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.

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.

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: Mlighthipe@mac.com

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

Sea Grapes are Native!

I hope that everyone on the eastern coast of the USA are recovering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. I have friends and family who still do not have power and some that  have massive property damage. My heart goes out to everyone and hope that things get back to normal soon.

Painting #38 of 52/52 Challenge- Sea Grapes -Watercolor Mlighthipe©2012

All over Florida we have a plant that is used as an ornamental plant but it actually has many environmental benefits. This native plant is called Sea Grape, – Coccoloba uvifera. It actually has been documented to  help sea turtles! Coccoloba uvifera is a remarkable native, salt- tolerant species of plant found along many of Florida’s beaches. Plants appear as low spreading bushes or tall continuous hedges along the sand dunes. This plant can be identified by its thick circular leaves 8” to 10” in diameter and its grape-like clusters of fruit. This fruit is consumed by a number of native birds and mammals, while the protective canopy provides habitat for animals including songbirds, lizards, gopher tortoise and beach mice.

In addition to providing habitat, sea grape helps to stabilize sand dunes and to protect upland structures from storm-induced erosion. In fact, this plant has been deemed important enough to protect under Florida Statute. So how do they help sea turtles?

Throughout the state, stands of sea grape act as a natural vegetative barrier blocking artificial light from nesting beaches and minimizing upland glow. Trimming or removal of this vegetative barrier can increase illumination levels on the beach and deter nesting or disorient hatchlings. This is considered interference with the normal nesting behavior of threatened and endangered species and can expose the property owner to potential fines or imprisonment under the Endangered Species Act (1973) and Florida Statutes 161 and 370.12.

I found this awesome article from the University of Florida. To read more about Sea Grapes visit:

I am not sure that Sea Grapes could have deterred Hurricane Sandy from wreaking havoc, but it may aid in erosion of beaches and continue to provide food and shelter to the animals that live nearby. When ever you can………. Think Native Plants! They have so much to offer.

This original watercolor is available for sale in my Etsy Shop.

3 Sassafras Leaves

Painting #23- 3 Sassafras Leaves

3 Sassafras Leaves- Original Watercolor 10 x 14; Mindy Lighthipe ©2012

After a week of "Plant Camp" my head is spinning! I learned so much in the 5 day workshop. Some of it was horrifying and some of it was awesome. The horrifying part was learning about how invasive plants are ruining huge ecosystems, particularly in the lakes, rivers, streams and the Everglades in Florida. Government agencies and interest groups fight continually about how, when and where the eradication should, would or could take place. It was mind boggling to see it first hand.

The awesome part about the workshop was that 24 teachers, including myself were trained to identify invasive as well as native plants in Florida. It is the hope of the program that we take all the information we have learned and teach others; especially school children who are the future of our planet. The teachers were selected from applications all over the state. I was chosen and was also asked to do a mini workshop on drawing leaves. I was thrilled to do this because most of the art programs in Florida are being removed because of budget cuts. I was able to give these math, language arts and science teachers a way to introduce drawing to their students and encourage them to create nature journals. They were all enthusiastic and we came up with lots of projects and ideas to get the children excited about plants and nature.

As I continue to process and refine my knowledge I will be blogging about my experience in hope to broaden awareness to all of you out there to be aware of what is going on in your "neck of the woods".

For painting #23 I received a commission from my Etsy Shop to paint the 3 sassafras leaves again. I painted them this past fall as separate paintings and listed them in the shop. They were bought by a fellow botanical artist. This commission was for a woman who has a friend who is opening a restaurant and the name of it is "Sassafras". What a great gift to give to someone. It was great to come home from Plant Camp and spend the weekend painting a Native Plant!

Do you know about invasive plants in your area? If you do please share them with me and the other readers. The more we know the more we can make a difference.

Page 1 of 212