering watercolor and the different media that you can combine to complete you work. Gorgeous artwork. Love your Iguana! A must-have book on everyone’s art shelf!

Not only is this a wonderful book of artwork, the artists explain any problems they had along the way and how they resolved them. Wonderfully energetic, dynamic, bold and stunning work!

~ Carole Jurack

Splash 15

Splash 15 cover

I am thrilled to share with you the new book from North Light Books– The Best of Watercolor: Splash 15, Creative Solutions. About 2 years ago I saw a call to enter for this book on Artist Network. They were looking for watercolor paintings that may have caused artists problems while painting and the creative solutions they employed to get over the obstacle.  What a great idea. I believe that every artist hits a wall, a place where they are stumped as to “where to go next”. All too often without a tried and true, guaranteed solution the artist is afraid. It takes courage to push the fear aside. It could mean ruining the painting.

This book sheds light into how many watercolor artists tackled different situations as they were painting. It comes with good solid advice from each artist as well as rich, gorgeous reproductions of their work. I was one of the lucky artists chosen to be a part of this book. I received my complimentary copy yesterday and was shocked when they used my Sr. Iguana painting in the contents page and highlighted it as the title page for the Creatures- Cute and Curious section.


IguanaSplashI hope you will take a look at this book as it is a wonderful view into how other artists do their work as they share their creative solutions. I am a firm believer in sharing both your successes as well as your failures.

Do you have a tip to share or a nightmare that needs a creative solution? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Want your own copy of Splash 15? Click here

The original painting of Sr Iguana is available for sale in my Daily Paint works Gallery and prints in my Etsy Shop.


The Aracari and Photographer Permission

Aracari - Colored Pencil; Mindy Lighthipe ©2013I have loved the aracari ever since I saw it flying in the rainforest in Costa Rica. It is a small toucan and is not as easy to spot as a toucan because of its size. They love to eat palm nuts and this is usually where you can find them. I had some of my own photo references for this painting but came across the photos of James Adams. He is the manager of The Lodge at Pico Bonito in Honduras. I met him on Facebook and eagerly look forward to the pictures he posts on his page. I have wanted to do a painting for some time but just needed a little bit more reference to do it. When I saw that  James had fabulous shots I immediately emailed him and asked him if it would be okay to use them as reference. He agreed!  Thank you, thank you , thank you  JAMES!

For those of you out there that use other people’s photographs a word of caution. You MUST ask permission to use a photo as reference and give the photographer credit whenever possible. They own the copyright and it is disrespectful to use it without permission as well as illegal. I do not like to simply copy a photograph but use many of them as reference to come up with a final composition. This is the kind of information that we teach on our Artistic Adventure Tours. We are headed to Costa Rica in February 2014. It looks like we may need a trip to Honduras to visit James!

Do you have a favorite photographer?

This painting is available for sale in my Daily Paintworks Gallery or can be purchased directly from me here. Original Colored Pencil Painting- Aracari 10″ x 14″ unframed. Fits into a 16″ x 20″ frame. $600 + free shipping.


Rescuing Cats-

King Arthur- MLighthipe©2005

“King Arthur”

King Arthur

Many of you may know that I am one of those “crazy cat ladies”. If you didn’t, you do now. I have had cats all my life and if my dad hadn’t gotten a kitten for my mom when she was pregnant with me…. my name would have been Gabrielle! The cat came first and I got spared the child trauma of being called “Gabby”.

About 7 years ago I started fostering cats for a rescue while I was living in New Jersey. I have a soft spot for “special needs” kitties. I fostered many of the very sick cats that didn’t make it. Raffe had melanoma, Brooklyn had irritable bowel syndrome, and Sinatra was hearing impaired to name a few.  All in all, I have fostered over 75 cats and found most of them homes. I currently have 9 cats that came with me to Florida when I moved.

About 3 months ago King Arthur, my diabetic cat, contracted an ulcer on his eye. I found an awesome vet in Gainesville, Florida, Dr. Gordon of All Cats. She is a diabetic also and took on the care of Arthur as a patient. Diabetes in cats is not unlike diabetes in humans. Arthur requires insulin shots every 12 hours. Most cats with diabetes live about 2 years but Arthur is a strong boy and I have had him with me for over 5 years. Unfortunately for Arthur, his eye ruptured and he is having surgery on Monday to have his eye removed. It breaks my heart that the eye could not be saved. He will hopefully not loose the sight in his other eye and heal quickly. It has been a painful several months for him.

As you can imagine my vet bills and grocery bills for 9 cats can be a bit overwhelming at times.  I am hoping to raise some money in the next few weeks of holiday shopping by offering 6 pastel portraits I did of some of my rescue cats. I am offering a set of 6 greeting cards. Each card has a portrait on the front with the cat’s personal story on the back….. and of course King Arthur is in the set! Here is what the images look like:

Rescue Cat Greeting Cards by MLighthipe ©2009

If you are a cat lover or have a cat lover on your holiday shopping list please consider purchasing a set of cards.

$15.00 includes free shipping in the USA via USPS

Select Quantity of Cards

Awesome Frogs of Costa Rica!

Commando Frog & Red GingerFabulous FROGS!

I am very excited to share this painting with you. It was done by one of my students Rayma Peterson. Rayma was with us this past February on the Artistic Adventure tour of Costa Rica. One of the highlights for many of us in the group was the opportunity to photograph and sketch tropical poison dart and tree frogs. On every tour we have a naturalist guide that finds the most fabulous things for us. Part of the itinerary is staying at Selva Verde Lodge. It is in the heart of the Saripiqui region and has an abundance of wildlife. Our guide this year was Jimmy and he did an awesome job of “frog catching”. He set up tables to  recreate the forest floor. He then released several species of frogs onto the leaf litter.

The focus of our artist/photographer tour is to teach people to gather enough reference material through photographs, onsite sketching, color notes and personal experience to go back home to their studios and paint! This is exactly what Rayma did. It is now 6 months later. She lives in Toronto where the summers are short and the winters are long. I really love the detail and color she got in her leaf litter. The painting is rich in color and texture. It was so awesome to see her painting and interpretation of our “frog day”.

To see more of Rayma’s work visit her websites at:

Don’t forget to share this blog post with your friends.

If you would like to join us in Costa Rica in 2014 click here.

Follow me on Pinterest and see more of my fabulous students art!

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Drawing from Photographs- Taboo?

Drawing from Other People’s Photographs-  Is it Taboo?

I am currently taking an online course with Val Webb on drawing Dogs & Cats. For this assignment we were given several photographs to work from. I am uneasy  drawing from photographs that  are strictly “copying”other people’s photographs. I understand that for the simplicity of teaching a class, especially an online class, these “stock” photographs are necessary.

When I teach a class I make sure that my students respect, understand and adhere to copyright laws when they are drawing from photographs. This should only be for personal use or  for a class assignment. The finished work of art should never be sold or exhibited without written permission from the photographer.

One of my goals in the Drawing Dog and Cat Class is  to capture expressions on the faces of my cat drawings. I have 9 cats and used to do cat rescue.  I never met 2 cats a like. They are full of personality and I want to try to capture this in my cat drawings. Since the assignment was in black & white charcoal I decided to look for a Tuxedo Cat but I also wanted to do some long silky fur as well as have the cat have a powerful but interesting look of annoyance. I searched the web and found these 3 photographs.

 In the first photograph I loved the tufts on the end of the ears. In the second photograph I found the wonderful Tuxedo markings and lastly the third photograph had the best expression.  I combined the things that I liked from all 3 photographs to create this finished charcoal drawing, while respecting the photographers copyright.

Tuxedo Maine Coon Cat- Charcoal drawing by Mindy Lighthipe ©2013

“The Attitude of a Tuxedo Cat” Charcoal on Toned Paper- ©2013 Mindy Lighthipe

I really enjoy taking classes. No matter how advanced or professional an artist is, I believe it is important to keep growing and learning new things. For this particular assignment we were instructed to use grey tinted pastel paper and black and white charcoal pencils. I recently bought a pad of Strathmore Toned Paper in a medium and grey and tan. For this assignment I used the grey paper. The paper was awesome to work on and I really enjoyed creating the drawing working with the 3 values.

Do you think that working from other people’s photographs are taboo? I would love to hear from you. Leave your comments or questions below.

The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica

20 years ago I made my first trip to Costa Rica. I had always wanted to see the rainforest. I went with some friends and we traveled by bicycle. Bicycling in Costa Rica was a challenge for me. To make a long story short…. I sold my bicycle there and have taken the bus and rented cars ever since. The first contact I made on that trip was Judy and Luis Arroyo. At the time they had a small business on the Estrella River giving birdwatching tours on a pontoon boat. The business name was Aviarios del Caribe; “The Aviary of the Caribbean”.  I wanted to stay longer but didn’t have the funds so I was looking for a place to volunteer. I was hoping to swap a t-shirt design for a place to stay. I wanted to spend a quiet week or so painting. I believe I was their first volunteer!

“Dulciné the 3-Fingered Sloth” Watercolor ©1992 Mindy Lighthipe. This is one of my very first paintings from my studies at the New York Botanical Gardens Illustration Program.

This is where I met my first sloth. Many of you know Buttercup. She is the 3-fingered Bradypus sloth that has become the mascot of the Sloth Sanctuary. She is the most photographed and probably the most famous sloth in the world. This was not the sloth I met. The first sloth  that came to Judy and Luis was also a 3-fingered sloth. Her name was Dulciné. She did not live very long but she paved the way for Buttercup and many other sloths to find their way to the Sanctuary. At this time there was very little known about sloths. It was uncertain what they ate, how they reproduced or communicated.The Arroyos became fascinated with these rainforest mammals and before anyone realized it, the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica was born.

The experience of staying in Costa Rica was life changing for me. When I came home I enrolled in the NYBG botanical illustration program.  I decided to go back to school and study scientific illustration. I started my career in art and teaching in the early 1990′s. Since that trip I have been traveling to Costa Rica every year. I have been leading tours for 15 years to share with others what I have grown to love.  Each year we visit the Sloth Sanctuary and yes, Buttercup is still there!

In May of 2011 my dear friend Luis Arroyo passed away leaving Judy and her family to run and operate the Sloth Sanctuary. It has been a struggle with the world wide economic situation, the growing sloth population, habitat destruction and more, but Judy Avey-Arroyo is moving forward to continue the dream that she and Luis started years ago.

“The Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica” Watercolor & Gouache ©2012 MLighthipe #40 of #52/52 Painting Challenge

So I am following full circle. I have just finished a new painting. I worked from some of the photographs that Suzie Eszterhas  took of a 3-fingered sloth and her new born baby. I am pleased and honored to share with you the new Sloth Sanctuary Logo. I am currently working on t-shirt designs and other gift items. The new “Sloth Shop” is up and running for the holidays!

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