Heliconia & Mosaic Butterfly Watercolor Painting

Painting # 25 52/52 Challenge


"Mosiac Butterfly – Colobura dirce"- Watercolor by MLighthipe ©2012

It is time for me to start thinking about going to Costa Rica in February of 2013. It seems weird that in the heat of the summer I should be thinking of the tropics….. It already feels like I am there! I like to do a painting every now and again from my sketches from Costa Rica and my butterfly specimens. This painting combines two elements, a heliconia flower and a butterfly. It seems like a "no-brainer" but with some careful considerations, it is easy to combine 2 elements together in a painting. Together they make the painting more interesting than if they were 2 separate paintings. Here are some things that must be considered when merging 2 elements together:

  • What is the size proportion in relationship to each element? For instance if the butterfly was too small or too large it would not look right on the flower. Each element should be true to scale as it occurs in real life, otherwise the composition will not be accurate.
  • Are both elements found in the same location? If you are trying to depict something that is found in nature you must be careful that each element is found in the same ecosystem. A flower that only grows in an upland would never have a butterfly land on it, if the butterfly only lived at sea level. Make sure they are from the same country etc.
  • When the elements are placed together, does each one look as if it is a natural pose? If you are not careful the elements can look awkward and stiff. You may have to manipulate a part of the structure of an angle to create grace and movement.
  • Do the colors of each element fight one another, create tension, or do they create interest or harmony? Color combinations can be tricky. Sometimes it is best to make a quick color sketch to make sure the color is going to work the way you want it to. I originally had a blue butterfly in the composition and I really didn't like how the blue and the red/orange were working together. It seemed garish, so I switched to a neutral color butterfly instead.

I hope these tips give you confidence to start adding and combining elements together in your paintings. You don't always have to paint exactly what you see in front of you. You can mix it up, add an element or two of surprise in your paintings.

Do you combine elements in your paintings?  I would love to hear how you do it.

If you are interested in learning more about painting from your travels……. join us this coming winter in Costa Rica. We would love to have you join us!

The Green Iguana

52/52 Painting Challenge: Painting #7- Not Always Green!

"Senor Iguana" Watercolor ©2012 Mindy Lighthipe

As some of you may know I was in love with an Iguana. His name was Father Mulcahy, named after the priest on the hit TV show called "Mash". He was given to me by a priest named Father Lope who had rescued him from an abusive home. When Father Mulcahy got  too big for his aquarium he needed to find a new home and luckily it was with me. He lived with me for 9 months and I never thought that a lizard could have so much personality, charm and intelligence. When Father M passed away I was devastated and made a small intaglio print to remember him. I had wanted to do a better portrait of him in color but time got away from me.

The Green Iguana starts out its life almost lime green. It is relatively small at birth and the green color helps it to blend into its surroundings for protection from predators. It is a strict vegetarian and lives its life in the tree canopy but can also be found on the ground. As the male iguana matures it gets large cheek pouches, a "showy" dewlap under the chin and turns beautiful shades of green, turquoise, olive, orange and rust. Father M was just beginning to mature at 4 feet long and had these amazing colors.

I recently lead an Artistic Adventure Tour to Costa Rica and while I was there I had another encounter with an iguana. He was a very big boy. I would say his body was about 3.5 feet long with a tail that was even longer. He was hanging out by the bird feeder at Selva Verde Lodge looking to steal some bananas that had been left for the birds. I sat and hung out with him for about 20 minutes. He was very aware of my presence. I sat for a while, took some still pictures and then took video clips. It was awesome to see him make eye contact with me.

I decided to do my watercolor above of Father Mulcahy as part of my 52/52 painting challenge after my encounter with Senor Iguana. He reminded me of Father M and I felt a special connection with him. I enjoyed doing the background and adding lots of pigment using a wet on wet technique. I did the detail of the scales in watercolor pencil because I couldn't bear to paint all the tiny details.

I don't know it there is another iguana in my future. I would never buy an iguana. It would have to be another rescue. I love to see them in the wild. They have become disposable pets in the exotic pet trade and in parts of Florida they have become an invasive specie. They should be left in their native habitat, wild where they belong.

This painting is available for sale. If you are interested in it please e-mail me.


While leading a tour in Costa Rica I came upon this VERY large male green iguana. I watched him for over 20 minutes. He was very aware of my presence and it was awesome to see him make eye contact with me, This video was taken at the Selva Verde Lodge in the Sarapiqui region of CR. For more info about Artistic Adventure Tours visit: http://www.BotanicalArtPainting.com

Baby Howler Monkey in Costa Rica

Mom to the Rescue!


This morning while we were having breakfast a small baby howler monkey lost its footing high up in a palm tree and came crashing down to hit the concrete pavement. It was a horrible sight to see its motionless body laying on the ground. Many of us got up and went to see what was happening. The staff at the hotel must be used to this kind of thing, because they quickly moved us out of the way so not to crowd around it. The mother was up in the tree and she would not come down to aid her baby with humans too close. We all backed up and slowly the motionless body began to move and the stunned baby was able to sit up. It looked dazed and confused but could hear its mother talking. It slowly made its way to a tree and began to climb it. As it clung to the trunk of the tree, the mother moved slowly and carefully lending a hand so the baby could get to her back and its life in the trees. I was able to stay far enough away so as not to interfere but close enough to capture this little miracle on video. What started out as heart wrenching moment turned into a wonderful ending. Human nature would have been to pick the baby up to see if it was injured but the staff was smart enough to know that the mother would have rejected the baby had it come in contact with humans. Letting nature take its course was the way to go. Here is the video, I thought you would enjoy it. Notice at the end that the baby securely wraps its tail around the mothers tail so as not to fall again!

Hatched to Fly Free – Costa Rican Macaws

Great Green Macaw- Colored Pencil ©2001 MLighthipe

For over 20 years I have been going to Costa Rica. I marvel at the diversity and the amazing array of shapes, colors, textures and sounds of the rainforest. One of the most thrilling things I have ever seen is a great green macaw flying in the wild. They are loud and gregarious and to see them flying rapidly like a rainbow streaking across the sky is breath taking. Through exotic pet trade these beautiful birds have been ripped from the wild to be stuck in cages as someones pet.

Scarlet Macaw- Colored Pencil ©2001 MLighthipe

The population of wild birds is dwindling but there is a husband and wife team who devoted their retirement years to breeding these macaws to release them into the wild. Richard and Margot Frisuis settled in Costa Rica and started Amigos de las Aves a non profit organization dedicated to the conservation of the two endangered species, the Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) and the Great Green or Buffon’s Macaw (Ara ambigua). Amigos de las Aves incorporates breeding techniques, aviary management, environmental and key studies and conservation issues, in order to carry out controlled release programs in conjunction with MINAE (Ministry of the Environment and Energy) and Costa Rican laws. 

For over 15 years I took my artists and photographers to see Margot, Richard and all of the fantastic birds. Margot has passed away and Richard has retired from the sanctuary. The couple successfully released over 30 breeding pairs into the wild. To successfully release the birds volunteers must monitor and subsidize the feeding for 2 years. Their food in the wild varies from season to season. Birds which are bred and raised in captivity are hand fed and most of the food  is not necessarily what they will find in the wild. This is a tough hurdle to climb over in releasing them. They need to learn from their human volunteers what trees will be in fruit at what time of the year. Margot and Richard trained and worked with their volunteers to make this project a success. Their legacy has continued through the ARA Project, which is in conjunction with the World Parrot Trust.

Here is an awesome video from the ARA Project of a macaw from egg to feathers. It was filmed over a 90 day time frame. This is an fantastic film for natural science and wildlife illustrators as it show the pin-feathers of the bird and how it develops. It reminds me of the time lapsed photography I used to see on Walt Disney on Sunday evenings.

I will be taking my next group of artists and photographers to Costa Rica this coming February 2012. Although I won't be seeing Margot or Richard I am hoping that I will see some wild macaws streaking through the skies. My friends have done a marvelous thing!

Learn more about traveling to Costa Rica on my Facebook Page- Artistic Adventure Tours.

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Siam Tulip- Not a Tulip at all!

I have done all my gardening in zone 6 in New Jersey until now. I now am gardening in zone 8b. The area that I moved to is Northern Central Florida. It is where you see palm trees and huge oak trees side by side covered in spanish moss, It is where the Appalachian Mountains are gone and the tropics are beginning to move northward. I have many old favorites from the north in my backyard and some of my tropical favorites here too. I once thought that maybe I would move to Costa Rica, but now I have found the best of both worlds. I am 2.5 hours from the NY Metro Area and San Jose CR by plane. I am teaching in both places and living in between.

Pale Pink Siam Tulip- ©2011 Mindy Lighthipe

I am visiting all the nurseries, Lowe's and HomeDepots. I am on a plant frenzy both for painting and planting. My new favorite plant is the Siam Tulip, Curcuma alismatifolia. It is a member of the Ginger family, Zingiberaceae and comes in a variety of colors. So far I have painted two varieties. They keep blooming and make great cut flowers. This is a great advantage for a botanical artist… a plant that keeps blooming, multiplies, lasts for about 2 weeks as a cut flower and it is gorgeous!


Magenta Siam Tulip- ©2011 Mindy Lighthipe

These paintings are for sale. Please email me for inquiries. Commissions are gladly accepted too!

Pick a Camera- Any Camera?

Botanical Artists and Natural Science Illustrators

Tips & Tricks of the Trade

Costa Rican Caterpillar ©2009 Nancy Richmond  www.NancyRichmondPhotography.com

10 things to Nature photographers, Botanical Artists and Natural Science Illustrators should think of when buying a digital point and shoot camera: by Nancy Richmond – Photographer

Here are 10 useful tips about buying a digital point and shoot camera. There are so many cameras on the market these days, with so many bells and whistles that it is confusing. If you just want to take good photos, stick with something basic. You do not have to spend a lot of money to get a good quality camera that will suit your needs.

1.    What are your goals? Do you want to take vacation and family photos and photos to draw from, or do you want to become more of a professional photographer with your camera?

2.    Do you want to print your photos? If so, look for higher resolution – The more megapixels the camera has, the bigger the print you can make. With 3 MP, you can make a nice 5”x7” print. With 6 MP, you can make a 7”x10” print and with 10 MP, you can print about 9”x13”.

3.    Are you only going to e-mail your photos to family and friends, post them on the Internet, or draw from your computer or iPad? If so, you don’t need a lot of megapixels, and your camera could be less expensive.

4.    Get close to your subject. Look for a camera with a good telephoto zoom, and look for optical zoom, not digital zoom.  A digital zoom only enlarges the pixels and the quality declines. You should always use the optical zoom, which will give you better quality. Zooms vary on every camera. These are listed as 3x, 6x, 10x, etc. The higher the number, the closer you can get to your subject. A good zoom is one that allows both wide angle and telephoto shooting. Wide angle is usually used for wide, landscapes, and telephotos bring your subject closer. If you want to photograph a bird in a tree, you’ll need a telephoto. A lens that goes from 35mm to 200mm is fairly typical. Every camera is different and the zoom range is listed in the camera’s specifications, so read this when you’re buying.

5.    Are you going to shoot at night or in low-light situations? Photographing in the rainforest can have very low lighting conditions, and it is best to have a camera that has a wide range of ISO settings. Look for one with a range from 100 to 800 or 1600, if possible. The larger the number, the lower light you will be able to shoot in.

6.    Do you want to shoot close-ups of small items, such as leaves, flowers or bugs? Make sure your camera has a macro lens. Most point and shoot cameras have them these days and they are fun to play with.

7.    Will you be shooting things that move quickly, like birds or butterflies? If so, look for a camera with manual capabilities so that you can set a fast shutter speed to capture the action.

8.    Think about getting a camera with a rechargeable battery and get an extra one for backup. You don’t want to waste your money on new batteries all the time, plus it’s not good for the environment.

9.    Will you be traveling with your camera?  Will you be doing a lot of hiking or walking? A camera that is heavy or has multiple lenses can get cumbersome after a while.

10.    Think about storage for your photos – extra memory cards and possibly a device to download them to when you’re traveling. With digital photography, you can take an unlimited amount of photos provided you have enough memory on your card or cards. Either have several cards or a device like a laptop or an iPad that will allow you to view your pics immediately and store them, freeing up your card for more photos. Small zip drives also allow you to store your photos temporarily and free up your cards. Your photos of the rainforest will be irreplaceable. I recommend smaller-quantity cards in case one is lost or damaged, so all is not lost from such an incredible trip.

Cameras Nancy recommends:

Canon Powershot or Sure Shot series. I use the Powershot G9. The G11 is the updated version and sells for about $450 – a good bang for your buck. It has automatic as well as manual settings for more control.

Panasonic Lumix – the DMC series is worth a look. Lumix cameras use a superior Leica lens. Check out the DMC-ZS7K. It has a 25-300 zoom in a nice, compact size and sells for about $280.

Nancy Richmond will be on the Bugs, Beasts & Botanicals Costa Rica 2011 trip teaching photography. For more information about the tour visit the art tour section of this site.