MUNS Mural

How a Fiber Artist Packs for Plein Air

The words "Plein Air" are usually accompanied by the word "Painting", but who follows tradition. Last summer, I embarked on an artistic adventure at McKendree University to create Plein Air Embroidery. Embroidery can be called painting with thread, after all. My professor, Amy MacLennan, invited me knowing I don't paint;  I didn't disappoint in bringing the fiber or the crazy. 

We are going again this year but we are going to be a little crunched for time. I get one whole day of embroidering/painting in the ridiculous Illinois heat while the mister and kiddo go sight seeing in St. Louis. I've decided to approach this a little differently this year and just do straight stitching and I might even try to do a little watercolor. 

So what does a fiber artist bring for plein air embroidery?

  • Table cloth or plastic sheet - you've got to sit on something. I'd really love a collapsible stool but I don't have the room in the car this year. 
  • Water bottle - It's gonna be the surface of the sun out there. Stay Hydrated!
  • Floppy hat 
  • Good pair of thread scissors - I have mine on a string around my neck. 
  • Hoop - Stretches and frames the work instantly. 
  • All the threads - You never know what color you will need
  • Small fabric selection 
  • Palette - Because I might actually watercolor
  • Small selection of brushes
  • Watercolors
  • Water Container! 
  • Paper - To stretch or not to stretch?
  • Rag?
  • Pastels - Because... why not?
  • Travel case

I'm pretty excited. Maybe I'll go down town and and sit in a shady spot and work on some perspective. There's all kinds of crazy things I could try:  incorporating found textiles or thread into my embroidery, stitching into the watercolors. The ideas are flying!


Work continues on the mural. It's beginning to look a little bit more polished with those brush strokes disappearing. My theory is to start in the upper left corner and work my way down and to the right. No palms smearing paint. 

Farm Report: Yet another batch of dill pickles canned and we have decided to experiment with left over brine and make refrigerator pickles. We'll see how they taste in four days. I'm really looking forward to the baby eggplant. 


Free Stuff

Wednesday night was the Kansas City Fiber Guild's Swap and Shop. I promised myself that I wouldn't come home with a spinning wheel because the last time that I went to a Swap and Shop I came home with two. Success! No wheel, just a bunch of supplies for sculpture.


I'm a little shameless because I let people know that I want free stuff. The added bonus is that I also like weird stuff, like the neon colored three doll heads. You never know where the good stuff will come from.


It's a great time talking to other people that are passionate about making things.


The beginning of the MUNS Murals second coat. I finally fixed the light grey on the bunkers. It's been bugging me for months. We never got a layer of primer down before we started painting so all of the paints streaked really bad if you weren't careful. 

Cool Stuff: I'm going to have a table at the Warrensburg art walk on tonight. Come out to see the collages that I'm selling!


The Self Portrait

I've been putting off this awkward situation for far too long. I need a much better photo of myself for my website and social media. My old one was a photo a friend too while we were on a mini vacation to Hachinohe. While it's a beautiful photo there's a lot going on and I'm holding my daughter. Not a professional looking photo.

I call this situation awkward because I am very very uncomfortable taking photos of myself. Unbelievable as that might be in this era of selfies. There are lots of reason for this. I'm usually unsatisfied with how I look. I've got a strange thin lipped smile...the's just awkward. Having been told that I'm not conventionally beautiful, a couple of times, by well meaning guys (jerks) who may or may not want to date me, you can see why I would hesitate. 

On top of that I don't know how to act in photos. Shouldn't I be doing something that reflects the work I do? A majority of the time I'm hunched over sewing something. This does not make for an interesting photo. Sometimes I wish the stone faced frown were more fashionable or even just professional. Or maybe that I was a photographer so that I could just have a camera in front of my face. The best of photography cliches.

It's not like I haven't been confronted with the self portrait before. I did my thesis in undergrad on the artist's self portrait. A fifty plus page paper on all the uses of a self portrait by artists for my BA in art history. I'm only now finding out that this is unusual or excessive. I'll just say my professor wanted eighty pages. I've also got a lot of artists friends that do self portraits in different mediums on a regular basis. Part of me has always wondered what I'm missing. This ability to self examine through art. 

So a little dabbling in self exploration this week. Some success. Much failure. Like all art processes. In the end I tried to pretend the camera was telling me a really interesting story. I'm giving the "You're really interesting, tell me more" face. 

We are getting to the end of this mural. Hopefully, We'll have this done by change of command on Wednesday. Note to self, no more twenty foot murals. 

Got a new phone with awesome camera powers! Testing out the panoramic view.

Got a new phone with awesome camera powers! Testing out the panoramic view.

Farm Report: Harvested our first cucumber. More baby plants coming along. I moved my tomatoes so they are only getting morning sun and they are doing much much better. 

Reading: Thinking Through Craft by Glen Adamson. This is in the weeds art theory but I'm really enjoying it. I guess I'm a craftsman because the focus of my work is more about material. But let's face it I'm also working with textiles which just automatically puts me in the realm of craft. Though according to Glen Adamson this might not be a bad thing. I've yet to read far enough to see his arguments why. 

Listening too: Our laughter at The League. It's been a while since I watched TV with my husband where we were both laughing out loud. It really feels nice. Maybe I watch too much serious stuff. 

Cooking: Pancit. Filipino noodle deliciousness. I got a book for Bea at the library, "Cora Cooks Pancit", in which Cora does all the "grown up" jobs. Now Bea wants to do all the grown up jobs. I'm a little amazed that she's old enough to start helping set the table and start chopping and mixing things. 


Applications. There are so many of them due right now. I'm going to be swimming in paperwork and editing photos for the next month. If only I could write some amazing blanket paragraph that would satisfy all of them, but alas they all want something different. I'm also embarrassingly bad about writing about myself and my work. It feels like pulling teeth. You would think that being a visual artist means you don't have express yourself in words.

Ok, enough complaining about work and time for some pretty pictures. We've recently been out to Powell Gardens to see their new life size dino sculptures. I've collected some nice inspiration photos that show case the master gardener's use of colors and textures in their plant beds. I've also added some photos of the fair rides from this weekend. I love the colors and the similarities between plants and machinery. 

The Knob Noster fair was really fun but super hot this year. A couple of our geocaching boxes and stamps got stolen but what can you do. With a little more advertising and a little better signage we could probably have something pretty cool. Maybe we'll be able to incorporate geocaching with the theme next year.

 I won a first place ribbon for my ikebana arrangement and one for my hoya. This means so much to me because I brought my grandmother's hoya stand home from New York and I bought a pot of plant cuttings that included a hoya at the plant show last year. Shortly after I started taking care of it all these grey spots started appearing on the leaves. My grandmother's hoya had solid leaves so I thought mine was diseased and almost didn't take it to the fair. But I gained confidence when I saw varieties of grey spotted hoyas of Pinterest. The plant is growing like a weed so it can't be too sick can it?

We had an active duty painting day today. We got so much work done! It's lovely when people are volun-told to come out and help us. It's all coming together. I've really had my doubts about there being too much going on and the colors but we are making it happen. Ian and I have agreed to limit our mural designing to maybe a 5' by 5' space.

So many helpers!

The Cochrane scowl as I try and figure out what color goes where.

Look at all the progress! Maybe we'll have it done by the end of June!

Cool Stuff Happening:

Saturday, June 18th is World Wide Knit in Public Day! I decided to take the bull by the horns and create an event on the court house lawn right next to the Warrensburg Farmer's Market. It'll be from 9-12pm. Bring your projects, water, food, sunscreen and chairs/blankets.  Come and go as you please. We'll be sitting in the shade and sweating for the sake of yarn. If you want to start knitting or just need some help come by and talk to me.

Farm Report: Baby cucumbers! Baby tomatoes! Baby peppers! It's been so hot here in Missouri that I can barely keep my tomatoes watered. I think I'm going to switch them to the front porch so they aren't getting so much afternoon sun. Cacti are going outside!

Reading: The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that will Shape our Future by Kevin Kelly. I would like to learn how not to be scared of our future with technology. Maybe get better at using technology. Maybe use it in my art. Who knows.

Listening to: The horns they put on the motorcycle know the one...and the children that repeatedly press the buttons.

Cooking: My husband and I were going to compete against each other in the pie contest at the fair but didn't get our pies to the stage for judging on time. Now I have pie for breakfast and desert! He made a buttermilk pie and I made a rhubarb meringue. It's hard to tell which one I like best.


On Sunday I got to go out to Belton, MO to the home of Becky Stevens, a fabulous fiddler and felt maker, for our Surface Design Association meeting.

We were greeted by fun folk music.

We were greeted by fun folk music.

Learned how to indigo dye fabric. It was all very informative because indigo can be a little finicky.

Learned how to indigo dye fabric. It was all very informative because indigo can be a little finicky.

Things learned:

Indigo is like yeast you have to keep them warm and happy

Putting too much air in the indigo will make the dye stop working

Wet fabric before putting it in the dye bath

Submerge for 10 seconds at a time and then rinse

To develop color do many dips

You can dye synthetics as well as natural fibers

The untying and unwrapping process was the best.

The untying and unwrapping process was the best.

All the fun stuff we made

All the fun stuff we made

These are what I made. I wanted to try accordion folds on one and something circular on the other.

These are what I made. I wanted to try accordion folds on one and something circular on the other.

Then I got the bright idea to dip the cotton string I brought to bind my fabric in the dye too. It was old and from my grandmother's stash so it had little rust spots here and there. Indigo is a much better improvement.


The skein after it came out of the vat and dried.


After unwrapping it half way. I love the little white spots at the cross sections.


The indigo even dyed the cardboard it was wrapped on!


Now it's the loveliest string ever. I can't wait to sashiko something with it. Or maybe I'll go crazy and use it to warp a loom.

Progress continues. This is a photo from last week. The mushroom clouds are finally complete and the bombs are slowly being filled in. Maybe we'll even hit out June 30th timeline.

Tonight I go to PLUG Projects in Kansas City for critique night! 6-8pm for all those interested in joining. It'll be me and two other artists. I can't wait.

Farm Report: Ian made stir fry last night using our own bok choy and sugar snap peas. I love sugar snap peas off the vine. Bea was even able to get a few strawberries for desert. Growing things is so much fun! We had a major thunderstorm last night and I swear all the plants are bigger. 

Reading: The Grownup by Gillian Flynn. This woman can really write frightening stories about sociopaths. Maybe it's just that sociopaths are frightening. I'm not sure. It was short and it was riveting, all the things I love in a book.

Listening too: One Bad Mother Episode 155: Parenting Karma. OMG it's true! If I care way too much about something I don't talk about it because I'm sure I'll jinx it.

Cooking: Kohlrabi Curry. You can use the leaves too! Genius!



I am invited to participate in critique night at Plug Projects in Kansas City next week which is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. Critique is so important, especially from people in the art world who have the background knowledge and vocabulary to talk about your work in a meaningful way. I've been searching for a solid critiques since college because I feel it's an important part of the growth process as an artist.

I have this idea. This direction that I've been working towards for a while. It is what I'm looking for a critique on at Plug Projects. I would like my fiber sculptures to be arrangements like ikebana arrangements are arrangements. Each flower is it's own distinct object and has it's own beauty but you put many of these flowers together in different ways to form arrangements in a certain space. The idea is to create many small sculptures of different types that you can arrange in a space. I've also been thinking about the performative aspect of the arrangement and the changeability of the arrangement. Wouldn't it be fun to rearrange the sculptures every week or so for the time they are up? Or have the audience arrange them?

There's a lot of room for play. We took these photos this weekend playing with different arrangements of the mini fiber sculptures that I already have.

I'm not really sure what to expect from critique. Praise would be nice but doesn't always help you grow. More ideas to expand on would be excellent. "Go home, this is a waste of your and our time" would be devastating. Apathy is a death sentence. What if my work isn't engaging beyond it's pretty and made of crazy materials? The anticipation is excruciating.

Mural Progress:


Those mushroom clouds sure are a pain in the butt. We got a ton of help this week, including an active duty member to watch all the kiddos. Thank you! But the sky is slowly coming together and next will be the tricky part of mixing all the colors for vehicles and bombs.

We had a good solid rain for a couple of weeks and I've decided to take on another project for the blog. In case I didn't have enough sections. So let me introduce....dun, dun, dun,.....Playground Mycology or Fungus Among Us.


A little background on this. There's a playground across the road that is covered with some very old wood chips that grows the most spectacular fungi through the season. I've decided to chronicle these fungi in a quest for inspiration and knowledge. If you know what they are leave me a comment.

Upcoming Stuff:

My work and I will be at Critique night at the Plug Projects in Kansas City on May 26th from 6-8pm. So nervous, so excited!

My next ikebana class will be June 4th from 10-12pm @ Powell Gardens. Register at least two weeks a head.

Farm Report: Cold weather and incessant rain means that most of my indigo seedlings and my cucumbers have white leaves. Too much sun? cold? It's not downy mildew. I really can't grow indigo. The good news is that everything else is flourishing and I don't have to step outside and water things in the morning.

Anyone have ideas on fashionable attire for watering your plants first thing in the morning? My bathrobe is a bit to heavy weight, stained and embarrassing.

Reading: American Housewife by Helen Ellis, I really wish that my experience as an American housewife fit the picture on the cover. The stories really make me laugh and think about how terrible people are. Like all good comedy, terrible people doing terrible things and the chaos that ensues.

Listening to: My daughter sing at her end of year preschool recital. I still can't believe that she's done with her first year of preschool! All the things she's learned this year!

Eating: My lovely talented chef of a husband made smoked salmon chowder. I've been eating it for every meal since. Sooo tasty! We've also been having fun looking through the Illustrated Cook's Book of Ingredients and reading about ingredients we've only seen on TV.

Mother's Day

Mother's day seems so long ago. We got to take an epic trip to Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska to see college friends of mine and tour some museums.

Our first stop was the International Quilt Study Center & Museum. How cool would it be to go to college and study quilts? This museum was pretty intense with four different galleries showcasing the full spectrum of quilting. We got to see African American Quilts, the Japanese quilts of Shizuko Kuroha, a collection of quilts from the late 18th and early 19th century, and perhaps my favorite was the show of contemporary male quilters.

It made me a little uneasy that I should like the male quilters work so much. Was it because they were talking about different things with their quilts and using different materials? Were they unfettered by the history of quilting? It seemed to me like a lot of the women contemporary quilters I have seen were more interested in mastering the techniques than maybe the story aspect of quilts. The artists in this exhibit had story in spades, using quilting as collage.

Then on Sunday we went to the Henry Dooley Zoo in Omaha. This zoo is so awesome words can not express. What I really love about this zoo is the attention to landscaping and habitat. So many neat plants to take pictures of.

We got to see a couple of tigers teasing each other. One tiger had a bone and the other was standing up in his cage to watch him eat it. The other tiger would crouch to hide like they were playing a big game of hide and seek. They were so cute it was hard to think of them as anything but house cats.

Much to our surprise we found Bea's favorite animal,the coati and made her day. At first I thought she had made this animal up but it's a little unlike her at this stage to make up things and insist on them so I asked her where she had seen a coati and sure enough it was on PBS kids.

Vacation is just so nice. I really needed to get out of town for a while and see and eat some cool stuff.

Progress is still coming along on the MUNS Mural. Today I had a morning painting session for active duty members and tonight we'll have another session for spouses. So much painting!

Tuesday I made a trip out to Lowes to get some premixed samples for painting. I was slightly unhappy with how light the colors came out even though they were able to scan then right off my paper. Maybe color matching a swatch by eye would have been more successful. I realized today I have a few colors I will have to go back for. My daughter will be happy because she's constantly asking to go to Lowes to buy dirt so she can ride on top of the bag on the cart. To be a child again.

Farm Report: I got ten more indigo seedlings from another fiber guild member. Hopefully these ones will live!

Reading: How We Do Both: Art and Motherhood by Michi Jigarjian and Qiana Mestrich

Listening to: My daughter asking me for hours what my favorite shopkin is

Eating: Vietnamese, Parisian Eggs Benedict, and Suchi along with car snacks.




I got some great news this weekend. I won an artistic excellence award at the Mid Missouri Artists Spring Show. Woot! Though I have to admit the idea of excellence in art is ridiculous. How can you measure an excellent artist? Why would you? Art is just a product of a long journey learning and relating to the world.  Slowly but surely I've come into my voice as an artist and accept my limitations. I'm no where close to excellence.

What I really liked about this show is that it allowed me to meet some artists in the area and the judge actually gave an in depth critique of our work. That so rarely happens in the art world. We are all sensitive about what we create it can be frightening. Usually a judge just presents their choices or works are rejected or accepted before they are even seen in person. I'm really interested in critiques because I need to improve my work so desperately.

Our judge was Sarah Nguyen, a professional artist and professor at the University of Central Missouri. From her I learned the importance of presentation. "To frame or not to frame" has haunted me since college. As my husband points out the presentation of the work really matters in the context of the show. Now I'm steadily working towards shadow boxes. Some other interesting ideas I need to ponder are those of scale and story telling. I've never given too much thought to story telling in my art but it's vital to keeping a viewer engaged and crafting an artist statement.

Much rumination.

Fun things that have been happening in fiber art the last couple of weeks.

I've been embroidering into this molded paper packing material that was lying around the studio. I'm trying to replicate mold and fungus. Wouldn't it just been the coolest to create my own larger scaled molded paper? Ian thinks I should paint it. Something is holding me back.

I am inspired by this bright yellow fungus that was growing on the wood chips across the street. The most amazing variety of fungus grows out there. I should really document them through the seasons and figure out what they are. It's just so fun to see what's growing next.

More progress has been on our mural:

Next week is going to be the big push to get it almost completely done. All that would be left would be the fiddly bits I would need to paint. It's gonna be so cool!

More cool stuff to come:

I'm giving a presentation on Koginzashi, a traditional Japanese counted embroidery, to the Greater Kansas City Fiber Guild on May 11th at 7pm. Check out their website for more details.

My next ikebana class at Powell Gardens will be on Saturday, June 4th from 10-12pm. Check out their website to register!

Farm Report: Things are growing! Trellising of the peas has been successful. Now I have to figure out something for the cucumbers.  I just acquired some Mexican tarragon. Now to figure out how to use it.

Reading: Grow Cook Eat A Food Lover's Guide to Vegetable Gardening by Willi Galloway

Listening to: TED Talk Art "Insightful Human Portraits made by Data" by R. Luke DuBois.

Cooking: I was grocery shopping with Bea and saw that the whole coconuts were pretty cheap. So I got one and got Bea all excited about cracking it open when Ian got home from work. It's just so fun and important to explore and learn about different foods. We had a grand old time learning how to drain out the juice and crack a coconut. Too bad it wasn't any good to eat. Maybe it was moldy? Old? Just didn't taste right. Another day.