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:

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.

Dia de los Muertos (after the fact)

Tropical night scene
Tropical night scene
Night path, tropics, 1996
Color pencil on paper

I’m writing an art column for our local newspaper’s lifestyle tabloid, the Sierra Lodestar, and my first story appeared in last week’s edition.

Pottery bird
Bird on a Wire
Color pencil

It’s about the ofrendas, or altars, that appear during Día de los Muertos. In Murphys, the Day of the Dead has become a popular celebration, and since it’s one of my favorite holidays, I wanted to transmit some of the beauty and meaning of the rituals of creating ofrendas for the dead.

I lived in a small tourist town in coastal Oaxaca in the 1990s, just before the narcotraficantes made Mexico a nightmarish place.  Our town catered mostly to surfers and budget travelers, and Mexicans who appreciated small and real rather than huge and glitzy. During the off-season there were a few ex-pats who lived there year-round, and a small community of fishermen, farmers, service people, and shop keepers. Everyone knew everyone else; it was a lovely place to live.

In those days, the season that spanned the end of October and the beginning of November was a traveler’s secret (I don’t know what it’s like now). It wasn’t crowded. The rains had ended, for the most part, and the weather was cooler than it had been since May. The pulsating greens of the rainy season were fading to olive and gold, and there was a softness to the  heat. It’s what autumn is like in the tropics.

For the week leading up to November 1 and 2, when it is believed that the veil that separates the living from the dead, people (yes, living ones) began building ofrendas, or altars, in businesses and homes. The altars, made to honor the spirits of the dead who are able to return home for the first two days of November, were crowded with things like balls of chocolate, cigars, alcohol, toys, candles, mirrors, bread, and marigolds woven into wreaths and chains, or arranged in bouquets of orange and yellow. I never fully understood which items were for the departed (but returning souls), and which items were for the saints that rather spookily had come through the now gauzy curtain between this world and the next.

The article will be up on the Enterprise website for a few more weeks (clickable link below). I hope you’ll take time to read it.

Sierra Lodestar, November 4-10, 2015  <–Click here.

Saturday Studio Time: Margaret Sloan

I’ve been asking my artist friends to participate in the Saturday Studio Time project, so I thought I’d better post my own thoughts about my personal studio too. Studios are so personal and private; I’m eternally grateful to the artists who have agreed to shed their natural inclination to shun publicity and offer a glimpse of their working spaces.

Artist studio
This is where I paint and draw. On the floor is a painter’s drop cloth. The lights are clamped to the bathroom door; someday I’ll get a light stand when I find the perfect thing. The easel belonged to the sister of a dear friend; she passed away, and he had no use for it, so he loaned it to me. It means so much to me to work on it.

What does your studio mean to you?
I’ve never before had a dedicated room for my studio; I’ve always worked in the living room of whatever small space I lived in. But with a recent move, I now have a room to myself, and it’s exhilarating and terrifying. Exhilarating because it makes me feel like a “real” artist. Terrifying because of the responsibility and expectations that are attached to having a dedicated space. I try to be very businesslike in the studio, as well as very creative.

Having a private space means I can allow myself  to work on projects that might be dumb. I can make mistakes. I don’t have to worry about anyone seeing them and commenting or judging. Work doesn’t have to be public before it’s ready. That’s incredibly freeing. Sometimes my mind feels like it’s spooling out into the universe and netting more ideas than I can possibly consume in a day, a week, or a lifetime. Every morning I get out of bed brimming with ideas, projects, and plans for the day.

Morning commute
This is my morning walk down a path to my studio

Where is your studio?
It’s at the bottom of the house, but since the house is on a hill, my window looks into trees.  It’s like being in a tree house, which about the most romantic thing in the world to me.

In the morning I leave the living space of the house and walk down a little path through cedars and sugar pines to get to the studio door under the house.  During that short walk, I make a transition from being at home to being at work. I’m able to set my intentions for the day during that brief time in the outdoors.

During the daylight hours I work really hard, but so far I don’t like being in the studio after darkness falls. It’s partly because we live in the country and the night is very dark. I often catastrophize about mountain lions hiding in the shadowy recesses under the deck, ready to leap out and eat me. I’m professional about it though. I stay and finish my work, because it’s got to be done. But at the end of my day, I often call my husband (his office is at the top of the house) and ask him to come walk me “home.”

What does your studio look like?
I have all sorts of plans to create a beautiful and fabulous space, but so far, working has taken precedence over decorating. Stuff is where it needs to be in order to get the job done. Sometimes I wonder why I am not the kind of person who absolutely requires a beautiful space in which to work; I think that I live in my head so much that I don’t often notice my surroundings. Except for the outdoors. I notice that.

For the most part, my studio is pretty messy, especially when I’m working on a project. Between projects I clean it a bit: collect the dirty coffee mugs and popcorn bowls, recycle scrap paper and printouts of projects, collect sketches and trial paintings and take them to the flat file, wipe up the drips of paint, sweep the floor.  I like working in a clean space. I just have trouble keeping the space clean.

Rolling kitchen cart with two drop-leaves.
Rolling kitchen-cart with two drop-leaves.

What’s the coolest, most helpful thing in your studio?
Last Christmas, my husband bought me a rolling kitchen-cart thingy at the local thrift shop. I love it. It’s the perfect height, so it has made my painting life less painful (before, I hunched over a folding tv-tray table). I can fit multiple palettes on the top of it, store my brushes and painting supplies in it, and roll it where I need it to be. I highly recommend something like it.

Also, I recently bought a light box for use in illustration. It makes transferring sketch ideas so much easier than tracing them on the window.

Light box
Light box with sketches of a current personal project


Studio tip?
My most useful tip, and one that I should heed more often is this one rule: No Facebook in the studio. I can waste way too much time looking at cute puppies and kitties or stressing over politics. I should be in my studio to work, not gander at the internets.

Multiple studies

I’ve been known to paint a single image many times, trying to “get it right.” (The painting “Trim the Velvet” I painted at least 12 times before I was happy with the results.)

I’ve been working an image of a friend’s wife for a year. It’s eluded me, partly because the original photograph was taken with the sun overhead. A no-no; yes, I’m aware of that. But her eyelashes cast a shadow on her cheek, delicate and curved. Her hair was wisping in a light breeze. Her name is Margaret (yes, my name too!), which, according to coffee cup research, means “pearl of the sea.” The photo, although taken on the front steps of a local church, somehow made me think of the ocean, so I decided to place her on a beach.

This first painting was a color sketch, to play around with the palette and composition. The sketch looks fresh, with nice, clear colors (my favorite part is the blue and green in the shadowed side of her face) and easy brush strokes, but it was just a very quick drawing.

watercolor painting
Sketch for “Margaret”
Watercolor on paper


This is the second version, a small painting: only 8.5″ x 11″. Whatever it was that had caught my attention eluded me in this painting, although in retrospect, I like the placement of the horizon the best in this version.

watercolor painting
Margaret 1
8.5″ x 11″ Watercolor on Arches #300
© Margaret Sloan 2014


This is the current painting, larger, with more finish. From the beginning the drawing was off, asI didn’t take a lot of time with it. (I grabbed it off the drawing board to take to Open Studios so I could paint while I hung out in my booth.) That little bit of wonkiness in the drawing magnified to large proportions when I started adding paint, and I had to repaint the eyes—a couple times—before they looked like eyes that belonged together on the same face. (Lots of gentle scrubbing with an ancient Series Seven sable removed the eyes.) Note to self: Nail the drawing before applying paint.

Watercolor Painting
Margaret M.
11″ x 14″ Watercolor on Arches 300#
© Margaret Sloan 2014

I think I’ll let this last one sit in the flat file for a while, then take it out and see what can be done. Or I might repaint it again someday!


I’m interested to know what you think. Let me know in the comments field.

Open Studios starts this Saturday! 

Silicon Valley Open Studios

May 3-4

What a way to spend a day: Looking at contemporary art made by local artists.

This year, I’ll be exhibiting my artwork. I’ll have my watercolors, illustrations, and prints available for sale, many for the first time ever.

I’d love to see you there. Step up and say hello, and mention you read my blog and that you know the secret word, and you’ll get 15% off on all purchases of finished prints and paintings at my tent only.

But what’s the secret word?

Here it is. I’ll tell you. But shhhh, it’s a secret.

Secret word
Zingen (it means to sing in Yiddish)

And for a show special, I’ll be offering a 10% discount on all portrait commissions engaged this weekend.

See you there!

The other artists exhibiting at this site will be:

Elyse Dunnahoo

Brian Corral

JoAnne Perez Robinson

Where we’ll be this weekend:

May 3 – 4, Site 72: 1191 Sherman Avenue, Menlo Park, CA 94025  (click on the map to go to Google maps.) We’ll be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Open Studios 11-5
Open Studios

Santa Cruz Holiday Bazaar

Holiday Bazaar flyer

I’ll be showing my work on December 7 from 11 to 5 at a holiday bazaar at the Live Oak Senior Center at 1777 Capitola Road in Santa Cruz. (See below for  map). This is a small affair, with only 7 artists and craftspeople showing, but there will be treats as well as live Irish music for part of the day. You might even catch me playing a tune or two.

I’ll have prints and original paintings for sale, and examples of my portrait work. I hope to see you there.

Live Oak Senior Center
1777 Capitola Rd.
Santa Cruz, CA

Scenes from an art show

As the visual artist part of a collaboration for Hungry for Yiddish; a Mitzvah Project (organized by fabulous singer Heather Klein), I was honored to be included with musical artists Heather,  Anthony Russell, and the Saul Goodman’s Klezmer Orkestar.

It was so wonderful to see 13 of my paintings hung on the gallery walls of the Subterranean Arthouse in Berkeley.

Three paintings

My fiddler said, “I live with these images while you’re painting them, and they’re alive, but I’ve never seen them have so much presence as they had when they were all on the gallery walls.”

Two paintings

Normally I paint, finish, and file my paintings in the flat file. If they get framed, they are briefly displayed on a dining room chair, then they’re off to their new home. It was amazing to see that on the gallery walls the portraits came to life in a way they never do in my dining room.


The painting above at left is, yes, a bowl of potatoes. Since this show was about feeding people (a benefit for the Berkeley Food Pantry) I thought a few paintings of potatoes would be appropriate. After all, potatoes have fed the world for over 500 centuries, haven’t they?


Many thanks to Nicole Rodriguez and Katherine MacElhiney of the Subterranean Arthouse for helping hang the show, and especially to Katherine, who, despite a dreadful cold, stayed around after we hung the show so that a friend of mine could come in the afternoon and view the paintings.


And this is me with the painting Desert Rat. I am not normally a smiley kind of person, but on seeing all my paintings looking back at me, I couldn’t stop beaming.

But it wasn’t all paintings and portraits. We heard Heather and Anthony (both magnificent performers) sing, and then we danced to joyous Klezmer music.


The dancing was led by dance teacher Bruce Bierman.


The band was terrific! In the photo below, blazing through a tune, are Jim Rebhan on keyboard accordion, Illana Sherer on violin, and Dave Rosenfeld on mandolin. Also in the band was Gerry Tenney on guitar and voice, Stu Brotman on poyk (a bass drum), and Aharon Bolsta on snare drum.


And show curator and clarinet player, Mike Perlmutter.


Thanks to Heather (on left, below) for organizing this wonderful evening!


A sheynem dank!

Hungry for Yiddish: An interview with Anthony (Mordechai Tzvi) Russell


The first time I played  a recording of Anthony Russell singing a Yiddish song, it was as if thunder rolled through the house. His rich bass voice wraps itself around a song and makes it rattle the windows. I’m very pleased to be involved in the Hungry for Yiddish: a Mitzvah Project with him, and I’m looking forward to hearing him sing in person.

1. How do you know Heather? How did you get involved in this project?

I actually met Heather earlier this year at her “Yiddishe Meydlekh” concert for YIVO in New York. We both attended KlezKanada in Quebec this past summer, and by chance, my partner got a job in the SF Bay Area, where I’m originally from and where Heather lives. So, as soon as I got back from Canada and somewhat settled in California, I met with Heather to figure out what the Bay Area had to offer a Yiddish singer. She said, “Well, I have this program I did last year called ‘Hungry for Yiddish‘,” and the rest, soon, will be history…

2. Tell me a little bit about the songs you’ll be singing at the Hungry for Yiddish event. What are they about?

Yiddish songs are always so complicated, which is why I love them! So I’ll make an attempt. In “Akhris Hayomim“, a young boy describes to his grandfather the wonders of the world to come; in “Der Gemore Nign“, a student in kheder (a traditional elementary school teaching the basics of Judaism and Hebrew) misses his family; in “Lekoved dem Heylikn Shabbes“, a Chasid literally asks his rebbe, “Where’s the beef?”, and in “O Ir Kleyne Likhtelekh“, the lights of a menorah stir memories of the Jewish past and questions about the future.

3. Sometimes language can really influence a piece of music. How do you feel Yiddish shapes a song or a tune?

Having sung in English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, Hungarian, Japanese and Hebrew over the past fifteen years or so, I have  found Yiddish to be an unparalleled language for expression. It strikes me as a language that lands softly on the ears (thanks to its vowels and certain “closed” consonants), yet is well-accented with consonant combinations full of descriptive character. Songs in a Yiddish are much the same, possessing a plaintive quality accented with wit, pain, humor and character.

3. You say on your Facebook page that not only were you able to understand a Yiddish speaker, but he could understand you. Impressive! How long have you been studying Yiddish? What kind of personal meaning does Yiddish have for you?

I’ve only been singing in Yiddish for a little less than a year, and my study of the language has been solely for the purpose of improving my understanding and interpretation of my repertoire. For the past few months I’ve been hobbling along by myself through Sheva Zucker’s Yiddish textbook for beginners, but I can tell you upfront I’m a much, much better listener in Yiddish than a speaker.

What I told the Yiddish speaker was my own original well-rehearsed joke about my lack of ability: “Ikh keyn nit redn gantz gut Yiddish; aber, ikh red a besser Yiddish vi alle mentshn in der khumesh,” or “I don’t speak Yiddish very well, but I speak it better than anyone in the Bible.” He laughed for a good long time, and what’s language if you can’t do that?

In contrast to the monumental advent of Hebrew as a language in recent history, Yiddish—for me—is a language that best describes the Jewish experience in the world, in all of its unusual beauty, longing, ambiguity, mystery and quiet, subtle triumph.

4. What is your favorite Yiddish word or phrase?

In the song “Lekoved dem Heylikn Shabbes“, a worried Chasid during Shabbes dinner tells his rebbe, “Rebbe! There’s no challah! There’s no fish! There’s no meat!”, to which the rebbe answers, “‘S’vet zayn!“—”There will be!” Let me tell you, on many levels, I’m saying ” ‘S’vet zayn!” all the time.