Watercolor on scrap of Arches 300# paper

Watercolor on scrap of Arches 300# paper

This weekend I finally made time to get into my studio (a welcome autumn rain kept me from the mundane work of pulling deck nails).

I’m at an impasse over wall color and furniture, but as you saw in my last post, the easel and drop cloth are in position and waiting. Once I found my paper, paints, brushes, and rags, I got to work.

I admit, I was a little fearful. I’ve heard artists say that once they moved out of the high traffic area of their home into a dedicated studio they’ve had trouble painting, as if their work was nourished by the chaos and mess of family. I worried, would this be true for me? Just think of all those portraits Mary Cassatt made of her family—not in her studio, but in the parlor, the living room, the garden.

I need not have worried. In the silence of my new studio, my muse found her place. As I reacquainted myself with my materials, ideas bubbled up. The paint flowed.

NewCarI finally began painting this work ( showed you the planning stage here), although I realized belatedly that I’m not quite finished with the drawing. Ah well, when I find my pencils…

This is just the beginning. You can see how I lay in the colors in large blocks.  I don’t worry about many details at this stage. I do try to make sure that every passage of wet paint has multiple colors in them, not just the local color. I don’t mess about with the colors as I put them down. I’ve made those decisions during the careful drawing stage, and which gives me a lot of freedom when I begin splashing paint around.

Then the fiddler called me to lunch, the sun came out, and the deck nails had to be pulled.

Easel is up!

Easel is up! Now if I can just find the painting I had been working on before we moved.

Moving brings great changes, and for the first time in my life I have a dedicated studio space. Boxes are being unpacked, computer hooked up, printer tested, easel placed. Yippee!

Now comes the excitement (and expense) of tricking it out so it will be a place where I can work happily, efficiently, and comfortably. I’ve been looking for ideas for wall color, lighting, setup. The internet is a useful place sometimes, and a dangerous (to my budget) at other times.

I would love to read any and all the American Artists Studios series by Northlight, but unfortunately, the budget doesn’t allow for it. Well, maybe…

A quick internet search brings up a treasure book of studio porn.

The problem with looking at these home sites is that they want to be stylish, and so they show only stylish studios. Mostly white walls, elegant spaces. But is that always best for studio space?

Painter and teacher Will Kemp goes a little deeper into the subject of wall color on his blog:

Sadie Valeri, classical realist painter, teacher and owner of the popular Sadie Valeri Atelier generously shared her teaching studio set up on her website:

Dear readers, any suggestions from your own studios?

New studio, haphazard and bewildering.

New studio in a state of haphazard and bewildering mess

I’ve taken a break from the Mockingbirds blog while we move. Moving is a long and disorienting process. We’ve lost many things: computer cables (I’m writing this on my ancient and creaky laptop) and keyboard; beard trimmers (for the fiddler, not me); lamp harps; my favorite jeans; my reading glasses. And most distressingly, my thoughts.

Some artists thrive on change, on chaos, on the new, the different, the outside-of-the-box experiences that change their perspective. I used to love all that too. But now? Not so much. I like my routine. I work better knowing where my coffee cup is, when I’ll have dinner, what time I’ll go to bed.

Now that we’re finally done with the biggest part of the disruption, and now that the new reality is beginning to set a groove in my life, I’m hoping to find my thoughts (and computer cables) packed away in a moving box. Lost objects eventually resurface.

In the mean time, I’m organizing my first ever dedicated studio space. With a door that I can close!

The design center set up but with no cables or keyboard.

The computer center set up but with no cables or keyboard. Perhaps soon they’ll make their appearance.

Mountain lions lurk in our new community, but white tigers (far safer) prowl the new studio.

Mountain lions lurk in our new community, but white tigers (far safer) prowl the studio.

This morning I woke to find four newly fledged mockingbirds on my lawn. They were gawky, still scruffy with baby down, and clumsy as they fluttered from lawn to lawn chair. Regularly they stretched out their little wings as if exercising them for their next big flight.

Sketch of mockingbirds

Sketch of baby mockingbirds; Pigma Micron pen in Strathmore mixed media journal. Click on the image to see a larger vision.

This is the first time I’ve been able to sketch in a while, as house hunting and moving has taken over my life. Hopefully that will soon be over, because for everyday I spent not sketching, painting, or drawing, I feel my skills atrophy.

I’m going to miss my mockingbirds when we move. I don’t think that they live where I’m going. But I think I’ll keep the name of this blog, because I’ll always know that somewhere, mockingbirds are yodeling the night away.

Poster for 10th Annual Atherton Arts Foundation Art Show

Poster for 10th Annual Atherton Arts Foundation Art Show


Amazingly, in the midst of the craziness of (maybe) buying a house, packing 11 years of stuff to leave our long-time apartment, working a full-time day job, and enjoying a wonderfully long visit with my beautiful step-daughter and exclaiming over the new step grand-daughter, I’ve been invited to exhibit at the 10 Annual Atherton Art Exhibit put on by the Atherton Arts Foundation. Wow!

The list of artists!

The list of artists!

Look at the list of artists! I’ve admired many of them for years; all of them are top notch. And my name is there too! I’m very excited; that’s why there are so very many exclamation points.  !

It’s a short show—only that evening long—but I think it will be fun. I hope you’ll come; I’m working hard to have  a few new pieces for you to enjoy.


Friday September 5, 4pm to 7:30 pm


Jennings Pavilion in the Holbrook-Palmer Park



Sketch of baby

Graphite, red and white chalk, Strathmore 400 Series Toned Sketch Journal, Warm Tan paper

Sunday our power went out for the whole day, so that meant no computers, no internet, none of the electronic time-wasters we’re all so used to. Even my phone lost its charge, so I was cut off from the 4g network I usually live on.

How did we pass the time?! Well, we went with some friends to a local park and had a little picnic. While we were there, I tried to sketch their new-born daughter. Babies are hard to draw, especially newborns. They lack the bone structure that an artist can use as landmarks when drawing. Their faces are all out-of-whack, proportion-wise. And even asleep, babies don’t really want to hold a long pose.

There are a lot of babies in my life right now (being of grandmotherly age—meh—I find that my younger friends are filling up their lives—and mine—with babies). So I hope to study this baby-sketching more closely.

sketch of baby

Graphite, Strathomre 400 Series Toned Sketch Journal, Warm Tan

This is an idea of a baby, not drawn from life but from what I remember and what I suppose a baby should look like. Small face, big head. I never thought I’d want to spend a lot of time with the youngest set!

Recommendation: I’m really liking the Strathmore 400 Series Toned Sketch Journal. The paper has a nice feel, the brown color doesn’t reflect sunlight and blind me when sketching outdoors, and I love the luxurious feeling of the faux-leather binding.


I haven’t been blogging, painting, or much of anything else the last few weeks because we’re trying to buy a house. I can’t even write many words about this process. All I can do is draw, heart in (exceedingly) dry mouth, what it feels like. (You can click on the drawing to make it bigger.)

painting of church

A watercolor done many years ago of a half-built church

I’ve been absent from the blogosphere lately because we are in the process of moving (or thinking about moving, or taking about moving. We are not fast people. We move slowly).

Part of the process of moving is, of course, going through years of accumulated detritus, sifting out what to keep and what to save. It’s a little like an archeological dig, exposing layers of life that have been buried in boxes for nearly 2 decades.

The painting that heads this blog was done when, many years and lives ago, and sweating in tropical heat, I was just discovering that I needed to be a painter. I had always drawn, painted, created, but I was also attempting a writing career in those days. I was carving my time into chunks so that I could do both— write and paint—plus upkeep our lives in a foreign land.

I happened to read Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. In it she describes making a pen drawing of the view she had through her window. Then one day she shut the blinds.

“Then, by lamplight, I taped my drawing to the closed blind. There, on the drawing, was the window’s view….If I wanted a sense of the world, I could look at the stylized outline drawing. If I had possessed the skill, I would have painted, directly on the slats of the lower blind, in meticulous color, a tromp l’oil mural view of all that the blinds hid. Instead, I wrote it.”

This passage was a watershed moment. I realized that by focusing on writing, I was penciling the wrong paper; I needed to paint, and to paint realistically, because I needed to see the world. I needed that connection of observing the world closely, granularly, carefully. I needed to create the picture in the window, not write it.  Painting was where my stories could live.

Need is such a weak word to describe the yearning, the almost sick-with-desire crush I felt for painting, that I feel even now. I still write (yeah, this blog), and I enjoy the (rare) feel of stones falling clop-clop-clop when I craft a particularly elegant sentence. But my true love, that moves with me from place to place, after nearly 20 years?

Brush and paint.

Watercolor painting

One of my first landscape paintings done from a sketch I’d made onsite.


Here’s a little tutorial.

There is a little school near our house where they often have events, complete with performances for the kids. One day they had dancers in full feathered Aztec regalia rattling their cowrie-shelled legs and swirling burning incense over the playground.

So dramatic! And I caught a beautiful image of a woman dancer that I really wanted to paint.

You might remember this was one of my initial color studies:

Study for painting 3" x 5" watercolor painting This study is for a drawing I'm working on. Six hours into the drawing and I feel like it's just starting to emerge from a mush of pencil scratchings. But I dreamed the colors, and couldn't wait to get them onto paper.

Study for painting
3″ x 5″ watercolor painting
This study is for a drawing I’m working on. Six hours into the drawing and I feel like it’s just starting to emerge from a mush of pencil scratchings. But I dreamed the colors, and couldn’t wait to get them onto paper.

This was the finished detailed drawing. How many hours in this drawing? I’m not sure I could tell you. Time folds when I’m concentrating.

pencil drawing

Pencil drawing for watercolor painting

I paint on Arches 300# paper, a stiff, cardboard like stock, so I don’t have to stretch it. I use push pins to hold it to a board. Sometimes it curls while painting, but I can flatten it after I’m done.

pencil drawing

Close up of pencil drawing

As I draw, I’m not only trying to find the likeness, but I’m also thinking about the painting. Watercolor (the way I paint) takes planning, and the underdrawing is my page of notes. Where will I use lost edges? Hard edges? And those difficult in-between edges that can often describe form so beautifully? How will I apply the paint? What brush strokes will I use?

When I finally believe I’m happy with the drawing (I always reach that point too soon. I’ve got to learn to keep working even after I think I’m finished.), I start adding light washes.

beginning painting

Light washes over pencil drawing

The first light washes establish the color temperature of my painting as well as the values. I like a lot of pigment on my paper, so I know that I’m going to cover  much of these beginning strokes with more paint. But these light washes are the  foundation onto which I build ever-deepening color. After this, it’s all about layering.

Painting of Aztec dancer

Little Pink Skull (unfinished)
Watercolor on Arches 300# paper
© Margaret Sloan 2014

I’m sorry that I got caught up in painting and didn’t make more process photos. This is unfinished; I am still working out the feathers in the head dress, and feel like I need to go a little deeper in value on parts of her face. Plus all the fiddly bits of the costume need to be fiddled with.

As careful as I was to get my drawing right, I still ended up glossing over complicated passages like the feathers in her headdress. Small drawing mistakes and fuzzy thinking magnify when you add paint, and I’ve had to scrub out those darn feathers a couple times to get the values and shapes to fall where I want them. I’m still messing with them.

When I’m finished, I’ll have a little dance of my own!




Drawing of Doughmore Beach

Doughmore Beach
Color pencil on Canson Mi-Tientes
© 1999 Margaret Sloan

I recently stumbled over an old pencil drawing of Doughmore (pronounced sort of like: Dowt-more) Beach in Doonbeg, County Clare, Ireland. I once spent a summer there, learning tunes and being a fool. I sang to this beach often, and loved it beyond reason. I’ve never been able to return.

You can click on the image and make it bigger.

Lead bird on this blog

Painting and drawing and playing tunes are the things that make life real, They are what makes my life matter. These, and berry pie.

Link to Margaret Sloan Etsy shop

Small songs

Sketchbook Challenge


A plea for civility

All work on this blog is copyrighted by Margaret Sloan. I don't steal from you. Please don't steal from me. If you'd like to use something you see here, please contact me. We can work it out.

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