Amulets_FrogThe Mayans have a serious froggy called Uo. The rain caller. It’s a fat plop of a frog that burrows in mud. (Read about the Uo here)

When I lived in Mexico, we often made our evening paseo near a long-abandoned hotel; during the rainy season the frogs  who lived in the drippy jungle and roofless building chorused like something out of One Hundred Years of Solitude.  I’m not sure if the Uo makes its home on the Pacific coast of Mexico, but every time it was going to rain, the ranas that lived in the overgrown hotel garden sang like the feverish lovers they were.

Here in the drought-dusty Sierra, we have been crying for rain. And the day before the big California-walloper storm hit, I heard a few tree frogs singing. Not many, but their small voices rang out like oracles.

It’s been a long while since I’ve heard froggy voices of any kind.  They all but disappeared from Silicon Valley decades ago. The Sierra frogs I heard heralded a good soaking rain, and I made the above picture to honor them as the rain bucketed down last night, and to ease my anxiety about flooding, mudslides, and all the other horror stories from the National Weather Service.

I needn’t have worried about rain. Because right now? It’s snowing.




Amulets_Fox There’s a big storm expected, but the forest is quiet. At dusk I can hear only the whistling chuckles of quail, the har-de-har of a woodpecker,  the hopeful chirping of a few tree frogs. And the rattling of my heart.

Amulets_EyeI admit, I’m anxious about this storm. My mind invents catastrophes. What if a deluge of rain liquefies the soil and my house slides down the hill? What if gusts of wind blast away the roof? What if trees topple, roads crumble, power goes out? What if, what if, what if?

Amulets_CrossSo I did what I do when I’m anxious: I picked up a pencil and began to draw. It’s the best medicine for me.

Amulets_HandAnti-anxiety drawing usually reflects what I’m currently reading, and these days I’ve been reading The Tradition of Household Spirits by Claude Lecouteux. It’s a treatise on European household traditions of appeasing the spirits, or the dead, or dead spirits, or somebody “up-there” so that they’ll protect the home. Most of the traditions seem to protect the home from fire (always a problem in open-hearth houses).

Amulets_DaisyI started thinking about the things that people have traditionally used to protect themselves and their places. So many amulets and charms to help ward off the storms of life!


Graphite sketches

Graphite sketches

We had a house chockablock full of people over the holidays, and I finally unpacked my sketchbooks and had a few moments to scribble a few lines. Babies are hard to draw. Their proportions are unrelated to the proportions of adults, and they squirm and wriggle so much that it’s hard to capture a pose. These were the best I could do, as I could only draw until our li’l bit wanted cuddling.

Blockin-graphite sketch

Block in graphite sketch

A seated adult brother made a much easier target. You can see that I’ve  blocked in the head using straight lines. Even when drawing curves, it’s much easier to begin with straight lines. They are more accurate than a curve. You can always smooth them out later.

Graphite sketch

Graphite sketch

I’ve been trying to draw my brother for years. For some reason, catching his likeness is hard for me to do. Perhaps I know his face too well. Perhaps he won’t sit still long enough (these sketches were done while he was engrossed in a book).

The pencil is some kind of clutch pencil, a thing that’s like a mechanical pencil, only with a fat lead. I like it, but I’d be happier with it if I sharpened it. But since I can’t find any of the multiple sandpaper blocks I’ve bought for this purpose, and I’m unwilling to buy more, I’ll have to use it like it is until I unpack more boxes in the studio.


This is my new morning commute. It’s all downhill from here!

sail boat

To my colleagues who taught me what it means to create exceptional work, encouraged me to do what I love, and inspired me to do my very best. I’ll see you in the next port. And remember: Make the pie higher!

Today my new life begins. A life without the day job, a job that’s been my home, my sense-of-self, and my security since the beginning of the 21st Century.

The magazine industry is in precarious waters right now, and running heavy ships without good maps. Corporate bean counters are reducing crews, and I was among the group that was most recently set adrift.

But not truly adrift. I’ve spent 15 years working for an exceptional magazine—we won a James Beard award a few years ago, and just last year, an ASME (which is like an Academy Award for the magazine world). During that time, I’ve learned skills enough to float my own boat. And I’ve got a network of others to help me as I chart my own course.

Yes, I’m very sad. I’ll miss the daily schedule. I’ll miss being part of something bigger than myself. I’ll miss the borrowed prestige of working for a large, venerable magazine. I’ll miss the incredible view from the window by my desk. I’ll miss the steady paycheck. And most of all, I’ll miss the people I worked with. After so many years we had become friends.

Things change, and I hate change. But I’m a little excited (and terrified) about this change. I’m not sure where I’ll go from here, but for now, my morning commute is short and beautiful and I’ll have more time to paint. I think this blog will change (or at least become more frequent). I’ve got some ideas. We’ll see where I end up.

I’ve sailed through waters rougher than these.


“Listen, Miss, boats are supposed to float. Even if they break up, they usually still float and show up on a shore somewhere. There have been no reports of wreckage or abandoned boats. At this point, no news is still good news. Don’t worry. It’s too early to worry.” Cathy Ostlere, Lost

Our new home is an easy drive to a grove of giant Sequoias. I had never before seen these particular big trees. Although they are related to  coast redwoods, they are as different as second cousins twice removed. Where the coast redwoods seem to doze in the soft green light and drippy air of their coastal home, the giant Sequoias seem alive and awake, the colors of tree, leaf and sky sharp and at attention in the bright clear air of the mountains.

Base of a giant Sequoia

Base of a giant Sequoia

Fall is settling in, and the forest floor rang with sudden shouts of yellow and red.

The burls (or eyes) of a dead Sequoia

The burls (or eyes) of a dead Sequoia

I feel like this place is already affecting my artwork. My eyes want to taste new colors;  I’m aching to serve up a new palette for the landscape.


Part of a triptych I am working on. Just the beginning stages. More soon!

When I’m in the mountains I feel something in me change, like my heart is opening up, like there is more space in the back of my skull. I’m so excited to paint there!


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.

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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