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, ”

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!

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:


If you are so inclined…….. share this with friends, save it to a Pinterest board or shout out a tweet! I appreciate you visiting my blog.

Happy Drawing!


Lighting for Nature Artists

The more I teach, the more I learn! Teaching online is a new and exciting experience for me. I am spending countless hours in my studio talking to an invisible classroom as I create the videos. When I am face to face with a group of people it is much easier to tell if they understand what I am trying to teach them. Usually there are questions asked and answered right on the spot. Now I post my classes and wait for people to post their drawings on Facebook or directly to me via an email. I now answer the questions in the form of blog posts or videos.

One of the recurring confusions and questions I get is how to set a light for illuminating botanical and natural science subjects. It can be as confusing and controversial as interpreting the Bible! Everyone seems to have a different way of setting up a light to convey form and it is always up for debate! I developed a class called Light on Form for the Botanical Illustration Class at the New York Botanical Garden over 15 years ago to help students who were struggling with the light source. This fall I will be teaching this course at the American Society of Botanical Artists annual conference in Miami. Here is a short video I did explaining how I set up my light source in my studio. I hope you enjoy it!

If you have any questions or comments please leave a comment below! Don’t forget to share it and Pin-it on Pinterest!

New Online Drawing Class!


I am thrilled to announce that after at least 2+ years I have finally developed and designed an online drawing class. I did a lot of research and took several online art classes to see what worked, and what didn’t.  To my surprise I found I really liked distance learning. I was able to work at my leisure, go back and review key points, and share my experience with other artists from around the world via Facebook.

In designing my class I wanted to fill a void in the online art video world. After researching what was available on the internet and evaluating my own strengths and weaknesses, I came up with DRAWING as a FOUNDATION. I have taught for over 20 years, teaching drawing, pen & ink, colored pencil, gouache, watercolor, pastel, and scratchboard. With the exception of drawing, all of these subjects are techniques. Drawing is the one thing that all these techniques have in common. It is where they all start. You can’t learn these techniques with out having some kind of drawing to work with.

All too often I see artists give up or be frustrated with their work. They rush in too fast to do the painting part, often working from photographs and do not understand what to do. There are drawing errors right from the beginning which were overlooked until color, form or black & white techniques were introduced. After investing countless hours on a piece, the frustrated artist gives up and declares the piece a “failure”.

When I was the Program Coordinator at the New York Botanical Garden, the first thing I did was to make Drawing 1 mandatory for all students. The program consists of 200+ hours for a certification in Botanical Illustration and every student who wanted to take any of the classes had to start with Drawing 1. Sometimes potential students were disheartened to hear Drawing 1 was a pre-requisite, but after going through it, the beginner as well as the experienced artist was grateful for the education.

I have taken what I taught in that beginning Drawing 1 class and expanded it, improved it, and tailored it to artists looking for a good, step by step, in depth Drawing Foundation Class.

The class begins February 18 and runs until April 22, 2015. The videos are available until June 22 during this class to give students plenty of time to do the assignments and review the course material.

Click here for more information or

Sign me UP!  $149

Mechanical Pencils for Artists

MechanicalPencilThere are so many drawing pencils on the market and it is often difficult to know which type to buy. If you are looking for a pencil that has the ability to give you the sharpest point I highly recommend a Mechanical Pencil Holder that fits 2 mm size leads. You will also need a special pencil sharpener for this kind of mechanical pencil. The standard pencil sharpeners are only good for wooden pencils. If you click on the links in blue, it will take you to DickBlick where you can buy them.

Many people get confused as to how the pencil sharpener works. I often see artists frustrated with breaking the leads and not using the sharpener properly. Here is a short video that demonstrates how to get a GREAT point every time.

Please share on Facebook and Pin this video on Pinterest!

Happy Drawing!


Pen & Ink- 4 Part Series- The Artichoke

I have been teaching Pen & Ink at the University of Florida to my Intro to Scientific Illustration Class. The feedback I usually receive before I teach Pen & Ink Techniques is the following:

  • Difficult medium to work in.
  • Mistakes are not correctable.
  • Not sure if I will ever use it again.
  • Don’t like black and white art.

After taking this section the students find out:

  • Pen & Ink can be learned with practise
  • Mistakes are NOT the end of the world. They can be fixed!
  • Multiple applications for Pen & Ink that they never thought of!
  • It doesn’t have to be just black & white. Color can be added!

Here is a series of videos that I did showing how to ink an Artichoke using Pen & Ink with line. The videos go from the beginning drawing and goes to the end of the finished rendering.




If you enjoyed these videos please leave feedback and don’t forget to subscribe to my email list.

Digital Cameras for Artists

Pygmy Owl ©2014 Mindy LighthipeI use my camera as a research tool to photograph my subjects.  I am always debating whether or not I should spend tons of money and buy a super duper camera. It is difficult for me to take pictures when I have too many bells and whistles. If I have to keep changes lens and carry extra equipment it starts to be too much for me. I have been using the Panasonic Lumix series of digital cameras for a while.  I recently bought the Lumix DMC-F270 which has a  60x zoom lens on it. It has the capability of shooting videos as well as digital photos in RAW format. It is extremely compact, light weight,  with an eye piece as well as large LCD screen. I paid under $400 for the camera.

Today I was hiking in Honduras and we came across a Pygmy Owl high in a tree. This tiny little owl is about 5 inches tall and hunts for food in the day time. Here is a video I took of the owl.  I started out with the full 60x zoom so that you can see the owl. To show you how FANTASTIC this camera is I slowly zoomed out from the owl to show you just how far away I really was……. and how awesome this camera really is!

If you are interested in learning more about how I use my camera in my art work think about coming with me on my next Artistic Adventure Tour to Costa Rica.

Video- How to Create Light on Form in Your Art.

Creating depth and volume in realistic nature paintings is near and dear to me. I often see people struggling with getting their art to look 3 dimensional on a 2 dimensional surface. When I worked at the New York Botanical Garden’s Illustration Certification program I designed a class called, “Light on Form”. I designed the class to break down a step by step progression to understand the surface contour of a many different shapes and how light and shadow effects the surface contour when it is coming from an upper left positioning at 45 degrees from the picture plane. Here is a video that introduces this concept using a two-toned speckled bird egg and graphite. I hope that you enjoy the how-to tutorial. If you have any questions or would like to leave feed back I would be happy to answer your questions. Enjoy!

Page 1 of 41234