New paintings available at Calaveras County Artist Studio Tours

Portrait of girl
The moment the mask dropped
Watercolor on Aquabord
© 2016 Margaret Sloan

Tomorrow is the big day! First day of Open Studios. I’ll have some new work there, including this watercolor, which I just finished.


Saturday and Sunday, September 24 &25

10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

6814 Michel Road

Mountain Ranch, California


Calaveras County Artist Studio Tours

Asian elephant
Nicholas the elephant
Available in my Etsy shop and at open studios


I’ll be exhibiting with two artists this weekend in Mountain Ranch as part of Calaveras County Arts Councils Artist Studio tours. I’m working feverishly to have some new work, things you haven’t seen yet, plus I’ll have prints of old favorites,  so if you get a chance, come up the hill to visit. Each artist has widely different styles, so it should be interesting to see all of them together.

Saturday and Sunday, September 24 &25

10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

6814 Michel Road

Mountain Ranch, California



Abstract art
By Gayle Lorraine
Acrylic on canvas

Gayle Lorraine paints intuitively, and her black and white canvases speak of hidden landscapes, barely seen truths, and unknown dreams. Her website:


Landscape painting
Painting by George Allen Durkee
Oil on canvas


George paints landscapes full of color, energy, and life. He’s been a painter for all most of his life, and his new paintings distill a scene into just what needs to be there and no more. His website:

Girl with garland
Watercolor on Arches #140 hot press

Watercolor Portrait Class

September 16 & October 21, 1pm to 4 pm

I will be teaching a watercolor portrait class at Town Hall Arts/Gallery Copper in Copperopolis, California. These classes are small, with no more than 6 or 7 students, so I can give personal attention to everyone, no matter what their level experience.

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.

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.

Listening to the sounds of the night

Grey fox study from a photo by Orphie Barella on Paint my Photo
Watercolor on paper
Margaret Sloan

Last Thursday night, I skipped my normally early bedtime. I was hopped up from watching a movie and stayed up late scrolling the internet for reviews and opinions. Because it wasn’t enough that I watched the damn movie, right?

Honeys, when you get older, don’t mess with your schedule, especially if you already suffer from insomnia. It doesn’t pay. At 12:30 am, I was still staggering around the house, trying not to waken the fiddler while I did half-hearted yoga poses that had been advertised as a natural sleep aid. I was starting to feel drowsy when the barking started.

It got my attention. We live in a neighborhood with rather strict rules about barking dogs. You might hear them bark for their dinner; or to greet their people; or at other dogs during their evening constitutional. There’s one lonely hound who howls in grief if his people leave him home alone for the evenings.

We almost never hear barking dogs after midnight.

But something barked. It was an odd bark, different from the single punctuation of a pet’s ruff-ruff-ruff. These barks came in two parts, split like a semicolon, the first bark short, the second longer. I was pretty sure it wasn’t a dog.

But what was it? I’ve heard coyotes. I know their yipping and yowling, the jostling of voices during the coyote gospel of call and response. This barking was not it.

After a few minutes, another animal answered, this bark coming from the northeast. For around 15 minutes a series of two-note barks traveled back and forth across the valley.

Then suddenly there was barking all around, as if a chorus line of animals were running through the dark. The sound echoed and chuffed; amplified, it filled the spaces between the houses with reverberations as dusty and crisp as old lace.

I live in one of those wildland-urban interfaces that suburbanites prefer when they move to the country. It’s just a regular housing development, with rows of houses along a wide, gently winding road, but trees—oak, pine, cedar—punctuate each lot. We’re surrounded by woods. To the south, a valley grows helter-skelter wild. National forest spreads north, south, east.

We live among wild animals, but they stay hidden. Oh sure, we see and hear the smaller ones, creatures that don’t mind humans for neighbors: scrub jays, acorn woodpeckers, squirrels, quail, jack rabbits. I know deer frequent our gardens and byways, and occasionally someone sees a mountain lion or bear slinking about in the trees. But to my disappointment, this neighborhood hasn’t been the Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom I thought it was going to be when we escaped from the ‘burbs.

Still, mountain lion sightings and critters chorusing in the wee hours are not trivial. A few minutes after the barking ended, in the distance to the east, something started repeatedly yipping, high-pitched and resonant. At intervals a call would ring out, a chord of overtones that rose and fell like a wave.

The sound was clearly canid, dog-like. I’ve had friends who live more rurally point out the call of foxes, and of course, YouTube was right there in my hand to do a search on fox calls. I’m pretty certain that early Friday morning, for about 2 hours, gray foxes were calling to each other, to the mountains, to the sky.

Some might think that foxes are bad omens; I’m not one for prophecy. I don’t believe that animals portend disaster or success. They are just animals and some of us are fortunate to share our world with them.

So bark on through the night, gray foxes. I’ll probably be awake to hear you.





How to paint the figure, no pencil included.

The gallery below is from a life drawing session. Click on an image to see them at larger size.

Nearly every Thursday I go to Town Hall Arts/Galerie Copper in Copperopolis for life drawing. (It’s uninstructed, but if you live near there, you should attend. It’s a great group and we’re all happy to help if you’re a beginner.) I’ve been doing this for nearly 2 years. Life drawing really helps sharpen my drawing skills. Plus, it’s just plain fun.

For the last 6 months I’ve been trying to figure out how watercolor can work for me in life drawing. Last Thursday I didn’t use a pencil at all. It was just me, the model, and brush, paint, water and paper.

There are so many things to juggle in my head when I’m painting this way. Not only am I trying to get the proportions right, but I also have to think—all at the same time—about negative space, value, shape, and what trouble the water and paint is going to get into when it hits the paper.

I’ve been thinking a lot about giving up my attachment to my end product. Painting this way is a little like I imagine jumping off a cliff in one of those crazy wingsuits would be like. Terrifying and exhilarating. Although if I make a mistake painting, there’s only a pile of chewed up paper and my bloodied ego in a pile on the floor, rather than a broken body.

Following the advice of fellow artist, Gayle Lorraine, when I start, I whisper to myself, “Let’s just waste paint and paper today.” It gives me the freedom to screw up, which also means that I work more intuitively, letting what I already know drive my hand.

There’s something else about that attitude: I make more work, which means I’m practicing more, entering into more conversations with my materials.

And as my mom always told me, practice makes perfect. Although I’m not so worried about perfection.

Which is perfect.

How art is helping a community heal the burn scars of the Butte Fire

Fire sculpture
Photo: Will Mosgrove
When the Music Stopped
Sculpture made with salvaged objects from the Butte Fire

Sitting on the blackened earth, she took a moment to cradle the clarinet’s skeleton. She ran her fingers over the burned through wall of the bell, the pads fused closed, the jagged end where a mouthpiece had once been. —Cynthia Restivo

Pieces: A Community Healing Art Project

Yesterday I attended the opening for the show called Pieces: A Community Healing Art Project. It’s a show of art, poetry, and prose exploring last year’s tragic Butte Fire.

You should come to tiny San Andreas in Calaveras County and see this powerful show.

If you don’t live in the Sierra Foothills, let me remind you what happened. Last September, a fire ripped through rural Calaveras County and fried over 70,000 acres. More than 800 structures were destroyed, better than half of them homes. Places where people lived. Places where people had their lives.

It happened so fast that many residents fled with little more than their clothing, their pets, and not much else. When I say that buildings were destroyed, I mean the houses and everything in them were reduced to nothing but ashes. If Grandma’s china and your mother’s wedding dress were left behind in the mad rush to escape, they were incinerated. Not to mention your pots and pans, your favorite chair. Your studio, your art supplies, the artwork you created that marked the course of your career, your life.

I know, it’s been a year since the fire. Old news, right? Calaveras County has fallen out of the news cycle. With our tragedy eclipsed not just by other wildfires, but by election foofery, Olympic flick-flacks, and (your choice, readers) celebrity name + visible body part, my community is trying, with little publicity, to recover from last year’s tragic Butte Fire.

You need to come to Calaveras Country and see this show.

The artworks, including paintings, collage, sculptures and photographs, are in response to the Butte fire.  They are testaments to the bravery of the artists who lost their homes,  who still reel and stagger in various states of balance. Framed poems and artist statements speak with stark gulps of grief, yet also wobbly words of hope and renewal.

Perhaps the most powerful pieces are the sculptures made of items scavenged from the ashes: A clay hand, missing all fingers but the charcoal-stained thumb. A ceramic pot, still intact but too firestorm-fragile to be touched. A weed eater, unrecognizable until you read the card next to it. The remains of a manual typewriter, with glass slumped into a form that resembles a hummingbird buzzing at the side of the keyboard.

When your life has been stolen, how do you know the manner in which you should move forward? But you do move forward, if only because time stands behind you and treads on your heels whether you advance or not.

Art helps you move your feet; it’s the great healer.  Art is how we process things; Art is how we make sense of the world; Art is how we find ourselves when all other maps become meaningless and we are wandering in a charred wilderness of blackened trees.

Come to Calaveras County and see this show. Because the artists there teach us how to salvage our lives from tragedy; how to navigate loss; how to begin traveling on the slow switchback trail of recovery. It’s a small show, to be sure. But it’s powerful in a way that you won’t forget.

In truth, we all walk through life on a paper bridge that could, at any moment, melt in the rain or crisp in a stray flame, plunging us into a gully. We need these messages, these semaphores and telegraphs and murmured communiqués from artists spooling their own ferries across their inner landscapes. They teach us how to grieve, and how to heal.

Pieces: A Community Art Project will be on display at the Calaveras Arts Council Gallery in San Andreas through September. 22 Main Street (Off Highway 49)

Click here for local news station coverage of the exhibit.


Celebrate your sister on National Sisters Day

Watercolor on 6″ x 6″ Aquabord


These two sisters are for sale. It’s a small painting on Aquabord, 6″ x 6″, and is unframed. It’s been sprayed with a UV-protective varnish, so you don’t have to put it under glass (although it will need to stay out of sun and bright light so that the colors don’t fade). It’s on a hard board, so you can lean it up on a picture ledge, or frame it.

Email me at mockingbirdatmidnight at gmail to purchase.

Finding power in the landscape and creation close to the sky

Mountains in distance
View from the Lehman Cave Visitor Center in Great Basin National Park
Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press

“Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” —Terry Tempest Williams

Earlier this summer I traveled with a friend to Eastern Nevada. We’d been talking about taking this trip for a long time, and this year it finally came together in a clatter and clank of camping stoves, tent pegs, and way too much painting equipment.

In late June the hills of California already rolled golden and tinder dry, but the deserts and mountains of Eastern Nevada were fresh and minty green. In some parts of the Ruby Mountains, the snow had melted only a few weeks before we arrived, and it made me giddy, the sight of so much water—it gushed off cliffs, roared through valleys, or just spread over the ground like it hadn’t a care in the world.

At higher elevations, spring ran crazy like a wild child, ribbons trailing and bare feet muddy, splashing up flowers at every step. Columbine, paintbrush and penstemon spangled meadows and glens; starry white clusters of Queen Anne’s lace dreamed in the flickering light of aspen groves; and cactus blossomed prickly under pinyon and juniper. If the earth laughs with flowers, the planet was falling out of her chair, cackling until she nearly peed her pants.

I felt like laughing too, trailing along these high mountain trails beside water and flower. And I felt something else: a sideways space of awe and joy that slid into my chest and made my dull-thudding heart want to leap and shout and spin.

This feeling was something so big and so full that it took my breath away. Gasping so close to the sky, I felt a belonging, a coming home, a connection that thrummed from the ground into my feet, shook my body, and shot like a rocket out of the top of my head. For a moment I became a small, bi-pedal conduit to a power far greater than my tiny humanity.

I’ve felt this way only a few times in my life, and all of those times have been when I’m outdoors: on a beach, or a mountain, or deep in a redwood forest. In between times, I forget these places of power, and I know I need to seek them out more often, for it’s in those places I find my life. I hope they help you find yours.

Aspens and rock painting
Spring meadow at 9,000 feet
Watercolor 5″ x 7″

Some people catch the spirit and speak in tongues. Others fall and writhe. Still others weep or sigh or sing. Me? I paint. I write. I create because the world spills out of me; to do anything else would be to waste what the earth gives me. And I owe it to the beautiful blue marble that gives me my home.

Peak at Lamoille Canyon
Oil on canvas panel  5″ x 7″