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.

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






The Biggest Beetle EVER!

As many of you already know I LOVE bugs! Here is a favorite beetle I found while traveling in Costa Rica. It is a giant long horned beetle – Macrodontia batesi. It was 5 inches long! Most people are terrified when they see something this big because they think it will hurt them. This was a male beetle, noted by the elongated mandibles.  The word Macrodontia is from the Greek μάκρος (makros) meaning “long or large” and οδόντος(odontos) meaning “of teeth”. The males are usually larger than the females. They use their mandibles to fight off other males during the breeding season. The only danger they pose to humans is if you pick them up and stick your finger between the mandibles it will clamp down on your finger…… and it won’t let go! Here is a photo I took while in Costa Rica of this super cool bug and a painting I did of it afterwards when I got home. The painting is done in watercolor on calf skin vellum. The vellum had an irregular coloration and I thought this was interesting to work with.

Interested in going to Costa Rica to paint, photograph and find cool bugs? We are going in February 2018. Click here to join us!



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.

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.

Drawing Butterflies

Charaxes lucretius © Tammy Mcentee colored pencil 4.5″ x 6″ Contact Tammy at:

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:

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

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

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

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

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!

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.

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!

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