Friday, 2 September 2011

Mindy Lighthipe

We're proud to have Mindy Lighthipe as our first Artist of the Month on this blog. A huge thank you to Mindy for taking the time to answer all the questions. 

Io Moth on Forest Pansy Redbud

1) First of all tell us a little about your background... where you grew up, where you live now, any jobs beside botanical art, family... stuff like that...
I am an only child and lived in New Jersey my entir life until this June, I now live in Gainesville Fl. I started collecting insects at the age of 5. I spent my summers outdoors at a YMCA camp which gave me a great appreciation for nature. I have a BFA & MFA in studio arts and art education. My major was actually in handweaving and textile design. I worked on a farm for 5 years where I apprenticed as a hand spinner and natural dyer. After graduation I worked for 15 years as a professional hand weaver making women's clothing and selling it through retail and wholesale venues. In 1990 I travelled to Costa Rica and fell in love with the flora and fauna. I decided to go back to school and study botanical illustration at the New York Botanical Garden. I was mostly interested in insect illustration but couldn't find anything but botanical illustrationa classes. After completing the certificate I started teaching at NYBG. In 1994 I became the coordinator until 2005. In 2000 I designed the certificate at NYBG in Natural Science Illustration. The program is in addition to the BIL certificate and is 250 hours. I started seriously painting in 2003 and began painting the life cycles of plants and insects, mostly butterfly host plants. My love for the tropics guided me towards leading tours for artists and photographers to exotic locations like Costa Rica, Belize, Galapagos, and Italy and France. I retired from NYBG so that I could paint more and pursue writing books. I am one of the 62 featured artists in the Contemporary Botanical Artists book. I wrote and illustrated Mother Monarch and Natures Wisdom Oracle Cards. I had a solo show at the Florida Museum of Natural History in 2010. I am currently exploring my new home and looking at what I want to do next!
2) How and when did you become interested in Botanical Art?
I always loved plants and animals. I became very interested in plants when I was growing natural dyes for spinning and weaving. I started more and more being concerned about growing native plants and sustainable gardening in the past 20 years. I joined the ASBA and GNSI in the early 90's. Working at NYBG certainly had a great impact on my life as did travelling to Costa Rica for the past 23 years. Exotic shapes and bold colors in both insects and plants are hard for me to pass up. For me, it is all about color, texture and patterns in both my hand weaving and my painting.
3) Tell us a bit about your art training, your education and courses?
I have a BFA, MFA from Kean University and Botanical illustration certificate from NYBG. I have taken classes with Jenny Philips, Margaret Saul, John Cody, Susan Fisher, Trudy Nicolson, and Billy Showell. I work in graphite, gouache, watercolor, pen & ink, scratchboard, colored pencil and pastel. I teach all of these mediums. I worked for a toy company doing animal drawings in pen & ink for 2 years. I have also done spot illustrations for magazines and journals over the years.
4) What’s the most valuable lesson you ever learned about drawing or painting?
In 2000 I was certified as an instructor by Dr Betty Edwards for "Drawing no the Right Side of the Brain". I learned that drawing was a skill, not a talent. Once the skill is learned it can be applied to any subject matter. I never realized this and thought that you needed a good amount of talent to pursue an art career. I learned that just like reading, driving and any other thing in life that if I was taught properly I could learn it. Talent comes into play after the skill is learned. It is the life experience, genetic disposition and environmental exposure that make up talent. Betty freed me from misconceptions about drawing. It was as if I saw the world with different eyes and there were no longer limitations. I always remember this for myself and teach it to my students.

5) If you could choose a current botanical artist to watch over his/her shoulder when he/she is working.... who would you pick? Why you would choose this artist?
My first response would have to be Jenny Phillips. I have watched her paint a few times and have learned so much. She is wonderful at demos and makes everything clear. An artist whose work I greatly admire is another Aussie, Susannah Blaxill. I paint boldly and so does she,but her eye for detail is amazing. I received the silver medal from the RHS and they commented that I could use more detail in my work. Most of the paintings were delicate and subtle. Mine are not. I like my style and wasn't sure I could obtain the level of detail in my work until I saw Blaxills work. I would love to see her paint.
6) Everybody learns all the time but is there something you would love to learn in botanical art more than anything else?
I might possibly like to learn oils. I love to take classes and I have taken so many that it is hard to say. I love to travel and find that I learn so much from going to places I have never been before. Oils are really the only medium I have never really learned that I haven't had an opportunity to study. I am currently studying intaglio printmaking and I love it. I want to keep going.
7) Is there any subject or element within painting or drawing that you have difficulties with? Do you avoid these troubles or do you take a deep breath and go for it?
I us to be awkward with foreshortening in drawing. I used to turn the plant or alter the view just to avoid it. Now I realized that this is not a good idea and that I things I were the most difficult was exactly where I needed to focus. I now purposely do things that are difficult for me. I also struggle with backgrounds and tackle them in my non-botanical work. I am still struggling. I love how John Cody combines his realism with his crazy abstract backgrounds. For me they are the very best. They are a challenge and fun to do but I am still working on it.
8) What is your best trick for fixing mistakes?
I love Mr Cleans magic eraser sponge to fix painting errors. I have 10 cats and they like to walk through my palette and onto the paper. I try to remember to cover the palette and painting when I leave the studio but one of them gets me every time. Mr Cleans magic eraser works miracles. There is some talk about them ruining the paper, but I have never had a problem with it. It is easy to use and corrects mistakes as well as cat tracks even with staining pigments.
9) Beginners are often very frightened of perspective. How did you learn to see and tackle perspective/foreshortening?
I learned perspective by learning the conventional way with 1, 2, & 3 point perspective, a pencil and a ruler. I hated it! I then learned to use plexi-glas as a picture plane to see foreshortening This was taught to me by Betty Edwards. I still use plexi-glas if I am having trouble "seeing" something. I isolate it and trace it on the plexi-glas and then look at it again. The isolation really helps to see the foreshortening and get it onto the paper properly. I also learned to measure and that helps too although I don't like to measure.
10) Do you work with different mediums, and, is there one you prefer more than the others?
I work in lots of mediums. Since I learned watercolor about 10 years ago I paint mostly in watercolor. I combine watercolor and gouache when I have something furry, feathery or hairy to paint. Gouache is my medium of choice for animals and birds. I love colored pencil during football season! I can easily watch the games with my husband and keep on working. It is easy to do anywhere. Scratchboard is my preference when I have black & white commercial jobs. It is easily correctable and I like working positive to negative and back again. It is richer than just straight pen and ink. For my books I work in wc, gouache, colored pencil and pastel. PanPastels are my new favorite medium. I have always loved pastels but didn't like the fact that they were so dusty. They seemed too dangerous to work in. The PanPastels have minimal dust and they are vibrant and work great over gouache and watercolor.
Dandelion Leaves
Gouache and Graphite Pencil

11) What are your favourite paints, brushes, paper or any other materials and tools? Why do you prefer these?
Fabriano Soft and Hot Press Watercolor paper 140lb and 300lb. These are my favorite papers to work on. They take a beating and have made painting so much easier than the other brands. I hate Arches. I know most people use it but I struggle so much with it I almost gave up painting! Once I switched to Fabriano it was so much better.

Daniel Smith watercolor paints are my favorite. I really love the granulating pigments as they lend themselves to my wet bold painting technique.

I use Turner gouache. It is far superior to Winsor&Newton. I have used a few others like MGraham, but i like Turner the best. It reconstitutes very well and is very cost efficient.

I use CHEAP brushes! I have tried expensive sable brushes and they are too mushy for me. I like Loew Cornell brushes and Robert Simmons White Sable. I also like the short round type brushes that are called detail brushes. Since I love to draw with the brush I like a stiffer point.

I love my kneaded eraser! It is one tool I couldn't live without. I use it all the time for graphite and it helps to get a wonderful range of tones. I also like an electric eraser by Sakura. It is expensive but it works great on all kinds of paper. The cheaper brands are not worth a penny. The rotation is too slow.

I LOVE MY iPAD!!!! I have given up getting pictures developed. I work from my digital pics to see details. I prefer it to my microscope. I take macro pics and then can enlarge them on the iPad. One of my goals was to go as paperless as possible and the iPad is just the most awesome thing I have encountered.
12) Every plant has a different kind of green and artists need to be careful not to use the same green every time. Most botanical artists however have a green mix they love more than others. What is your favourite green mix?
I mix Hansa Yellow Light with Ultramarine Blue and a tint of Cerulean Blue for my basic greens.

I use Perylene Green with this mixture to make dark deep greens. These are all Daniel Smith paints.
13) What 6 colours would you choose for a basic botanical art palette?
Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean Blue, Hansa Yellow Light, Permanent Yellow Deep, Quinacridone Magenta, Carmine Red
Daniel Smith
14) Your workspace or studio... what does it look like?
I just moved from a huge studio where I gave classes to my new studio. the new house had 3 bedrooms on the second floor and we tore down 2 of them to make one big room for my studio and a guest bedroom. There is a full bath joining the 2 rooms. I use the bathroom for printmaking. This is where I keep my acid solutions etc. I changed out the sink to a stainless steel sink that is very deep to avoid splashing. I have 2 flatfiles and a computer area. The floors are hardwood and there is plenty of natural light. I am working on a folding table because I sold my drafting table when I moved. I have a big closet for supplies and book shelves everywhere. I will probably buy a permanent table soon but haven't found anything I really like so for now it works.
15) Do you have a favourite book about botanical art?
I really love Billy Showells books. I have all of them and I think she has a fresh and wonderful approach to botanical art. If I could only have one book I would choose Plant Terminology by James Harris and Melinda Woolf Harris. The reason is this: I am awful with plant morphology and it is the BEST book I have found that not only defines the parts in wonderful written form, but there is a picture for each plant part. I am more a visual learner and have no memory for technical terms! It is the best cheat sheet out there.
Biriba Fruit & Butterfly
Gouache and Graphite

16) How would you describe your own style? What makes it differ from that of other artists?
My work is bold and bright. I have an over the top sense of color at times. The Royal Horticultural Society said that my work had "Great Wall Appeal". I agree with them. It jumps off the wall from a distance. Most botanical artists have a quiet way about their work, more intimate. You have to get up close to appreciate the detail and delicate strokes. I also think that I have so much fun with what I am doing that it shows through. I love to laugh and enjoy things and I think that people can see it when they view my work.
17) Do you have any favourite subjects or a plant you love to paint more than any other?
I love to paint orchids and anything that is exotic and flashy. And of course I love to paint INSECTS!!! I am not great with small flowers or weeds.
18) Do you have a favourite location to study and paint the local flora?
Hands down- COSTA RICA! I have been travelling there for 23 years and I always discover something fantastic. I started leading tours there so that I could continue to paint. I am never without too many things to paint. I adore it there. Now that I have moved to Florida there are the some of the same subjects here, but Costa Rica still holds for me the best place on earth.
19) What is your favourite painting or drawing made by yourself?
I really love my profile picture. It is a red-eyed tree frog and is part of painting I did over 10 years ago. For some reason it holds up for me. I sold it years ago and I scanned it. Just this last week I got new business cards done and decided to use it. This painting was done in gouache before I knew how to paint in watercolor. Here is the entire painting.
My favorite botanical is the one of the Passiflora and Julia Butterfly. I did this after I saw Susannah Blaxill's work and decided that I should try to get to the next level if I could. It slowed me down and I think that I am getting better and being more careful.
Julia Butterfly- Lifecycle
Gouache and graphite on 300lb Watercolor paper

20) What is your favourite painting or drawing by someone else?
Anything by John Cody. I have several of his prints and I adore his work. I also love the radish that is in Shirley Sherwood's book by Susannah Blaxill. It is soooooo amazing! I got to see it in person at the Shirley Sherwood gallery at Kew.
21) It’s always interesting to know which old master inspires you, do you have a particular favourite?
I love Henri Rousseau. I love the mystery in his paintings. I read that he had never been to the tropics, but only visited botanical gardens. His work is not realistic but it is mystical. As for traditional botanical artists I admire the freshness of Redoute. His work reads contemporary to me. So many of the other painters had an old appearance. His work looks like it was painted yesterday with the exception of the fugitive pigments.
22) Is there a current botanical artist that you admire?
Jenny Phillips, Susannah Blaxill. I recently have grown to love Luca Massenzio Palermo's work. I have been seeing his work on the Botanical Art Forum and it is breathtaking.
23) What are you working on now? Or is it a secret?
I am currently in a bit of limbo. Having just moved I am still learning about my surroundings and getting my studio set up. I am teaching a pastel class with watercolor, gouache and silverpointe in November and I think I will start playing around with this. I have also started a series of paintings from my local HomeDepot. The major growers of tropicals are here in my area and they are CHEAP! I have been buying plants like they are going out of style. Can't get enough!!!!

24) What subject is on top of your wish list? The dream-project....
I have a cat in the garden book I am dying to do. It combines everything I love. I just have to get my act together and go for it!
25) Any final words?
I am open for questions. I love to share and do not feel that I need to hold what I know close to me. I love to learn from others and I have learned so much from teaching. Beginners ask questions that I take for granted and ask questions I never thought of. I have heard that my passion for what I do is contagious, I hope so.
Mindy Lighthipe on Internet: (Mindy's Blog)



Mindy Lighthipe said...

Sigrid! Thanks for putting so much work into this blog. You have done a fantastic job. If there are any questions that people want to ask me..... fire away!

Dianne Sutherland said...

Wonderful! So interesting and beautifully put together Sigrid! Thank you

Julie Whelan said...

Wow i love the way this is put together Sigrid. Mindy i loved reading your answers to the above questions...Very interesting reading indeed; so much to read! I'm going to come back for more later! Thank you Mindy :)

Jessica Rosemary Shepherd said...

This was really insightful - thanks for sharing this. I feel that to do an artist each month is extremely beneficial for the artist and your readers. It demonstrates the range of styles and levels of development. Fascinating!

Vicki Lee Johnston said...

Beautiful job with the blog Sigrid - a wonderful first artist feature with so many beautiful, bold and uplifting works. I would like to ask Mindy if it's possible to show another WIP of the graphite/gouache? Would also love a list of basic gouache colours to get started! Perhaps to show these there could be a WIP link on the blog? Sorry for even more questions and your generosity is appreciated xx

Janene said...

Great interview, Sigrid and Mindy! Thank you both very much. Mindy, I am curious about your recommendations for basic gouache colors too. I have never tried them but am intrigued.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mindy, Thanks for sharing so many wonderful thoughts and so much valuable information :) Even in your interview you manage to be a great teacher. I love the pieces you chose to highlight. The last picture with the bee is a new one to me.....lovely balance and brilliance.

Thank you Mindy and thank you Sigrid for this wonderful forum :)

xox Laura Gould

Sigrid Frensen said...

Grrrrr, still working out everything and instead of removing Spam I removed the last few comments on this post. So sorry if it was you who has been deleted, was my mistake, will be more careful next time :(

renatabarillipainter said...

Thanks for this marvellous interview: this is food for artists braim.
Thanks to Mindy for her opend mind too.I've some question
1 st: I noticed that sometime you don't leave any white area for light and sometime you do. Notice also that artists from English teaching always use white paper for light, other artists, from Italy for istance don't. So I'ld like to know your opinion on this matter.

2nd: would you please explain better the use of plexi-glas, you mentioned.
Grazie and ciao

SlothMama said...

Hi Renata,
Sorry I didn't get to your questions earlier. For question 1:
This is a hard question to answer. I think I will do an in-depth answer on my blog but will give a quick answer now. If the image is in the foreground, it will usually have a white highlight, because contrast always comes foreword. If it is shiney it will have a white highlight but if it is matte it will not.... For instance: an eggplant I would leave the white of the paper and for a kiwi, I would not. When I do an atmospheric fade in the background I keep the values close and usually there is no white of the paper in the highlight.
2. Again you are asking very good questions! The plexiglas-glas is an artificial tool to represent the picture plane. The picture plan is the impenetrable area that takes a 3-dimensional space and helps the artist translate it to a 2-dimensional surface.

Mindy Lighthipe said...

Hi Vickie and Janene and all potential gouachists!
I will try to put together a demo on my blog for gouache. I will do it as one of my daily leaves for the month of October. My basic palette is Ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, lemon yellow, orange yellow, quinacridone rose, orange red, paynes grey, pthalo blue, yellow ochre, white, black and burnt sienna. I am not sure of the exact names as I am in a doctors office right now with my mom, but I the brand I prefer is Turner gouache.

Mindy Lighthip said...

I am also a n administrator for a Sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica. I made a mistake posting, that is why I come up as SlothMama! It is me, I promise!!!!! Enjoy and keep those questions coming. Mindy

renatabarillipainter said...

Thanks Mindy,
all very interesting.I'm happy with your light answer and will be happy for a tutorial on gouache.
All very kind of you