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: http://www.townhallarts.com

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 http://www.sizzlingtowardssixty.com.au/about-me/ or join her on Facebook at

Links to other blogs mentioned in this article

Accidental Icon:

Interview with Lyn Slater:

Women on the Road:

For the love of elephants: Watercolors that help them roam free

Asian elephant
Stone thrower (African Elephant)
Visit my Etsy shop to learn the story of this elephant

From now until World Elephant Day in August in I’m offering a limited run of prints of two of my watercolors of elephants. These elephants live at the facility of the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). You can buy the prints at MargaretSloan.etsy.com. A portion of the proceeds for each sale will go to PAWS to help support the elephants.

I’ve always had a thing for elephants, ever since watching the documentary The African Elephant when I was a kid. The more I learn about them, the more I think they are a sentient species (as far as I can understand sentience). They have complicated family relationships, they mourn death and celebrate life, and they display a sharp intelligence. And don’t forget their proverbial memory.

It was the highlight of 2015 that I was able to get close enough to really observe these magnificent animals. Last fall I was privileged to visit Ark 2000, an animal sanctuary of the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), an organization that rescues animals used in the entertainment industry—think circuses, animal shows, and, yes, zoos—and provides a place for them to retire. They have large roaming areas, ponds, heated barns, good food. And they don’t have to work any more. They just get to be the animals they are.

I’ve blogged about that trip before. Here are some of the highlights.

Some of the elephants at PAWS had been mistreated in their former working lives, or were stolen from their mothers as little babies. Some witnessed elephants killing elephants; possibly some witnessed humans killing their mothers. It’s a wonder that the animals at PAWS have been able to overcome their past traumas to form attachments with the humans that care for them.  There are a trio of Africans who throw stones at cars, but other elephants we met were just as curious about us as we were about them.

We got to meet Nicholas personally. He rumbled low as his keeper showed us how they had convinced Nicholas to open his mouth for dental inspection, or show them the bottom of his ottoman-sized feet. I don’t like to use the word trained. Really what they’ve done is learned how to communicate with the animals, and they’ve done it in a way that doesn’t involve pain or punishment. If these animals consent to a dental examination, or present their ottoman-sized feet for a checkup, it’s because they want to. Not because someone is stabbing them with a bullhook.

(click here to read the whole post).

That brilliant day I couldn’t stop sketching. I could have drawn Nicholas all day long as he snuffled through a pile of bran meal on the floor and purred his elephant growl.

Drawing portraits in person always brings me closer to my subject, and drawing Nicholas was no different. I could feel an intelligence there, a being that knew exactly who he was and who accepted that a small female humana was observing him while he observed her.

Nicholas: Asian Elephant
Visit my Etsy shop to learn the story of this elephant

PAWS also does education outreach about “energy conservation, conservation of wildlife habitat, and recognition of animals as individuals with a right to peace and dignity.”

You can own one (or two) of these beautiful prints and help support the elephants at PAWS.

Read more about PAWS at their website, www.pawsweb.org.

Do you believe that art can change the world?

charcoal drawing of girl
Charcoal on paper
© 2106 Margaret Sloan

I’m always on the lookout for cute photographs. At a local parade I snapped photos of a little girl waiting for the next queen-of-the-rodeo horse squad to clip-clop past, thinking, this will be an adorable painting. Little girl with stuffed cat. What could be cuter?

As I mulled over how I wanted to interpret this image in paint, the flickering screen of my inner eye kept standing this child in the ash of the ruined city of Homs. I saw her hide as bombs flew. I saw her run with her mother through a hail of bullets. Worst of all, I saw her wander through the rubble of war.


My art is usually pretty apolitical. I just paint pretty pictures. I want to make people happy. I don’t want to offend. I try to ignore my activist brain.

But the image of this child in war wouldn’t go from my mind. I tried to ignore it, and  penciled many sketches in which she happily watched a parade while tinsel and confetti rained on marching bands and dancing horses. But I crumpled each scrawled drawing into the recycling bin.

Where does art come from?

Do you believe that artists have muses? I’ve always thought it a conceit, a mythology of wishful thinking. But if a muse has ever spoken to me, she did so this weekend, through a lump of charcoal and a sheaf of paper. That muse gave me an ultimatum. She demanded—no, she unequivocally ordered me—to draw this little girl in a street of disaster. She conscripted my arm and forced my hand to create this image.

I’ve never known war. My country hasn’t had massive armed conflict on our soil in nearly 200 years. So far I’ve been lucky to have avoided terrible natural disasters. The children in my family have grown up safely, well-fed, well-loved.

The thought of any one of them—and by extension, any child anywhere—wandering alone and afraid, makes me weep.

I had just started working on this drawing—smearing the charcoal with my fingers because the urgency with which I needed to draw made a pencil seem too weak, too precious—when the fiddler called me to say, “oh my god, they’ve had a terrible earthquake in Ecuador.”

More children wandering amid ruins.

If I believed in using emojis, at this point I’d insert a very, very frowny, frowny, frowny face.

Can art change the world?

Can a drawing change the world? I don’t know. I think they have in the past. Artists in the past believed in their own power. Bertolt Brecht said “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”

But in our modern era, saturated with horrific images, thoughts, and actions, what can a few smudge marks on paper do to heal the world?

If there was a muse at work in my studio, I don’t know what she expects from the creation of this drawing. But I can guess.

Dear reader, if this image touches you, I hope that it will entreat you to be more human. Of course I know that you are human. I imagine that you are compassionate, loving, and concerned. I also imagine that you, perhaps like I do, sometimes forget the children in the world who wander alone across disastrous landscapes, made homeless, frightened, and alone by events not of their making.

I hope this image will make you remember your humanity.

If you are able to help, please do so. If you can donate time, money, or just prayers and thoughts, I hope this image will entreat you to become involved in helping. Help someone, anywhere, anytime. I’m not going to give you a list of charities. You know how to find them.



How to say goodbye to loved ones who want to ramble in the gypsy life

Watercolor on Arches Hotpress watercolor block

It was a hard weekend. Two bon voyage parties: One for a friend and colleague that may never again cross my path. One for a beloved child-no-longer-a-child who may never fully understand how beloved she is.

It chokes, you know. The feeling of being left behind, of space being emptied, heart hollowed out because it’s time, or it’s the compression of time, or the god-damned lack of time that’s been poured out like water and you can’t gather it back safely to your heart.

I’m maudlin, I know, because others aren’t. And I know it’s not fair for the ones leaving. After all, I’ve done my share of leaving, of rambling, of tramping like a gypsy across oceans and deserts. I’ve delved into jungles where I swam with alligators, sailed on oceans where I slept on islands under the southern cross, drank in garrison towns, hiked up tropical rivers, and lived near the ocean. Twice.

I’m sure I made my mother weep. But I had to do it. Everybody has to find their own selves living at the end of their broken tethers. Everyone should get to experience the rambling life. It’s marvelous, the expectancy of the open road, the unknown ripples, twists and switchbacks of the open road.



But it aches for those of us waving goodby at the dock, dropping them off at the curb with their luggage, or raising one more glass, our tears unshed because the ones leaving need to set off on their journeys unencumbered by salty hugs. They’ve got futures to see to, adventures to create, or to be created by those adventures, if the adventures don’t destroy them first. And that’s the chance we all take with life.

In the end, we all trudge up a hill with only our souls, blocked like felt hats, pooched and folded and brimmed by our experiences, packed into our personal rucksacks.




We all float like feathers up to the sky, borne aloft like hope, like wishes, like minor chords heard across the pigeon bridge.


Be safe, my ones. L’chaim!

Learn how to paint portraits in watercolor

Beginners Reel
© 2013 Margaret Sloan
Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press

Watercolor Portrait Class

April 8, 15, and 22

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.

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: http://www.townhallarts.com

For more information about the watercolor portrait class, email me at Mockingbirdatmidnight {at} gmail {dot} com.