Wednesday, April 15, 2015


I kinda get it now... how hard it is to juggle parenting, home responsibilities, art, and the demands of a part time job.  Well, I don't technically have a part time job, but I've been spending about 20 hours a week working for the museum so I think my experience is somewhat similar.

I've been trying to figure out how to manage my schedule and clearly some things have fallen through the cracks, like my blog. (Sorry, I didn't realize it's been a month since I posted!)  But, I'm determined to find a way to make it all work.  I know I can do it.  So, here's a quick update to get back on track:

1) BIG NEWS:  I'm participating in two exhibitions, one in May and another in June!  More details to follow.

2) Volunteering / working at the museum has been so cool.  To name two highlights: I was able to help the artist with his installation and I'm writing the museum's exhibition blog (!).  Posts are published weekly so head here to read what's up.

A view of Chris Larson's full-scale replica of Edward Larrabee Barnes's home,
built around the trees in the KMA's sculpture garden.  I helped paint it.

3) Leading tours at the KMA has been immensely fun and immensely satisfying. I've met an amazing array of people from a former art administrator at the Met to an architect who worked with Bauhaus great, Marcel Breuer.  I'm not certain I'd have had another opportunity to meet such fascinating folk.

4) I finished my sister's estate taxes.  Lesson learned: Turbo Tax does not allow you to file estate taxes  electronically.  Don't go through the whole process like I did, and then discover at the end that it was all for naught.  ( I filed a complaint because the system asks at the beginning if the taxes are being prepared on behalf of someone who's deceased and only tells you the taxes can't be submitted online after you've paid.)

5) After Easter I drove my daughter back to school in Indiana, then flew back home -- all in one day.  An amazing testament to modern travel.

6) And, I finally found time to slip into the studio.  I'd been away so long that I was worried I'd lost my mojo, so I started small.  I found a chair that I'd stitched ages ago, spent an inordinate amount of time burying threads (what a tedious job!), quickly stitched some big daisies around it, and completed the look with watercolor crayons.  Spring must have influenced me.  Here's Retro-Daisy Chair, mounted on a 5" x 5" canvas:

Voila!  That's it for the summary tour and now we're all caught up and ready to move forward!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

So, so cool....

Paint splattered cardboard from  installation
As you know, I've been working on docent training materials for quite a while now, researching, writing, compiling.  These last two weeks have been the culmination of that work.   This week and last, I gave 11/2 hour presentations to the docents about the upcoming exhibition at the KMA -- A Home for Art: Edward Larrabee Barnes and the KMA and Chris Larson:The Katonah Relocation Project -- complete with my script, a Powerpoint presentation, and additional background materials, all gathered in the docent folders.  Of course, the staff double-checked that I hadn't made any factual errors or misinterpreted the art (I'm happy to say they didn't change anything- yippee!), but they also gave me free-rein on what I wanted to write about within a general framework, what pictures I wanted in the presentation, the whole shebang.

It's been an amazing experience.

(1)  I've learned so much.  I've been immersed in topics I didn't know much about, if anything, before this process began, and now I can speak with a teeny bit of authority.

(2) It's great to talk about art to a receptive audience that's as excited about the material as you are. What a rush to stand in front of a group of like-minded, curious people!

(3) I've gotten a bit of a confidence boost that I can do a big project like this.  It's been a while since I had such a pseudo-academic project.

(4)  And, finally, I've been at the museum so much that the Director jokingly called me part of the crew.  The staff has been very gracious about including me in prep meetings and email distributions, keeping me up to speed on what's happening behind the scenes.   And, I get to be a fly on the wall next week during some of the final installation.  I'm learning from consummate and generous professionals.  HOW COOL IS THAT?

My work, however, is not complete; I'm going to be leading all the tours from opening night through the first week.  And, there's the potential for a little public writing about the exhibition.... but more on that if the details all come together.

I wish I could give you sneak peeks and pictures, but I'm sure understand that I can't give anything away.  But I hope you'll make plans for a trip to the museum to see this exhibit, the first one curated by the KMA's new Executive Director, Darsie Alexander, former chief curator at the Walker Art Center.  This exhibition will be open from March 29 - June 28.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Building my Vocabulary

Image from; artist not credited
I'm in the homestretch in the preparations for my docent training and I'm getting excited about heading to the studio.  I have an idea that really wants to come to life, but I'm working through the color scheme.  I know the quilt must include purple but beyond that, I haven't made a decision.  Shall I go with all cool colors?  A tertiary scheme?  A complementary scheme?  Maybe I'll fling fabric about the studio to figure out what works best.  But, being me, I've also been consulting my color guide for ideas.  Did you know the circular organization of the colors is credited to Sir Isaac Newton, back in the early 1700s?  I'd forgotten that Newton was interested in light and wavelengths, and had split sunlight into bands of color using a prism while still a young university student in 1665.  I realized I may have to do a bit more reading to refresh my memory and (re-)build my color and science vocabulary.

I've also realized I have a way to go before I have the command of the English language that I strive for.   I love books. I love the way they smell and the heft in my hand.  I love to fan the edges of the pages.  However, I never anticipated how much I would also love my Kindle.  I can read during my middle-of-the-night insomnia without waking my husband.  And, I love the dictionary that's literally at my fingertips.  The vocabulary builder tracks all the words for which I've solicited a definition.  I looked at the list today and rediscovered some words that I'm hoping to use in a sentence someday.  Here are a few; perhaps you already know them:

susurrations: whispering, murmuring, or rustling, such as the susurrations of the stream

moue: a pouting expression used to convey annoyance or distaste

oubliette: a secret dungeon with access only though a trapdoor in its ceiling

ocarina: a small egg-shaped wind instrument with a mouthpiece and holes for the fingers.  Also called  SWEET POTATO

12-hole Zelda tenor ocarina
I had no idea this instrument was still in production.  It might be fun to learn to play a sweet potato shaped like a Star Trek phaser....

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Kitchen and Night Tables

This is where I've been living every free moment of these last few weeks;  I don't even clean up at mealtimes. I've been amplifying, augmenting and clarifying the docent training materials I'm writing for the KMA.  I have everything at my fingertips and though it looks like a mess, it's actually a very exciting collection of research.  I can't believe how much I've learned in this process.  I'm so thankful, already,  of this chance to really delve into an artistic topic and exhibition, and I'm figuring out that I can figure things out and not be a complete boob in the process.  Hopefully I'll have addressed the edits I received last week well enough that the table can get a bit tidier next week.  Fingers crossed.

My artist's itch has been scratched and satisfied by all this cool research and work, but I still read for pleasure each evening.  Somehow, reading at bedtime helps to clear my mind of today's what-I've-left-undone list and tomorrow's to-do list so that I can fall asleep easier.  Since reading is such a part of my life, I've decided to report back to you what I'm reading or have just finished.  I've kept a reading journal next to my bed for years so I can record titles, authors, and a brief impression of each book I've finished. (I only record partially read books if I stop reading them because I can't stomach them any longer; I don't record books I've become distracted from.)  I've already read some wonderful books this year including All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  I highly recommend this book.  It's a beautifully told account of WWII from a French girl's and German's boy's perspective.  It covers new territory so it's not a rehashing of stories you have already read and the chapters are short, making it easy to stop when you need to.  Do try to find it if you can.  I look forward to hearing how you like it.

Right now I'm reading Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.    This book is written by Ed Catmull, one of the original three founders of Pixar and Amy Wallace, a free-lance writer from LA.  (Since this is written from Ed's perspective, I can only assume Amy's job was to polish what Ed said.)  In a nutshell, Ed shares managerial experiences from his career, but most notably at Pixar, in order to share lessons he's learned as he strives to cultivate a working environment that embraces creativity, idea development, hard work, team spirit and an honest post-mortem review of what worked and what didn't.  I haven't finished it yet, but it's engaging enough to hold my interest even at the end of the day.  Of course, it helps that I'm a Pixar fan and, though I've heard versions of topics before, some sections still resonate with me.  Here's one:

For most of us, failure comes with baggage -- a lot of baggage -- that I believe is traced directly back to our days in school.  From a very early age, the message is drilled into our heads: Failure is bad; failure means you didn't study or prepare; failure means you slacked off or -- worse! -- aren't smart enough to begin with.  Thus, failure is something to be ashamed of.  This perception lives on long into adulthood, even in people who have learned to parrot the oft-repeated arguments about the upside of failure.  How many articles have you read on that topic alone?  And yet, even as they nod their heads in agreement, many readers of those articles still have the emotional reaction that they had as children.  They just can't help it: That early experience of shame is too deep-seated to erase.  All the time in my work, I see people resist and reject failure and try mightily to avoid it, because regardless of what we say, mistakes feel embarrassing.  There is a visceral reaction to failure: It hurts.  

We need to think about failure differently.  I'm not the first to say that failure, when approached properly, can be an opportunity for growth.  But the way most people interpret this assertion is that mistakes are a necessary evil.  Mistakes aren't a necessary evil.  They aren't evil at all.  They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new (and, as such, should be seen as valuable; without them, we'd have no originality).  

I belabor my choices when I work.  I take FOREVER to make up my mind.  What if I make a mistake?  I may have to print this section from the book and post it in my studio to remember that, without risk and the possibility of crashing and burning, there won't be anything original coming out of my studio.

Good thought.  I want to be original.  Do you fear failure?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

In the Thick of Things....

It's been a busy few weeks here.  For the most part, I've been immersed in research, meetings, and writing for my role as docent trainer for the upcoming exhibition at the Katonah Museum Art.   I'm learning so much and I absolutely love it.   The exhibition opens at the end of March and I'm already very excited about it.  I'll be sure to give a summary here in the next few weeks.

Not to give the wrong impression, I've also been having loads of fun.  At the end of January, three college girlfriends and I got together for a weekend in NYC.  We hadn't all been together since one of the girl's wedding 18 years ago.  Despite the very cold weather we walked around the city, ate and drank, saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime -- which I highly recommend, went to a comedy club, and stayed up talking until 2AM two nights in a row.  I don't recover that quickly from such late nights any more but it was worth it!

Four gals in the City
I also had a Friday - Sunday weekend away at my daughter's dance competition/convention.  I don't know where she finds the stamina for dancing on Friday night, going to Saturday classes 8-3PM, competing group dances until 10PM, and then up again for more classes on Sunday from 9-2.  Somehow, I get exhausted during these weekends even though I'm not doing any dancing.

Dramatic lighting during her solo
No, she's not falling; she's somehow she's balancing

I also sent off my contribution to Virginia Spiegel's Fiberart For A Cause fundraiser.  On February 4th, 100 generous folk donated $100 to the American Cancer Society.  In return, 100 artists donated artwork to send to these patrons as a thank you.  I was honored to be asked to be a participating artist and I Dreamt of Spring went to a new home this past week.

I Dreamt of Spring, ©Vivien Zepf, 2015
This piece is a bit of a departure from other works of mine; actually, I think it's an evolution.  I've done lots of work with paints, watercolor, and fused appliqué, but not all together with hand stitching thrown into the mix as well. I think this was the perfect opportunity to give it all a try.  I'm pleased with the results and I hope the donor is as well.  The stitched painting (I don't know what else to call it since it doesn't have batting or quilting) is 10" x 12" and mounted to an 11" x 14" canvas.  I'd love your feedback.  What do you think?

And now, it's off to bed.  There's lots to do tomorrow: more writing, a trip to the vet (Harvey sliced off a part his paw pad on the ice and needs the bandages changed tomorrow), and hanging with my husband and daughter who will both be home tomorrow.  Hope you're staying warm; it's supposed to be -4 here tonight.  Brrr!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mondrian's Drop Cloth

I recently finished an experimental piece of artwork.  I gave a sneak peek of it in my first newsletter, and now I'm ready for the full reveal.

Mondrian's Drop Cloth, 12.5" x 12.5" ©Vivien Zepf
All of the pieces that "read" as solids -- the reds, yellows, and black -- are painted paper towels, including the binding strip on the left side.  It was fun to see what I could do with an unexpected material, but I suppose that's only true because nothing tore while I was working with it.  I must confess that I toughened up the paper with a bit of gel medium in some parts and lightweight fusible interfacing in others in order to compare and contrast how things worked.  I've learned some lessons, both in composition (I haven't created an all abstract piece in a long while) and in how to use the paper. I hoping to experiment more.  Stay tuned....

Friday, January 16, 2015

Yesterday's Mail

Cover of the current Quilting Arts Magazine

The February/March issue of Quilting Arts Magazine arrived in yesterday's mail with Jane LaFazio's "Poke Salad Annie Series: Poke Weed Heritage" on the cover.  Isn't it lovely? It makes me want to get out the pokeberry fabric I dyed this summer and play, play, play.


There's something that hits even closer to home in this issue.  Go to page 45.  Are you there?  Look!  It's my submission to the QA Favorite Things Reader Challenge!

My piece "Cata-Leap" is on the top of the page
I'm thrilled and honored to have this thread-sketched watercolor,  based on a vacation picture of my son, selected and published.

As my sister used to say, "Cool Beans".  Yep.