Margaret Kilgallen's paintings and murals reflected a variety of influences, including the dying art of hand-painted signs, elements of American folk art, mural painting, and a variety of formal painting strategies.
At an early age, she was impressed by examples of works by Southwest and Mexican artists, and she employed these artists' use of warm colors in her own painting. Her many works in gouache and acrylic on found paper (often discarded book endpapers) reflect an interest in typographic styles and symbology that can be traced to her work as a book conservator with Dan Flanagan at the San Francisco Public Library in the early to mid-1990s.
In addition to her commissioned mural work, Kilgallen was also a graffiti artist under the tag names "Meta" and "Matokie Slaughter." The latter name, a homage to folk musician Matokie Slaughter, was specifically used for freight train graffiti, a hobo tradition that strongly influenced her work. Kilgallen was an accomplished banjo player and became an avid surfer after moving to California.
Kilgallen was an avid reader and thinker, looking to Appalachian music, signage, letterpress printing, hobo train writing, and religious and decorative arts to inform her work. Her work demonstrates her respect for and engagement with craftsmanship and the stories of everyday peoples' lives. She was especially interested in "the evidence of the maker's hand."
As she explained: I like things that are handmade and I like to see people's hand in the world, anywhere in the world; it doesn't matter to me where it is. And in my own work, I do everything by hand. I don't project or use anything mechanical, because even though I do spend a lot of time trying to perfect my line work and my hand, my hand will always be imperfect because it's human. And I think it's the part that's off that's interesting, that even if I'm doing really big letters and I spend a lot of time going over the line and over the line and trying to make it straight, I'll never be able to make it straight. From a distance it might look straight, but when you get close up, you can always see the line waver. And I think that's where the beauty is.