More on Cast Shadows

CAST SHADOWS!!!! UGH!!!! I always work with one light source. It is very consistent and can be very rewarding once you get used to it. I find that once I got the “hang” of it, I am now able to make anything 3-dimensional at any time. Some people have a difficult time imagining where the light is coming from and opt to set up the lighting in a studio setting. I was taught to learn to imagine it and as I have been teaching it to others I have encountered people who struggle with it. I went to a local art/craft store called Michael’s and found the forms in wood. I painted them white and did the exercise of setting up the forms and my lighting. The cost was about $10. I also invested in plaster forms because I teach. These were around $75, and are really big and heavy. I have a few photos taken of the plaster casts that show how one form casts a shadow onto another. The shadows will vary in shape as to the shape of the form the shadow is cast onto. Here are 3 scenarios of how cast shadows vary in size and shape depending on the form they are cast onto.

Here the cone casts a shadow onto the cube. The cube surface is flat so the shadow conforms to the flat surface.

Here the cone casts a shadow onto a sphere. There is a slight space between the 2 objects and the shadow of the cone onto the sphere is curved to conform to the surface contour of the sphere.

Here the cylinder casts a shadow onto the cube. The cylinder is taller than the cube so the shadow folds over and hits the top of the cube.


When in doubt try to set up your objects and lighting to better understand how cast shadows are affected by the direction of the light and the objects involved in the composition.

Surface Contour for Botanical Artists


Where are the bends, twists and curves of any given object? Think of surface contour as a topographical map or the terrain of an object. To clearly see the surface contour it helps to create an armature drawing. An armature drawing shows the formation of how the different planes move, curve and shift. To simplify it, look at the basic forms. Each form can be broken down into specific planes or surfaces. The shape of each surface changes as lines go from being straight to being curved.

The overall shape of the artichoke is simply a globe on top of a cylinder. Within the globe there are cone shapes. In the drawing above I created a surface contour armature drawing to better understand how the artichoke grows. When it came time to tone the drawing, I transferred a simple line drawing onto my drawing paper and used the armature drawing as a road map. My application of graphite was placed on the paper in keeping with the surface contour. I used the scientific method of illuminating my subject to get the best form and detail. I often do this kind of preliminary drawing to get to know my subject better. By doing a study like this, I become familiar with the surface contour, light source, as well as the surface texture. When it comes time to do the piece in color I have already done a lot of the hard work.  Click here for a quick video on light on form and surface contour. There is more detailed information about how to render botanical surface contour in my book, ”

Understanding Eyelevel

One of the most important aspects about drawing is training your eye to recognize the level that you are looking at something. All too often we don’t pay enough attention to the height of a subject in regards to the relationship of our field of vision. In this illustration I have drawn a tulip at three different view points.

The first drawing is “at my eye level”. I started out by drawing a simple cup shape to show you how the tulip breaks down into a simple form. Notice that the tulip is slightly going away from me. I do not see the inside and the dotted line on the cup shape indicates the circumference of the tulip.

The next drawing illustrates what happens when I slightly lower the tulip.  I was able to see the inside of the tulip as well as the back petals. The ellipse shows this as well.

The last drawing I positioned the tulip further downward.  This view point exposes the pistol and stamens. The shape of the ellipse is almost a perfect circle. The petals in the foreground become foreshortened.

The easiest way to get your drawing correct is to establish your view point or eyelevel and then determine if there are simple shapes like a cup or cone that you can work from. Getting the initial perspective correct is key to creating an accurate drawing.

Also don’t forget to make sure all the petals, pistols, stamens, and stems all line up at the center!

Happy drawing!


Interested in taking a class? Check out my online video classes.

Draw Through Your Subjects!

When you are drawing multiple images that overlap remember it is important to draw the background object through the foreground object. Erase any overlapping lines. This makes all of your lines read correctly. You can even decide to place a leaf that might be in the background in the foreground. Don’t be afraid to play with your composition until you are happy with it. I do this on multiple layers of tracing paper until I am happy that everything looks correct. The foundation of a drawing is the first and most often the most important step in creating a composition. If you are interested in learning more about composing botanicals try my Drawing Plants Class . It is 8 weeks of step by step instruction on how to accurately draw the many components of botanical illustration.

Shooting Botanicals with the iPhone 7 Plus

I am super excited with my new iPhone 7Plus! Having a camera with me at all times is essential. You never know when you are going  to come across something special that you want to take a quick picture of. Lugging around cameras especially DSLR’s that have interchangeable lens can get heavy and cumbersome. One of the great advantages to these types of cameras is the “depth of field feature”. The longer the lens, the longer the field of view. You can take pictures of things further away and by using a “zoom” feature it brings the subject closer to you in the view finder. Things that are in the background tend to be out of focus. These lens usually are big and can even require a tripod. This kind of photography could not be done using a simple smart phone camera until now!

The two pictures below where taken with my iPhone 7Plus. My aloe plant was blooming and I wanted to capture the flower stalk for details and maybe a future painting. The photograph on the left shows the camera setting as “normal”. I just pointed the camera at the flower stalk and took the picture. As you can see my garden is full of other plants and the background is complicated, making it difficult to see the basic structure of the plant. In the iPhone 7 Plus there is a setting called “Portrait” and by switching the setting to this I was able to take the same photograph while blurring out the background. The structure of the flower stalk “pops” forward. The image is not perfect….. I am still learning but I can see the overall structure better and having both images really helps to see more of what is going on. Making sketches and color notes helps too but I didn’t have the time.

In addition to these two photos I went back to the original setting of “normal” on the phone and got closer to the subject. It was able to get some of the small details that I was unable to get with the other 2 photos. I am experimenting with all kinds of photography in preparation for the upcoming Art & Photography Tour to Costa Rica. I will be exploring more ways to work with smart phones, point and shoot as well as DSLR’s. Interested in joining us? We would love to have you. Click here for more info.

Distance Learning with Mindy Lighthipe

I am really excited with the wonderful responses I have been getting about my online classes. I started 2 years ago ad to date have had the privilege of teaching over 400 artists worldwide. I have students from England, Germany, Tasmania, Turkey, Australia, Japan, Russia, Spain, Canada, Italy and of course the USA. The internet has allowed me to work with so many interesting people and it really is inspiring to see them posting their assignments on Facebook and sharing their knowledge. I wasn’t sure I would like this style of teaching because I am used to teaching people fact to face. The more I do it, the more I enjoy…….The internet has allowed the world to be a classroom! I am continuing to offer 3 classes starting  March 22, 2017. CLICK HERE for a listing of the classes and information about what you can expect if you decide to join us….. We would love to have you!

New Online Watercolor Class starting September 21!

I am happy to announce my new online Wonderful World of Watercolor Class will start this fall on September 21, 2016. I want to thank all my fellow artists for the overwhelming success of  my Foundation Drawing and Drawing Plants classes. For the past year I have had requests from all corners of the world asking me to do more online classes. I spent May, June and July designing, painting, shooting and editing this new 12 week class in response to YOUR REQUESTS! It takes me a long time to do this because….. I do it all!

Wonderful Watercolor with Mindy LighthipeI  designed the class to take you through all the tough issues that make people think watercolor is difficult to do! I call it de-mystifying watercolor. I used to think watercolor was fussy, difficult and unforgiving….. sounds like a bad relationship! After experimenting, working hard and taking classes, I learned watercolor can be easy, fun and correctable!!!!! It all has to do with understanding the properties of how the paint works with the amount of water you use for a given desired effect. In this class I cover all the ins and outs to help you gain control while still being spontaneous! Color mixing is an integral part of the lessons which will give you confidence in understanding and getting the results you want each time you paint. Learn to create color recipes that will work successfully everytime. No more mud or guessing!

I hope you will join me in this new class.  To learn more about my online classes please click here.

Do you know someone who loves nature and would enjoy learning to draw or paint in watercolor? If so………  Please share this post. Spread the word to appreciate…….. Drawing the Beauty of Nature!

Back to Basics!


PinFreebieSeptember brings a change in the season and for me it always means back to school. Ever since I can remember I went back to school in September, whether it was as a student or as a teacher. It is a time which reminds me to go back to the basics. As you already know I teach art. I have taught a variety of subjects and techniques throughout my teaching career. For me the most important aspect of creating art  and teaching it is in the Foundation of DRAWING. For botanical and nature artists, it is all about getting the underlying structure of our subjects in proportion, scale, form and detail. Knowing the basics and using them every time I put the pencil to the paper has made a huge difference in my own drawings and paintings. The more I draw, the better I see, the more I understand and the better I can convey it in my art.

On September 16 I have 2 online classes starting. The Foundation Drawing Class goes in-depth about the fundamentals of drawing for botanical and nature subjects. Drawing on the Beauty of Plants goes in-depth, step by step to drawing plants. Both are taught in graphite.

To the left is just a short list of the things I do every time I draw. I decided to prepare a 10 minute video as a slide presentation to jump start you “Back to School”.

If you are already on my email list you received the video via email a few days ago. Check your email to get the link or email me at:

What? you are not on the email list? In an effort to grow my email list and spread my drawing tips and techniques I created an Opt-in Page for you to get my free content. I promise not to SPAM you or share your email address. You can Opt-out anytime you like.

To get started click the box below:


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Happy Drawing!


Botanical Art- How Much Detail?

magnifcationI was recently asked in my Drawing the Beauty of Plants class….”How much detail should I include in my drawings of botanical subjects…. especially leaves?” There are so many different ways to handle this question and I always start by answering…… it depends!

The number one thing to think about is ….. Who is this drawing for?  A botanist, girl scout troop, a botanical art competition?

If it is a botanist…. The botanist will tell you. They are usually trying to highlight a specific feature and that is what should be the focus of the drawing. If you draw all the capillaries in and they are only looking for the primary and secondary veins…… you have done way too much work…… On the other hand if the botanist wanted it all and you only did the primary and secondary veins and not the capillaries…….. In both scenarios you will have to do both drawings over again….. Get my point? If they don’t tell you up front ask before you do anything!

If it is a girl scout troop…….. It probably is for some kind of a field guid and should NOT have too much detail but be recognizable so they can learn basic plant identification.

If it is a Botanical Art Competition…….. Find out who the jurors are….see what has been done by others before and work towards that standard. This one is probably the hardest one to figure out!

If you are doing it for yourself…. enjoy and see what works for you and what you are trying to convey.

In the meantime…. here is a sample of doing both in the same drawing….. Here I did a generic drawing with the basics and then did a magnification of the detail. Putting a circle around the detail and having it go outside the perimeter of the leaf lets the viewer know it is a magnification.

How do you decide how much information to put in or leave out of your drawings?

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