Canon Rebel for Nature Reference Photography!

I have been drawing birds for a while and have started to take more and more photographs for photo reference for my paintings. I have invested my time and money in upgrading my camera equipment. I just bought the new Canon Rebel SL2. It is a DSLR- Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera which means it has the ability to take different interchangeable lenses. I researched cameras for a while and was overwhelmed with the amount of options and price points out there. I really enjoy getting out in nature whether it is at Disneyland or a local preserve. It is fun taking photographs but I really don’t like carrying all the bulky camera gear, lenses, tripods etc….. The Canon Rebel SL2 is a small light weight camera that also has video capability, wifi  and a wonderful flip out touch screen. I have had it for about a month and I am happy with it so far. I thought I would share some of the shots I have taken with it. I also purchased a 55-250mm Zoom Lens. This has been great for capturing birds at a moderate distance. The lenses that allow you to be far away and get great up close shots are lenses that are 400 mm and greater. They are very expensive!…. around $2000 and are heavy. It is possible to shoot with them without a tripod but there has to be a lot of light. I decided to stay under a $1000 for all my equipment and keep it light and portable. I will be going to Peru later this month and will be taking it with me. I am excited to see the new possibilities it can bring to my art! What camera do you use and what has been your experience? I would love for you to share your comments, challenges and experiences!

Photo taken at Animal Kingdom in Disney World.

White Ibis- Photo taken in a park.

Photo taken at Animal Kingdom, Disney World.

Close up using a zoom lens- Photo taken a Animal Kingdom in Disney World.

Tri-colored Heron- Photo taken in a nature park






Costa Rica- Gorgeous Art Created by Jill Crouch

I am always amazed at the beautiful art that is produced after participants come home from a tour with me to Costa Rica. The 10 day tour is a whirlwind experience with so much amazing wildlife encounters it is difficult to know where to focus one’s attention. Part of my focus on these tours is to help artists gather information through field sketching, color notes and specific methods of photography to help the artist create works when they get back to their studios. One participant who has done a fantastic job at recreating art and the excitement of this tour is artist Jill Crouch. Jill continually amazes me with the beautiful art she creates. Here is what she has to say about her experience and some of the wonderful paintings she has produced.


In 2013, I was a retired research scientist with a love for nature and a strong desire to develop the skills necessary for capturing its beauty in a photograph, drawing and/or ultimate painting. Not knowing how, when or where to start, I immersed myself with a small group of similarly minded people into the jungles of Costa Rica. By bus we traveled with Mindy Lighthipe, a professional natural and botanical artist. The 10 days was packed with the knowledge and tools necessary for absorbing the attributes of nature in all its colorful glory. For me, this was the journey of a lifetime and an opportunity to explore any “hidden talents” I had yet to discover in myself. Each day was filled with a nature walk, a visit to an animal reserve, at least one natural wonder, and a “Master’s Class” in drawing, painting and/or photography, with continuous “how to” instructions for almost every imaginable curiosity. There were new lessons around every corner, more miracles to see and more surprises to experience. 

2Toed -Sloth- Watercolor © Jill Crouch

Four years later, I still “draw” on that experience for inspiration with my extensive library of photographs, documented notes, and sketches and paintings from our trip. Today, I have grown as an artist, I continue to take classes and I am starting to feel confident as an animal portrait artist whose journey began lovingly in the jungles of Costa Rica. 

Spider Monkey- Watercolor ©Jill Crouch

“Room for Everybody!” Watercolor ©Jill Crouch

If you would like to join us in 2018 we would love to have you! For more information click here.


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!

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.

10 Tips for Drawing Birds

BirdBannerI am very fortunate to be teaching Scientific Illustration at the UFL. UFL is the 3rd largest University in the USA.  It has vast resources of natural science collections within the different disciplines as well as being the home of the Florida Museum of Natural History. Each semester I bring my students behind the scenes and we draw from a variety of the collections.

While teaching I am constantly reminding my students that they should:

Draw from life….. and…… Your finished drawing is only as good as your foundation drawing…. so make it as good as you can.

I repeat these statements over and over……. so how do you apply this to drawing birds? Birds are present in our everyday life. Even in the most crowded cities, birds mingle amongst us in city streets, in parks, in our backyards and on roof tops. But how do you capture an accurate drawing of bird if you don’t work from a photo? Here are some suggestions:

  • Visit a zoo- Birds in cages will not fly away and you can observe their movements and see how they perch and posture.
  • Visit a museum- Find the nearest museum and see if they have an ornithology collection you can draw from.
  • Visit a nature center- They often have taxidermy specimens.
  • Visit a Nature Park- Here in Florida there are parks that specialize in rookeries where you can observe them closeup without cages.
  • Visit a taxidermist- I have a friend who is a avian veterinarian. She loaned me the Toco toucan skeleton to draw!!!!
  • Find a local bird club- There a bird clubs everywhere and people have exotic birds in their home…… you might get to draw someone’s pet Amazon Parrot!
  • Visit a pet store- Some pet store specializes in birds.
  • Find a breeder- They have tons of birds in different phases of life….egg, hatchling, fledgling, adult.
  • Get outdoors and observe how they interact with one another, fly , land , take off.
  • Learn anatomy- Draw skeletons, wings, beaks and feet as studies in a journal.

Here are 2 excellent books I recommend for your art library:

Do you have any methods for drawing birds? Don’t forget to share this blog post or Pin-it on Pinterest!

Incorporating Pen & Ink with Watercolor

 Never stop learning!

People are often surprised to see me in a classroom situation as the student, rather than the teacher. When I taught at the New York Botanical Gardens I had the good fortune of taking a class for every class I taught. This was great because I taught a lot and NYBG had a lot of awesome classes I was able to take. When I walked into the room, many of my students were also taking the class and they looked shocked to see me sitting as a student in the class. Some would come sit next to me and try to ask me questions on how to do something during the class. I would never help them because I felt it was disrespectful to the artist/teacher and besides I was there to learn, not teach. Some students would sit as far away from me as possible. I felt like I had the plague! They told me that I intimidated them and that they didn’t want to me to see them mess up. They would exclaim, “What are you doing here? You don’t need to take a class, you already know what you are doing.” Interesting…… they never thought that I might screw up too!

Wild Turkey detail- ©2014 Mindy Lighthipe


I currently have been immersed in doing a commission for a client that is a 60 x 40 wild turkey in full strut. This is by far the most intricate and complicated painting I have done to date. There are so many feathers, colors, textures etc….. I am also taking an online class with Val Webb; Birds in Watercolor and Beyond. Luckily for me this class came at the most perfect time as I was struggling with loosing my pencil drawing as I was covering the paper with paint.

Wild Turkey in progress ©2014 Mindy LighthipeOne lesson in the class incorporates pen and ink with watercolor. I have never been a purist and find that whatever gets the job done is okay with me. Many areas in the turkey feathers have a black band in the pattern. Because the class introduced pen and ink into the lesson I was able to use it in this commission and make my life sooooooooo much easier. I would never have thought to do this and it was the perfect solution. The ink is waterproof so that when I layer watercolor and gouache over it, it doesn’t bleed and make a mess. Brilliant! I hope you enjoy the pics of how I am using it. Never stop learning. Taking a class is an awesome way to experiment, learn new techniques and hone your skills.

Have you learned anything new lately????

Digital Cameras for Artists

Pygmy Owl ©2014 Mindy LighthipeI use my camera as a research tool to photograph my subjects.  I am always debating whether or not I should spend tons of money and buy a super duper camera. It is difficult for me to take pictures when I have too many bells and whistles. If I have to keep changes lens and carry extra equipment it starts to be too much for me. I have been using the Panasonic Lumix series of digital cameras for a while.  I recently bought the Lumix DMC-F270 which has a  60x zoom lens on it. It has the capability of shooting videos as well as digital photos in RAW format. It is extremely compact, light weight,  with an eye piece as well as large LCD screen. I paid under $400 for the camera.

Today I was hiking in Honduras and we came across a Pygmy Owl high in a tree. This tiny little owl is about 5 inches tall and hunts for food in the day time. Here is a video I took of the owl.  I started out with the full 60x zoom so that you can see the owl. To show you how FANTASTIC this camera is I slowly zoomed out from the owl to show you just how far away I really was……. and how awesome this camera really is!

If you are interested in learning more about how I use my camera in my art work think about coming with me on my next Artistic Adventure Tour to Costa Rica.

Pelican- Brief Update!

Business Practices for Artists for Reproduction  & Copyrights   

Pelican Fine Art Print - ©2014 Mlighthipe

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you to……..all of you who visited my blog for the last post about my Pelican Painting. I am so happy that you enthusiastically responded to the process on how I did this painting. I posted  on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. One of the questions I got was this:

I understand why you might use Photoshop to “stitch together the painting and “clean it up”, but was this just for your own files and to make prints? Did the client receive the original or a digital version?

As I started to answer, I realized this would probably make a useful blog post….. so here goes:

The client almost always gets the original painting! In this case, yes…. he got the original. Each painting is negotiated so that both parties are clear about the expectations and who gets what. I have had experiences in the past when I did not follow this protocol and it is something I have learned the hard way! Always be clear, who gets what and put it in a contract and have both parties sign it! I try to almost always maintain the copyright to my work. My reasoning for this is, maintaining the copyright I have the right to reproduce it or sell the rights to reproduce it, and the owner of the painting does not.  If I sell all rights to the purchaser the price of the art goes up substantially because I will no longer be able to create income from the piece and the new owner will! By making a digital record of it I am able to sell the reproduction rights for a limited usage to multiple clients. By maintaining the copyright I have the possibilities of creating income in the following ways:

  1. There are 3 ways that I can use the image to sell reproductions.
    1.  Creating prints myself on my Epson Printer for sale. (Visit my Etsy Shop!)
    2. Licensing the rights to a Reproduction company to produce gift items as well as fine art prints….This option is endless!
    3. Uploading the image and selling it through an Online Printing Company like Fine Art America or Zazzle.
  2. There are several ways that this image can also be used to create income.
    1. One time usage in magazines, newspaper articles, ads etc…..
    2. Inclusion in a Field Guide or identification signage.
    3. Used in part or in full in the creation of a logo for a client…. I have done this with several clients with a few of my paintings and they were thrilled!
    4. Use the image to enter shows, exhibitions, portfolios for employment.
    5. Use it in advertising my art for classes, workshops and more commission work…. and blog posts!

I just wanted to give you some of the opportunities you have as an artist to further create income from your art after the painting is gone from your studio. I hope that this inspires you to capture your work through digital scans, (If you don’t know how, My ebook- Scan YOUR Art might be useful.) even if it is just for keeping a record of your work.

Do you have other ideas and ways that an artist can create income from their art? Please leave a comment and don’t forget to share this with a friend!

This painting is currently available as an archival print in 3 sizes in my Etsy Shop.

The Pelican- How to Paint Larger than LIFE!

Brown Pelican ©2014 Mindy Lighthipe

“Brown Pelican” 40″ x 60″ Watercolor ©2014 Mindy Lighthipe

I just finished a commission for a client who wanted a “Brown Pelican” for his new beach house in Florida. I was thrilled to receive this commission and then I found out he wanted it 40″ wide x 60″ tall. Yikes! I have never painted anything bigger than a standard sheet of watercolor which is 22″ x 30″.  I was up for the challenge and had a blast! I thought I would share with you the process I went through to paint something this big.

– My first task was to find paper this big. I found that Lanaquarelle makes 300 lb. watercolor hotpress paper available 40″ x 60″ and is available at NY Central Art Supply. I ORDERD 2 SHEETS…… just in case!

– The 2 sheets came tightly rolled up in a cardboard box and my next task was to figure out how to uncurl it and get it to lay flat…… A trip to HomeDepot! I found a finished birch panel and had the salesman cut the board 44″ x 64″ so I would have some excess board all the way around….. Now to get it home! I had to rent a truck from HomeDepot and luckily we bought a new grill so I was able to capitalize on my business expenses by throwing the grill on the back too.

– I placed clean garbage bags on my studio floor and uncurled the paper on top of it and then covered the paper with more garbage bags and then placed the birch panel on top of it all. The weight of the panel made the paper stay flat. After a day or 2 I was able to use plastic clamps on the paper to keep it on the panel.

– I submitted 4 thumbnail sketches to the client with the general proportions mapped out. This is the sketch that was chosen.  I did a detailed graphite drawing of what it was going to look like, for me as well as the client.

Pelican Thumbnail sketch- MLighthipe©2014PelicanGraphite









– I scanned the finished graphite drawing into my computer and projected it onto the panel with the watercolor paper attached. I lightly traced the outline and some of the details onto the paper. This step helped me to keep the proportions in tact and made sure that the pelican was centered on the paper.

Detail of Brown Pelican- Mlighthipe ©201

– I was super nervous about getting the pristine white watercolor paper dirty, so I placed a large sheet of tracing vellum over the paper and cut out sections to work on in flaps so the rest of the paper would not get smudged by my hands…… I am a total slob when I work! This helped a great deal.

 – I  propped the birch panel onto some wooden crates so that I could get to the bottom of the painting. When  I couldn’t reach the bottom, I flipped it upside down and worked on it that way. Once the graphite drawing was created. I was ready for paint.

– Adding gouache and watercolor was intimidating at first. With the panel vertical, the paint might have run down the paper. I did not want to lay the painting flat on the ground. I usually wet the paper first before applying watercolor or gouache. This time I mixed up the colors I needed and applied them in a thin coat with a large #10 watercolor round brush. The graphite was visible through the light washes of color and it created a seal so the graphite did not move or smear any more.

– Additional layers of watercolor and gouache were applied until I achieved the color saturation I was looking for. The process from the thumbnail sketches to the finish painting was about 6 weeks.

Pelican Watercolor- Mlighthipe ©2014

– The next challenge was to scan the image! My husband and I rigged up a table along with 2 saw horses and moved the painting along my 8.5″ x 11″ Epson scanner. It took 42 scans before I was able to capture all of the painting. I did this in the same method as described in my eBook- Scan YOUR Art.

– I  used Photoshop to “stitch” the picture together and clean up the background. It is now ready to be shipped to the client.

This was an awesome experience. I loved every challenge that came my way. I can’t wait to do more!!!!! If you are interested in ordering an archival print of this painting please Contact Mindy

Green Ibis

Green Ibis ©2014 MIndy LighthipeI don’t consider myself much of a bird watcher. I don’t really have the patience to wander or deliberately walk around with a pair of binoculars around my neck waiting to see a glimpse of something in the distance. I don’t have a bird list that I check off. I don’t even know what I am looking at half the time. With that being said…. I do love birds. I love seeing them and painting them. I just don’t have the patience to be a diehard bird watcher. Instead of going on bird watching trips I go on nature oriented trips and birds are always part of what I see.

On my latest trip to Costa Rica we stayed in the Sarapiqui region of the country at the Selva Verde Lodge. I have been traveling to Costa Rica to draw and paint for 20 years and still see something new and inspiring every time. This year I saw the Green Ibis on a river boat trip down the Sarapiqui River. Here in Florida there are Ibis and they are white with an orange/salmon colored beak. They are common and I don’t think twice about seeing them. On the boat trip I noticed something moving on the banks of the river and it was a small group of Green Ibis. They almost completely blended into the landscape. I was able to quickly take a bunch of  shots with my digital camera, using the super zoom mode. As I am not into wearing binoculars, I am also not into carrying heavy camera equipment or lots of different lenses. I have a Lumix point and shoot 24 x zoom digital camera. I find that I am able to get the shots  I need in order to draw and paint from. Any information I did not record with my camera, I can research on the internet when I get back to the studio. This is what I did with the Green Ibis.  I had to shoot with a very high ISO- 1600 and zoomed all the way in. The boat was moving and I only had a few moments to get the information I needed.

Green Ibis Photo ©2014 MLighthipeHere is the shot that was the inspiration for my painting above. The one thing that I did not get, was a good shot of  the feet. When I got home researched my subject to find what kind of feet it had and how to position it. I decided that I did not have really enough information to do a full blown painting so I decided to keep it simple and have one foot stepping forward into the picture plane. I used colored pencil and had a great time playing with the background putting in colors that would help make the iridescent green feathers shimmer.

I hope that you like it. It is currently available as a fine art print in my Etsy Shop.

If you are interested in going to Costa Rica with me in 2015 please consider joining my mailing list or sending me an email to keep you updated.

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