Mary Coffey is an artist who explores spirituality through creative expression. This is her fourth 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

Clean new palette with freshly loaded paints

As I write my last post for the Artist Strong artist in residence program, I am realizing how much these last two stages of the Creative Process – Reflect and Integrate – are integral to the Crone stage of life. 

In my previous post, I observed that being a crone is less about age and more about mindset and energy expenditure. The crone archetype is not activated automatically with the onset of menopause. I’m learning that being a crone is a time 

  • grow spiritually and into inner alignment with that which is greater than us,
  • to do more of whatever brings us joy and to stop striving for external validation by pleasing others,
  • to let go of the concern for outward appearances in exchange for allowing our inner beauty to shine.

A crone is a wise woman who has “a sense of truly being herself, can express what she knows and feels, and take action when need be…. She has learned to trust herself to know that she knows,” according to Jean Shinoda Bolen in “Crones Don’t Whine.” Bolen also notes that a crone is a choice-maker, whose choices of what to do or how to be are true “at a soul level.” To be a choice-maker allows you to “take on the role of protagonist in your life story.”

Noticing how we make choices in our lives and in our creative practice requires us to take the time to reflect on our journey.


It is in the reflection that we can see our growth. 

If we are hellbent on producing, buying into the “hustle culture,” hustling for our worth in the words of Brené Brown, then we have swallowed the belief that we only have value when we are productive. Do you ever feel that way? The crone mindset wholeheartedly rejects that concept and indeed enjoys spending time in self-reflection. 

It’s like working furiously on a tapestry, enmeshed in the colorful threads that twist and turn in a tangled mess on the back, and then pressing pause on the busyness of it all and turning the tapestry over to see the beauty of what has been created. There are three steps to reflect on your artwork.

  • Stop – hit pause on the hurry.
  • Step back – create some space between you and your work so that you can gain perspective to see what’s working, and what’s not working.
  • Listen to your intuition  – allow your intuition, feelings, emotions, to simmer to the top of your awareness. Taking the time to process what you’ve created allows you to understand the meaning behind the art, and that may be much more powerful than the art on its own.

Here are some of the benefits of being in the Reflect stage:

  • For me, this stage happens throughout the whole project. Reflecting on how the work is progressing and making sure that the work is in alignment with the initial inspiration helps keep me focused.  
  • This stage helps me to notice if I’m pivoting from my original goal or getting lost in unrelated rabbit holes which are fun in their own right, but perhaps better saved for later projects. 
  • Reflecting on a completed project allows me to feel the impact of the finished paintings all together.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts and seeing all the paintings in dialogue with each other gives clarity on my style, and insight into the themes and patterns running throughout all the pieces. It also allows me to appreciate what meaning I am making with my artwork. 
  • It is also helpful to periodically reflect on my art practice as a whole.  By collecting all of the pieces created within a certain time period, say a month or a quarter, themes in my style or emerging trends become more apparent to me.

And the drawbacks:

If it’s so important, why is this not a regular part of our work? Even when we can overcome the hustle culture mindset and allow ourselves to slow down, there are some drawbacks to engaging in self-reflection: You have to be comfortable with “not knowing…, tolerate messiness and inefficiency, and take personal responsibility,” according to executive coach Jennifer Porter. Even though there is much to gain from reflecting, “it can also lead to feelings of discomfort, vulnerability, defensiveness, and irritation.” 

But it’s worth doing, I promise! 


This stage feels like a whole lot of nothing! It feels like being lazy. Or hiding from my creative practice – I might not visit my studio for weeks or months at a time. This happened to me after completing my Reimagining Mary series. After finishing 8 paintings on a very strict deadline, hosting a virtual art show, and then packing up and shipping off all of the paintings that sold during the show, I did no artwork for over two months! It wasn’t until I began the Ignite Teacher Training, where I learned the framework of the Creative Process, that I realized I wasn’t being lazy, I was just in the Integrate stage.

This stage corresponds to winter in the Northern Hemisphere. In the period between Samhain/All Saints and All Souls Day at the beginning of November and the Winter Solstice at the end of December, the darkness grows longer each day. Instead of being afraid of the darkness, I have learned to reframe the darkness as a time of returning to the metaphoric womb to rest, to nurture and begin to incubate what might be next when the sun returns.

I’ve learned that once a project is complete, I need to move into the Integration stage to rest, recover, and allow the seeds of the project I’ve just finished to blossom into or perhaps inform my next project or piece of art. I also catch up on all the laundry I neglected while deeply immersed in painting. And I try not to think of myself as lazy or wonder if I will ever receive inspiration again. The muse always returns, so it’s best if you are fully recharged when she does!

This week, I moved my mom’s portrait to almost complete! I added a silver-leafed crown – loving that shimmer! I may want to add  more texture to either her outfit or to the background, but I think once the hair is finished and I’ve outlined the crown with a silver paint pen, she will be done enough.Older woman smiling and wearing a crown

I have sketched out my next crone: Reverend Vikki Marie. For my mom’s portrait, I relied on a grid of the entire picture and then focused on just filling in the boxes. I didn’t like that way of drawing – it felt too restrictive. For this portrait, after gessoing and taping my substrate, I only used a few grid lines to make sure her portions were accurate. I will interview her and capture her story next Wednesday.

photo and sketch of a woman smiling and wearing a headscarf


Do it your way!

How you proceed through your Creative Process is unique to you. You get to do it your way! Do not let your inner critic or external voices (I’m looking at you Instagram) “should” on you. And of course, don’t “should” on yourself. Give yourself permission to write (or paint!) the ending to your own story! You don’t have to wait until you’re a crone to do whatever brings more joy into your life.

If you want to keep following my journey of The Crone Project, subscribe to my newsletter here and I will keep you posted!

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.

And if YOU  want to apply to be an Artist Strong Artist Resident, subscribe to our weekly updates to hear about the next time applications are open.

Carrie here with a sincere thanks to Mary for sharing a glimpse into this important and powerful project. I find her discussion of our process and the very important step of rest and recovery, “integrate stage,” SO important for us to hear. Again and again. I can’t wait to follow her continued work on this series and I hope you will too!