Florida Society of Botanical Artists Exhibition

In December of 2016 I had the wonderful opportunity to teach a group of artists at the Florida Society of Botanical Artists in Sarasota Florida. The society is a local chapter of the American Society of Botanical Artists. This was the third time they invited me to teach the group. This particular workshop was about drawing birds. I teach a variety of subjects and incorporate some ornithology anatomy in my Intro to Scientific Illustration class at the University of Florida. I wondered why this group wanted to work with birds instead of botanical subjects…….. The answer is they were preparing for an exhibition at the Sarasota Audubon Society which is located at The Celery Fields.

The exhibition is titled “Backyard Beauties” and will show case beautiful paintings of native plants and birds found in the unique ecosystem of The Celery Fields. Native plants are very important to the survival of many local and migrating species.

The Celery Fields is a 360+ acre site which consists of open marshlands, deep ponds, shallow pools, and canals. It is edged with oaks, willows, and pines. In early 2001, Sarasota Audubon began conducting bird surveys at the Fields. To date, 217 species have been recorded. Wintertime offers particularly good birding, hosting sparrows, Marsh and Sedge Wrens, and several species of rails, including Sora and Virginia. The Fields also host breeding birds, including Black-necked Stilts, King Rail, Least Bittern, Limpkin, Purple Gallinule, Eastern Towhee, Barn Owl and Eastern Meadowlark. Least Terns breed on nearby buildings and use the ponds as a primary food source. Rarities show up from time to time, including Upland and White-rumped Sandpipers, Short-eared Owl and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

Sarasota County, recognizing the importance of the Celery Fields as a food and habitat source to a wide variety of birds and other wildlife, worked with Sarasota Audubon to restore 100+ acres in the Southern Cells into a more traditional wetland.

If you are in the area please visit The Celery Fields, do some nature hiking and see some of the wonderful art by the Florida Society of Botanical Artists. Details about the exhibit are located on the flyer.

ASBA- NY Horticultural Society 18th Annual International Botanical Art Exhibit

This year My Biriba Fruit with Hairstreak Butterfly; Annona mucosa, Atlides polybe painting was accepted into the ASBA- NY Horticultural Society 18th Annual International Botanical Art Exhibit. The exhibit will be up until December 30, 2015. Here is the story behind the painting.

Biriba Fruit- ©2014 Mindy Lighthipe

For the past 25 years I have traveled to Costa Rica and Central America to lead botanical and natural science artists into the rainforest. The diversity of species within the Neo-Tropics is astounding. The rainforest has become my classroom, where I learn and teach. Last year we visited the Tiskita region on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. While hiking on a trail near the ocean I looked up and saw the Biriba Fruit hanging from the trees. The unusual shape and color was something I was immediately fascinated with. These fruits look like ancient flails. They hang at the end of a long stem that is reminiscent of a ball and chain. Fortunately the spikes are rounded and soft and are considered by many to be an edible delicacy. I was able to draw the fruit, the leaf and stem in my sketchbook as well as create watercolor notes for the painting once I returned home.

On the same trip I met a woman who was in the last stages of terminal cancer. One of her wishes was to visit the rainforest and see as many different butterfly species as she could. As we walked along together she spoke of her love of butterflies. We immediately bonded as kindred spirits. The hairstreak butterfly in this painting was one that we spotted on our brief encounter together. The area was just down the ocean path from where I found the Biriba Tree. I sat with her and we quietly took pictures of the butterfly. I never saw the woman again but our chance meeting had an impact on me. Upon my return I painted the Biriba fruit and decided to put the butterfly into the composition. I felt it was a way to tell the story of my encounter with her; a small, fearless butterfly resting peacefully on a terrain of many peaks and valleys.
As a botanical and natural science artist I paint things depicting the interconnectedness of plants and insects in the natural world. Many of my works depict the lifecycle of butterflies with their host plants. This particular painting is more about the chance meeting of these two species and my chance meeting with another nature enthusiast.

Careers in Botanical Art and Natural Science Illustration

“How the heck do you break into the market?”…… this is a question I received from a student in my online Drawing the Beauty of Plants Class.

The first thing I believe you need to figure out is exactly what you are looking to “break into” within the field of Botanical Art Natural Science Illustration. Then set up a plan on how you are going to do. Once you decide on what you want to do you can then decide how to achieve it.

There are many areas with the Botanical Art & Natural Science Illustration world that are professional. Here is a short break down on the possibilities:

1. Working for a botanist, ornithologist, mammalogist etc….requires scientific knowledge of anatomy within the given field. Black & white techniques like traditional pen & ink are vital skills as most scientific work is done in b&w. There are not many artists working this way and the pay is very minimal for the level of skill required and the time it takes. Scientists are usually working with grant money and the budget for an artist is at the bottom of the grant. Some scientists will do their own art, even if it is not up to professional skill levels. There are a few staff positions for artists in institutions like the Smithsonian. These positions are usually filled by an artist who makes a 20+ year career. A position opens when the staff artist retires….. if the budget is still available the position is filled for another 20+ years. Freelance work is available but don’t wait for it to drop into your lap.

2. Exhibiting and competing for awards in national and international competitions is something many artists strive for. The botanical world in particular is very competitive. The ASBA, SBA and other organizations have exhibits and competitions regularly. There are many opportunities to exhibit in the Natural Science and History fields, especially in wildlife art. The standards are high for excellent skills in watercolor or the color mediums, as well as composition, extensive knowledge of anatomy, as well as producing beautiful art. Gallery representation is few and far between. There are not many Botanical Artists or Natural Science Illustrators making a living by only selling their art.

3. Commercial applications- This is a very broad market with a huge range of skills and pay scales. This includes work for hire; no copyright benefits. The artist works for a flat rate and delivers the art, never to see it or another penny again. Licensing images or collecting royalties is a way for an artist to continue to make money on a work of art. This type of work can be illustrations in text books, children’s books, t-shirt designs, greeting cards, packaging designs, fashion industry, graphic design etc….. This is the largest area with the most opportunity. You will need knowledge of reproduction and preparation (scanning, Photoshop etc…), good technique drawing and color techniques, speed and ability to work under a deadline as well as marketing skills to find the work within this market. The work can be highly accurate, scientific and detailed or it can be simplistic and whimsical. The range is broad and diverse.

I wrote a blog post a while back about deciding on your expectations. I think this can also be helpful when deciding on a career path as an artist. Here is a link to that post:


I hope this helps you along in your artistic journey……. Have you had success in selling and marketing your art within the field of Botanical Art & Natural Science Illustration? I would love to hear about your successes!

Lighting for Nature Artists

The more I teach, the more I learn! Teaching online is a new and exciting experience for me. I am spending countless hours in my studio talking to an invisible classroom as I create the videos. When I am face to face with a group of people it is much easier to tell if they understand what I am trying to teach them. Usually there are questions asked and answered right on the spot. Now I post my classes and wait for people to post their drawings on Facebook or directly to me via an email. I now answer the questions in the form of blog posts or videos.

One of the recurring confusions and questions I get is how to set a light for illuminating botanical and natural science subjects. It can be as confusing and controversial as interpreting the Bible! Everyone seems to have a different way of setting up a light to convey form and it is always up for debate! I developed a class called Light on Form for the Botanical Illustration Class at the New York Botanical Garden over 15 years ago to help students who were struggling with the light source. This fall I will be teaching this course at the American Society of Botanical Artists annual conference in Miami. Here is a short video I did explaining how I set up my light source in my studio. I hope you enjoy it!

If you have any questions or comments please leave a comment below! Don’t forget to share it and Pin-it on Pinterest!

Realism or Illustration- Which do you prefer?

Metallic Beetle ©2013 Mindy Lighthipe

This Metallic Beetle was painted 400% larger than life. ©2013 Mindy Lighthipe




Botanical Art is rich in tradition, especially when it comes to technique and composition.

I promised to share with you the class I took last month with Anna Mason at the Selby Gardens in Sarasota, Fl. She has a very wonderful style of painting that is not a “typical” botanical portrait. Her subjects are  all larger than life. They give a blast of color as you enter a room or gallery. The images “pop” and as her website is called, Watercolors With WOW, this describes Anna’s work perfectly.

I really didn’t know that much about Anna or the way she painted but I wanted to take a class to see how someone else approaches watercolor. To my surprise these huge paintings are done with mostly very small brushes and are done in a dry brush technique. This is completely the opposite way that I work so it was definitely a challenge for me. I struggled in class but managed to do 2 almost identical paintings in the class. The first painting was done more in the technique I use with my color selection and the second painting was done using a dry brush and Anna’s color palette.

Anna works mostly from her own photographs and it is very interesting to me that if the detail is not present in the photo, it does not  appear in the painting. She does not add detail where it is not seen in the photo. This is very different from the way that I was trained and my tendency was to want to add things that I see on the living orchid but were not in focus on the photo. When I questioned Anna about not putting in the missing parts, her reply was, “The difference between my work and other painters of botanical subjects is that my paintings have a high sense of realism, while other botanical painters focus on all of the details which makes their paintings, illustrations.” I thought about this for a while and she is absolutely correct in her thinking. A botanical purest would have to agree that Anna’s paintings are so lifelike that they almost seem like photographs. Traditional botanical works usually have less contrast and depth. Botanical painters often use a formulaic scientific lighting usually leaving out shadows and cast shadows. Often the paintings show cross sections and dissections of plant parts. The typical botanical style clearly is an illustration.

After I got home from the workshop I decided to do a metallic beetle and blow it up 400%. I worked from several photographs and this is my result. I still haven’t reached a comfort zone with her technique and used some of my own techniques thrown in along the way. I do my painting for myself and I like a good challenge along the way.  I strive to grow, learn, and incorporate new techniques into my  own style and vision.

What is your take on realistic painting versus illustration? I would love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment and share your views.

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!

pinterest logo

Get Found!

“Flowering Kale Leaf” Original watercolor by Mindy Lighthipe

About nine months ago I got an email from a design company in Australia called Swear Words. They design packaging and websites, and create brands for companies.  One of their clients is Loving Earth. Loving Earth recently started selling gourmet organic  kale chips and needed a package design. They went surfing on the internet and came upon a painting that I did of a kale leaf. They approached me about using it for the package design. At first I was skeptical. A company name Swear Words?  I can’t tell you how many emails I have received that are bogus. I have had people see my work on websites like the ASBA asking about purchasing a painting from me. I have had inquiries for teaching in far away places, people stranded in a foreign country looking for money,  claims I won the lottery and my person all time favorite; my dead relative leaving me the family fortune. I thought this was probably in the same category but I wanted to give it a shot.  I started a dialogue via email and quickly started negotiating price and usage etc.. I still wasn’t convinced that it was legitimate, but things were going in the right direction. I sent an invoice to be paid via PayPal and told them I would send a high resolution scan through Dropbox and send the original out by FedEx when I received payment. I had to convert US dollars to AU dollars. A few hours later the payment was in my PayPal account. I couldn’t believe it! Woot! They made it so easy. I enjoyed dealing with them and was thrilled that they trusted me to do what I said I would do. It was an awesome experience.

I just received an update from Swear  Words and they sent me a digital picture of the final project. Here it is! I thought I would share it with you.

“Loving Earth- Kale Chips” package design by Swear Words; original painting by Mindy Lighthipe

I write this post today because you never know where your next sale or client will come from. Make sure that when you post your images, whether it be on Pinterest, blogs, websites that you attach your name, website, and description along with it. Part of being a successful artist is making sure you can be found. It is worth it!

If you are interested in purchasing Loving Earth Kale Chips, visit their website.

Day #4- Botanical Leaf Challenge

Today I got something that I have been looking at for 5 years. It is an Icarus Hot/Cold Drawing Board. I saw Ester Roi demonstrate how to use it at an ASBA Conference. Being a total color junky I was amazed at how vibrant her colored pencil work is. They look more like oil paintings than colored pencil. I love working in colored pencil but I never liked the way my work looks on paper because it is very grainy. I like the way other people's work looks,u but for some reason it looks like I was drawing with a big fat crayon. In the early 1990's I started doing my colored pencil work on drafting film, specifically double frosted mylar made by Dura-lar. The film is frosted on both sides and looks like thick tracing paper. It has a fine tooth. The colors are bold and beautiful. The mylar is not good for doing large areas as it tends to look streaky. (I will have to do another blog post of the pros and cons of mylar.) When I saw the Icarus drawing board I thought that it might be a new approach to my work but at the time I was not willing to plunk down the money. Now that I am in a new studio I decided to treat myself and buy it. I got the larger board. I think it measures about 22 wide by 18 deep. Half of it heats up to melt the colored pencil. The other half remains cool/room temperature. I decided to try leaf #4 on my new drawing board.

The leaf came from a tree, but I do not know the name. It is one of the few trees that change color here in Gainesville, FL. I am used to the vibrant colors of the fall in the Northeastern part of the United States and living here is very different. It was 87 degrees today! When I saw this leaf I knew I had to paint it. It is about 2 inches wide, heart shaped which in morphology terms is cordate. I decided that for my first go around with the new drawing board I had better make the drawing bigger. My leaf is enlarged 2.5x the live specimen. This made it much easier to blend and work with.

I had a great time with it. Before I started I went to YouTube and watched a bunch of videos on how to use the Icarus drawing board. They were very informative and I recommend you go and watch some of them. The shifting between cool and warm sides really makes the colored pencil layering go much faster and the end results are pure saturated color. I think I am in LOVE!

This painting is available in my Etsy store

How to handle rejection- Calling all Botanical Artists!

Have you been rejected from a juried exhibition? I have many times.

Everytime I received a rejection from a juried exhibition I felt awful. It seemed like a personal attack. I felt that jury did not like my work, but I also felt that they didn't like me. What a lousy feeling. I took it personally.

Here is a brief story of how and what I did to overcome the hurdle of rejection.

I was teaching at NYBG and coordinatiing the Botanical Illustration program. At the time I was teaching a wide variety of classes with approximately 1,000 students enrolled in the program. The American Society of Botanical Artists were having their annual juried members show at the horticultural society in NYC, right in my back yard. The first year I submitted work, I was rejected. The second year I submitted, I was rejected. I was beginning to get paranoid and very embarrassed. My colleagues were getting in and so were my students!!!!! I thought about never trying again and at one point I even thought about never painting again. I took a deep breathe and decided my best choice was to go to the show and see the work.

I went to the opening, not only to see the show, but to also to congratulate the other artists. I remember feeling very nervous. As I looked at the pieces on the wall, I realized that my style was very different than the others. Most of the compositions were of plants that were floating in space, were painted in watercolor, and were delicate and refined. My work was big, bold, painted in gouache. They made an impact from across the room and were best viewed at a distance. If the work had been accepted into this show, it would have been screaming, while the others were gently humming. My work really didn't belong. I now had a choice, change my style, keep getting rejected, or give up.

The next year I decided to do an experiment. I submitted 3 pieces, one was what I thought they wanted, one was in-between and the last one was my regular style. I was relieved when on my third try I got in! It was the painting I did in the style I thought they wanted. It was my least favorite piece, but my goal was to get in. Then I got huffy….. Did this mean that I had to paint for someone else? For a judge, for a group, for my students….. What about me? I had proven to myself that I could do it, I wasn't a failure, but now what……

For a few years I didn't enter the show. I decided I didn't want to paint to please someone else, I wanted to paint for myself. I pursued other venues… Teaching, solo shows, natural science and book illustration. This kept me busy. I also continued to paint and be a student. Classes are always a way to keep my work fresh and exciting to do. I started to really like botanical watercolor after taking a class with Jenny Phillips.

I decided this past year to enter the show. The show in 2010 was the year that I really felt great about my style as well as my technique. Over the past years I had gotten better and my technique in watercolor and gouache were much more refined. I was able to keep my "personality" and bold hand in my paintings. I got one of my orchid paintings in the show. It was one that I painted for myself, but also fit the criteria of what the judges were looking for.

Here are some tips I recommend about entering shows.

If the show is established, if possible go see it before you enter it. If you get rejected, go see it.  Ask yourself the following questions:
How many pieces got in?
What is the overall style of the show? Is there a specific theme, medium, size?
What kind of compositions are displayed? Are they all floating, cropped, magnifications?
What are the size restrictions?
How many jurors are there? Are they painters, botanists, gallery owners?
Does your work measure up?
Is there a great range of quality?

Last year one of my students Carrie diCostanza entered the show. Her work is gorgeous and to her dismay…. She got rejected. She came to me and the advise that I write here in this blog is the same advise I gave her. It is very rare that a show or juror will tell you what they are looking for, or tell you why they rejected your work. The ASBA has started a walk through gallery talk to help artists understand the jurors process. In 2010, Carrie went to the show and came away from it with a good education. This year Carrie and I both entered the 2011 ASBA NY Horticultural show and this was Carrie's year. She got in! I on the hand, did not. I am so thrilled for her. The show is getting harder and harder to get in and she did it. Way to go Carrie! As for myself, this year I am in Florida so I can't get to the show, but I am scoping out my local venues to see where my work might fit in and will continue to enter those juried shows. I look at rejection as a way of raising the bar. It makes me try harder to be the best artist I can be. I could have quit a long time ago, but I have gained confidence, knowledge and skill. I hope this will help you develop a thicker shell and pursue your dreams with much success! If you are in the NY/Metro area go see The ASBA 14th Annual International Juried Botanical Art Exhibition at the NY Horticultural Society. If you are unable to get to the show they have a virtual tour on their website.