Slaying boredom by painting dreams at 35,000 feet

Sketching while flying
This is my watercolor kit for traveling. It’s small, fits in my laptop case, and I can paint almost anywhere with it. Clockwise from top left: Sakura Sumo Grip mechanical pencil;  Aquash Watercolor brush; Windsor Newton travel paint box; Handbook Artist Journal (5.5″ x 5.5″).

I admit, we are stay-at-home types. I didn’t use to be, but after we bought the Tree House, it seems like I never want to leave. As a result, we don’t travel much. But this summer seems to be our summer of criss-crossing the country.

First there was a girls-gone-wild week in Eastern Nevada with my traveling red-headed friend. She’s been spending the first few years of her retirement seeing the West from her Toyota Tacoma.  Oh my, but that was fun. We were really out of control. I mean, we had TWO bags of cheesy poofs! We stayed up until 10! We talked to strangers!

Then there were two weeks on the east coast with the fiddler, wrapped in humidity that boggled my mind. (I’m from the arid West, where, if the thermometer drops much below 90 degrees Fahrenheit, I wear a wrap to ward off the cold. In Connecticut at 86 degrees,  I sincerely considered just how naked I could get before I would upstage the bride.)

Being on the road; or in the air; or at a wedding; or touring New England means there was little time to drag out the sketchbook and draw, or unpack the plein air supplies and paint.

The best time to paint turned out to be on the airplane. Boredom and enforced stillness turns on my creative tap. I need to spend more time being bored.

girl typing
I took it upon myself to be the dream giver, but one of the other passengers was my proxy model.


Dream surroung
Detail of couple sleeping and the dreams I gave them.

At the peak of liberty, I don’t want to see disposable diapers

Purple cliffs
Liberty Peak in the Ruby Mountains
Oil 5″ x 7″

Today of all days, when we celebrate our nation’s independence, I’m happy to post this little painting of Liberty Peak in Nevada.

There are many reasons why I’m proud and glad to be an American citizen, but in my opinion, one of the best and most important things this country has done is protect our wild places.

I’ve lived in other countries, and believe me when I tell you that what we have in the United States—national, state, and county parks; wilderness lands; vast tracts of undeveloped space that we all may visit—is nearly miraculous. Only a few countries protect as much of their land as we protect of ours.

Recently our wild lands have been under renewed attack on many fronts: People who want to rape the land to get at her resources, scar her for entertainment, build upon her for their profit. And then there are the people who are simply so clueless that they just don’t care.

It’s the clueless ones who bother me the most. The people who litter while they are in our magnificent places; who tramp off trail and destroy fragile eco-systems; who poop on trail (or leave disposable diapers or bags of dog poo behind) because they can’t be bothered to carry out their waste); who won’t turn off their boomboxes so that we can all hear the complex warble of a tiny wren.

They bother me because I think they do not to love the land, and their carelessness seems to be contagious. They do not recognize the gift that we have been given by visionary Americans: open, untrammeled space. And if they don’t care about what they do, why would they care about what anyone else does?

There are not only a million small wounds on our land, there’s a distressing lack of voices heard in defense of her. And if we little people don’t value our great open spaces enough to band together, how then will we fight against those big ones who would turn our country into one huge open-pit mine and cesspool?

I came of age with the image seared in my mind of a Native American man weeping at the trashing of his/our country. Yes, people complain about it being racist, maudlin, etcetera. But I think it helped change a way of thinking for a generation. And it seems to me that that Native American man is still weeping. Our tears mingle.

I hope you’ll visit our national lands this summer. I beg you to treat the land with respect. Out of patriotism at the very least; out of deep, abiding love at the most.

And since I know that you, my dear reader, love the land and would not leave trash on her, please pick up after those who don’t know better.



Join me for World Watercolor Month


Somehow July has become World Watercolor Month. Charlie O’Shields from Doodlewash was the mover and shaker that started this observation. You can also learn more about it from

That’s just dandy. I love watercolor; until recently, I worked in watercolor almost exclusively. It’s a medium that’s still challenging me, even after 30 years of working with it.

I’ll be observing World Watercolor Month too, sometimes with old paintings, but more often with new. I’ll be offering some quick tutorials, and I’m planning some in-depth online courses soon. I’ll be talking about my journey through water, pigment, and paint; I hope it will be helpful to your watercolor month. If there’s something you’d like to learn about watercolors, ask me in the comments.

Antler (cropped) Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press


Playing music in the pines at Kowana Valley Folk School & Lodge

Banjo Player
Moon in June at Kowana Valley Ranch

Last weekend I wrote this blog post from a tent in the Sierra Nevada while I listened to two flutes playing outside the door. They swung through an old Irish jig called “Out on the Ocean.” From a camp to my right, a mandolin tinkled and plunked through a completely different tune: a hornpipe called Little Stack of Barley. In the distance, a beautiful cacophony of fiddles, whistles, and banjos careered from reel to reel. Pigeon on a Gate into Swinging on a Gate into Cooley’s.

I live in a rare and strange world where people play music together. It’s old music that’s been with the human culture for a very long time, mostly Irish, but some American Old Time, some French Canadian, some English Country tunes. We play for no other reason except to make each other happy. No money changes hands; we play freely.

We play as conversation, not performance. We communicate through notes spooling out from our instruments, conversing with three-four waltzes, two-four polkas, six-eight jigs, and of course, the four-four stampeding eighth notes of reels.

Late night session

People who play this kind of music seek each other out because we are few. We form community where we find it. The community I’m part of is lucky; we found a home for our summer camp at Kowana Valley Ranch, an exquisite piece of property in a long valley just below Yosemite. Every year a bunch of us convene for a weekend of camping, swimming, dancing, eating, and playing a torrent of music from dawn to dawn.

The hosts, Lynn and Richard Ferry, welcome us with flute, banjo, harmonica, and guitar. They play too, when they are not managing their land or their guest lodge. They are the two thumping hearts of this celebration, keeping it alive and giving it the deep soul that makes it the favored event of the year.

I can’t invite you to our music party (it’s private), but I can tell you about the Ferry’s lodge, where you should plan to spend some vacation time.

The lodge is set at the head of a long valley, where little Bull Creek runs fitfully (sometimes it’s partly dry during summer) through willows and pines. To get there, you drive into the middle of nowhere, take a right, and wind down 5 miles of dusty, unpaved road. Once there, you’re off grid. Your devices have no place to connect, and become the door stops you wish they were. You will have to get your kicks from the flashing of birds, the sparkle of dragonflies, and the moon as it rises over the mountains. You can hike in deep forests or lounge beside a cold mountain swimming hole. Glorious nothingness can fill your days.

You can rent out rooms, bunks, or the whole shebang for large parties and getaways. If you play trad music, they might just break out their instruments and share some tunes with you.

Here’s the link to their ranch: Tell them hi from Maggie. And if you don’t know what trad music is, ask them to share a couple cds with you while you are there.

Perhaps you’ll be inspired to take up an instrument and learn to play (they have music workshops at the lodge). More people should play this old music, making all the hills and valleys across the land ring with people’s music. Not only the Irish, but Old Time, Cape Breton, Cajun; people’s music, stuff that’s not been predigested by a computer and corporate for our consumption, but real tunes that have traveled miles through space and time and arrive in our ears as raw as the day the earth was new.


Learn how to paint watercolor portraits

Girl with garland
Watercolor on Arches #140 hot press

Watercolor Portrait Class

June 3, August 4 & 19, 1pm to 4 pm

I will be teaching a watercolor portrait class at Town Hall Arts/Gallery Copper in Copperopolis, California.

Watercolor is the perfect medium for painting translucent, lifelike portraits of faces. Learn how to choose a photo, draw your image, and paint a face in watercolor.

I have been painting in watercolor for 15 years, and am excited to help you learn to use the sometimes difficult medium of watercolor.

Using demonstrations, practice exercises, and  fearless paint slinging, I will teach you to trust in your paint, brushes, water. And most importantly, I will help you trust your own intuitions as you memorialize your favorite photos, and make personal remembrances of photos of your loved ones.

About Copperopolis

Copperopolis is a tiny town at the base of the Sierra Nevada. It’s about 2 hours from the Bay Area along one of the most incredibly beautiful highways  (Highway 4) in California. You’re close to lodging in Sonora, wine tasting in Murphys (we have 28 wineries!), and all the wonders the Sierra has to offer.

Start your weekend off right with a watercolor class on Friday, then segue into some plein air painting in the mountains for the rest of weekend, or just relax, have some wine, and enjoy.

How to register for the watercolor portrait class

To register, call 209/785-2050 or email Larry {at} TownHallArts {dot} com
To find out more about Town Hall Arts/Gallery Copper, visit their website:

I also teach private classes at my home studio. For more information, email me at Mockingbirdatmidnight {at} gmail {dot} com.

To see more portraits, look in the sidebar channel to the right.

The best summer fun sketching at the county fair

Chrisy Horne and Michel Olson
Florence the traveling castle

I credit Roz Stendahl for my obsession with our county fair. She blogs at Roz Wound up about her annual pilgrimage to the Minnesota State Fair. She makes it sound like so much fun that when I foggily realized that we had a county fair (very close to my home, and with free shuttle service!), I couldn’t wait to hightail it, pens and sketchbook in hand, to the Calaveras County Fair, otherwise known as Frog Jumps.

But I also just love county fairs in rural areas. They are small events, but the effort that goes into them is large. From the displays of pickles and flower arrangements to barns filled with artwork, animals, and school projects, county fairs are the community coming together to compete, to crow, to participate and shine.

I almost missed the fair. Dates sneak up on me. I’m not good with calendars, although I should have been more on top of it because I wrote an article for the local paper about the Gypsy Time Travelers, a fun show appearing at Frog Jumps.  Storyteller Christy Horne spins tales of legends, iron, maidens, men and devils to the beat of blacksmith Michel Olson’s hammer upon anvil. Their stage is a castle built by Olson —check out this link to get a better view of Florence the truck that packs a castle.

Seated on a hay bale waiting for the show to start, I sketched Florence (above), but after the show started, I was so entranced by Christy’s story and Michel whacking away at glowing metal bits that I forgot to draw.

Steam engine
1908 Weber 10 hp steam engine

After the Gypsy show, we segued over to the Foothill Flywheelers’ exhibit of antique engines. Hundred-year-old pieces of machinery puttered, popped, whirred and growled.

I love old engines. I’ve always wished I knew how to work on them; they seem like magic to me. I drew this venerable 1908 Weber engine while keeping my ear tuned to her owner’s explanations of how she ran. The words he used—rocker arm, regulator, governor—were like little marbles of sound that clacked pleasingly in my ear. I wrote them down so I could to keep track of them.


Chicken barn
Roosters and a hen

We skipped the midway, although it would have been fun to draw the rides and the crowds. But I was intent on the animal barns.

4H prize winners at the bovine barn

The animal barns are my favorite. I love to draw animals. But that’s not the only reason I love the livestock barns.

They are places where little dramas play out daily.

Many of the animals at Frog Jumps were raised by kids in 4-H. I grew up in the ‘burbs. We didn’t have 4-H. I’m still a little envious of the kids who get to engage head, heart, hands, and health by raising farm animals.

The kids work hard, and are proud of their pigs, chickens, cows, goats and sheep. And the animals are spectacular, all gussied up for judging; brushed, combed, and curried to look their best.

There is, of course, often a sad ending to this story for the kids and the large animals. You can read one of those stories in the sketchbook page below if you wish (assuming you can decipher my scrawl). Farm kids have to learn to be stoic about such things.

County fairs are some of the fun of summer, and a great place to sketch.

Swine barn
Fine pigs at the fair

How to find artistic vision when you’re just groping in the dark


Three watercolor people
5-minute figures in watercolor

Once a week I attend a life drawing session. I love figure drawing more than doing just about anything else (except maybe eating ice cream).

But for the last few months I’ve really been struggling; I’ve been looking for something in my work, a change, a way of seeing. Trouble is, I’m not sure what it is that I’m searching for. It’s something that I can’t yet define.

Other artists tell me they search too, stumbling towards a foggy idea that morphs and shifts as soon as they think they’re near.  The mind’s eye is often myopic. It’s not unusual.

It is frustrating, all those failed experiments, the ghastly embarrassments, the ever-growing stacks of used-up paper. On some days, it seems it would be easier to throw away the paintbrushes and become something simpler, a neurosurgeon maybe, or a nuclear physicist.

My brain, smarter than my heart, says, “give it up. Go watch a movie instead.”  But my stubborn and desperate heart over rules my brain. The part of my soul that aches after painting is  ever hopeful each time I stand up to the easel that this time…no…okay…this time…argh!….no, really, this time for sure I’m going to have the breakthrough I’m looking for.

I keep looking. I’m ever hopeful that one day I’ll paint around a hair-pin turn and suddenly the thing I’m looking for—the thing I can’t even describe or identify on a map—will come into focus and I”ll be able to grab it.

“There you are, you little monkey,” I’ll exclaim, clutching at it before it can get away.

Which of course means it must get away. Because if it doesn’t wriggle from my hand and dance back into the dimly lit future, it’ll die in my cramped and rigid fist. Then where will my artistic vision be?

I like to know it’s there in the half-light of my mind, taunting me, teasing me with occasional flashes of clarity (usually when I’m in the shower). So I slog on, trying to paint smartly, fearlessly, easily. And as I feel my way through the dark, every so often a faint light will glimmer across a portion of my work. A brush stroke that shows the turn of a shoulder. A happy color choice. A gracefully proportionate figure. And that flicker will be enough to keep me going.

Small steps. Baby steps. Sometimes steps that go backwards. That’s all I can do as an artist: Put one foot in front of the other and keep working. Because it’s the thing that makes my heart sing, even when I’m grinding my teeth with frustration.

How about you, dear readers? What are you stretching for in your art? Share in the comments how you keep yourself working.

Watercolor figure
20-minute pose in watercolor



You don’t have to be an athlete to balance motherhood, but it helps.

Mother and daughter acrobatics
The Handstand
© 2106 Margaret Sloan
Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press

Strength, grace, beauty and an abiding love; that’s what I saw the first time I watched gymnast Gasya Akhmetova-Atherton and her daughter Kamali balance together in an Instagram video. Gasya, a former Cirque du Soleil performer, stands on her hands and raises her legs into a graceful arabesque above her head; little Kamali clings to her mother’s neck and points her toes in imitation of her mama.

I itched to paint a portrait of them.

But it wasn’t only the sheer amazement of Gasya’s Insta-videos that made me want to honor them in paint. Gasya is a tremendous athlete, doing things that seem nearly extra-human, but it was the joyful bond she shares with her daughter that I wanted to try to capture.

Toddler hugging mom
Mother and daughter acrobatics Detail of The Handstand © 2106 Margaret Sloan Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press

As I watched this mother-daughter team, I thought of my own mother. Something about the line of Gasya’s legs and the steadiness of her balance brought to mind a fleeting image of being held when I was a child by my own mother.

My mom certainly wasn’t an athlete (although she did play tennis at the local park). But she was strong; she played and worked hard. She was reliable; we clung to her like little monkeys as she negotiated every day life. And she was loving; she dispensed hugs and kisses like they were daily vitamins.

I never had kids; I never got the chance. And so I am always amazed at the strength it takes for women to balance life with children. Moms teeter under the weight of their little ones, and they do their best to defy gravity and keep their kids (and themselves) from falling.

Yeah. Moms rock. Every day of the year.

Starting the runner’s high at 50 with Sue Loncaric

Runner high
Runner before the race
Watercolor portrait of Sue Loncaric. In this image, she’s ready for a run uphill through sand, but she’s looking forward to it. This was a fun portrait, done from a photo Sue sent me. I took liberties with the landscape, but I feel like I caught her happy, forward-looking personality.

Changing times, changing ages

I had my first corporate job in my early 40s, in an industry awash with 20-somethings just out of college. Surrounded by ripe youth—dewy skin, perky body parts, and eyes made liquid by black pupils dilated to an alarming, and some say, alluring degree—I admit that I felt a little bit…well, dried up.

Whew. I wish I were still so young as 40! But I’m learning to how to move into age. It’s not easy in our youth obsessed culture. We don’t have a clear road map.

But I think times are changing. We boomers who in our youth demanded so much from society are on track to reform and retell the crone mythology. New role models help us transition from maiden to mother to crone.

From fashionistas like Lynn Slater at Accidental Icon (There’s a link to an interview with her at the bottom of this post) who have made it safe for those of us over 50 to wear leopard print pedal pushers, to Leyla Giray Alyanak , who pushes the 60-and-over envelope of journalism, world travel, and feisty-hot chick at Women on the Road, we crones are keeping alive the beauty, promise, and freshness  of the spring maiden. We’re thumbing our noses at society’s outmoded expectations and  enjoying the heck out of life.

I have to admit, I was amazed when I met (through the internet) Sue Loncaric. Sue started running at 50, an age when most of us start having trouble getting up from the floor. Five years later she ran her first full marathon. She didn’t sit around in her jammies after retirement, but instead chose to reinvent herself and start a new business. She blogs at Sizzling towards 60, not just about aging issues, but about life in general.  Just because we’re aging doesn’t mean we focus only on our age!

I’m grateful that Sue agreed to a bloggy interview (a blogaview?). She is a great example of how we can at the same time wear the blush of the maiden and the wrinkles of the crone, and how beautifully they can work together.

Racing through midlife but loving every minute

Sue Loncaric running a marathon
Sue Loncaric running a marathon. The new image of age: vibrant, healthy, strong, and gorgeous.

Do you feel different now than you did when you were a young woman? How is it different?

I am far more self-confident in my 50s than I ever was as a young woman.  When I was younger I was plagued by body image issues and the feeling of never being good enough. I think the problem is we don’t feel we are entitled to love ourselves, but as you age, you realize that you are unique.

You have lived life and have the scars to prove it!  You know that you are strong, and you acknowledge that you do have a voice and people actually are listening. I have come to terms with ‘being me’ and I have finally come to love the person who is ‘me’.  I wish I had learned that much earlier on in life and that would be one piece of advice I would give to young women.

What freedoms has age given you?

I think the biggest freedom age gives us is time. Or as I call it “Me Time”.  Time to do exactly what we want to do, when we want to do it without feeling guilty or being tied down by the responsibilities of life.  Time to fulfill long-held dreams that you have pushed to the back of your mind.

For most women up until midlife, our lives are defined by being a wife/partner, motherhood and our career.  Once we reach the empty nest stage, we are also usually slowing down in our careers and we can finally start to put our needs first.  Now we can explore horizons and goals. I started a blog which I never thought I would do. Having time to travel for longer periods and explore the world has been a wonderful freedom for me and my husband.

I think you feel braver to try new things when you are older. Well, that is my case.  I discovered running at 50 and ran my first marathon at 55, something I never thought I would be capable of.

How have you learned to grow old? Who taught or is teaching you? Have you had role models?

I don’t know if I learned to grow old necessarily, because in my mind I still feel young!  I have had two special women in my life who have shown me that making each day count and taking opportunities to enjoy life is most important as we age.

I also am always inspired by much older people who are still achieving.  They have a purpose in their lives and I think that is important. You should never give up on life. We should keep learning and experiencing new things as long as possible.

You’re moving into winter where you live, right? So, if seasons are a metaphor, how do you keep spring in your heart when your age is moving into winter?

I regularly turn to my ‘inner child’ and have FUN.  Spending time with my grandson has taught me to appreciate the simple joys that life can bring.

I’m convinced that being healthy and happy is the secret to enjoying the ‘winter of your life’ with ‘spring in your heart’.  It is all about attitude and having the right mindset. I call it Positive Aging (a term I heard last year and it really captured how I wanted to age).

We all have choices, we can give up and feel that life is almost over or we can make the most of each day and appreciate life! If we aren’t happy with life we need to make changes to ensure that the ‘winter of life’ is as exciting and uplifting as ‘spring’.  We only have one shot!

Since taking early retirement, Sue Loncaric found she needed more in her life and Sizzling Towards Sixty was born. She shares her journey through midlife to encourage others to join with her in her quest to live a fit, active and fun life. Sue loves connecting with people and helping them realize their full potential to be the best they can be.

Her e-book ‘From Couchpotato to Fabulously Fit in Less Time than you Think’ has evolved into a Facebook Group #couchpotatotofabfit and encourages others to Get Healthier Together. Plans for online self-development courses are on the way.

Read more about Sue at or join her on Facebook at

Links to other blogs mentioned in this article

Accidental Icon:

Interview with Lyn Slater:

Women on the Road: