Mary Coffey is an artist who explores spirituality through creative expression. This is her third installment in a 4-part series as Artist Strong’s Artist in Residence. You see the art as she creates on Instagram @artful_spirituality. Visit her website and subscribe to Studio Updates at

Quote by Vincent Van Gogh: "If you hear a voice within you saying "you cannot paint," then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced."

The Creating stage is the stage that most people think artists spend all their time: actually putting paint on paper. For me, not so much. I’m inclined to spend less time in the creating stage because of the huge risks involved!

Do any of these risks sound familiar to you? 

  • My inner critic will protest!
  • It’s selfish to waste time and money on myself.
  • I don’t know where to start.
  • If I do start, I won’t know what to paint.
  • If I do paint, it might be ugly. 
  • Other people will judge my paintings.
  • I might fail.
  • I might never figure it out.

Here’s a little pep talk when you hear these voices in your own head:

“My inner critic will protest!”

  • There are days when it feels extra crowded in my art space because of that pesky Inner Critic. She always shows up and brings her friends Self Doubt, and Lack of Confidence. Their persistent voices are actually trying to protect us from embarrassment or humiliation. There may have been a time when that was necessary, but now that we’re grown-ass women, we no longer need their protective services. Just give them a place to sit in the corner of the room along with a nice cup of tea, and then get back to painting. You don’t have to listen to them. You don’t have to pay them any mind. Just keep painting.

“It’s selfish to waste time and money on myself.”

  • For years, I put my family first because their needs seemed to be the most urgent, or at least the loudest! But now, it is time to take care of my needs. It no longer feels selfish to do that which brings me joy. I’m done waiting for someone else to give me permission to paint. I give myself permission to do what lights me up because I am so much more pleasant to be around when I do what nourishes my soul. 

“I don’t know where to start.”

  • The Creating stage is a hard one to start because of the paralysis of the blank page. My art does not always turn out like I planned. Even Monet lamented that his art didn’t match the vision in his mind. At least, I’m in good company.

“If I do start, I won’t know what to paint.”

  • Just start anywhere with any kind of mark or color. And then take the next right step. Think in terms of responding to the color that is on the paper.  Do you like it? Do more of that. Don’t like it? Try something different. This way of painting intuitively is a great way to loosen up when you’ve been away from your art practice for too long.
  • Here is where your studio log comes in. Hopefully, your log is full of ideas and inspiration just waiting to be explored. 
  • “Inspiration exists but it has to find you working” ― Pablo Picasso

“If I do paint, it might be ugly.” 

  • Actually, it’s good to have piles of ugly art because that’s the proof that I was trying something new, exploring something exciting, or answering the call of “what if I tried it a different way.…” We don’t have to be afraid to make ugly art. Make loads of it, and then eventually, something you make will make your heart sing. The only thing to fear is quitting.

“Other people will judge my paintings.”

  • One of the things I am hearing from women when we talk about The Crone Project is that at this stage in their lives, they no longer care what other people think. That feels incredibly liberating! What could you create if you collected all the energy worrying about what other people think and funneled it into your artwork?

“I might fail.”

  • I paint mainly with acrylics which can always be painted over or restarted with a fresh coat of gesso. Failure is not fatal, it’s just information. I’ve even used old art that I didn’t love to create covers for sweet little journals or tore it up for collage fodder.

“I might never figure it out.”

  • This stage can linger for a long time if I run into an obstacle and run away from the work. Been there – done that! In my series on Reimagining Mary, my first painting took me months to complete because of a variety of obstacles – things I didn’t know how to paint. I just stepped away from the easel.  But with my art show on the calendar, I needed to pick up the pace. I asked a friend to keep me accountable and I spent one week each on the remaining 8 paintings. I do recommend having some accountability support to keep you moving forward and pushing through obstacles, like I receive in my weekly check-ins with Carrie’s Happy Ever Artist program.

For more helpful tips on dealing with your inner critics, you can download my guide to turning your inner critics into helpful companions!

two sto

Maybe you are beginning to understand why I spend so much time in the Gather stage where I am safe and successful! I’ve had lots of experience in all aspects of gathering. 

But eventually, all that gathering has to be funneled into my art space, and the excitement and risk of creating must begin! Once I do get into my art space, and actually create something, I’m always glad I took the risk! Creating satisfies me like a fabulous, delicious meal.

If I call myself an artist, then I need to create art. It really is that simple.

Here’s what I created this week:

  • Painting of mom WIP 

My goal this week was to complete my first painting for The Crone Project, a portrait of my mom. Below is the first couple of layers. Not finished yet. But I showed up in spite of all the risks I mentioned above! And so I am considering that a success. 

portrait of a woman in progress


Side note: Did you know that YOU get to define what success is for you? I wrote about that a few months ago here. As you think about how you define success, consider only those things that are within your control. That is empowering!

  • Sketch of Vikki

I really liked how this sketch turned out! The headscarf gives me anxiety, but I will just focus on the lights and darks created by the soft folds of the fabric. Fingers crossed.

pencil sketch of a woman wearing a headscarf

Also this week, I had my first interview with Reverend Dagmar Celeste. I came away from that interview with new ideas of what it means to be a crone. Next week, I will share some of that with you, but here is a teaser: Being a crone is less about age and more about mindset and energy expenditure!

Every month, 1-3 artists show up in our Artist Strong community to share their artistic process, journey, explorations with us over the course of a month.

The goal is to normalize the MANY, VARIED experiences of being an artist.

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