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!

Protect Our Waters- Stop the Spread of Invasive Plants

I recently had the opportunity to create this painting for IFAS- Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida. The project was designed as a new product for educators and aquatic plant management enthusiasts. Many people are unaware of the damages invasive plants can do to the environment. Back in 2012 I took a  week of Plant Camp studies through IFAS. I was blown away by how many invasive species of plants and animals are wreaking havoc in the USA and Florida in particular. The climate in Florida is the only sub-tropical ecosystem in the USA. It harbors many species that can not survive in the colder climates. The 6 plants depicted in my painting are the top 6 invaders in Florida’s waterways. They are choking the lakes, rivers, ponds and streams. Many invasive plants are available at garden centers and places like Lowe’s and HomeDepot because there is no regulation prohibiting their sale. Regardless of whether you live in Florida or any other part of the world…. when choosing plants for your landscape find out the latin name of the plants you are thinking of purchasing and research them before you purchase. It is well worth the small investment of the time it takes to research the plant than the time and energy you will spend trying to eradicate it from your garden. To find out more about invasive plants visit IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants Website.

Click here for to read the full article written and published by Aquaphytes pages 7 & 8.

INVASIVE plants 

1. Alligatorweed (Alternanthera philoxeroides) is an emersed plant native to South  America.

2. Water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) is a free-floating plant; nativity disputed.

3. Torpedograss (Panicum repens) a wetland grass native to Africa, Asia and Europe.

4. Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is a free-floating plant native to Brazil.

5. Giant salvinia (Salvinia molesta) is a floating plant native to South America.

6. Hydrilla  (Hydrilla verticillata)  is a submersed plant native to Africa, Asia, and Europe

For more information on the above species, visit the University of Florida/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants website:

NATIVE animals

7.  Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)

8. Yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta)


9. Alligatorweed flea beetle (Agasicles hygrophila) is used as a biological control agent introduced to control alligatorweed.

10. Dragonfly is a beneficial native insect that eats mosquitos.

11. Dragonfly nymph is a casing left behind after the adult emergence.

12. The mosquito is an insect pest that can harm humans and animals; it breeds beneath dense aquatic weed infestations.

Toucan Rescue Ranch- Another success story!

Emma the River Otter- Toucan Rescue RanchI have been traveling and leading art and photography tours to Costa Rica for over 30 years. It always warms my heart when something wonderful happens to help save the animals of this country.

We have been visiting Toucan Rescue Ranch for 8 years to expose our artists and photographers to a rare behind the scenes opportunity to draw and photograph the animals they care for. It is an opportunity to learn about the conservation and rehabilitation efforts by this organization. The Toucan Rescue Ranch was established in 2004 by Leslie Howle and Jorge Murillo as a rescue center for toucans and other birds. Nonetheless, the rescue center quickly expanded to owls and other wildlife. In 2007, a baby sloth, Millie, arrived and was solely in Leslie and Jorge’s care. Millie is initially what transformed the Toucan Rescue Ranch into to a wildlife rescue. Leslie and Jorge work as a team alongside a small staff, caring for resident rescues and new arrivals. It is a dedicated rescue for Costa Rican wildlife. The organization continues to see opportunities for expansion and betterment. TRR is eager to continue to grow to save more wildlife and implement breeding programs for endangered birds native to Costa Rica’s rainforests.

Today’s success story is about Emma! Emma is a neo-tropical river otter;  (Lontra longicaudis).

As a baby she was separated from her mother when a group of children were found throwing rocks at her by the rivers edge. Emma, who was too young to swim through the current to her mom, was left chirping on the riverbank. Luckily, a courageous woman stepped in and took action against such cruelty. She quickly scolded the children who were throwing rocks and snatched the orphaned otter and brought her to the police. The police in turn brought her to the Toucan Rescue Ranch.

Typically, at the Ranch they encourage minimal human interaction with wildlife to ensure natural behaviors and overall health. However, Emma is different. Because she was orphaned at such a young age she is not capable of returning to the wild. She does not have the proper skills to survive on her own. This is why TRR did a marvelous campaign to build Emma a permanent enclosure. She thrives off interaction and any chance she can to play under the water hose. Emma can make anyone smile with her energy, spirit and overwhelming character.

Watch Emma in this video and see how she can live out her life in her permanent home. Her new home gives her ample area to swim, run and play.

We are so happy to support the efforts of this small organization. Want to meet Emma in person? We will be visiting the Toucan Rescue Ranch on our Artistic Adventure to Costa Rica in March 2017.

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.

The Invasive Air Potato!

Air Potato Vine ©2015 MLighthipeYesterday was my 3rd year teaching at Plant Camp for the University of Florida. What is Plant Camp? Plant Camp is all about teaching TEACHERS to teach children about INVASIVE Plants. 24 teachers from the State of Florida are picked every year to participate in Plant Camp. It is funded by a grant and is FREE! ( I was one of them in 2012!)  Since 2012 I have been a part of Plant Camp demonstrating to the teachers how to introduce DRAWING and FIELD SKETCHING into their curriculum. Because of budget cuts, art classes are disappearing from the classroom. This is a way to get non-art teachers to get the students involved in the environment as well as get them to draw! For this year, I painted the Air Potato Vine and the Air Potato Beetle. The beetle is under a biological study at UFL to control the air potato in the wild without damaging other plants. The beetle was imported from Thailand and for the past 5 years it has been in a controlled environment and tested to see if it can control the invasive plant. So far it is doing great! The larva and the beetle don’t eat anything except the air potato vine! Hopefully it will pass all the  tests and be released into the wild so it can chomp away!

Here is a brief description of Plant Camp:


When a non-native plant species spreads on its own, causing environmental and/or economic harm, it is considered invasive. In Florida, invasive plant species are blocking flood control devices and bridges; causing navigation problems on lakes and rivers; harboring mosquitos; creating fire pathways to tree tops; tangling electrical lines; and covering valuable fish and wildlife habitat. Aside from being a nuisance, invasive plants can even be dangerous for boaters, swimmers, hikers and homeowners. Managing invasive plants is expensive, costing Florida taxpayers more than 80 million dollars a year.

Prevention and education are needed to protect our waters and natural areas. That’s why we are seeking the help of educators to bring this important topic to the classroom. Join us this summer to learn about the numerous invasive plant (and animal) species silently invading Florida’s natural areas and neighborhoods. Along the way, learn about the wild and wonderful native flora and fauna that make Florida a unique place to live and a world-famous travel destination.


Do you know a teacher in the State of Florida that might be interested in attending Plant Camp next year? It is FREE, all expenses paid, including hotel etc…. Please forward this blog post or send them to the Plant Camp website for more information.

Donate your Art?

Should I donate my artwork?

Mama Bear and Cub ©2014 Mindy LighthipeThis is a question I think all artists should carefully consider before giving away their art. I am frequently approached by numerous organizations to donate a piece of my artwork for a fund raising campaign.

There are so many charitable organizations. Some good, some bad. How do you decide whether you should donate to their cause? Here is a list of things I ask myself if I am considering donating my work:

  •  If I had money to donate, would I give to the organization?
  • How much would I give? 10, 25, 50, 100, or more dollars?
  • One of the things an artist must think about is putting a dollar amount on how much they are willing to donate.

If I donate money, the chances are I would probably donate something somewhere in the range of $25 to $200 to an organization. The art which is donated should not exceed this amount. I am bombarded by many charitable organizations I figure how many I want to give to and  set a dollar figure for each organization. This is the same formula that I would use for donating a piece of artwork. If I can afford $100 to send to an organization, then I can afford to send them a piece of artwork that I would sell for $100. It would be unreasonable for me to donate a $1500 painting to an organization since I make my living as an artist. Donating that painting is a potential loss of $1500.

I believe it is important to support the groups or organizations that follow the same ethics and value systems as my own.

  • Does the organization tell you where the money goes?
  • Are they just soliciting money with no direct usage for the money?
  • How do they allocate the funds?
  • Does the organization have paid employees?
  • Is there a way to see where their funds are being spent?
  • How long has the organization been in existence?
  • Does your artwork in someway fit in to the mission of the organization?

I generally will not donate a piece of my artwork if I find that any of these things do not fit into my vision of where I want to see my work displayed, or how organization conducts itself. I was recently solicited by a volunteer from BEAR EDUCATION AND RESOURCE (BEAR) PROGRAM I did not know that an organization of this kind existed. The volunteer wrote a personal and very poignant letter to me. She gave references and website links in her email which allowed me to go visit the different websites to see what the foundation was all about. From reading the information on their website it was very clear to me that I would be participating in this fundraising campaign. They clearly stated on the website that they are about educating people to conserve wildlife habitat for the black bear in New Jersey. Conservation through education is exactly the affiliation I want to belong too. They are auctioning  artwork in hopes to raise funds to bring educational programs into the classrooms and into neighborhoods so that bears and humans can coexist peacefully. They are lobbying and legislating to have bear proof garbage cans mandatory in areas where bears are known to live in suburban areas. I created this special piece for them. My donation an 11 x 14 colored pencil painting a mother bear and her cub. I estimate that the worth of the painting is about $250. The “Third Annual Silent Art Auction” will take place on November 7th at the Morris Museum at 6 Normandy Heights Rd, Morristown, NJ 07960  (973) 971-3700 If you are in the neighborhood stop by and support this cause!

Remember to make sure when you commit to donating a piece of your artwork that it represents something you believe in.

Any thoughts about this? Please leave your comment. I would love to hear from you.

Art Design Advice- Start at the End

When I start a project for a client I always start with the finished product size or sizes. It is necessary to know what the end use will be. I want my clients to get the most versatile design work that can multi-purpose across a number of platforms. At first I found this concept to be a bit stifling until I realized  it made a huge difference in the way I approached my art. I recently designed a logo for the The Toucan Rescue Ranch in Costa Rica. They  were looking for me to create a design that would work as a logo, stationary, business cards, t-shirt design, website banner and Facebook Page Timeline Banner. I thought I would share with you my design process:

Mock up for FaceBook Timeline Banner

A rough sketch started the design process. Here is the mock up for FaceBook. ©2014 Mindy Lighthipe

  •  I took all the platforms the design would be used in and got the dimensions for each and wrote them down.
  • Working on tracing paper I created a series of life size windows with a ruler and a pencil for each set of dimensions.
  • I drew the elements, keeping in mind all of the sizes and where the most important elements should and shouldn’t be placed, using my windows for guides.
  • I scanned the preliminary sketch into Photoshop and placed it in the Facebook Timeline Banner dimensions, creating a mock up of what it would look like. This particular process was very critical as you can see from my mock up. I had to make sure that the avatar or profile picture did not cover anything important. As you can see there was not a lot of room to fit in all 3 animals, so the owls’ head is cropped. I played with this for some time as I didn’t want them all in perfect line. Each head is at a slightly different level for more visual appeal.
  • Once I got the composition working for all the different sizes and applications I was able to transfer the drawing and do it in color.
  • I normally work from back to front in a piece but decided to focus on the animals first to see what they would look like on a white background. For this piece I chose to work in colored pencil.
  • Toucan Rescue Ranch- © Mindy Lighthipe

    The design was scanned in case the client wanted to use it with a plain white background. ©2014 Mindy Lighthipe

  • I scanned the image into Photoshop again and saved this version with the white background. I wanted to give the client the option of using a simple white background.  I knew that once a colored background was in place, it would be difficult to remove it, and then only in Photoshop.
  • I then did a colored background and scanned it into the computer to do the final computer design work .
  • T-shirt designs are better when they are not contained within a perfect rectangle. The fabric stretches and often distorts the right angles of the rectangle.
  • Once the color piece was scanned I created the type and also created a ripped edge effect to take care of the rectangle distortion problem.

Here is the finished result!

Toucan Rescue Ranch Costa Rica ©2014 Mindy Lighthipe

The finished t-shirt design for the Toucan Rescue Ranch – ©2014 Mindy Lighthipe

If you would like to see the finished banner,  visit the The Toucan Rescue Ranches’ Facebook Page…… and don’t forget to “Like” their page. If you would like to show your support for them, please consider purchasing a t-shirt or other gift item at their Zazzle store. We visit The Toucan Rescue Ranch as part of my Art Tour to Costa Rica. To find out more about the tour click here.

Costa Rican Organic Chocolate

Do you LOVE chocolate?

Sibu Chocolate- Costa Rica

My good friends at Sibú Chocolate are making the BEST handmade organic chocolate in Costa Rica!

I met George Soriano in Costa Rica almost 18 years ago when he was working for an Eco-tour Company. In 2007 George and his partner Julio Fernandez embarked on making handmade chocolates from organic cacao farms  in Costa Rica. The studied in Paris to learn how fine chocolates were made by hand.  They experimented with creating recipes of flavors that are found in Costa Rica. Sibú Chocolate works with a Rainforest Alliance certified farm, which means that farmers follow sound agricultural practices that protect forest, rivers, soils and wildlife, while being good community neighbors. It also ensures that workers have just wages, dignified living conditions and access to education and health care. They only use the best ingredients available, sourced from local producers and organic farms. To read more about Sibú Chocolate please visit their website.

I am thrilled to make this my 5th year taking my Artistic Adventure Tour to visit Sibú Chocolate in February 2014. We get to taste all the different recipes and learn about sustainable organic agriculture in a gorgeous cloud forest setting. The history of chocolate is covered in detail. Later on in the trip we will go to the Tirimbina Rainforest and see how chocolate was made by the Mayan and Inca Indians. There will be lots of tasting and time to sketch and photograph in the rainforest!

Join Us! Do you have questions about the tour? Leave a comment or email Mindy at:

Must See Places to Draw, Paint and Photograph

Birds-of-Paradise Project


Throughout my life I have always been mesmerized by the flamboyant, outrageous colors, textures and patterns created by Mother Nature. A friend of mine sent me this YouTube video from Cornell University because she KNEW I would LOVE it. New Guinea has been on my bucket list for decades. It is one of the untouched places in the world that still has birds, insects and mammals that exist no where else in the world. I don’t know if I will ever make it there, but seeing this video makes me want to go even more. I thought I would share it with you.

Do you have New Guinea on your bucket list? Share with me the places that you would love to go to draw, paint and photograph.

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!

make custom gifts at Zazzle

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