Drawing Butterflies

Charaxes lucretius © Tammy Mcentee colored pencil 4.5″ x 6″ Contact Tammy at: tsm3252@aol.com

I recently had the opportunity to go back to the New York Botanical Gardens to teach a 3 day workshop on drawing butterflies. I taught at NYBG for almost 20 years after completing the Botanical Illustration Certification Program. It takes 2 years to complete this disciplined program and I was fortunate enough to live within driving distance to take the courses and eventually teach and direct the program. It opened up a new world for me and helped to build the foundation of my drawing and scientific illustration practices. I moved 5 years ago from New Jersey to Florida, so going back to NYBG was a blast. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

I certainly don’t miss the traffic or congestion of the NorthEast, NY Metropolitan area but I can honestly say I didn’t realize how much I missed teaching there. The students are really fabulous. My dad taught 8th grade English and always thought I should be a school teacher. Dealing with English and kids going through puberty would have made me stark raving mad! I chose to supplement my income as an artist, teaching art to people who really want to learn and that means ADULTS! These students/artists came with all the enthusiasm a teacher could ask for. They were eager to learn and in the 3 days I tried to cover as much information as possible. I love to teach because it forces me to communicate on different levels. I am a visual learner myself and found that not all people learn the same way. I did visual presentations, created handouts, did a lecture or two and did lots of demos. We worked from real specimens as I encourage this. Working  from photographs has its limitations. Insect anatomy is crucial in depicting these tiny critters in nature paintings or in scientific illustrations. We also worked with microscopes to give the student the advantage of seeing many underlying structures that are not visible without magnification. My motto is…. ” The more you see, the more you understand which means more you can portray in your art.”  Here I am including some of the drawings/paintings that were done in the class with the artists’ names and contact information. Feel free to contact them if you are interested in buying or commissioning a work of art. They were all super!

Idea leuconoe- Rice paper butterfly © Leslie Day Colored pencil on mylar Contact Leslie at: www.leslieday.nyc

Idea leuconoe- Rice paper butterfly © Leslie Day Colored pencil on mylar Contact Leslie at: www.leslieday.nyc

Butterfly © Ellen Matusiak, colored pencil on mylar with decorative paper underlay. Contact Ellen at: ellenmatusartist@hotmail.com

Butterfly © Ellen Matusiak, colored pencil on mylar with decorative paper underlay. Contact Ellen at: ellenmatusartist@hotmail.com

Peacock Butterfly ©Lydia Irwin Colored pencil on paper.

Peacock Butterfly ©Lydia Irwin Colored pencil on paper.

If you are interested in learning more about Drawing the Beauty of Nature please visit my section of online drawing and painting classes. If you have an art group or organization that would like to have me come teach please contact me at Mlighthipe@mac.com.

The Ants Go Marching!

Red Peonies, Ants & Red Admiral ©2010  Mlighthipe

Red Peonies, Ants & Red Admiral ©2010Mindy Lighthipe 20 x 24 watercolor

I love Peonies! Years ago I planted about a dozen or so of them in the fall in my garden. When spring came the following year I couldn’t wait for the flowers to bloom. To my dismay I saw all the beautiful flower buds covered in ants. Drat! I thought they were going to eat the flowers and I would end up with just stems. I did some research to find out what kind of insecticide I should spray on the plants only to find that the flowers would not bloom without the ants! Really? Yes, really! The flower buds are covered in a sticky sugar which attracts the ants to the flower. The ants collect and “clean” off the sticky substance allowing the flower to bloom in all its’ glory.  How cool is that! This is how this painting was born. The Ants go Marching!!!! I decided also to add a couple of Red Admiral butterflies into the painting.

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.

Mother Monarch is featured in Cape May, NJ

11887739_828986103884343_2386452696524935746_oI recently was “tagged” on Facebook by a friend who saw that Whales Tale was selling and promoting my children’s book Mother Monarch! As many of you know I am originally from New Jersey and have spent time in Cape May and visited their beautiful store. It is an honor to be a part of it as they promote awareness about the Monarch butterfly migration. The migration has already started as they head down the coast of New Jersey. They come through Florida and head over to Mexico. They can be seen by the hundreds flying. This migration is endangered as the Monarchs rely on milkweed as their host plant for the growing juvenile…. the caterpillar. 4 generations yearly rely on milkweed for the growing caterpillars and with pesticides and habitat destruction much of the open fields where milkweed used to grow are disappearing. I wrote and illustrated Mother Monarch in hopes of educating both adults and children the need for planting milkweed. If you are interested in learning more about the migration here are 2 links I found very enlightening.



It’s Moth Week!

CrescentMoonMoth ©2015 MlighthipeIn recognition of Moth Week (July 18-26, 2015) I painted this Crescent Moon Moth. The Latin name is Epiphora rectifascia. It is a Giant African Silk Moth and is part of the The family Saturniidae. This one comes from Africa. I was lucky enough to see this very large moth in a live exhibit at the Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, FL. The Saturniidae family has always fascinated me. They are huge, and have complex markings. As caterpillars they are voracious eaters. They devour their host plants, consuming as much of it as possible before they pupate. The Saturniidae caterpillar pupates by producing silk. The caterpillar is protected inside its silk cocoon until it emerges as an adult. The adult moth is transformed without a mouth. They live up to 2 weeks and their sole purpose is to mate, find a host plant to lay the eggs on. Once this is accomplished, they die. There is no time for eating. The caterpillar does all the eating early on so it will have enough energy to transform itself into an adult and find a mate.

My technique: For this painting I ripped a scrap of Fabriano 300lb Soft Press Fabriano Artistic watercolor paper. I then soaked it in hot coffee grounds. Once the paper was dry I transferred the pencil drawing onto the paper. I then painted a thick medium brown layer of gouache (opaque watercolor). Once this was dry I did the details in colored pencil. The colored pencil was easy to use and gave me the stippled effect of the speckled look on the wings. I am experimenting and having fun!

Butterfly Art & Visit to the FMNH

Mosiac Butterfly on Heliconia ©2013 MLighthipe WatercolorI just got back from my trip to Costa Rica and we had a fabulous time. I never grow tired of visiting the country and am already planning the itinerary for next year. I got to see lots of beautiful butterflies this trip and here is a painting that I did from a previous trip. This is the sort of painting that I do at home after a trip using my field sketches and back up photographs.

As soon as I got home I had to jump right back into teaching at UFL with my Introduction to Scientific Illustration. We had a great class as we visited the Florida Museum of Natural History, The Butterfly Rainforest and the McGuire Center. We first met with Andy Warren who is the Collections Manager at the Center for Lepidoptera. The collection consists of 3 floors which are climate controlled, containing massive collections of butterflies and moths grouped by taxonomy. McGuire Center for Lepidoptera The collection is overwhelmingly rich with specimens from all over the world. Most of the specimens have been donated to the McGuire Center which opened its’ door to the public in 2006. There are laboratories focusing on molecular genetics, scanning electron microscopy, image analysis, conservation and captive propagation of endangered species, optical microscopy and specimen preparation; and classrooms and offices for students, curators, collection managers and other staff. Andy is also the creator of a very valuable website for Lepidoptera enthusiasts and natural science illustrators. His website is Butterflies of America and here you will find over 160,500 images and a list over 8,300 species of butterflies including specimens, host plants, caterpillars, habitats and more.

After our visit with Andy we met with Jacqueline Miller who is a curator and adjunct professor at the McGuire Center. She graciously showed the class a collection of rare and vintage lepidoptera engravings that were hand colored back in 1798. The color plates were  The natural history of the rarer lepidopterous insects of Georgiaexquisitely preserved and the artists’ colors and details were breathtaking. It was great to see these illustrations as it also showed the lifecycle of the butterflies as well as many of them on their host plant Here is a sample of what we got to see up close and personal from Abbot & Smith’s 1798 , The Natural History of the Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia.” It was a great day and I am glad that I could share a bit of it with you.

Do you paint butterflies? Do you have resources that you would like to share? Please leave a comment. I would love to hear from you.

If you would like to purchase my original painting please visit my gallery at Daily Paintworks

You can also find me on Facebook and Pinterest!

Blue Buckeye Butterfly

Buckeye Butterflies are not Blue?

Pinned Buckeye ButterflyA few years ago when I first moved to Florida I visited Edith Smith at Shady Oaks Butterfly Farm. She and her family raise butterflies for a living. I went on her butterfly tour and she showed me all of the different species she raises. Each species has its own walk-in outdoor room and this is where the adult butterflies fly free and mate. The room is furnished with the host plant for the female to lay her eggs on and as soon as the eggs are laid, Edith scoops them up. She places them in a sterilized quarantined container and feeds the newly hatched caterpillars until they turn into a chrysalis. The chrysalises are sold to live butterfly exhibits throughout the USA. She has been doing this for many years and her breeding techniques are down to a science.

One of the things Edith shared with me when I was there was her buckeye butterfly room. She began noticing that some of the buckeyes (which are usually brown) had an iridescent blue sheen over top of their brown wing scales. She separated the buckeyes with the most blue pigmentation from the brown ones and began to breed them. The results are amazing. She now has buckeyes that are blue, green, purple and some even with a hint of turquoise. She was kind enough to give me some of her special buckeyes I finally got to do this colored pencil painting. Thanks Edith for breeding these amazing butterflies!

Blue Buckeye Butterfly- Original Colored Pencil by MLighthipe ©2014

Blue Buckeye Butterfly- Original Colored Pencil 14″ x 10″ Mindy Lighthipe ©2014 $300.00

To see more of Edith’s amazing work with butterflies visit her website: Butterfly FunFacts

Choose the “right venue” to exhibit your art

Io Moth Lifecycle. Painting by Mindy Lighthipe ©2012Eclosion- Art Exhibit to open in Austin Texas

For the month of November and into early December there is a wonderful exhibit going on at the Art.Science.Gallery in Austin, Texas. I am honored that my painting of the Io Moth Lifecycle was selected by the jury out of 290 submitted works of art by 125 artists. This exhibit is exactly the type of venue that I look for when choosing shows to enter. The call to entry was listed in the GNSI newsletter and when I saw it I knew I had to enter. They were looking for insect paintings especially ones that show their lifecycles. How perfect could that be? I submitted 3 pieces and got one in. One of the reasons I submitted 3 is that I knew that I had 3 paintings that fit the criteria, but I also knew that the competition could be high and if someone else had a similar insect I might decrease my chances by only submitting one piece. Entering shows can be a tricky business. One of the things an artist must remember is to NOT TAKE it PERSONALLY if you don’t get in to a show. It happens all the time and happens to very accomplished and successful artists. I always recommend that you go to the show and see what was chosen. Evaluate your work honestly. Here are some things to think about:

  • Does it fit into the show? Check out sizes, price ranges and number of paintings being exhibited.
  • Is your work up to the same standard as the others?
  • Are the other paintings similar in style to yours? Is your style in keeping with the others?
  • Is there a huge range of mediums and techniques? Maybe there is a variety of techniques in the show or the technique you work in is not represented.
  • Who are the jurors? What are their backgrounds? Artists, Scientists etc. Check this out before hand. Do a Google search and see what you can find out about each juror.
  • Make sure that you follow the application procedure. Check that your images are in the format specified on the application. Make sure they clearly represent your painting and are the highest quality. You can not make a second impression in this situation.
  • Join organizations that represent the kind of work that you do. I belong to art organizations but also have joined Native Plant Societies, Entomological Societies etc.  Other organizations often have calls for entry for specialized exhibits.

I hope that this helps you into the very scary world of exhibiting your art and how to handle applying and dealing with the possibility of getting rejected. I still get plenty of rejections and I am able to brush them off. I try to gather insight as to why my work didn’t get in. The insight has given me a tougher skin and I am making wiser choices and now have a higher success rate in getting into shows.

What is your experience in applying for shows? Do you have any other thoughts on the subject? I would love for you to share it here with me and my other readers.

If you are in the Austin, Texas Area click here for the specifics on the show.

Please share my painting with your friends on Pinterest! 14″ x 18″Archival Prints available from the artist $200 with free shipping! Contact Mindy at Mlighthipe@mac.com

Blue Morpho- Art Nouveau

Paint Iridescence

Blue Morpho Butterfly WIng Structure

Blue Morpho Butterfly Wing under the microscope shows the structure of the overlapping scales.

Blue Morpho butterflies are my favorite butterflies. They are part of the brushfoot butterflies from the Neo Tropics. I first saw one flying in Costa Rica and was mesmerized by the dazzling irridescent blue. The Latin word for the Order of butterflies is Lepidoptera. Lepidoptera means “scaled wing”. The picture on the left shows the structure of butterfly wings. The scales overlap similar to shingles on a roof. Painting iridescent butterflies can be a challenge and it is one that I LOVE TO PAINT!

"Blue Morpho" - Original watercolor ©2013 Mindy Lighthipe

“Blue Morpho” – Original watercolor ©2013 Mindy Lighthipe

I was commissioned to paint this Blue Morpho painting with an Art Nouveau motif. It is a t-shirt design for Wild Cotton t-shirt company. The t-shirt will be showcased in the 2014 catalog. I had a great time working with the swirls and interweaving the leaves.  I studied the style of Alphonse Mucha to come up with this design. The painting includes the caterpillar, egg and chrysalis of the morpho. I was able to create the underside of the butterflies wings using the eye spots in the circle surrounding the butterfly.

Are you comfortable painting iridescent butterflies, hummingbirds, and shells? Would you like to learn? Leave a comment and let me know if these subjects are a challenge for you.

If you are interested in purchasing an archival print of this painting please visit my Etsy Store.

Heliconia & Mosaic Butterfly Watercolor Painting

Painting # 25 52/52 Challenge


"Mosiac Butterfly – Colobura dirce"- Watercolor by MLighthipe ©2012

It is time for me to start thinking about going to Costa Rica in February of 2013. It seems weird that in the heat of the summer I should be thinking of the tropics….. It already feels like I am there! I like to do a painting every now and again from my sketches from Costa Rica and my butterfly specimens. This painting combines two elements, a heliconia flower and a butterfly. It seems like a "no-brainer" but with some careful considerations, it is easy to combine 2 elements together in a painting. Together they make the painting more interesting than if they were 2 separate paintings. Here are some things that must be considered when merging 2 elements together:

  • What is the size proportion in relationship to each element? For instance if the butterfly was too small or too large it would not look right on the flower. Each element should be true to scale as it occurs in real life, otherwise the composition will not be accurate.
  • Are both elements found in the same location? If you are trying to depict something that is found in nature you must be careful that each element is found in the same ecosystem. A flower that only grows in an upland would never have a butterfly land on it, if the butterfly only lived at sea level. Make sure they are from the same country etc.
  • When the elements are placed together, does each one look as if it is a natural pose? If you are not careful the elements can look awkward and stiff. You may have to manipulate a part of the structure of an angle to create grace and movement.
  • Do the colors of each element fight one another, create tension, or do they create interest or harmony? Color combinations can be tricky. Sometimes it is best to make a quick color sketch to make sure the color is going to work the way you want it to. I originally had a blue butterfly in the composition and I really didn't like how the blue and the red/orange were working together. It seemed garish, so I switched to a neutral color butterfly instead.

I hope these tips give you confidence to start adding and combining elements together in your paintings. You don't always have to paint exactly what you see in front of you. You can mix it up, add an element or two of surprise in your paintings.

Do you combine elements in your paintings?  I would love to hear how you do it.

If you are interested in learning more about painting from your travels……. join us this coming winter in Costa Rica. We would love to have you join us!

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